Salute To The People’s General At 70 By Godwin Onyeacholem

Providence, that intangible concept of extraordinary omnipresence, is invariably the ultimate intruder in human affairs. Moving stealthily with the practiced skill of a stalker, it habitually sneaks into the life of man and reconstructs it, giving it a new meaning for good or for ill. For General Muhammadu Buhari, it would have been out of the question to imagine that his eldest child, Zulaiha, would not be present as he marked the beginning of a momentous journey into the autumn of his life. But that, precisely, was what unquestionable providence had decreed.

Just a couple of weeks to clocking that majestic age of 70, Buhari lost his esteemed daughter to the grim reaper in a most harrowing fashion; thus bringing to a spontaneous end the hopes of a daughter who, in all likelihood, must have looked forward to a befitting ceremony and conceived a grand plan in honour of a worthy father. And for the father, it was a most devastating moment as it represented a brutal deflation of the expectations of having her eldest child be part of the joy of such a rare, crowning instance of glory. But a devoted Muslim that he is, the dogged Infantry General has put the unfortunate incident down as an act of God – once again an inevitable admission of total submission to the inexplicable feat of  providential effectuation. His choice, going by his spiritual inclination, could not have been different.

Yet, in spite of this incredible personal tragedy, Buhari has every reason to celebrate and move on. To attain the milestone of three scores and ten in a country whose average lifespan for men is 47 odd years, in spite of its status as one of the world’s top ten crude oil exporters, is a remarkable achievement. On this special occasion, one can’t but salute him and join his relatives, friends and associates, supporters and well-wishers in thanking the Almighty God for keeping him alive to see this moment.

A distinguished Nigerian who commanded several army units before, during and after the civil war and also served as state governor, federal commissioner and chairman of NNPC, the country’s oil corporation, as well as Head of State, this detribalised, unbigoted yet misunderstood son of Daura, Katsina state, surely has a date with history.

Having initially singled out himself as a leader with a largely commendable performance in a recurrent cycle of leaders without vision with which Nigeria is seemingly saddled, “mai gaskiya” (custodian of truth or rectitude), as he is widely known by his throng of supporters across the North, now feels compelled, and justifiably so, to continue from where he stopped.

In contrast to the political philosophy of “do-or-die” espoused by President Olusegun Obasanjo at the winding up of his second term, Buhari is an advocate of the politics of making the votes count and service to the people.

Since his inexcusable ouster on August 27, 1985, after just twenty months in office, the ship of state has continued to sink deeper and deeper in the morass of absolute bad governance. Not even General Sani Abacha’s regime could stop the simmering heat of discontent that had built up over the years. And before one could spell anarchy, providence, in its unsurpassed ubiquity, showed its perplexing hands and shunted the goggled one to pave the way for democracy.

After sitting on the sidelines to observe a first four years that hardly changed anything, Buhari, out of a gut feeling driven more by patriotism, selflessness and belief in acting for the good of others than any self-seeking consideration, threw his hat into the democratic ring, hoping to enlist the people’s mandate in pursuit of the high-minded objective of arresting what was apparently becoming an endless drift. Three times (twice under ANPP and once under CPC which he formed) he has attempted to secure the presidency; three times he has been deliberately denied by the ruling party’s manipulative machinery, which regrettably includes a combination of the electoral umpire, security agencies and the judiciary.

But this General still holds his head high. He has firmly refused to be defeated. Discussions are already in top gear on how to rev up the engine of his campaign for the 2015 elections. Never before has the momentum for change been so high, absorbing and definite. The level of disillusionment is now at its peak. At this critical juncture in his life, the acclaimed people’s General must make the last pitch for the presidency.

More than any other time in her history, Nigeria needs a leader to halt this relentless march to the brink. For the man called Buhari, whom both the conservative and progressive flanks of the South – and even in the North – also describe as “Mr. Integrity” for his honesty, directness and zero tolerance for corruption, the process of renewal has to begin in 2015 or never.

Many happy returns, General. May you live long enough for this country to eventually imbibe the values of your distinct style of leadership.

Godwin Onyeacholem, a journalist, can be reached at; [email protected]