Today marks the 80th birthday of the charismatic Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Typical of his nature, this is one very important milestone in his life that he would rather mark privately, only with deep reflection and prayers, devoid of any fanfare. Alas, with a sizeable clan of children and grandchildren of this “digital age” and on account of the exalted office he occupies today, this is one birthday that will not pass uncelebrated, in one form or another. I join the multitude of his admirers and other Nigerians in wishing Mr. President a very happy birthday, good health and increased wisdom to continue to serve the country he loves so much and that he has done so much for, including putting his life on the line so early in his youthful days, to keep together and to prosper.
To many Nigerians, including even his close associates in Government, his military colleagues and personal friends, Buhari has been an enigma of sorts. Not many people have had the knack to decipher the mind and disposition of this gentleman fairly and adequately. What is doubtless though, is that Buhari is in every sense a good man and ticks all the attributes anybody could use to qualify someone a decent human being.
As a person, he is humane, kind, honest, straightforward, humble, generous, intelligent, witty, humorous and much more. He has an extraordinarily strong faith and genuine belief in the powers of the Almighty God to direct his affairs. Thus, he is always very calm in his disposition and never ruffled by any potential threats or insults and assaults to his person. He is always at peace with himself once he is satisfied that he has acted in good conscience. All these explain why he does not play to the gallery. He would rather be judged by his Creator and people of good conscience and fair-mindedness than to be laundered by spin doctors. This is in keeping with a tenet of Islam that strongly frowns at, and forbids “Riya” (eye service).
Admittedly, some of these fine attributes have only but earned him a lot of bashing from some Nigerians. This is to be expected in a highly partisan and polarized polity. Not many people have ever liked him anyway, for various personal reasons. For others, it is simply a situation of judging people based on their own world view and standards, and not giving chance to looking at things from the other person’s perspective. In any case, we are a country where the most favourite pastime is to look for the slips and faults, which are humanly inescapable, while keeping mute when the chips are good.
To say that Buhari does not have empathy is one of the most unfair criticisms I have heard in recent times. On the contrary, his heart is always with the ordinary citizen. The Anchor Borrowers Programme which has guaranteed farmers direct access to finance and the various social investment programmes speak volumes. On coming to office, among his first actions was to provide financial support to all the states of the Federation to enable them pay off outstanding salaries and pensions owed to thousands of workers by the previous dispensation. Even “factional” civil war veterans from the Biafra side were not left out and finally received their due after 50 years of anguish. He is always appalled when people are not paid their wages. People do not know, or have forgotten that it was his dogged commitment not to adopt economic policies being shoved into Nigeria’s throat, which he knew would have serious consequences on the wellbeing of the ordinary citizen, that principally led to his being toppled in 1985, with the support of foreign interests. Today, poor Buhari is the one taking all the heat for a tough economic situation, the foundation of which was laid nearly 40 years ago, after his ouster.
Buhari has a very kind heart. He does not forget deep-from-the-heart favours and good deeds done to him, and would always pay back in some way. And his way does not have to be the way others would expect but he would, nonetheless, at his time and calling, without one even realizing. His generosity is always from the heart, unadvertised and unadulterated.
His honesty and integrity are not contestable. The trappings of power have not, in any way, change the Buhari I have always known. He has been endowed with contentment and zero vanity and therefore has no appetite for glitter and glamour. He does not enjoy flattery and praise singing and it shows vividly if you read his body language.
One thing that amazes me about this gentlemen is his strength of character which draws from his strong faith in God as his Guide, Protector and the Disposer of all affairs. I am yet to come across, in today’s Nigeria, anybody else that has Buhari’s unqualified “Iman” (faith) in his Creator. And I know his faith is real and genuine because it shows in all his actions and conduct. I have witnessed many of such, but two examples have made a lasting impression on me. The first was during an audience in his residence some years back, in the course of which he said to me “you know, I swore by the Quran that I will defend the Constitution. So I cannot for any reason break my Oath of Office” Wow! The moment I left the residence I decided to go get a copy of my duly signed Oath of Office and have it close to me, to keep reminding me of what the President had subtly drummed into my head. I do remember that, on several other encounters thereafter, he has made this statement repeatedly on his commitment to abide by his Oath of Office. Again, on two separate occasions, I sought audience to console him on the deteriorating security situation, including the End SARS riots. I ended up being the one consoled by Buhari. Cool, calm and calculating, Mr. President would soothe my nerves completely, reinforcing my faith and reassuring me that all would be well. Over such conversations, I received good tutelage on statecraft from a Sage who is well grounded in that trade.
One attribute the President has, which most Nigerians lack, is patience. Also, his capacity for tolerance is unpararelled. Above all is his high sense of discipline. Buhari bids his time and knows that nothing happens before its time. He would not be stampeded into taking an action he is not ready to. For the retired Army General, old habits die hard. Buhari is hardly ever late for any engagement. Some days he has beaten us to FEC meetings arriving minutes earlier than 10.00 am. He carries his discipline everywhere with him. He sticks to his routines religiously, including his eating habits. He eats healthy, masticates his food well and always follows doctor’s orders. Buhari hardly talks with his mouth full, if he even talks on the dining table at all! If he doesn’t need a full serviette he would split it into two and use half only. If you are many on the table and he noticed so many bottles of water opened, he would rather drink from some of the unfinished bottles than open a fresh bottle for himself. Buhari preaches prudence and himself acts prudently.
