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#OtvOPINIONS: Buhari’s ambition and its annoying sense of entitlement by Laurence Ani

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This piece was inspired by an innocuous line I
had posted on Facebook in reaction to Dele
Momodu’s column in Thisday published on
Saturday, November 15. Writing on the notion
that Buhari lacks religious tolerance, the
publisher of Ovation International observed:
“He’s perceived to be a Muslim fundamentalist,
an allegation that has not been proven by his
accusers till this day…

Buhari has related well with Christians all his
life. His first daughter was married to an Igbo
man, a Christian. Both his drivers and cook were
Christians….” In reaction, I wrote that it was
wrong to “cite the fact that Buhari’s daughter
was married to an Igbo man” in attempting “to
dispel the notion he’s an ethnic bigot.” I drew
from the Rwandan experience as a premise to
buttress my point.
“Many Hutus had Tutsis as wives (but) such ties
didn’t stop the genocide.
I’m not suggesting the general has such
tendencies; just to point out how silly the
argument is, really.” My post may have seemed
innocuous to me, but the vitriolic comments it
generated is a further reminder of how
intolerant we have become of opinions that
diverge from ours.
But, even more so, it highlighted an increasingly
worrying trend I have observed among
supporters of General Muhammadu Buhari
which, to put it mildly, is an unwillingness to
accept the simple fact that their hero could be
someone else’s villain.
There is, of course, that other silly variant of
this inclination which has also become a default
reaction mode of the Buhari horde – imputing
an ethno-religious motive in any viewpoint that
fails to idealize the former head of state. It is
such hubris that fuels the conceit that has
defined Buhari’s political career, one that
conveys the sense of entitlement perceived in
each of his outing as a presidential aspirant
which began late 2002 when he was driven into
the crowded convention ground of the All
Peoples Party, effectively truncating the
ambition of Rochas Okorocha.
The results, although as yet inconclusive, had
clearly shown that the Imo State governor was
coasting to victory. The general was not
bothered by the way the party’s presidential
ticket was handed out to him even if it came at
the expense of due process.
If he was, it did not reflect in his acceptance
speech bereft of any conciliatory tone. Needless
to say, that imposition sowed the seed which
would later destroy the APP (the precursor to All
Nigeria Peoples Party that eventually morphed
into the All Progressives Congress along with the
Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for
Progressive Change). What else but hubris would
make a politician seeking to be Nigeria’s
president view questions about his refusal to
appear at the Human Rights Violation
Investigations Commission (Oputa Panel) as an
irritant to which he shouldn’t be obliged to
respond?
This dismissive tendency has also, sadly, been
internalised by the retired general’s supporters
who consider him beyond reproach and more or
less regard past exemplary conducts of his as
sufficient atonements for some shortcomings no
matter how grave.
There is, if you like, an unspoken reckoning that
Buhari necessarily deserves everyone’s votes
and so needs not commit time and effort to
earn those votes. So when a voter expresses a
legitimate concern about his occasionally
divisive comments, it riles rather than serve as
an opportunity to reassure; alienating the
electorate further and drawing the man seeking
their votes deeper into his messianic bubble.
Stripped to its essence, the underlying message
of Buhari’s politics is “vote for me, I’m a good
man”.
But goodness and weakness are not mutually
exclusive. Besides, being good does not
invalidate that virtue in others. I never referred
to Buhari as an ethnic bigot in the Facebook
post. He certainly would not have written Dora
Akunyili the sort of glittering recommendation
that paved the way for her ascent to national
prominence if he had such provincial outlook.
Yet, such noble conduct does not suffice as a
response to weaknesses in Buhari’s personality
often cited by critics. The weakness cited by
most critics is the ex-military ruler’s penchant
for intemperate comments, a trait that first
surfaced at the National Quranic Recitation
competition held at the Ali Akilu Square in
Gusau, Zamfara State, in 2002. Buhari was
quoted as saying the following words: “I am
hoping that Nigerian Muslims will unite because
of what is ahead of us…
Anyone you don’t agree with, anyone who would
not protect the interest of our religion and our
own interest, forget him – whoever he is. If it is
possible, re-elect candidates who will protect our
religion and our interests.”
Of course, Buhari claimed then he had been
“quoted out of context”. But about 10 years
later, he would face a similar charge. The case
this time was the prelude to the 2011 elections
when he made what seemed like a veiled
admonition for his supporters to express their
angst against those presumed to have stolen
their votes.
The results of that election are well known and
the bloody aftermath still serves as a chilling
reminder of how easily an appeal to religious
sentiments can eclipse all reason.
He may have clarified his statement and denied
that his exhortation to supporters then was a
call to arms, but we should nonetheless not
resent those who would rather take his
explanations with a pinch of salt.
Doing otherwise promotes a sense of
entitlement which terribly hurts the democratic
spirit and emboldens political parties to shut out
other aspirants. Credibility is not a closed shop;
it is strengthened by a continuing process of
appraisal. Sadly, it’s a point that Buhari’s
acolytes are unwilling to acknowledge.

This article was originally published on Opinions.ng.

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