Joshua Nkomo was seen by many Zimbabweans as the father of their nation. It was not without reason. At the time the country was fighting for independence, Nkomo led his party, the Zimbabwean African People's Union (ZAPU-PF) to join forces with Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU-PF) to fight the British colonial administration. Even when Ian Smith came up with his Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI), a white minority regime that excluded the black majority, Nkomo did not declare a cease fire. In fact, the fight was intensified.
However, at the country's independence, Nkomo's party lost. His nationwide popularity and the general acceptance of his message could not win him the much needed votes. He was a minority from Matabeleland and he lost to Mugabe, who is from the majority Shona ethnic group. Nkomo's loss of elections in Zimbabwe did not subtract from his greatness in the eyes of his country men and women. He is still revered even in death.
Just like Nkomo, General Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the 2011 presidential election for the third time since he turned a democrat, is by all standards a great man. His greatness stems from the way he has conducted himself and carried out his politics since 2003 when he first mounted the soap box to seek the electoral mandate of Nigerians.
When Buhari was moved to tears last week at the Shehu Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja at an event held to round off the presidential campaign of his party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), some people misconstrued it to mean that he was weeping because he knew he was going to lose the April 16 presidential election. He was actually bemoaning the situation in which Nigeria has become a rentier state, where the ruling elite appropriate what belongs to both the present generation and future generations.
In the campaign for the 2011 election, which was actually the fiercest and one in which Buhari stood the best chance, a number of actions that he took when he was military head of state between December 31, 1983 and August 17, 1985 came up. One was the obnoxious Decree 4 under which two prominent journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were jailed for a story they published in The Guardian. That decree tended to gag the Nigerian media, which had always been free and vibrant.
The other one was his cancellation of the Lagos metroline project conceived by second republic governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande. The project was designed to build underground transport system to address the chaotic traffic situation in the state.
In addition, his handling of the issue of second republic Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, was seen as discriminatory. While Shehu Shagari, the second republic president was placed under house arrest after the 1983 coup, Ekwueme was detained at the Ikoyi prison in Lagos.
The worst action, however, was the retroactive law which led to the trial and eventual execution of two drug peddlers, Batholomew Owoh and Bennard Ogedengbe. There is nowhere in the world where laws are made retroactive. His military government also tried to kidnap Umaru Dikko, second republic transport minister, who had taken refuge as an exile in London. That action caused diplomatic uproar between Nigeria and Britain at that time. Dikko had been put in a crate ready to be flown back to Nigeria before the attempt was foiled.
With no attempt to defend such reprehensible actions, they should be understood in the context of military rule and situated within the circumstances of the time. It was a time coups were in vogue in many parts of the developing world.
As head of state, Buhari brooked no corruption and he lived above board but when he embraced democracy, he did so with commitment and total conviction that it is the best form of government. It is that attribute that has seen him build a formidable party within a relatively short time. The CPC, which he formed after he and his followers decamped from the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) is just about one year old but it has made such a great impact and got the ruling PDP jittery till the day the presidential election was held on Saturday. Last year when President Goodluck Jonathan was preparing to square up with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar for the ticket of the PDP, Oronto Douglas, one of the president's closest aides, had told me that the president's camp was looking ahead of the PDP primaries. He said the Jonathan team was already strategizing on how to defeat Buhari at the presidential election, meaning that it was only the former head of state they saw as an opponent.
The party, CPC, does not have 'moneybags' as financiers. In my discussion with Buba Galadima, its national publicity secretary last year in Abuja, he had said the offices of the party across the states were donated by loyal party members. The CPC model should present itself as a case study in party formation in Nigeria. For a new party it has won an appreciable number of seats in both chambers of the National Assembly and may also win some gubernatorial elections on April 26.
In 2003 and 2007, he took recourse to the courts to pursue his ambition when he felt that he was cheated at the election. He continued the legal battle even after Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, his running mate in the 2007 election and chairman of ANPP, had applied to the court to discontinue the case.
Since he went into politics, Buhari has come across as different from the typical Nigerian politician. He is disciplined, he is forthright. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom Buhari served as petroleum minister when Obasanjo was military head of state in the 1970s, has testified to Buhari's incorruptibility and discipline. As chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) that was set up by the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, he served without blemish.
If there is one common denominator that unites the business and political elite in Nigeria, it is their distrust of Buhari. They fear him and believe that if given the opportunity, his government would be draconian. Buhari himself has not hidden his resentment against them. At the presidential debate organized by NN24, he gave an indication that if elected he would institute an inquiry into how money was spent by previous governments.
He has already said the 2011 election would be his last quest for power in Nigeria. Besides, at 69, age is not on his side. The consensus is that people of his generation should give way to the younger generation. He came across as one who had good dreams for Nigeria and one determined to positively change the course of Nigeria.
Nigerians have genuinely made their choice in President Jonathan but that choice does not reduce Buhari’s greatness. Please Northerner should know that Buhari still remains a great Nation even at his lost.
Buhari: A great Nigerian who will not be president