PMB is endowed with humility. Of humble background and growing up as an orphan to reach the peak of his career in the military and No. 1 Citizen of his country, twice, has not in any way swelled his ego towards pomposity or conceit. Rather, he has remained his humble self. He dresses and eats modestly, respects his peers and especially his seniors in the military, and is at home even with those much younger than him in age. Since assuming office in 2015 he opted to be observing Jumaat Prayers at the Villa Mosque because, as he later explained to the Abuja National Mosque Committee, he did not want to be disrupting traffic and movement of people around the National Mosque on a weekly basis, given that presidential movement is fret with a lot of security restrictions that would inconvenience the public. And till today we do not experience any closure of the road to the airport in Abuja whenever he opts not to use the helicopter.
President Buhari is equally a very generous person. When he has the resources, he shares. But for the right cause, as he does not condone frivolities. He readily financially supports the less privileged, his extended family, political associates and all, especially on matters related to education, medical care, marriage and other social activities. But in all these Buhari strictly abides by the Islamic injunction that “your left hand must not see what your right hand gives out”. One time he summoned me to collect a financial contribution for a senior citizen that needed medical attention abroad. On coming down to his main sitting room, and realizing that there were other people present, he tiptoed back and made sure he had concealed the envelope he was carrying in his pocket before ushering me into his private living room where he handed it over to me, with only God as witness.
A master of the art of statesmanship, PMB has restored respectability and dignity to the exalted office of the President, devoid of all manner of vices, corruption and most especially impunity. None of his predecessors can boast of his respect for the rule of law and separation of powers, giving every organ of Government and the Constitution their due. He is a very good listener, reads extensively, follows national and international events and discourses regularly. Buhari reads all the major national papers every day, follows the news on TV and radio and spends quite a number of hours weekly receiving and consulting with visitors from all sections and interests in the country, both in his office and residence. He is, indeed, the most well informed citizen of Nigeria and probably the most accessible president in recent times.
He is the best Boss anybody could have. He reels out his priorities and gives his lieutenants the freehand and authority to discharge their duties, without let or hindrance. But if you have reason to accuse any public officer serving under him of any misdemeanor, ensure that you have all the evidence to back it up. Why, because he does not want anybody to be treated unfairly. Buhari will always want to be fair to all – the guilty should face the music and the innocent should not suffer unjustly.
Mr. President is shrewd and astute in his dealings and in taking decisions. He thinks deeply and widely. I have had cause a number of times to engage with him on certain positions he took. I always ended up perplexed because, in explaining to me his reasons, he would bring justification from different angles that I would never have imagined. His thought process and acumen are on another level entirely. At the end of the day, you may not have liked the decision but, in all honesty, you could never fault his line of thinking and must accept that his justification was valid. A friend and one time Minister to Buhari (now late) once advised me, upon my appointment, that I should never fret if PMB holds a strong view about something and would not budge. That his own personal experience has been that, way down the road, it most often turned out that Buhari’s position was the right one. And where he realized a mistake has been made, Buhari would readily accept and take responsibility.
Spending just a little moment with President Buhari would afford one the opportunity to appreciate his wit and humour. Even under serious stress of work and other challenges of governance PMB is always at his wits, easily dowsing tension and making you at ease. He cracks jokes with all and sundry and would always share funny moments about his life story. There is never a dull moment with this latest Octogenarian.
I always like to describe President Buhari as “Old School”. Why, because he is an embodiment of all that the Hausa language refers to as “Dattijo”. Someone who exudes propriety, decorum, integrity and discipline. These are qualities that are difficult to find today, all-in-one. For Buhari even his utterances are measured. You can hardly hear him say anything vulgar or utter unprintable words about anybody. He is a man that abhors injustice and impropriety of any kind. He would not tolerate indiscipline or insubordination. Respect for laid down regulations is a must. He detests corrupt practices and dishonesty in any form. As another departed close associate used to say, “when it comes to honesty and integrity, you only make mistake once with Buhari”, because you would lose all credibility in his eyes from that single dishonest action.
President Buhari takes his job seriously. He tries very hard to lead by example. It was therefore simply in the line of duty for him to be at the top of the queue to receive the Covid-19 vaccination, despite the potential risks to his person, given his then highly vulnerable age of 78.
Yes, there are challenges, mostly inherited and many induced by external factors outside his control, but PMB is such a big optimist. He conducts his affairs with the firm belief that the current challenges we face will be history by the time he leaves office, as he works meticulously to ensure that happens. We pray so.
By the special grace of God, and in spite of all the struggles he has gone through in life, including an attempt on his life in 2014, Buhari turns 80 today. We thank the Almighty for preserving the life of PMB, the finest officer and gentleman of our time. The excellent qualities of Baba Buhari that I know convince me that his is a special relationship with his Creator, Who has preserved and endowed him with all that a human being would wish for in life. God has restored his health, making him more agile than ever, and even more handsome, as a sign to all that He alone disposes of all affairs of men.
Mr. President, here is to wish you many more happy returns of this day, in good health, happiness and with a great sense of fulfillment. I also re-echo what you always pray upon yourself: May Allah preserve and strengthen your Iman (faith) for the rest of your natural life. Amen.
Engr. Suleiman H. Adamu (Galadiman Kazaure)
Honourable Minister of Water Resources