As he marks his 81st birthday today, roughly six months after the completion of his two terms as President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari’s story continues to resonate with a nation that values honesty, accountability and compassion.
It is an occasion to reflect on 13 top facts in the life of the former President, moments to remember as he quietly marks this birthday in his hometown, Daura with clear directives that there will be no public events marking the occasion.
The first thing to say is that he was born on December 17, 1942, in the historic town of Daura now in Katsina State. His father was called Mallam Hardo Adamu, a Fulani chieftain from Dumurkol in Mai’Adua Local Government Area and his mother, whose name was Zulaihat, had Hausa and Kanuri ancestry.
Two: Buhari joined the army soon after leaving secondary school and had never worked outside the military until his retirement after the attainment of the high rank of a major general.
As an officer, he participated in the civil war throughout the period it lasted and did not, even once, leave the front with excuses or frivolous reason as many had done. He did not suffer any Injury throughout the war and was a participant in the coups and counter coups that characterized the period of his service.
He commanded all but one of the Army’s four divisions, served as Military Secretary-a position he used to good effect, regularising the records of all officers, and for which reason he got the shock of his life when, in the run up to the 2015 presidential election, a politically-motivated Army Records Officer said Buhari’s secondary school certificate was untraceable-and thereafter becoming Military Head of State after serving as governor and minister in charge of petroleum ministry.
Three: Buhari’s election victory in 2015 was an important milestone in his political career having run for the office thrice, each time ending up in the Supreme Court contesting the outcomes before this time when won a decisive mandate, with his party scoring the highest number of seats in the National Assembly and the control of an equally high number of states across the federation. This victory marked the beginning of his tenure as the President of Nigeria, and upon the completion of his constitutional two terms, he handed over to another party man, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president.
Four: In the exercise of the powers of his office, President Buhari’s approach to governance often mirrored that of a board chairman, emphasising accountability, efficiency and performance. This was a good model. He hired the best hands he could lay his hands on, gave them the needed resources and the latitude of authority to give the best they could to the nation, although he never missed a chance to speak directly to the concerned ministers, permanent secretaries, heads of agencies and business leaders to remove bottlenecks.
As attested to by at least two of his key ministers, Governor Babatunde Fashola and Zainab Ahmed, President Buhari never called to ask for personal favour or to say pay this or that person, give this or that contract to this or that other person.
On a particular day the President called Lai Mohammed, his Minister of Information and Culture to ask for a favour, Lai held his breath as to what could this be.
“Lai can I ask you for a favour?” asked the President, and the minister’s mind began to race up and down as to what would this first of a kind request be about. “Yes, Mr President, please go ahead.”
The President went on to say that he committed himself to an event in Lagos, the following day and that he simply cannot go and was wondering if the minister would squeeze out the time to represent him. There and then, Lai’s blood pressure de-escalated. Any minister who failed to achieve results under Buhari will never succeed anywhere.
But as with everything human and political, these traits have both garnered praise and stirred controversy for the former President.
Five: When he assumed office, he announced at the open ground of his inauguration that the Command and Control Centre of the war against terrorism should relocate to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism. By May this year, the military had ensured the liberation of all occupied territories from the terrorists and the activities of the insurgents had been restricted to the fringes of Lake Chad and the Sambisa forest.
Many erstwhile displaced persons had returned to their ancestral homes as peace returned to the hitherto conflict areas. The Buhari administration gave the nation a more gender sensitive Armed Forces and ensured the acquisition of military equipment and platforms on a scale never seen since the civil war.
By his activation and relentless support for the Multinational Joint Task Force-bringing forces from Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon- in the Lake Chad Area, Buhari dealt a strong blow to cross-border terrorism.
Six: On October 14, 2019, Buhari ordered the closure all of Nigeria’s borders with Benin, as well as those with Chad, Cameroon and Niger to tackle smuggling and associated corruption, and to also to spur the domestic agricultural industry. The government launched a massive rice production scheme, as well as that of 16 other commodities pioneered by the Central Bank of Nigeria under Godwin Emefiele.
Following the Coronavirus-induced lockdown that brought the wheels of the economy to a grinding halt, the Buhari food production program helped the government to achieve food self-sufficiency. There was no reported shortage of food, no hunger as widely anticipated. No bodies were picked on the streets as forecast.
