The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Muhammadu Buhari has dismissed references to his past as a military dictator, saying that he is a “converted democrat” who has submitted to the rigours of democratic elections four times.
Buhari, who delivered a lecture titled Prospects for Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Nigeria’s Transition, Thursday at Chatham House, London, remarked that dictatorship was necessarily an indivisible part of military rule, even as he took responsibility for actions taken during his tenure as Head of State.
“I have heard and read references to me as a former dictator in many respected British newspapers including the well regarded Economist. Let me say without sounding defensive that dictatorship goes with military rule, though some might be less dictatorial than others. I take responsibility for whatever happened under my watch,” he stated.
Speaking further, he said: “I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.”
On the forthcoming Nigerian elections, APC presidential candidate described as “not misplaced and highly commendable” the sustained interest that the international community has shown in the nation’s upcoming general elections.
According to him, the global interest generated by the 2015 general elections was understandable considering the fact that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, is presently at a defining moment, one that has great implications beyond the democratic project and for the African sub-region.
Commending the international community for their concern for Nigeria, he called for sustained focus on the conduct of the upcoming elections, stating that “given increasing global linkages, it is in our collective interests that the postponed elections should hold on the rescheduled dates; that they should be free and fair; that their outcomes should be respected by all parties; and that any form of extension, under whichever guise, is unconstitutional and will not be tolerated”.
Buhari noted that given its strategic importance, Nigeria can trigger a wave of democratic consolidation in Africa. He, however, stated that the starting point is getting the upcoming election right by ensuring that the polls hold as rescheduled, and by depriving those who want to scuttle it the benefit of derailing the nation’s fledgling democracy.
The APC presidential candidate, a retired Major General, spoke on how he, as a man steeped in military tradition, came to appreciate democracy as an ideal mode of governance.
According to Buhari, global watersheds such the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, have revealed to all that democracy is the most preferred system of government across the globe.
“On a personal note, the phased end of the USSR was a turning point for me. It convinced me that change can be brought about without firing a single shot,” he said.
“As you all know, I had been a military head of state in Nigeria for twenty months. We intervened because we were unhappy with the state of affairs in our country. We wanted to arrest the drift. Driven by patriotism, influenced by the prevalence and popularity of such drastic measures all over Africa and elsewhere, we fought our way to power.
“But the global triumph of democracy has shown that another and a preferable path to change is possible. It is an important lesson I have carried with me since, and a lesson that is not lost on the African continent.”
Calling the attention of the audience to the fact that during the period in which he served as a military head of state between 1983 and 1985, only four African countries held regular multi-party elections, Buhari observed that in the last two decades, democracy had taken root across Africa.
“Elections, once so rare, are now so commonplace,” he observed.
He, however, asserted that the growth of democracy on the continent has been uneven even though Africa has taken part of the current global wave of democratization.
Quoting statistics from a pro-democracy think-tank, Freedom House, the APC flag bearer stated that the number of electoral democracies in Africa had witnessed a slump.
“The number of electoral democracies in Africa slipped from 24 in 2007/2008 to 19 in 2011/2012; while the percentage of countries categorised as ‘not free’ assuming for the sake of argument that we accept their definition of “free” increased from 35% in 2003 to 41% in 2013,” he stated.
“Also, there have been some reversals at different times in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritania and Togo. We can choose to look at the glass of democracy in Africa as either half full or half empty,” the APC presidential candidate observed.
Speaking on elections as an integral requirement for representative democracy, Buhari also noted that the quality of the elections held remains a very important aspect of sustaining democracy.
“While you can’t have representative democracy without elections, it is equally important to look at the quality of the elections and to remember that mere elections do not democracy make,” he said.
“It is globally agreed that democracy is not an event, but a journey. And that the destination of that journey is democratic consolidation – that state where democracy has become so rooted and so routine and widely accepted by all actors,” he observed further.
Speaking further on the Nigerian elections, Buhari noted that the uniqueness of the coming polls lay in the fact that for the very first time since transition to civil rule in 1999, the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, is facing its stiffest opposition so far from his party, the APC.
“We once had about 50 political parties, but with no real competition. Now Nigeria is transitioning from a dominant party system to a competitive electoral polity, which is a major marker on the road to democratic consolidation.
Buhari assured the audience that the prospects of democratic consolidation in Africa would be further brightened if a peaceful alternation of power was successfully achieved in Africa.
According to him, another major reason why Nigerians and the whole world are intensely focused on this year’s elections is because the upcoming polls are holding in the shadow of huge security, economic and social uncertainties.
“On insecurity, there is a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure,” he said.
“Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory the size of Belgium. What has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against insurgency.”
He insisted that the Nigerian soldier is “capable, well trained, patriotic, brave and always ready to do their duty in the service of our country.”
Reminding the audience of the peacekeeping roles played in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur by the Nigerian military in the past, Buhari posited that Nigerian soldiers found the Boko Haram insurgency a challenge because “our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem”.
He also alleged that the government had also failed in any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to the problem, stating that this has led to a situation where Nigeria has to depend on neighbouring nations for aid in confronting the menace.
Buhari assured the audience that if he is elected president, the world would have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently.
“Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa and no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunitions to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas,” he stated.
“We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism,” he promised.
The APC presidential candidate discarded the notion of Nigeria’s economic growth as touted by the federal government as “paper growth, a growth that, on account of mismanagement, profligacy and corruption, has not translated to human development or shared prosperity”.
He accused the current administration of creating two economies in one country, describing it as “a sorry tale of two nations: one economy for a few who have so much in their tiny island of prosperity; and the other economy for the many who have so little in their vast ocean of misery”.
Buhari promised to initiate the repositioning of Nigeria’s economy by tackling waste and corruption. He further promised to lead the way with the force of personal example.
“On corruption, there will be no confusion as to where I stand. Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed into my administration. First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only.”
“Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference,” he stated.
On reforming the economy, Buhari said that savings gained from blocking these leakages and the proceeds recovered from corruption would be pooled into social investments programmes in education, health, and safety nets such as free school meals for children, emergency public works for unemployed youth and pensions for the elderly.
Buhari asserted that he was contesting at the presidential elections “because the work of making Nigeria great is not yet done, because I still believe that change is possible, this time through the ballot, and most importantly, because I still have the capacity and the passion to dream and work for a Nigeria that will be respected again in the comity of nations and that all Nigerians will be proud of”.