Buharism as Fascism: Engaging Balarabe Musa


Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

London, February 20, 2003

(All views personal)



In the fortnight so following Eid el-Adha, two incidents occurred that have compelled me once more to write on Buharism, this time with a sense of urgency and near desperation.  The first was an interview that the former civilian Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abdukadir Balarabe Musa gave Tell magazine, in which he dismissed General Muhammadu Buhari as a fascist who, by virtue of that fact, was incapable of reforming Nigeria.  In this piece I will analyze this categorization and expatiate on the nature and implications of Buharism as fascism. I will for now only note that when asked whom he would choose between Obasanjo and Buhari, the radical PRP governor could only hope that “it does not come to that”.  In a naïve, somewhat amusing manner, he pretends away the reality that Nigerians today have only one serious choice to make for all intents and purposes; and that choice is between Obasanjo, who by Balarabe Musa’s own admission has betrayed his supporters and been a complete failure and disappointment on the one hand, and Buhari, who according to Musa is a fascist, on the other hand.  We have to choose, like it or not, between a failure and a fascist.  What choice must the progressive politician or analyst make?  History, in throwing up the question, demands an answer. Balarabe Musa’s refusal to make a choice was, as we shall see, telling in more than one respect.


The second event was the receipt of a text message from my GSM provider breaking the news that the PDP had conceded 10 ministerial posts and 30 ambassadorial posts to the AD in return for the latter’s support for president Obasanjo’s second term bid.  The AD is an ethnic party with support in only one of the six geo-political “zones” in the country.  Its overt political agenda is one of promoting the interests of the Yoruba elite and bourgeoisie at all costs, including if necessary the disintegration of the nation and the unprincipled use of blackmail and cheap propaganda against other constituent groups.  The surprise to analysts is not that the AD, which had been implacably opposed to the presidency of OBJ, (a “stooge” of “mallams”), is now supporting him. Yoruba politics from the days of Awolowo has never transcended ethnic identity.  The real surprise, rather, is that Nigerians in the PDP can in their right minds concede 10 ministries to a party controlling only one geo-political zone. Even presuming that only with AD support can OBJ win the south-west, surely such an agreement is an invitation to anarchy and chaos. The 2003 election has suddenly become a struggle for the survival of Nigeria and its outcome will determine whether or not Nigerians are to become subjects of colonialism by one ethnic group. It is no longer possible to sit on the fence.  Nigerians must ask themselves if this country can afford an OBJ victory, and if the fascist alternative is not better than this alliance with a narrow ethnocentric agenda. I will now turn to an analysis of Buharism as fascism.


Fascism, a term with roots in the politics of Italy under Mussolini (and then Germany under Hitler), refers to an ideology characterized by extreme nationalism, extreme anti-communism, militarism and restrictions on personal liberty.  I have elsewhere made the point that Buharism, in its sense of being the ideology of the military government headed by General Buhari after the overthrow of the second republic 1983, shared many common features with fascism.  The government was a right wing nationalist government that pursued bourgeois economic programs and curtailed personal freedoms.  I have also tried to explain the character of that government as a necessary corollary to the conditions that necessitated its emergence (see my “Buharism - Economic Theory & Political Economy”; and “Buharism Beyond  Buhari”, both published by the Daily Trust and available on the web). In this sense, Buhari was the true successor to Murtala Mohammed. It therefore follows that one can only raise mild objections to Balarabe’s description of Buhari as a fascist and one must dismiss all attempts to reduce this opinion to the vitriol of a politician who is yet to forgive his unjust incarceration by Buhari’s administration. Yet a number of points must be made.


First, in a constitutional democracy, personal liberties are guaranteed, and protected, by the courts of law.  An elected president, (Buhari or any other), cannot change this fact.  Second, there are no communist groups in Nigeria today.  In consequence, what is left of Buharism is a fiercely nationalistic political ideology combined with right wing social and economic policies.  This is the alternative Nigerians have to a regime which for the past four years has been characterized by sleaze and corruption (as reported by its own auditor-general); a comical desperation to impress America and the western world; a seeming rush to sell off national assets at much less than fair value; an open-door policy of import liberalization that has destroyed indigenous industry; an economic program lacking in fiscal and monetary discipline that has led to high inflation, a heavy debt burden, diminished foreign reserves, greater disparities in income distribution, and the consequent social insecurity and poverty. Between 1999 and 2001 Obasanjo’s government spent over two trillion naira. About 300 billion is said to have been spent by Chief Anenih on roads. The naira has lost more than half its value against major currencies. The national debt at one point in OBJ’s term exceeded the nominal GDP.Nigeria has defaulted on its contracted obligations to creditors and both the IMF and the World Bank have been most critical of economic management. The point here is not that OBJ was the reason for all our problems. It is that he has since assuming office simply compounded these problems and continued with business as usual.   These are the facts of PDP rule since 1999, and they are more important than the ethnicity or faith of OBJ.   Most of those who supported OBJ in 1999 did so not because of his ethnic and religious background, but because they believed he would introduce change for the better.  Now he has failed and we must not allow his ethnicity to be the decisive factor returning him to power.