Thanks to that vision, the agricultural initiative improved the income of farmers, economic situation of the country and transformed the disruption caused by Covid-19 into an opportunity for growth.
Seven: In October 2022, Nigeria’s central bank announced the deadline of December 15 to replace high-value currency notes in a bid to mop up excess cash, rein in inflation and target rising insecurity in Africa’s largest economy.
This came with many unintended pains, suffering and inconvenience and other difficulties leading to popular outcry and litigation in the Supreme Court.
The positive side of this is that it led to a massive increase in the use of digital transactions. Digital payments have since then grown and are hitting a new milestone with the ongoing rationing of currency notes by commercial banks. A cashless economy is helpful in ensuring inclusivity, security and other benefits that come with it.
Eight, is the Social Investment Program that President Buhari introduced in 2016, the continent’s most ambitious social protection program with the use of technology to help the government to reach the poor directly while cutting off third party interlocutors. The program, among other things, ensured government’s cash-based social assistance directly to the poor in the scheme touted as the biggest financial inclusion initiative in Africa. His vision was to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years gave the background to the social investment programs.
Nine: Buhari as president provided the highest energy to infrastructure development since the country’s independence-power, rail, roads, bridges, sea and airports, housing and water supply schemes. Nigeria’s capital expenditure increased many fold enabling thereby, record investments in infrastructure. This has improved the speed and gear impacting ease of living and ease of doing business.
To enhance the role of States and the private sector, the administration established the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria, INFRACO with a seed capital of N1 trillion provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Buhari changed many laws on taxation, not only as they affect goods and services but also relating to individual and corporate taxes to improve the ease of doing business, increasing bilateral trade and enhancing the vision of higher revenues. He strengthened the office of the Auditor General of the Federation and introduced many laws to enhance the war against corruption and the recovery of stolen funds. Such policies as the Bank Verification Number, the IPPS, Whistle-blower – some of which took more than a decade to implement all had their path to fulfilment broken under him. These were among the weapons he wielded against corruption.
Ten: President Buhari’s assent to the Petroleum Industry Act on August 16, 2021 broke a two decade old jinx thereby setting the stage for the unprecedented transformation of Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. He fought through the courts in London to reprieve the nation from an unjust $11b penalty for the breach of the corrupt-ridden P&ID contract and recovered for the nation, the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Company from the global steel shylocks who squatted on the giant plant for the years that they held sway.
Eleven: To say that throughout his eight years in the presidency, President Buhari did his best to redeem the nation’s infrastructure deficit, thereby putting Nigeria on the path to becoming a developed economy. He took many decisions without fearing anyone which earned praise for his leadership from many parts of the world. His popularity went beyond national borders. The Nigerian diaspora flocked him in large numbers wherever he visited. The roars “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari,” echoed wherever he we went, at home and abroad, signifying not only his popularity but also the love of nation by the diaspora.
Twelve: Buhari defused a bomb under the nation’s bed. He knew the corrosive danger to democracy the irresolution of the June 12, 1993 crisis posed to the country and didn’t hesitate to do what was right: to apologise to the nation for the wrongful nullification of MKO Abiola’s election as president in 1993 -even though the action was taken by a succeeding administration that kept him in detention-; award a posthumous GCFR, the nation’s highest honour to the winner of the election in the overall effect of recognising him as President, even though he did not take the oath of office.
The effect of this on the psyche of the nation, and its politics was to produce a thaw in the tension between the North and the South and between the South-West in particular and the rest of the country. It was worth a Nobel Prize nomination.
Thirteen: Beyond politics, former President Buhari is a practicing farmer, an avid reader of newspapers and magazines and a large consumer of TV programs. His preferred clothing brand is the Kaftan wear when at ease and the Babbar Riga for formal occasions. His preferred dress colour as many would have noticed on his public outings and the TV is blue, and sometimes white. He undertakes regular exercises.
Having given his best to the nation, President Buhari deserves the quiet life he is currently enjoying in Daura. Happy birthday and many happy returns, sir!
- Garba Shehu, a former presidential spokesman, writes from Abuja.