Renowned political analyst and Development Economist, Odilim Enwegbara, has x-rayed the chances of the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, predicting that he may have difficulty winning the March 28 Presidential poll contrary to what some poll watchers have predicted. In this interview with our BUREAU CHIEF (NORTHERN OPERATIONS), CELESTINE OKAFOR in Abuja, Enwegbara argues that the APC may not be able to defeat the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Excerpts:
Buhari spoke on a number of issues at the Chatham House in London last week. How do you evaluate those issues he spoke about?
Buhari’s visit to Chatham House in London has set a new precedence in Nigeria’s presidential campaign. Soon you will see Nigerian politicians taking their campaigns to the space to tell them how they intend to fix Nigerian problems on earth not minding the high cost of space shuttle.
I am worried because it was such an unnecessary and expensive political adventure. I say this because I didn’t hear anything said there that shouldn’t be said here in Nigeria. In fact, there was nothing serious and new that was said there by Buhari, especially the decision about who to be elected president resides in Nigerians in Nigeria, not even Nigerians in the UK, not to mention Britons. The only justification for the amount of money and time spent in London was another jamboree to feel presidential as the entire APC campaign machinery was completely shut down. My fear is that if this trip is not criticised by Nigerians, we should expect ‘’a president Buhari’’ presenting his annual budgets before the Chatham House rather than a joint session of the country’s Senate and House of Representatives.
But what makes his visit more alarming and dangerous for our democratic journey is that a major presidential contender has to carry his campaigns to a foreign land, not any foreign land but our former occupiers and colonizers; a country that still employs divide and rule imperialism. My pain is because he preferred to speak at Chatham House, the headquarters of British imperialism rather than a debate with Jonathan, the person he desperately wants to replace.
Maybe Buhari went on appeal to the British for the diplomatic row he caused as a result of regime’s crating of late Umaru Dikko, one of Shagari’s powerful ministers. Or maybe speaking at the Chatham House, rather than attending the celebration of former President Shehu Shagari’s 90th birthday — where President Jonathan along with all former heads of state rejoiced and celebrated with the country’s first executive president — to show to Nigerians that he and Shagari have truly reconciled the overthrowing Shagari government in 1983 was more important to Buhari. The only plausible explanation for his ironic speech at Chatham House would be a cover up of his medical treatment in Britain.
It is important, therefore, that Buhari for the benefit of doubt tells Nigerians what really took him to London for that long and why he has to stay in London for one week before speaking at Chatham House. At least, he owes it to the Nigerian electorate that not only was he not sick to the extent of shutting down his entire campaign but also that he did not go for medical treatment in London. One of the best ways to make Nigerians believe that he is physically and mentally fit to preside over the affairs of this country would be to agree to submit himself along with President Jonathan to a team of independent medical practitioners who should conduct thorough health examinations to ascertain that both candidates are in the best mental and physical fitness since the office of the president of Nigeria is so demanding that to say that it is a-24-hour-7days-a week-job is to say the least.
Lai Mohammed who recently said that age doesn’t affect one’s ability to perform in office by coomparing Reagan who was 69 years and Mandela who was in his early 70s with Buhari’s 72 years, should realise that US and South Africa have more political institutions and as a result, have a kind of self-driven system with robust checks and balances; which Nigeria doesn’t yet have. Also, let’s not forget that Reagan was known to be almost always sleeping during cabinet meetings with a very short attention span and memory loss to the extent that it’s George Bush Sr., his vice, who was the de facto president.
The case of Nelson Mandela, having fought apartheid and sacrificed all his life for his country’s independence, including spending 27 years in prison, to reward and honour him, the South African people wanted him to be their post-apartheid president, the father of an independent South Africa. Little wonder during his four years in office South Africa had two deputy presidents – F.W. de Klerk (immediate former white president) and Thabo Mbeki who even though was the second deputy president was actually de facto president, with Mandela’s ceremonial presidential activities reduced to mere diplomatic ceremonies.
I spent a lot of time explaining this to show that Lai Mohammed’s comparisons were out of place and a party clamouring for change should have had a younger politician as its presidential candidate to genuinely be that driver of change, not a man whose past was synonymous with a period of horror and terror violating the human rights and dignity of most Nigerians in the name of war against indiscipline, and whose nasty, brutish and merciless government in some cases cut short lives of Nigerians for daring to speak against his repressive government.
