General Buhari and Democracy


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General Buhari and “Defence of Democratic Struggle" in the Past--Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign is Right: A Rejoinder to Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u




Professor Omo Omoruyi, mni


The frequent question being asked and discussed is whether General Muhammadu Buhari has any faith in democracy?  In the essay by Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u of Bayero University, Kano in, he took issue with the statement in the Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign Organization that questioned General Buhari’s contribution to the democratic struggle until he showed interest in the nomination of the ANPP to contest the presidential election.   In the Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign advertisement published on Wednesday April 2, 2003 in the New Nigeria it was said:

Quote one statement General Muhammadu Buhari  made in “defence of democratic struggle” in Nigeria  before he declared interest in the presidency and win 50,000 naira.

The operative phrase ought to have been construed as “defence of democratic struggle”.  That struggle would have been in terms of activity or action that he took to further democracy and not speech after democratic process has been restored in 2001.   What the Obasanjo/Atiku was asking would have been interpreted in two ways.


What did General Muhammadu Buhari have in mind when he terminated the democratically elected government of President Shagari and placed many Nigerian politicians in detention in December 1983?   Did he know that many politicians died as a result of his action?  One would also want to know what he did when he had opportunity to give to the Nigerian people as a military Head of State a democratic order?  Why did his colleagues overthrow him?   Why did his colleagues call him a dictator? 

General Buhari never answered these questions during this election other than to say he had no regret for what he did in the past as the military Head of State.  


As a retired General what did he do when other retired Generals spoke out at critical periods when the rights of Nigerians were violated with impunity?   What did General Buhari do during the period when Nigerians were denied their democratic rights in 1993 from the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential election? 

One would also want to know what General Buhari did when General Abacha was sustaining the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election?   What did he do when General Abacha was scheming to make himself the President for life through self-succession in 1998?   Nigerians know that he was one of the greatest beneficiaries of that regime.   It is only in Nigeria that a former Head of State should take a paid job from his former junior officer.   It is only in a military regime in Nigeria that that could take place.  There is no evidence that he ever made any speech on politics when he was in the service of General Abacha.


I am surprised that Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u decided to quote the statement credited to General Buhari on November 24, 2001.   The period of the democratic struggle is not during the period from 1999 to 2003.   The process was in place in 1999.   Jameel Yusha'u is therefore wrong and Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign advert is right.

He cited the speech Buhari made at Kaduna under the auspices of the Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, Bayero University, Kano.   The title of Buhari’s speech was “Military Class, Political Class and Good Governance in Nigeria” and the date of the lecture was November 24, 2001.   In that speech Buhari said as follows:

While it is true that over the years, the military class, in its effort for transition to democracy, has done quite a lot of political engineering and performed neck-breaking brinkmanship, it has left the economy virtually untouched by any major transformation.   

He went on to name the various areas of structural problems in the economy that the military ought to have addressed.   He then blamed the military for problems of the economy owing to the “disproportionate stay in office” of the military.   He then proffered a solution to the Nigerian problems as follows with a question.  “In light of all these, what then is the way forward for Nigeria?  He was posing this question in November 2001 when the problem he was referring to was in the past when he was in office.   Read Buhari’s solution.   :

Without any hesitation, I will say the answer to this question is “Democratization”   And perhaps we have no choice, because when its time comes, democracy descends in unstoppable wave.

Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u then said “What a defence of democratic struggle?  Defence of democratic struggle!  What kind! Haba! How Yusha'u could call that a contribution to the defence of democratic struggle beats my imagination?   I feel ashamed that the Center I founded at Kano as part of the Centre for Democratic Studies  was associated with half-baked analysis of he relationship between the perennial economic crisis and democratization.  

There is no question that in the past when Buhari had opportunity to put his stamp on the democratic transition he failed.   This period I am referring to was when he was the military head of State, December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985.  


Jameel should know or ought to have known why people are questioning of Buhari’s democratic credentials and beliefs.   Nigerians are still talking of the General Buhari, as a military Head of State and what he did to destroy what Obasanjo left behind as also a military Head of State.  Nigerians are asking what he had in mind after he took over the elected civilian government in December 1983.  

One needs a believer in democracy to bring about democracy.   Buhari in the past before he became the candidate of the ANPP was not a believer.   Yes he dealt mercilessly with elected officials as common criminals.   What people failed to discuss up till now is the belief or attitude of the General to democratic life.   Did he believe in it?   How can one embark on the defence of democratic struggle if one does not believe in it?   


In reacting to the claim of Jameel Yusha'u that he had found a quote from Buhari as an example of Buhari’s defence of democratic struggle, I reached for my notes during his tenure as the military Head of State.  I happened to be a democracy watcher during his period as the military Head of State.  

