AS President Muhammadu Buhari goes round the country campaigning for re-election at the February 16 presidential election, one thing that keeps bugging the mind of the average discerning Nigerian is how can a man who has little or no trust in people of other tribes be asking for their votes.
In 2015 when Nigerians were united in voting for him with a belief in his integrity to replace the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government led by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, which was considered highly corrupt and clueless, little did we know that it would only be a matter of time before the retired army general began to bare his fangs.
President Buhari had come to power on the goodwill of Nigerians; many of whom were neither Fulani nor Muslims. Even those of us who share some ethnic and religious affinity with the then President Jonathan never considered such affiliation when it was time to vote. We voted for Buhari because we needed what we considered a positive change. Events of today have shown that we were all wrong. Otherwise, how can we explain the lopsided federal appointments that gave positions of heads of the nation’s security forces and allied agencies out to northerners particularly of Fulani extraction? In spite of the global practice that once election has come and gone particularly a presidential in a plural environment like ours, the winner ought to consider every constituency as his; Buhari got it wrong when he told Nigerians soon after he took over in 2015 that he would give more attention to 97% who voted for him and less attention to the 5% who did not vote for him. While the mathematical inaccuracy of his assertion in this circumstance is not a subject of debate here, I hasten to point out the fact that a president with such narrow perception is not who we want again to lead us. By his action, he has brazenly displayed favoritism and portrayed himself as tribal president.
Before now particularly in the three previous elections; President Buhari had participated in, as presidential candidate, he never hid his penchant for ethnic and religious fundamentalism. Hence, he could threaten that if he lost the election, hell would be let loose. That was exactly what happened when he lost in the 2011 presidential election. Many Christians including youth corpers and others were killed in the violence ignobly precipitated by his defeat.
By the greater proportion of some of his actions and inactions as a sitting president, he has demonstrated that he is not the detribalized leader Nigerians need to take us to a higher level of national unity or oneness. He considers himself first as a Fulani and Muslim before his Nigerian-ness and can go to any length to advance the course of his tribe and religion over and above that of Nigeria even though he keeps advertising himself as a patriotic Nigerian. Even though President Buhari’s main opponent (Atiku Abubakar) in the forthcoming election is a fellow Fulani Muslim like him, evidence on ground largely places Atiku far away from the parochial, tribal and nepotistic premise Buhari thrives on. Atiku who is the PDP’s candidate has over the years demonstrated his pan-Nigerian disposition.
He sees himself first as a Nigerian hence everywhere is home to him in the country. You can call it a political strategy or whatever it is, but the truth is that Atiku over the years as a Muslim who has the right to marry more than one wife, has chosen to demonstrate his love for one Nigeria by marrying other women outside his Fulani ethnic environment. One of his wives Titi is a Yoruba and the other Jennifer is of Igbo extraction.
Such inter-tribal and inter-religious marriage as demonstrated by Atiku has no doubt helped to broaden his understanding of the country Nigeria, from a much larger perspective. If for anything, such a scenario has helped to down play whatever ill-feelings or chauvinism that may have arisen in times of national discourse that borders on resource allocation or distribution of the nation’s commonwealth.
The man Atiku as President of Nigeria is not likely to be driven by ethnic or religious fundamentalism in the appointment or choice of who heads what public institution. He holds a pan-Nigerian swag that readily aligns him to people of different tribes among whom he can easily make some choices in times of appointment.
The robustness of his social disposition is legendary. As a journalist, I could recall a story given to me by some staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) few years ago, how Atiku used to relate with them in those days when he was the Customs boss at the Lagos airport. One of them, an accounting staff from South South of the country could recall with some sense of nostalgia how the former Vice President used to make life easy for them, knowing well enough that they all had common stakes in Nigeria. Whatever that means, his inter-relationship at all levels with persons and institutions in a friendly and supportive manner; easily gives him away as a philanthropist. Perhaps; this is why he does not hesitate to give some helping hands to the needy. He has created scholarship opportunities for those desirous of furthering their education and has not ceased from donating to institutions of learning owned by government. For example, two years ago, he was at the graduation ceremony of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun Delta State.
There, he announced a donation of N30million to the school, which is not even located in his geo-political zone. As a Nigerian with interest in the development of his fellow Nigerians irrespective of tribe or religion, Atiku as a businessman, has extended his network of businesses beyond his geo-political zone with thousands of non-Fulani Muslims on his pay role. Currently, he has no fewer than 50,000 work force, the least of whom receives more than the yet to be implemented national minimum wage of N30,000.
It is certainly out of fear of being outdone that his traducers and critics go to town with the mischievous narrative that Atiku is a corrupt man who cannot be trusted. If he is, why have they not preferred charges against him all this while? Why should Buhari apologists and hangers on, who are afraid of Atiku’s victory at the presidential polls continue with such infantile narrative that recently brought huge shame to Lai Mohammed and his co-travellers.
Soon after Atiku had secured the PDP presidential ticket, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in spite of the emergence of other presidential gladiators on the platform of several other parties had vehemently tried to force the average Nigerian to believe that the man Atiku was a criminal suspect awaiting trial in the United States of America in connection with certain bribery related issues. The narrative became so loud that Buhari’s campaign spokesman; our friend and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Festus Keyamo in one of his messages to the public tried to explain the nuances surrounding the purported awaiting trial status of Atiku in the US and the inevitability of his being arrested, should he step into that country. The intensity of their argument became so much that at some point the Buhari apologists were literally equating a visit to America as the main ‘visa’ to securing the Aso Rock seat in an election. They dared Atiku to travel to US if he knew, his hands were clean. Lo and behold in the second week of January, this year, Atiku in company of other Nigerians including the Senate President Bukola Saraki landed safely in the United States of America.
Atiku and his entourage were well received. They had engagements and discussions with relevant stakeholders for about three days and returned safely to Nigeria.
Iloba writes from Lagos