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Rehabilitated Buhari billed as answer to Nigeria's problems

12 December 2014, 18:28

Lagos - More than 30 years after he ruled with an iron fist, jailing the corrupt and championing the virtues of military discipline in all things, Muhammadu Buhari is now being billed as Nigeria's saviour.

The 71-year-old retired army general on Thursday won a landslide victory for the main opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) ticket to challenge Goodluck Jonathan for the presidency next year.

A win would be fourth time lucky for Buhari after a previous failed attempt against Jonathan in 2011 and unsuccessful bids in 2007 and 2003.

His latest candidacy was met with scorn by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who said the moustachioed former military ruler has nothing new to offer.

Also read: Buhari wins APC presidential primary 

Jonathan, in power since 2010, said the February 14 vote was "a choice between going forward or going backwards, between the new ways and the old ways, between freedom and repression".

PDP spokesman Olisa Metuh added: "Apart from changing to a dinner suit, General Buhari has not changed the tired ideas and provocative utterances that Nigerians rejected in previous elections."

Yet far from being dismissed as one of the old guard, Buhari's methods are seen by some as the only way to help Africa's troubled giant change course.

The APC points to his record tackling corruption, while even the PDP founder, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, has said that Buhari would be better placed to end the Boko Haram insurgency.

'War against indiscipline'

Nigerians who were around when Buhari overthrew civilian president Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983 recalled the changes he brought about in a country blighted by years of graft and inefficiency.

"Buhari's government introduced 'War Against Indiscipline' and everybody inculcated the culture of orderliness in doing things, without cutting corners," said 60-year-old Samuel Adebowale.

"Under him, corruption and impunity were prohibited and anyone found wanting would be sent to prison," the businessman told AFP in Lagos.

Water vendor Musa Wushishi, 42, said he expected Buhari to reintroduce such methods if elected -- and believed he would have widespread support.

"Buhari will defeat Jonathan this time because we're tired of this government. Buhari is an honest man. He'll fight corruption and all those who have stolen Nigeria's money will be dealt with.

"He did it before... Nigeria will be great again under Buhari. He will crush Boko Haram and there will be peace everywhere," he said.

In the APC stronghold of Lagos at least, those either too young or not even born when Buhari headed Nigeria's Supreme Military Council from 1983 to 1985 expressed similar views.

"I was told Buhari was very tough as a military head of state, that he killed drug pushers and jailed pressmen and all that," said university student Demola Akinlabi, 17.

"We need somebody with an iron hand to govern Nigeria. Look at Jonathan and his government. Nothing seems to be working anymore. No jobs, no light, the roads are bad.

"Look at the killings in the north. He cannot do anything about it."

Dictator to democrat

For analysts decrypting Nigeria's election campaign, Buhari is seen as strong on anti-corruption and military nous but weak on policy and the day-to-day of political life.

Chris Ngwodo, a political commentator, said Buhari may be helped by the "demographic dividend" of young voters that has transformed his image from dictator to democrat.

"The passage of time has polished his record and created a myth," he told AFP in a recent interview.

Certainly, the softly spoken Buhari's strong-arm tactics were not applauded by human rights groups at the time, with critics of the regime, including the Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti, thrown in jail.

Drug traffickers were executed and limits imposed on the media.

Also read: Buhari to govern Nigeria in accordance with Constitution

Buhari himself has promised a more conciliatory approach.

"I do not intend to rule Nigeria. I want to democratically govern it with your help," he told APC delegates on Thursday.

But for Dapo Thomas, a political scientist at Lagos state university, the fact that voters may be willing to overlook Buhari's past record of draconian rule is telling.

Unemployment is rising, security worsening, infrastructure crumbling and the country's oil-dependent economy is tanking due to a fall in the global price of crude, he said.

"The emergence of General Buhari is an answer to the yearnings of the people for change," he said.

"For a long time, Nigeria has suffered from bad leadership. All the indices of development and positive governance are lacking...

"The Jonathan administration is clueless and does not seem to have the capacity to arrest the drift."



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