By Folabi Ogunleye
I remember back when the story seeped out into public consciousness, sans tangible evidence, that Muhammadu Buhari, our taciturn Nigerian president, wasn’t too hot on the idea of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the candidate to succeed him.
If he had his way, the claims went, President Buhari would rather endorse and campaign for his Number Two man, in the person of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The story went on to claim that a President Tinubu would be too powerful for ‘The North,’ hence the need for a Buhari successor with relative malleability.
These claims were doubtable back then for good reasons, among which is the fact that it hardly reflected the observed general disposition of Buhari, who is not known to be the meddlesome kind. In fact, the man is often criticized for being too detached or aloof while eager beavers around him run riot.
Buhari is more the kind who would sit and watch you do your bidding, till you string-up yourself or overplay your hand. (If in doubt of this, ask former Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun). He is probably the most taciturn man ever to rise to the pinnacle of leadership in Nigeria. He is detached almost to a fault – a trait for which he attracts almost equal measure of admiration and resentment from different quarters.
Another story was that the president was approached quietly by the vice president to inform him of his intention to run to succeed him, and that the president responded with thanks and wished him good luck, and said with a chuckle to an aide upon the latter’s exit, something to the effect of, ‘Wow, he really would contest against his political boss’?
The latter version of the stories about President Buhari is believable given his antecedents so far, especially if you pay close attention to his choice of words before, during and after the All Progressives Party primaries up till now.
For example, President Buhari has harped REPEATEDLY on the need to have a STRONG, FORMIDABLE CANDIDATE emerge to enable the APC prosecute convincingly successful political battles across the lenght and breadth of Nigeria. He has emphasized this view whenever he got the chance, and the media reported it as said.
Any perceptive observer would decipher Buhari’s meaning, or leanings, from the undeniable realities of this political epoch. Unless Asiwaju Tinubu chose not to run, there is no denying that he is easily the most influential politician within the APC party establishment, with his reach and network stretching everywhere from Borno to Enugu and Cross Rivers.
It is little wonder that Buhari wears a look of relief these days since the end of the primaries season. For a man who is hardly known to be the excitable kind, he seems quite excited, not just about the prospect of his party in the coming general elections in Nigeria but also because he seems to derive special joy in having Asiwaju Tinubu be his party flagbearer.
Further to this point, President Buhari has embraced the duty of campaign chairman, hitting the campaign trail with an unusual visible glow on his face as sen in Jos, Plateau State, yesterday. Also, at the presentation of the Tinubu/Shettima campaign manifesto a few weeks ago, the man could hardly suppress his joyful grin as he pumped hands with Tinubu after the latter’s upbeat speech.
Power is highly intoxicating. But the Buhari leadership has demonstrated a most impressive spirit of restraint in power. That President Buhari resisted overt and covert influence, and all manner of appeals and groveling, to use his privilege as incumbent president and de-facto party leader to dictate the outcome of party politics is highly commendable!
All the while, Buhari maintained that the aspirants for president in the APC be left to duke it out so the party can enjoy the natural emergence of a strong flagbearer. And despite the worst fears of division in some quarters, real or imagined or cunningly projected as such fears were, a strong APC candidate emerged in the person of Asiwaju Bola ahmed Tinubu.
Tinubu hit the ground running right after his emergence as his party’s candidate, hardly resting on his powerful oars but rowing powerfully ahead, consulting, consolidating and paying little heed to detractors outside his party base. Within a couple of days of his emergence, he had visited almost all his main rivals in the primaries and extended his goodwill to them.
Another politician in his shoes might look at the much worse divided houses of his rival political parties and decide to relax the intensity of his pursuit of a Nigerian mandate for president. But not Asiwaju Tinubu. He has gunned the engine of his campaign ahead like he was the underdog, showing brilliance in everything from his choice of running mate to the quality of his published campaign manifesto.
None of this would have been possible if President Muhammadu Buhari had chosen to listen to those who simply sought some form of ‘anointing’ or the other from him to enable them emerge as party flagbearer. Up till the last minutes, they kept at it, with some of them publicly asking or begging for the president’s endorsement rather than focus on winning over the support of seated delegates.
In the end, Buhari held fast to his stated intention, and the most formidable candidate carried the day – in the same country where, not too long ago, a president turned a similar process to a ‘third term’ circus show, and where he wielded power through a reckless governor whose state became the ‘Mecca’ where aspirants went on pilgrimage to ‘juba’ for his anointing to succeed the president.
Many may not appreciate it today, and many more will never allow their minds to accept or see it. But posterity will yet reward the memory of Muhammadu Buhari’s time as leader, much in the same way that a country like the United States did not value its civil war era President Abraham Lincoln until long after he had departed from the seat of power.
Nevertheless, some of us in the here and now readily appreciate President Buhari. Amd that is why we find it easy to say ‘Thank You, President Buhari, for being a man of honor. And please help us thank your wife too for being that kind of conscientous wife who helps guide the hand of her man towards the path of grace, honor and integrity.’
° Ogunleye, a public affairs commentator, writes from the USA