Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D
While there is a widening consensus that President Buhari, through his remarkable incompetence and bigotry, is inexorably leading Nigeria to infernal ruination, there isn’t a sufficiently robust discussion on who should replace him. Most politically unaffiliated people who have accepted that the presidency is above Buhari’s mental paygrade simply say the swashbucklers in PDP can’t be his replacement.
It’s time to move beyond that rhetoric. Who is a viable alternative to Buhari? Who has the capacity to steer us away from the path of perdition we’re headed under Buhari? There is a curious reluctance to confront these questions forthrightly. This reluctance conduces to the flourishing of dishonest and exasperating bromides like “Well, we know Buhari is incompetent, but what is the alternative?” or “Although we agree that Buhari hasn’t lived up to expectation, there is really no alternative to him at this time.”
It’s like being led to a pit of hell by a blind guide and saying, “Well, there is no alternative to this guide, so I have to come to terms with my earthly damnation.” That’s pointless, boneheaded self-immolation. Only people with a perverse taste for self-violence reason like that. There ARE several alternatives to Buhari.
In my December 16, 2017 column titled “There Must be an Alternative to Buhari and Atiku,” from which former President Olusegun Obasanjo quoted in his recent press statement, I suggested that we give a thought to Retired Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar.
“How about we try someone else? Off the top of my head, I can think of retired Colonel Dangiwa Umar widely acknowledged as just, fair, principled, hardworking, cosmopolitan, widely traveled, and well-educated,” I Wrote. “I’m not suggesting that he is perfect. He is not. No one is. It is our imperfections that make us human, but we all know what sorts of imperfections ruin nations and its people. I don’t think anyone can accuse him of those sorts of imperfections—sloth, lethargy, corruption, clannishness, incompetence, indecisiveness, etc. He may decline to throw his hat in the ring. But there are many like him.”
I see that there is now a growing conversation around getting Col. Umar interested in a run for the office of president in 2019. But I am also aware that some people have raised concerns about the symbolic burden of his military background, particularly because of justified national anxieties about the domination of our politics by past military people. This is a legitimate concern.
Nevertheless, I believe Umar’s military background is incidental to his qualification for this job. It is the strength of his character, his urbaneness, his record of inclusivity, his contagiously genuine passion for pan-Nigerianism, his stubborn commitment to higher principles, his vast knowledge of the ways of the world, his intellectual curiosity, his unflappability in the face of stress and strain, and his broadmindedness that stand him out and that would potentially make him such a comforting departure from the blight we’re mired in now.
There are many others like him, but I am suggesting him for at least two reasons. One, the national mood appears to favor a northern presidential candidate, perhaps as a consequence of the internal power-sharing arrangements of most political parties. Second, the only northerner, in my estimation, who is “salable” outside his natal region based on his record is Umar.
His uncommonly principled stand against the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which caused him to voluntarily resign his commission from the Nigerian military, will resonate with many voters in the southwest. He fought General Sani Abacha with all his strength when it was extremely risky to do so—and at the cost of libelous smears and threats to his life.
His exemplary, even-handed management of the 1987 religious crisis in Kaduna is still a reference point. “If you win a religious war, you cannot win religious peace,” he famously said. “Since the killing started how many Christians have been converted to Islam? How many Muslims have been converted to Christianity? It is an exercise in futility.”
He is one of only a few northern Muslim leaders that northern Christians trust and have confidence in. Although he is a direct descendant of Usman Dan Fodio (his father was Wazirin Gwandu), he is on record as being severely critical of religious bigotry by Muslims, a reason he isn’t popular in his immediate constituency.
He was also one of only a few northerners to recognize the legitimacy of IPOB’s angst and to caution against government’s strong-arm tactics against the group. “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom is to give preference to one particular tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another, and to draw near those who should be kept away and keep away those that should be drawn near,” he wrote in a press statement on August 30, 2017. “Like Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, many Igbos genuinely feel marginalized since they belong to the category of those who gave Mr President only 5% of their votes and appeared to have fallen out of his favour.”
Whatever foibles Umar has, ethnic and religious bigotry aren’t one of them. Given the unprecedented dissension and acrimony that Buhari’s government has instigated in the nation, we need a clearheaded, mild-mannered, even-tempered nationalist to bring us together, to calm frayed nerves, and to inspire us to dream again. I see Umar fitting this role.
He will certainly lose in the northwest and in such northeastern states as Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, and Gombe. In these states, most—certainly not all—people would vote for Buhari even if he were to go on a murdering spree of people there. Those who survive the carnage would still vote for him. But remember that the votes of this bloc were never sufficient to make him president.
If he were to square off against Buhari in a free and fair election in 2019, Umar would handily win the deep south, the southeast, most of the southwest, and the northcentral, except, perhaps, Niger State. In essence, he would reduce Buhari to the ethno-regional champion he had always been, which was reversed because of the purchase his candidacy got in the southwest and the Christian north in 2015 as a consequence of Jonathan’s intolerable misgovernance.
But if Jonathan was clueless, Buhari embodies cluelessness on steroids. Buhari’s cliquishness, insouciance, and down-the-line incompetence are a clear and present danger to Nigeria’s continued existence. Reelecting him in 2019 would be the kiss of death for the nation.
It’s impossible for Nigeria to survive a 4-year extension of Buhari’s misrule, which is characterized by rampant injustice, invidious selectivity, insecurity, unexampled nepotism, smartly dressed corruption, sloth, intellectual laziness, hardship, and directionlessness. You know a country is utterly leaderless when it has a president who proudly says “I am not in a hurry to do anything” while the country he supposedly governs burns.
Umar won’t be perfect. He would falter. The intoxication of power may alter him. And maybe not. But the beauty of democracy is that it imbues us with the power to change ineffective leaders. It is the incremental rectification of past electoral mistakes that aggregates to qualitative change in democratic societies. No society makes progress by reelecting transparently incompetent leaders.