Nigerians turning over in their minds or thinking through what is happening to the country in terms of the violence across the land must have confronted the paradox of General Muhammadu Buhari in April 1983 and President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2018.
As a military commander in April 1983, General Buhari dispensed with orders from the military and political high commands to give Chadian invaders, in his own words, bloody nose when some of them strayed and occupied territories belonging to Nigeria in one moment of territorial insensitivity. The merit or otherwise of basically giving himself the authority to act would remain an issue in subtle debate. Suffice it to say that not even the son of an incumbent Commander-in-Chief can attempt that today without his action suffering diverse interpretation, misinterpretation and punishment. But public reception of the move has remained settled in favour of the General. The argument goes like this: the urgency of the response required justified not waiting for official permission. So much damage could have been inflicted on Nigeria. What if the invading rebel troops from Chad occupied Maiduguri while permission was being awaited.
Seen from such a non-military mindset, General Buhari became associated with saving Nigeria from the embarrassment of having to mobilise and retake Maiduguri or any major town since it appeared the foreign troops were not in the mood to mind their movement. Retaking any such town could never have been possible without bloodshed. As the General who led this operation, he had, by the time he became Head of State in December 1983, fulfilled the unwritten requirement for leadership in many countries which is a special sacrifice for national interest.
The question is what might have changed in April 2018 that Buhari, now the Commander –in-Chief of a much more educated and sophisticated armed forces, with greater latitude in all directions, with access to fellow presidents and prime ministers across Africa and the world, with a reserve list of worldly fellow retirees no longer able to block armed bandits that he himself said have infiltrated the country from Libya?
Is it the president’s age? Is it diversion of his mandate, making him just a ‘groundnut chief’? Is this a manifestation of an unknown weakness? Is this complicity? Is Nigeria being subverted by a more organised internal or external player? Is it Fifth columnists at work? Is it the case that the president has more information than the general public? Is the president bidding his time but if so, till when? Is history playing tricks with the president?