A native of Katsina State, Muslim, born in 1942, Buhari was 7th head of state of Nigeria (1983 – 1985. His initial military training was at the Nigerian military training school and military college, Kaduna. This was furthered at the Officer’s Cadet School (UK), Army Mechanical Transport School (UK), Defence Services’ Staff College (India), and United States Army War College. His previous work experience includes: Governor (North-Eastern Nigeria, 1975), Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources (1976-78), Chairman, NNPC (1978), Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF, ’95 – ’99).
Within 2 years of military rule, Buhari implemented a number of measures, some of which were considered extreme, hence his reputation as being authoritarian. Nigerians were forced by whip-brandishing soldiers to queue up at bus stops; tardy civil servants were subjected to ‘frog jump’ punishment, and press freedom was restricted. In a bid to grow the economy, imports were cut, resulting in a rise in commodity prices and ultimate inflation. However, in 1995, he was appointed chairman of the PTF by the Sani Abacha administration. There is a general perception that he handled this excess oil revenue fund with transparency and efficiency.
Relative to the political scene, Buhari is certainly not a newcomer. In 2003 and 2007, he contested the presidential elections on the ANPP platform and lost in both cases to the ruling party, PDP. He unsuccessfully challenged both election results in court.
He is judged to be a man who commands a sizeable level of followership and respect, especially in some northern circles. This may not be unconnected with the successful implementation of an anti corruption and indiscipline campaign during his military rule.
Many Nigerians still see this effort as having instilled the highest level of order, discipline and perhaps accountability in the nation’s history.
On the global front, Buhari is reported to be well respected. It is on record that he and Nelson Mandela were the only private African individuals invited by the White House to Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony.
To the average Nigerian youth, Buhari falls into the older generation category. While he also has employed the use of a website and electronic social networking as campaign tools, it is not clear whether he will fit well to bridge the generational gap between past leaders and the current crop of upwardly mobile, technology-enabled Nigerian youth.
Regarding national issues such as accountability and governance, he proposes the concept of an online budget monitoring and performance system. He has set a target to generate and distribute at least 15,000 MW of electricity by 2015, achieve a real GDP annual growth of 10%, transform the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to a commercial business, and progress the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). A critical point of his manifesto is to make information technology, manufacturing, agriculture and entertainment Nigeria’s key economic drivers. Are these goals a possible recycling of old political promises or do they portend fresh and innovative resolutions to issues?
General Buhari’s current campaign is centred on providing good governance, economic recovery and infrastructure development, power and energy, agriculture, education, health, land and transport, women empowerment, security and the Niger-delta and unemployment. These goals with sub-activities are identifiable in his published manifesto online. The dichotomy of his person still poses the question – military or democrat?