What can we expect of Buharism, therefore, by extrapolating from its previous policies and presuming Buhari’s faithful adherence to a coherent ideological framework?


1.      We would expect, given the record of Muhammadu Buhari in power, a policy of zero tolerance for official sleaze and corruption in the Federal Government, as well as a definite and transparent exercise aimed at stamping out corruption in other tiers of government.We know for a fact that the Buhari government not only dealt with corrupt politicians, it took steps to discipline military officers involved in corruption. One of Buhari’s military governors was removed as a result of business dealings his wife was involved in. 


2.      We would expect a review of the policy of unrestricted import liberalization, and the selective use of tariffs and import bans (or restrictions on eligible foreign exchange transactions) to protect domestic industries and restrict the profligate spending of hard earned foreign currency. This was the policy pursued rigorously by the Buhari government in 1984-85.


3.      We would expect privatization to continue but with three major differences from the present form: First, those who want to buy national assets must pay a fair price for them.  Second, no assets considered of vital national interest will be sold.  Finally, focus will be on empowering Nigerians and promoting the interests of a domestic capitalist class rather than selling the nation’s assets to foreign interest groups.


4.      We would expect a shift in our foreign policy from the present lap-dog mentality of seeking notice from the U.S. and G.7 countries to one of closer links to nations in Africa (e.g. South Africa) and Asia (e.g. China, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Korea) whose experience in development can serve as a model.  Unlike OBJ who has spent one year of his presidency in the air with no results, a nationalist leader will stay home longer and travel less. Buhari’s government policy was characterized by the popular TV advertisement of “Andrew” who, tired of Nigeria, was going to “check out.” Andrew was convinced by his friend to stay. “We have no other country. Let us stay and save it together.”


5.      We would expect a focus on an educational program that seeks transfer of skills and technology and the development of indigenous human capital.


6.      Buharism should confront oil exploration companies and ensure that they pay for environmental damage and plough a substantial portion of their profits into developing oil producing areas.


7.      We would expect a trimming of government and a reduction in recurrent expenditure and overheads, greater fiscal discipline and tighter monetary policy to combat inflation.


8.      We would expect a focus on paying off our foreign debt and reducing the debt overhang through negotiations based on patriotic interests and compliance with agreed terms.  In particular, only bona fide and verified debts will be honoured and paid. Buhari’s emphasis on verifying debts and his commitment to paying same was a hallmark of his administration. Not to be ignored here is that the first Nigerian Head of State to ask for an IMF standby facility was General Obasanjo after he succeeded Murtala Muhammad.


9.      We would expect a realistic acceptance of the precariousness of our position and a prioritisation of our economic projects.  Such white elephants as extravagant stadia and the ill-advised quest to host soccer fiestas will take secondary position to rebuilding our dilapidated national infrastructure.


10.   We would expect a truly nationalist government that seeks to inculcate pride in every Nigerian of his nationality and deals fairly with all ethnic and religious groups.


These are ten points that flow logically from actual policies pursued by Muhammadu Buhari when he was in power, which set in clear relief the bourgeois nationalist character of his government.  The policies will set Buhari against international finance capital, against domestic criminals, sundry contractors, commission agents and drug barons, in other words against those who are responsible for the woes of Nigeria. 


Yet Buharism is not an ideal ideological construct from the perspective of left-wing politics. The reason for this is to be found in the very nature of bourgeois economics. As noted by the Nobel winning economist James Tobin in a 1970 essay, “the most difficult issues of political economy are those where goals of efficiency, freedom of choice, and equality compete. It is hard enough to propose an intellectually defensible compromise among them, even harder to find a politically viable compromise”. My sense is that Balarabe Musa’s opposition to Buhari is rooted in socialist principles, and the sound knowledge that a bourgeois nationalist government is not likely to pursue populist or petit-bourgeois policies of the NEPU/PRP variety. This is a view I share. However I differ with Balarabe in three fundamental respects.