I indicated elsewhere that after the coup of December 31 1983, I went back to the University.   I renounced partisan politics and committed myself to the goal of reforming politics.  

As a friend of General Babangida, the then Chef of Army Staff during the period of Buhari, I was very interested in what Buhari and his team were doing to reform politics since junta that overthrew the elected government found it bad.   As I used to tell General Babangida during my visits to him in Lagos, it was not enough to put politicians in jail; politicians wanted to know what the military junta was doing to reform politics.   This was my interest then and became my preoccupation when IBB took over from him.   General Buhari was an unmitigated disaster in the cause of democracy.   Yusha'u should not qualify for a kobo for the speech of Buhari that he cited


Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u, in searching for “quote” of “one statement Buhari made in defence of democratic struggle”, I could not find any.   If any, there are quotations confirming the description of Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu that Buhari was a tyrant before 1999 and a complete opposite of General Obasanjo.  Let me take readers through some of my notes.   


No mention of democratic transition in his program, which he said was  "to revive the Nigerian economy by efficiently exploiting and harnessing all available human and material resources in order to improve the quality of life of all Nigerians."

Buhari went on to name ten items in furtherance of the above.   None of these ten items had anything to do with democratic transition program.   It was in this context that the domestic and international media started to ask him as soon as when it became apparent that Buhari was not interested in democratic transition.  It would appear that Buhari’s lack of faith in politicians was what governed Abacha’s conduct later.  

Nigerians and Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u should read Muhammadu Buhari, Moment of Truth: Collected Speeches (London, Federal Government Printer, 1984).


General Buhari was asked a question at a World Press Conference that he organized to tell the world and the Nigerian people the cornerstone of his policy and in fact his belief on January 5, 1984, few days after taking power.   The news reporters knew Nigerians and their craze for politics.   For something about democratic transition not to be said in the statement by the new military strongman, they thought something was missing.  

After listening to General Buhari read his policy statement, the newsmen noted a complete omission of the democratic transition program.   One of the newsmen had the courage to ask General Buhari the pointed question, maybe wanted to know if it was an omission in his announced program not to have said anything about a return of power to elected civilian government.   Listen to what Buhari had to say: "We haven’t discussed the question of a return to democracy in the SMC (i.e. the Supreme Military Council)." Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u can check this out from Daily Times of January 6, 1984.

General Buhari had another opportunity to say something about democracy in another interview and his reply was negative.   Follow this dialogue:

Question:  Do you see the military as providing a relatively  brief caretaker administration or is the military back to power for the foreseeable future?

Answer (Buhari): In the Supreme Military Council, we have not considered that question.  I think the major problem we have is how to revive the economy of the country, ensure discipline at home and respect abroad.   After that, we will think of what to do next.


In a banner headline in the Financial Times of London, General Buhari was quoted as saying:  “We have no time to Waste”

What that meant was that he had no time for what politicians do, meaning with politicians and democracy.  Here is the interview he granted the two journalists, Michael Holman and Patti Waldmeir from the Financial Times of London that led to the banner headline.

Question: So if one was looking a little way ahead and envisaging a return to civilian rule,  it would be under the 1979 Constitution?

Answer (Buhari): No. What we will put to Nigerians may be a different system, to which in the first instance they will agree or not agree.

General Buhari did not say how that process would be developed and what form the system would take.  Most seriously was that General Buhari did not say how long his economic miracle would take to materialize.   This was why the newsman asked him again,

Question: Do you have a timetable?

Answer (Buhari):  No.   What we are trying to put across is to make Nigerians understand how much we are in trouble, economically.

Buhari has a low value in what politicians do.   This was why he defined the Nigerian problem as economic and called what politicians do as “haggling and squabbles in the following answer:  

If we can get that message across, then Nigerians will be prepared to work hard and allow the government to pull the country out of the economic mess.  After that, they can if they like resume their haggling and squabbles.

He ended: "But for now we have no time to quarrel, no time to waste, only time to work hard. We have to see it through.

Maybe I will call the attention of Nigerians especially Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u to the report of the interview General Buhari granted to the Financial Times can be found in or crosschecked from Daily Times (Nigeria) of March 7, 1985.   It is clear from the above that General Buhari had no clear conception of what democrats do.   He called what democrats do “haggling and squabbles”, which to him is time wasting and does not contribute to the resolution of the economic mess that the country was in.

Jameel, you failed the test set by the Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign organization.   It is obvious to them and to Nigerians that General Muhammadu Buhari made negative contribution to democratic struggles before he declared his intention to contest the highest office in the land.   You are therefore not entitled to the 50, 000 naira earmarked for the person who could find the quote.   There is none.  

I am not saying that that does not mean that General Buhari could not be one of the born-again democrats that litter every corner of Nigeria.

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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.