24 May 2018

Nigeria: Buhari and the Guerilla Band

opinion

President Muhammadu Buhari would be 77 next year when he would be seeking re-election. There is no doubt that his age would be an issue in that election. Some people are questioning his capacity to continue despite the burden of old age. In some occasions, he has confessed that age may have mellowed him, but it has no effect on his capacity, on the profundity of his love for his fatherland and on his mental state to understand and embrace the full majesty of his office.

He would be the oldest President of Nigeria ever to seek re-election. President Olusegun Obasanjo was 66 in 2003 when he was running for his second term. Even at that age, he was an energetic President on top of his game, dominating the policy field of the African continent and the Nigerian political game like a virtuoso. When President Shehu Shagari won a second term in a landslide victory in 1983, he was 58. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Buhari's benighted predecessor, was 58 when he ran and failed to win a second term in 2015.

Age has often been in contention in Nigerian politics especially since the collapse of the ill-fated Second Republic. General Murtala Muhammed had announced in 1976 the names of 50 men to discuss the Constitution of Nigeria. The Committee, under the leadership of Chief Rotimi Williams, was to prepare a draft Constitution that would be submitted to a Constituent Assembly. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the nominated 50 Wise Men, declined to serve. He said he just heard his name announced on the radio and would prefer that he was consulted before any such announcement was made. No replacement was made and the Chief Williams Committee became a conclave of only 49 Wise Men.

Chief Awolowo too was not in the Constituent Assembly instituted by General Olusegun Obasanjo who came to power after the assassination of General Mohammed in 1976. Though he was not a member, Awolowo dominated the discussion in the Assembly for it was an open secret that he had a lifelong ambition to become the President of Nigeria. Therefore, the assembly became polarized between those who were in Awo's camp and those who were not. The Awoists in the assembly were eager to be so identified and they were identifiable by their fiery speeches and fashionable fez cap also known as Awo's cap.

Some of the opponents of Awolowo were determined to stop him from contesting. Awo, first Premier of the defunct Western Region, was the Leader of Opposition during the First Republic when the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC and its allies, formed the Federal Government under Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa.

By 1978, he was poised to become the President of Nigeria and his opponents were prepared to stop him on technical ground. They therefore inserted in the draft Constitution that anyone who had attained the age of 70 was not qualified to contest for the office of the President. They knew Awolowo, born in 1909, would be 70 by 1979. General Olusegun Obasanjo later expunged that provision in the draft Constitution and Awolowo contested the 1979 presidential election.

Another person who faced opposition because of his age was the legendary Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, former editor-in-chief of the defunct West African Pilot, first Premier of the defunct Eastern Region, first President of the Senate and the first titular President of Nigeria. There were speculations that the great Zik, at 75, had retired fully from politics. After a bit of hesitation, Zik jumped into the fray becoming the presidential candidate of the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP.

But the issue of age was to re-echo in 1983. Zik and Awo had become the leaders of a new Progressive Alliance initiated by the governors of the UPN, NPP, the Great Nigerian Peoples Party, GNPP and a faction of the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP. Awo had hoped that in the final analysis, Zik would support his final epic battle for the Presidency. He wanted to become the "Chief Servant" while Zik would be the "Guide and Philosopher." He said he was now too old to step down for Zik for the historic contest of 1983. Zik would not agree.

The opposition NPN took advantage of the schism within the alliance and when the alliance and its candidates were defeated at the 1983 presidential elections, both Zik and Awo became targets of severe verbal attacks. When Zik complained bitterly about the conduct of the elections and the alleged rigging by the NPN, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, an upstart politician and special adviser to the President, dismissed Zik's diatribes as "the ranting of an ant." Zik, an incomparable journalist, gave an epic response for the ages.

"I am 78 years, nine months and one week today and I thought I should write and congratulate certain politicians on their inglorious and futile attempts to destroy the soidisant Zik Myth," he declared at a Lagos press conference. "Verily, it is un-African and inhuman to make mockery of old age because Africans and all human beings pray to God to prolong their life span. Nonetheless, those Nigerian politicians who indulge in this abomination shall not live to be old. Unlike the hope of Prophet Joel, these beasts of creation shall not prophesy; and see visions."

Next year, Buhari would most likely not be the only septuagenarian in the ring. There are many platforms for the ambitious to climb into the Presidency and most of them would have occupants. Among the persons to watch is Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, former Vice-President of Nigeria who has more experience about running for President than anyone else. He squared up to Chief Moshood Abiola for the presidential ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, nomination in 1993. He lost narrowly.

Apart from Atiku, there is a posse of other hopeful on the heel of President Buhari. We have the likes of Bukola Saraki, who is 56, Rabiu Kwankwanzo, 62 and Aminu Tambuwal, 52. There is also the guerrilla team of Omoyele Sowore, 47, the founder of Sahara Reporters, Fela Durotoye, 47, Harvard University educated motivational speaker and Kingsley Moghalu, 55, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank.

One interesting aspirant is Ayodele Fayose, 58, the outgoing governor of Ekiti State, who may have warehoused enough money for the adventure considering his useful and profitable experience with the Jonathan campaign of 2015. If he failed to contest, it may be because he may be too busy with lawyers and operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in the months ahead.

The Obasanjo new platform, the African Democratic Congress, ADC is also gathering members into its rank and that is where Donald Duke, 56, is pitching his tent. In the months ahead, especially with the coming election in Osun State, there would be enough opportunities for the ADC to flex its muscles.

While the elite may worry about age, most of the people are concern however about the effectiveness of the President. On Tuesday, May 22, the people of Benue State again buried a new set of victims of the so-called Fulani herdsmen terrorism. I spoke to a friend of mine in Benue State on Tuesday and he said eight of his relations were among the dead. His father escaped by whiskers. Many Nigerians are worried about the security situation in their country. In 2019, they may actually want a President who will make them safe. His age may not be the deciding factor.

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