Buhari: Nwabueze’s Troubled Soul


Muhammad Al-Ghazali




Let me confess from the onset that I am not a fan of elder citizen Benjamin Nwabueze; a one-time Minister of Education; a supposed authority on constitutional law and prominent member of the so-called “patriots” and I doubt very much if I will ever be in my life time. I have no particular liking for any Nigerian individual, or politician, whose sole calling card, or platform of appeal, is never different from the primordial reality of their ethnic identities.

I dislike it even more when the same individuals refuse to change their ways, or primitive lines of thought, even after half a century since they first contrived to truncate our first democratic experience as a united nation with the military coup of January 15 1966.

As if afflicted with advanced forms of senility, these individuals, of which Nwabueze is easily the most prominent; repeatedly sneer at superior logic, facts, and the reality of rapidly unfolded events around the world in their unguarded commentaries on the polity. They reject the suggestion that their narrow ethno-centric perspectives on nation building have not only become stale, but are also largely irrelevant in what is required for the efficient governance of modern nation states and economic power blocks.

And when they speak; they can hardly conceal the preponderance the stone-aged illusion of the relevance of ethnic nationalities and how the theory in itself should be bedrock or foundation for any informed discourse on the direction of where our dear nation should be headed.

It was a theory which Nwabueze and his ilk desperately wanted to define during the tragic presidency of certain Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that almost set the nation on fire. Its essential strategy was the crude exploitation of our major fault lines for political capital. With the benefit of hindsight, it is perhaps not surprising that Ben Nwabueze was extremely close to the former president.

He even had the effrontery to attempt foisting a “draft constitution” he wrote in his bedroom down the throats of unsuspecting delegates irrationally cobbled together for Jonathan’s dubious Constitutional Conference. The joke, of course, was that he expected the Conference to return the same document which reflected his profoundly flawed views as the new constitution for the country.

But he failed. Just like he also failed in 1966. The nauseating truth about Nwabueze’s latter-day romance with the politics of ethic nationalism, is that way back in 1966, our history books indicate that he was a different political animal for predictable reason.

In 1966, soon after the top-most northern military-political leadership were eliminated by the Igbo-inspired military coup, Ben Nwabueze drafted the document which the late military Head of State General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi relied upon to foist a unitary government on the nation, and in essence precipitated the series of events which culminated in the nation’s bloody Civil War from 1967 - 1970.

Suddenly, from enjoying their regional governments woke up one day to discover that they had lost their autonomies by executive fiat. The new arrangement cobbled all the regions together under the iron fist of a military government in which the Igbo were the most pre-eminent in the political and military leadership of the nation including the federal bureaucracy.

But the Unity Government was doomed from the onset because it was in reality an Animal Farm, which even Nwabueze would never had accepted or recognized if he was from the north, given his well-documented antecedents. Whereas the Eastern regional political and military leadership was largely untouched by the military putsch, the West, Mid-West and Northern regions lost key heavyweights and were clearly at a disadvantage.  It was an infamy that could not stand and it didn’t.

Now, more than half a century later, it is still painfully obvious that Nwabueze’s intermittent interventions on national issues, including the interview he granted the Guardian newspaper last week in which he attempted to deconstruct the personality of president Muhammadu Buhari, has always been about the insatiable quest to enthrone and empower his particular interest group.

In normal situations, that is not entirely a bad thing to do. But where the same desire exposes certain prejudices and crude resentment against particular ethnic groups and the religion they practice the fundamental underpinnings of such agitations become very suspect.

In the interview I referred to for instance, Nwabueze not only scorned President Buhari’s anti-corruption stance, which he referred to as “make-believe”; he even questioned his educational qualifications in the same arrogant scepticism that has become typical of his creed, as well as his leadership credentials.

But it was his reference to the president as an Islamic fundamentalist that troubled me the most. In his opinion, the factors that way heavily against Buhari fulfilling his leadership obligations to the nation include “mainly his Islamization/Northernisation agenda, as manifested, for example, in his mandatory directive that Islamic books be made available in all secondary schools; and his pledge, in a speech at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria on May 2, 2015 to an exclusively Moslem gathering, to continue Sir Ahmadu Bello’s programme of fostering the idea of one Northern Nigeria, not One Nigeria.”

Two things are evident from the quote cited above. First, it failed to provide the context within which President Buahri did the things Nwabueze accused him of doing. Second, in case we did not know it before, the same quote removed whatever doubts we previously had that the man has always nursed a king-sized grudge against the Islamic religion which millions in the north practice, if not the entire region itself regardless of its religious composition.

Why, for instance, should Nwabueze be bothered that President Buhari, who was not even sworn into office at the time, gave a directive that Islamic books should be distributed in schools without even indicating the particular schools in question?

Were they Christian Missionary Schools? Was Buhari deliberately trying to convert student pupils to Islam? The so-called Professor of Law predictably allowed all those questions to hang and expects the ever gullible Nigerian public to embrace his narrative.

And; if I may also pose the question, is there any public school in the Southeast where Islamic education is part of the curriculum? In case the Professor does not know it; all the primary schools I attend from Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto were all run by Christian missionaries and I remain proud of the fact. In the mornings, we were all compelled to sing Christian hymns at the assembly grounds. The experience never diminished me as a person, or reduced my faith in my own religion. It was part of our learning curve!

And what is the nonsense about Buhari harping about a united Northern Nigerian with the context of our Federation? Under the government of President Jonathan which enjoyed the confidence of Nwabueze, regular meetings of the Southern Peoples Assembly was encouraged and heavily patronized. Heavens did not fall. Nwabueze did not infer that it was against the concept of a greater Nigeria at the time.

Neither did the quality of leadership in the country improve because the then President Goodluck Jonathan had a PhD! The notion of a direct correlation between higher academic qualifications and the quality of leadership is baloney. And no other Nigerian leader in our history proved that more than President Goodluck Jonathan.

Stripped of all its pretences therefore, most of the allegations against the president, in the interview Nwabueze granted last week were nothing but the jaundiced ranting of a frustrated old man who can see himself already at the departure lounge to the great beyond, with most of the dreams he nursed for the inordinate supremacy of his ethnic group in national affairs largely unfulfilled.