There are variations in the tale of plots that eventuated in his dethronement some thirty-four years ago.
But one account has never been in dispute – the introverted king had fore-knowledge of the dark conspiracy against him by his estranged military comrades.
Others would have reacted savagely.
On the summer night of August 1985 they finally came for him, the commander-in-chief chose to keep the posture of imperturbability till the very end, only offering to play martyr for something else – fidelity to service etiquette. According to multiple autobiographical accounts, not until the mutineering junior officers offered him full military salute as their superior did General Muhammadu Buhari eventually agree to surrender at Dodan Barracks.
More than three decades later, faced with another stiff challenge to his power, it is an indifferent Buhari we see all over again.
In the realm of psychology, there is surely a stark difference between being carefree and careless. The former describes a nobility of spirit that stultifies desperation; the latter hints of the negative instinct likely to result in self-destruction.
Given the circumstances of his rise and fall in his first incarnation as military law-giver, it is safe to categorize Buhari’s affliction then as being “carefree” in power, other than the possibility of a fatalism fueled by faith.
For a man often bad-mouthed by political opponents as too wooden and lacking spontaneity, how remarkable then that PMB finally managed to improvise a battle sign in a difficult moment and in an unlikely territory recently.
While the opposition forces booed and heckled him at the National Assembly during the presentation of the draft budget, the old infantry general, exuding self-confidence even under fire, flashed his now famous eight-finger salute with a flourish that could only be meant to taunt traducers present.
It was left for the political palmists to interpret that to the rest of us as a short-hand for eight years (term terms of office). And regardless of spirited attempts by opponent to draw a parallel between that sign and the symbol of a discredited extremist Islamic sect in Egypt, the Buhari people are not ashamed to show this off as their new mobilization tool. Overall, if truly Buhari is desperate about retaining power this time, we are yet to see the symptoms, even less than five weeks to the presidential election. One of the ready means of gauging the desperation of an incumbent seeking tenure-renewal is the willingness to throw cash around, even long before the race is declared open.
While it is true that the hangover from the economic recession will ordinarily predispose politicians to keep an eye on the wallet, even more compelling is what is now generally acknowledged as Buhari’s proclivity for austere taste. This has obviously redounded not only in the character of his government and the options opened to his party but also the larger inter-party contest.
When they say a lot depends on the presiding administration in an election season, it is partly because the power of incumbency enables it determine the shape of the battle and dictate the rules.
In a recent article, Femi Ojudu, one of Nigerian journalism’s best currently making a difference in national politics, declared the forthcoming general elections as potentially the cheapest in the nation’s history. I cannot agree more.
By deliberately keeping the campaign budget low, Buhari has, perhaps unwittingly, helped reduce the financial pressure on his opponents, thereby availing them a fighting chance.
On a jovial note, the side talk in town today is, therefore, the epidemic of a “strange thirst” or “dry campaign” – euphemism for electioneering with very little or no provision of the customary freebies. No one has seen free dollars yet. But the freeloaders are unwilling to give up yet. Those who had anticipated such “rain” early, salivating lustfully, are now forced to scale down their expectation to, maybe, the last days of the campaign.
Indeed, what Nigerians were used to on election eve is the culture of bazaar and feasting. Incumbency simply meant the license to open the public treasury to oil the electioneering wheels of the ruling party.
Perhaps, the APC people have learnt from what befell PDP. Same hour four years ago, the then ruling party took the nation on an infernal path in what would later be known as Dasukigate. Defence budgets set aside to fight Boko Haram rampaging at the door were instead heaped on the buffet table at the PDP caucus and the party barons casually took turn to make a kill.
Well, maybe the trouble was semantics. One, the books expressly indicated the money was for arms. Perhaps, the PDP leaders’ only undoing was applying some creativity by simply settling for liquid arms instead to prosecute what they considered more nagging – the pending elections.
But with the hostile takeover of Aso Rock on May 29, 2015, it was inevitable the prodigals would be made to vomit what they had gobbled. Many are still answering charges today. Everything considered, this development is surely good for our democracy. It is a good step to begin the demonetization of electoral contest in Nigeria.
The season of surrender
So, after the bluff and bluster, rambunctious Dino Melaye would still turn himself in to the police without throwing a single punch? After an eight-day standoff with the sheriff, it was a different man we saw last Friday clambering out of his Abuja hole, tail between his legs. Shame would not allow him make eye contact with anyone.
To be sure, it was perfectly in order for the senator representing Kogi West to test the promise of the law by seeking court protection against police siege to his residence over alleged role in the attempted murder of a policeman. It is within the citizen’s right.
But everything is wrong with Melaye’s continued theatrics after the Abuja court refused his prayers. How pathetic that, even when surrender became inevitable, the Kogi senator chose the seedy path of someone without self-esteem.
While the police vigil lasted, The Cable, an online newspaper, had quoted him as saying he was not at home. Apparently, the lie was concocted in a last-ditch decoy to deceive the police.
But if there was still any doubt about Melaye’s self-delusion, his subsequent comic offering before television cameras outside his Abuja home surely erased such. With his bulky frame literally squeezed into the cabin of a little Honda salon outside his gate and later dragged out at the police headquarters like an unwilling cow at the abattoir, only the exceedingly undiscerning would have failed to notice that even Melaye’s men present that day were battling hard to stifle a laughter at the ensuing farce.
Bearing in mind his past stunts of either jumping off a moving police vehicle to sit tight on bare expressway in Abuja or not been ashamed at all to claim refuge on top of a tree for three whole days to beat security agents in another episode, it is understandable why only a few, if any, were willing to buy the theory of the PDP senator “slumping” on arrival at the police station this time.
However, let it be noted that more incalculable damage is inflicted on not just the dignity but also the integrity of the Nigerian Senate as an institution with antics like this. How ironic that a congressman would go this extreme length in a bid to evade just an invitation to answer the question of the very law he is assumed to have helped fashion. Nothing could be more contemptuous of the rule of law itself. Its spirit requires submission first, before a case is made against whatever misgiving one has.
Regrettably, the season of surrender is bi-partisan. Melaye’s fawning seems contagious. We see a variant in Katsina and Zamfara States under APC. From time immemorial, silence has been romanticized as golden. Or didn’t Charles Peguy caution that it is far more prudent to keep silence and leave people in doubt than open one’s mouth too wide and confirm the suspicion of emptiness? But Governor Bello Masari of Katsina would not heed. Now, he has sensationally scored an own goal by admitting that hoodlums have overrun his state so much that even the streetlight in a territory otherwise thought fortified like Government House was carted away.
According to the governor, so daring have the Katsina robbers become that some of his guests were waylaid moments after leaving the Government House.
Well, coming on election eve, a plausible reason for such “forthrightness” by Masari must be the desire to sound populist. But in playing the honest card, the governor and his publicity handlers would seem oblivious of the insidious implication: forfeiture of a legitimacy to remain in office. (To imagine that Katsina is the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari now seeking second term, with “improved security” listed among his selling points!)
Pray, if the governor himself could no longer account for even ordinary streetlight outside Government House, what then is the hope for the ordinary folks that their lives and property are safe?
Elsewhere in beleaguered Zamfara, peripatetic Abdulaziz Yari on his own made little effort to disguise festering shame. With the state now ungovernable on account of a siege by multiple criminalities, the governor has offered to resign. Again, to imagine that the increasingly unstable Zamfara is the home state of the Defence Minister.
Without mincing words, Yari expressed support for the imposition of emergency rule. But what he failed to add is whether he would also be available to account for the vast sums entered all this while as expenditure in the name of “security votes” with very little or nothing to show on the ground.