The reformist inclination of President Muhammadu Buhari has never been helped by what has become an historical perception of sectionalism in the direction of his leadership. The damage was done during his leadership debut between December 1983 and August 1985 when key southern politicians and opinion moulders assumed he favoured the North at the expense of the South. Prof. Wole Soyinka indicted Buhari’s approach to governance as being “triple standard”, while it is on record that Gen. Alani Akinrinade and Brig. Benjamin Adekunle, two veterans of the civil war, equally voiced their disapproval. Both Adekunle and Akinrinade would later advocate the rather retrogressive confederal system of government as their preferred option, something this writer referred to as a serious indictment of the then Buhari regime considering the fact that confederation was what was advocated by those on the other side of the Nigerian conflict.
But President Buhari has integrity in many other respects, which was why most of those who had opposed his leadership style between 1983 and 1985, Soyinka and Akinrinade inclusive, came out rooting for him in 2015. This writer was once one critic who would later become an admirer of Buhari upon observing his simplicity while at Oxford to give a talk. It was an impressive display of patriotism on that occasion. When doctored opinion polls projected erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan as the likely candidate to win the 2015 presidential extension, I wrote to say it would be Buhari based on research.
Relatively, President Buhari has not been disappointing. He would seem to have handled the Boko Haram insurgency much better than his predecessor. Many Nigerians would not have known the extent of the looting of the Nigerian treasury by the treasurers but for his inquisitiveness with our patrimony. Not many would have known that a minister was in a position to buy 56 exotic houses in less than four years, and not many would have known that millions of dollars could be concealed in uncompleted buildings. The wife, Aisha, has been an epitome of decency, not prone to the type of crudity observed in the past.
But this spectre of favouritism continues to taint Buhari. There have been issues of lopsidedness in his appointments and the sidetracking of those who supported his election. Such has been the perception of sectionalism on the part of President Buhari that his critics would assume he was shielding those herdsmen whose barbarism has led to many deaths in various states of the federation. He would not even be given the benefit of the doubt in the current allegation that he had requested the President of the World Bank to focus on the “northern regions” in its developmental activities in Nigeria. However, appreciating the gravity of the allegation, the Presidency has tried to explain that the request was made for the North-Eastern zone severely ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. Even if all he did was make a denial, it is important if the objection of Nigerians to sectionalism has been acknowledged.
Ordinarily, a request for development to be focused on the North would have been considered patriotic on the part of any leader that seeks a balanced and evenly developed Nigerian federation. The North is behind the South and the genesis is the dual approach to education during the colonial era. The South would equally have been backward, were it not for those missionaries – Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc-who established numerous schools. The interventions of the regional governments were at the level of policy formulation. For instance, in the defunct Western Region, the compulsory and free education policy of the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group worked well for all. State governments in the North must learn to focus on the education of the citizenry and de-emphasise distractions such as the sponsorship of mass marriages for those who should still be at school. The Danjumas and the Dangotes can also do for the North what the likes of Ford Foundation did for posterity.
All said, many would still vote for Buhari if he were physically strong enough to seek re-election in 2019. However, he would urgently need to re-appraise his leadership style and douse those negative perceptions, and this should not be for the short term opportunism of winning an election but for the sake of his place in the history of our great nation.