 First, I recognize that the nation needs to produce first, before the output can be distributed. Today the nation’s very capacity to produce is at great risk due to corruption, profligacy and irresponsible economic management. If we need to have a bourgeois nationalist government to revive the economy and move us towards self-sustaining growth and development, then we must support such a government in spite of our reservations.


Secondly, Buhari, unlike Obasanjo, recognizes that the Americans and the British and other foreign “advisers” always act first and foremost in their own national interests. This makes him a capitalist in the mould of  South  Asian leaders like Malaysia’s Mahathir Muhammad. Precisely when the likes of Kalu Kalu, Olu Falae and Chu Okongwu were busy preaching to  Nigerians the benefits of globalisation, Mahathir was telling Malaysians and the world that “the fact that globalisation has come does not mean we should just sit by and watch as the predators destroy us.” Again I have elsewhere gone into concrete analysis of Buhari’s economic programs, which made him the essential enfant terrible with the IMF and western capital. I believe Buhari has what it takes for Nigeria to start moving towards the Asian model, given the right complement of patriotic intellectuals.


Finally, I believe left-wing politics and civil society will exert pressure on Buhari and moderate some of the sharp pains of bourgeois economic programs. Buhari’s closest advisers will continue to be the right wing elements with whom he is known to be in close association, but a democratic government of necessity and by definition makes policy from a much broader opinion base than the kitchen cabinet if at all it intends to last. If progressive elements support Buhari there influence in policy will be even more pronounced. For these reasons I find that the shortcomings of Buharism are not fatal, and consider the Buhari option in 2003, as in 1983, a necessary, if difficult, step in the path to national progress and independence.



This intervention will be incomplete without a discussion of the likely position of Buharism on the implementation of Shari’ah. Right wing politicians the world over, from the Tory party in the UK and the Republicans in the US to the center-right Christian Democratic parties of Europe tend to closely associate themselves with institutional religion and promote conservative values. Buhari will be no different. The logic of his ideology is such as to lead him towards supporting a vigorous role for the state in establishing moral standards. Indeed when he was in power he pursued a “War against Indiscipline” (popularly called WAI) and set up WAI brigades which set out to compel Nigerians to adopt certain standards of public conduct. It is not inconceivable that various hisbah groups may begin to operate like WAI brigades and there must be vigilance to protect the citizenry from the excesses of zealots.


Having said this, a commitment to one’s religion and religious values is not synonymous with intolerance or disrespect for other faiths. We have seen many right wing governments in Europe who have shown great respect and tolerance for other religious groups. Buhari’s famous speech for which he is labeled a fundamentalist is one in which he called on Nigerian Muslims to vote into power good Muslims. Clearly, the implication here is a sense of dissatisfaction with the conduct of those Muslims who have not been good representatives of their faith while in office. No reasonable person would quarrel with this. Nigeria needs good Muslims and good Christians, good Nigerians to run its affairs. Perhaps this explains why one of the most eloquent pieces written in defence of Buhari on this point came from the Reverend  Mathew Hassan Kukah. Father Kukah correctly understood that the point Buhari made was that Muslims had a duty to elect into office those persons who would uphold the political values for which Islam stood, such as honesty, justice and a true commitment to the welfare of the people. These are values Islam shares with Christianity and which are expected in good Christians, and indeed a Buhari government is likely to be dominated by conservative elements of both religions.


 As far as religion is concerned, therefore, it seems fairly evident that Buhari remains a nationalist who will not compromise his commitment to national unity. Indeed his critics easily forget that his most implacable opponents while in power were Muslims. Buhari led a coup d’etat against a fellow Muslim. He was the first to curtail the number of pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia to conserve foreign exchange and he changed the national currency while Muslims were on pilgrimage. He also had well advertised disputes with the late Sheikh Abubakar Gunmi and at one time it was rumoured he had him arrested. When Buhari was overthrown many Nigerian Muslims in Saudi Arabia celebrated, particularly those whose benefactors were either in detention or exile as a result of his government’s corrective measures. The facts of history refute the charges of bigotry leveled against Buhari. The genuine concern in my view lies in the point alluded to above, the extent to which Buhari will tolerate infringements on personal liberty by hisbah groups. As in all societies ruled by right wing governments, defenders of freedom must be vigilant and ensure that the limits of state authority are policed and personal freedoms preserved.


In the final analysis, progressives must make a choice between four more years of Obasanjo/Atiku on the one hand, and Buhari on the other. History demands of us that we make that choice and history will judge us appropriately. As for me, I have made my choice. Buhari is not perfect, but he has my vote.