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Perseverance and pressure – Muhammadu Buhari, President-elect, Nigeria

By Patrick Smith
Posted on Friday, 29 May 2015 07:50

So it is a tribute to Muhammadu Buhari’s perseverance and stamina that in the early hours of 1 April he was setting out his aims as head of state of Nigeria again.

And his words – “There shall no longer be a ruling party […]. We shall faithfully serve you. We shall never rule over the people as if they were subservient to government” – chimed with the hopes of many Nigerians.

The conditions the then-Major General Buhari met when he took power on 31 December 1983 as head of a group of brigadiers and major generals are strikingly similar to the circumstances today.

However, those close to Buhari insist that his political ideas and his personal style have changed dramatically.

We have to tackle fraud and injustice

They point to his carefully crafted acceptance speech: “I shall work for those who voted for me as well as those who voted against me and even those who did not vote at all.”

For those of us who met the 72-year-old Buhari on the campaign trail, his clear thinking on the country’s ailments shone through.

He stood ramrod straight dressed in a traditional baboon riga.

Buhari’s subtle sense of humour has now tempered his nationalist passions.

There was a missionary zeal with which Buhari identified his two priorities, tackling the “evils of terrorism and corruption”.

A former military governor of Northeastern State – which is now the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency – he knows the region well.

His grandfather was a chieftain in the Kanuri ethnic group, from which Boko Haram has drawn most its recruits.

After the 2007 elections, widely lambasted as being among the worst in the country’s history, Buhari told The Africa Report that a group of very angry junior officers had contacted him: “I told them Nigeria was now in a different era. We have to tackle fraud and injustice, constitutionally and legally. After that, we can improve the morale and integrity of the army.”

As he did more than 30 years ago, Buhari is likely to lead a thoroughgoing restructuring of the senior officer corps.

Rule of law

On corruption, Buhari’s experience and example will shape strategy. “We will not launch witch hunts, but from day one we will insist on strict adherence to the rule of law,” he told The Africa Report.

The country’s oil and gas industry will be a main target for the campaign.

As oil minister under General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime in the 1970s, Buhari established the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to be like Brazil’s Petrobras.

When asked if he might consider selling all or part of the state’s equity in the oil and gas industry, he gave a pragmatic response: “That’s not in the party manifesto, but we face a deep crisis and we will examine the situation we inherit very closely. We will take an approach that works and is accountable.”

Policy advisers to Buhari promise an early announcement about a comprehensive audit of the NNPC and its affiliates, and the establishment of a new system of regular public reporting of revenue flows and their management.

Whatever the well-wishers say when Buhari takes the presidential oath on 29 May, he knows that long and exhausting battles with vested interests lie ahead.

It is the outcome of those fights that will shape the success of Buhari’s second act.

Patrick Smith

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