PROFILE: Muhammadu Buhari, the former soldier who defeated an incumbent president

Muhammadu Buhari was born on the 17th of December 1942, in Daura, Katsina State into a family of Fulani descent. His father’s name was Adamu and mother’s was Zulaihat. While record books do not tell us how many siblings he had, he was the twenty-third child of his father. He was raised by his mother because his father died just before he turned five. He attended primary school in Daura before moving to Katsina Model School in 1953, and to Katsina Provincial Secondary School from 1956 to 1961.

Buhari joined the Army of Nigeria in 1961 when he attended the Nigerian University of Military Instruction, which later came to be called the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna. From 1962 to 1963, cadet officers were trained at Mons Cadet Officers School in Aldershot, England and Buhari was sent to England for his training. In January 1963, Buhari was appointed deputy lieutenant and platoon commander of the Second Infantry Battalion in Abeokuta, Ogun, South-West, Nigeria. From November 1963 to January 1964, trained with the platoon commanders at the Nigerian military college in Kaduna. In 1964, his military training involved mechanic transport agent training at the mechanical transport school of the army in Borden, United Kingdom. From 1965 to 1967, Buhari was commander of the second infantry battalion and was also named Brigade Major, second sector of the First division of infantry, from April of 1967 until July of 1967. Buhari became a Major of the third infantry brigade which was formed, from July 1967 and lasted until October 1968 and the division brigade commander, the Thirty-one infantry brigade, 1970-1971. Buhari served as the Assistant Adjutant-General, First Infantry Division Headquarters from 1971-1972. He also attended the University of Wellington Personal Defense Services, India, in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, Buhari was appointed Acting Director, Transportation and Supplies at the Headquarters of the Nigerian Army Supply and Transport Corps. He was also appointed Military Secretary, Major of the Army, 1978-1979, and was a member of the Supreme Military Council, 1978-1979. Between 1979 and 1980; he was granted the rank of colonel. Buhari attended the University of the United States Army War in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was given a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies.

In July 1966, Muhammadu Buhari a Lieutenant in the army was a player in a coup led by Murtala Muhammad. The coup ended the life of the first chief of staff of the Nigerian army and head of State of Nigeria; Aguiyi Ironsi. Ironsi had assumed the leadership of the government of Nigeria after a coup on the 15th January 1966. The coup crashed the parliamentary rulership of Nigeria marking the end of the First Republic. Other players in the coup of July 28, 1966 included Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babangida,Theophilus Danjuma, Ibrahim Bako among others. The coup was primarily a counter coup and a reaction to the coup on January 15, when a group chiefly led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Many Northern soldiers were aggrieved by the attacks and subsequent deaths of senior politicians, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first regional minister of the North, Ahmadu Bello and his four senior officers, Brigade Zakariya Maimalari, Colonel Mohammed, Lt-Cols James and Pam Largema. The coup against him was very bloody leading to the death of predominantly Igbo officers. Among the victims was the first leader of military personnel Aguiyi Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi; a Lieutenant Colonel and the military governor of the Western region.

General Murtala Mohammed took over power in Nigeria in August 1975 and appointed Buhari as the Governor of the North-Eastern region to oversee the economic improvements in the region. In March of 1976, Olusegun Obasanjo then appointed Buhari as the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources with Buhari as the first Chairman of the NNPC – Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation until 1976. In 1983, Chad attempted to invade Nigeria through Borno state and Buhari used his forces to chase them out and he even advanced into Chad. The President at that time, Shehu Shagari was said to have given him a serious order not to advance into the country and that began tensions with Buhari.

In 1983, Buhari; now a Major General was a key player in the coup that overthrew democratically elected President Shehu Shagari but constantly denied his role in the coup despite becoming the head of state. Nigerian military historians Max Siollun and Nowa Omoigui have previously stated that when Major Bamidele got to know about the coup plot to oust Shagari, he reported the issue up the chain of command to his GOC 3rd Armored Division; Buhari who was allegedly in on the plot. To prevent Bamidele from leaking the plot, Buhari ordered the arrest and detention of Bamidele for two weeks. Bamidele wasn’t released until the successful execution of the coup. Learning from this unfortunate experience, Bamidele didn’t report any rumours of the so-called Mamman Vatsa coup (between 1985 and 1986) and was executed for it. Bamidele’s words to the Special Military Tribunal that tried and convicted him are:

“I heard of the 1983 coup planning, told my GOC, General Buhari who detained me for two weeks in Lagos. Instead of a pat on the back, I received a stab. How then do you expect me to report this one? This trial marks the eclipse of my brilliant and unblemished career of 19 years. I fought in the civil war with the ability it pleased God to give me. It is unfortunate that I’m being convicted for something which I have had to stop on two occasions. This is not self adulation but a sincere summary of the qualities inherent in me. It is an irony of fate that the president of the tribunal who in 1964 felt that I was good enough to take training in the UK is now saddled with the duty of showing me the exit from the force and the world”

His mandate as Head of State was to reform the economy. Buhari started to rebuild the nation’s social-political and economic systems along the lines of its economic conditions. Excesses in national expenditure, removing corruption from national and social ethics, removing the relevance of the public sector in a bid to move from structured socialism to capitalism and from public sector employment to self-employment. Buhari also encouraged import substitution industrialisation based to a great extent on the use of local materials and he tightened importation. However, Buhari’s bid to re-balance public finances by curbing imports led to many job losses and the closure of businesses. To achieve this, he broke ties with the International Monetary Fund, when the fund asked the government to devalue the naira by 60%. His reforms were as or more rigourous as those required by the IMF.

In 1984, Buhari passed the infamous Decree Number 4; the Protection Against False Accusations Decree, which was considered within and outside the country as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria and the world generally. Section 1 of the law provided that “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offense under this Decree”. The law further stated that offending journalists and publishers will be tried by a military tribunal, whose ruling would be final and unappealable in any court and those found guilty would be eligible for a fine not less than 10,000 naira and a jail sentence of up to two years. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian were among the journalists who were tried under the decree.

One of the most enduring legacy of the Buhari government has been the War Against Indiscipline which was launched in March of 1984. It’s policy tried to address the perceived lack of public morality and civic responsibility of Nigerian society. Nigerians perceived as unruly were ordered to form neat queues at bus stops, under the eyes of soldiers that were ordered to be generous in their disbursements of physical abuse and violence. Civil servants who failed to show up on time at work were humiliated and forced to do “frog jumps”. Minor offences carried long sentences. Any student over the age of 17 caught cheating in an examination would get 21 years in prison. Counterfeiting and arson could lead to the death penalty. In 20 months of being the Head of State, about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed on corruption charges.

In 1985, Buhari fell victim to the very device that gave him power – A coup by General Babangida. Babangida was one of Buhari’s vocal critics and he brought many of Buhari’s most vocal critics into his administration, including Fela Kuti’s eldee brother Dr. Olukoye Ransome-Kuti; a doctor who had led a strike against Buhari to protest declining health care services. Buhari was then detained in a house in Benin City until 1988 with access to a television and his family members prior to approval from the Head of State. While Buhari’s admirers believe that he was overthrown by corrupt elements in his government who were afraid of being brought to justice as his policies were beginning to yield tangible dividends in terms of public discipline, curbing corruption, lowering inflation, enhancing workforce and improving productivity, Head of State; Ibrahim Babangida justified his coup by saying that Buhari’s government has failed in its self imposed task to deal with the country’s economic problems with trickle down effects hardly seen while he had promised “to rejuvenate the economy ravaged by decades of government mismanagement and corruption”

Under the much hated Abacha government, Buhari served as the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). It was a body created and funded from the revenue generated by the increase in price of petroleum products, to pursue developmental projects around the country. A lot of praises went to his administration for seemingly doing good by citizens and being a shining light in an otherwise dark time for the country.

In the turn of the second Democratic run of government in Nigeria, Buhari contested in all the elections save for the 1999 elections that Olusegun Obasanjo won. He contested under the umbrellas of ANPP, CPC and the APC. In 2015, he contested under the APC with Professor Yemi Osinbajo a Christian Yoruba lawyer and won against the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of PDP. Basing his campaign on his success with the PTF and his anti corruption stance, he won against a government that claimed “stealing was not corruption”.

His government has been riddled with inconsistencies and low points for the citizens of Nigeria. From inflation, to insurgencies that he promised to end and most recently his work from home, the general consensus is that his second coming is problematic and is something that should not have happened.

In December of 1989, Buhari married his second and current wife Aisha Buhari. They have five children together, a boy and four girls: Aisha, Halima, Yusuf, Zahra and Amina. His first wife Safinatu had five children; four girls and one boy. They got divorced in 1988 and she died from complications of diabetes in 2006.

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