But notwithstanding all you have just said, why is it that Buhari remains popular in Nigeria, most especially in the North?
Buhari has over the years built a false aura of an honest, corruption-free, and a pro-mass leader. Those who actually believe in this “saint Buhari” are either those who were born after 1985 or those who have short memories of the recent past. Or have we just forgotten that the so-called corruption crusader was appointed the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources in March 1976 and as the Chairman of NNPC, which was created the same year, it was alleged by some people that under his watch, N2.8 billion missed and was diverted in financing FESTAC in 1977?
This unending allegation forced President Shehu Shagari to set up in 1980, the Crude Oil Sales Tribunal of Inquiry headed by the famous jury, Justice Ayo Irikefe but the tribunal’s work was inconclusive given the refusal of Obasanjo and Buhari to appear before the Irikefe Tribunal. It was alleged that the December 31st 1983 coup by Buhari, which overthrew the Shagari’s government was like a pay back to Shagari for trying to investigate Buhari and Obasanjo, both recognised then as the most powerful generals. Buhari’s simple and inexpensive lifestyle could be interpreted to have been sending the signal to most Nigerians who believed that every Nigerian leader retires in opulence and given that Buhari never lived a life of opulence, it was assumed that he was an upright man.
I think Buhari is ambitiously and excessively in love with power and believes that he alone has what it takes to turn Nigeria around negating the fact that Nigeria of 1983 is far different from Nigeria of 2015. Little wonder he has been behaving like a president elect when presidential elections are yet to be conducted. In 2015, we are talking about Democracy where the power of the president is continuously scrutinized by the Legislature and regulated by the Judiciary. While in 1980s, Buhari had no difficulty banning political meetings, free speech and detaining thousands and using secret tribunals to prosecute and execute people for crimes that were not necessarily capital offences. As a civilian president, his excesses can be challenged in court and could lead to impeachment.
The challenges Buhari will face as a civilian president (if he wins) are that while he has control over the managers of the country’s fiscal policy, he will find it frustrating that the managers of the monetary policy of the country make their decisions independently especially because, the 2007 CBN Act has since allowed the full independence of Central Bank of Nigeria. That is why one seems to wonder how will Buhari be able to realize his campaign promises especially his so-called modernizing and expanding the economy when, Soludo recently and rightly argued that “Buhari and his team must realise that they do not yet have a coherent, credible agenda that is consistent with the fundamentals of the economy .
Why do you think that APC which claims to have a lot to offer Nigerians if elected has its presidential candidate absolutely refusing to debate president GEJ?
This question ought to have been posed to APC particularly, the handlers of Buhari. One of the germane things that make modern democracy vibrant is live public debate where candidates have the unique opportunity to market themselves and defend their campaign promises. Presidential debates have remained the game changer in most modern societies. For example in 1960, Richard Nixon was defeated by John F. Kennedy in the US presidential elections simply because Kennedy beat him in the first televised presidential debates in the US. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the presidential election because Reagan beat Carter in the debate. In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated George H. Bush Sr. because Clinton during the presidential debates proved to have superior arguments about how to address America’s economic and social problem. In 2008, Barrack Obama defeated John McCain because he defeated McCain in all the debates. Back home in 1993, MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa because he demonstrated superior knowledge of Nigeria’s economic and social problems and proffered solutions to them.
I have buttressed this detail to demonstrate why presidential debates are important and should be encouraged if we want to build a robust democracy. It is ironic that Buhari should travel all the way to Chatham House in London to debate himself, addressing the wrong audience when he refuses to share with Nigerian electorate his answers to the economic and social problems. It is also ironic that APC that has been claiming to have all the answers to the economic and social problems of Nigeria has refused to participate in any presidential debate. Even though that I totally agree with APC that the debates being organized by the so-called Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) that has since hijacked the presidential debate could be favourable to PDP because NTA as the lead organizer is a government agency, I fail to understand why APC should refuse to participate in debates to be organized by neutral television stations like CNBC or Arise. But can’t APC and PDP organize the debates themselves where an APC member will be the one posing questions to Jonathan and a PDP member poses questions to Buhari while a neutral moderator only moderates the debates. This way the argument by APC that the so-called ‘’chairman of NEDG must have leaked the questions to PDP in advance’’ should no longer arise.