President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR (born 17 December 1942) is the President of Nigeria, in office since 29 May 2015. He is a retired Nigerian Army Major General and was Head of State of Nigeria from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985, after taking power in a military coup d'état. The term Buharism is ascribed to the Buhari military government.
He ran unsuccessfully for the office of President in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. In December 2014, he emerged as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the March 2015 elections. Buhari won the 2015 general election, defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and marking the first time in Nigeria's history that an incumbent President was defeated in an election by the opposition.
Buhari has stated that he takes responsibility for whatever happened under his watch during his military rule, saying that he cannot change the past. He also describes himself as a "converted democrat”.
Muhammadu Buhari was born on 17 December 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to his father Adamu and mother Zulaihat. He is the twenty-third child of his father. Buhari was raised by his mother, after his father died when he was about four years old.
He attended primary school in Daura and Mai'adua before proceeding to Katsina Model School in 1953, and Katsina Provincial Secondary School (now Government College Katsina) from 1956 to 1961. He then joined the Nigerian Military Training School in Kaduna, where his military career began.
Buhari joined the Nigerian Army in 1961, when he attended the Nigerian Military Training College (in February 1964, it was renamed the Nigerian Defence Academy) in Kaduna. From 1962 to 1963, he underwent officer cadets training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot in England.
In January 1963, Buhari was commissioned as second lieutenant, and appointed Platoon Commander of the Second Infantry Battalion in Abeokuta, Nigeria. From November 1963 to January 1964, Buhari attended the Platoon Commanders’ Course at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna. In 1964, he facilitated his military training by attending the Mechanical Transport Officer’s Course at the Army Mechanical Transport School in Borden, United Kingdom.
From 1965 to 1967, Buhari served as Commander of the Second Infantry Battalion. He was appointed Brigade Major, Second Sector, First Infantry Division, April 1967 to July 1967.
Buhari was made Brigade Major of the Third Infantry Brigade, July 1967 to October 1968 and Brigade Major/Commandant, Thirty-first Infantry Brigade, 1970 to 1971.
Buhari served as the Assistant Adjutant-General, First Infantry Division Headquarters, from 1971 to 1972. He also attended the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, India, in 1973.
From 1974 to 1975 Buhari was Acting Director of Transport and Supply at the Nigerian Army Corps of Supply and Transport Headquarters.
He was also Military Secretary at the Army Headquarters from 1978 to 1979 and was a member of the Supreme Military Council from 1978 to 1979.
From 1979 to 1980, at the rank of colonel, Buhari (class of 1980) attended the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in the United States, and gained a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies. Upon completion of the on-campus full-time resident program lasting ten months and the two-year-long, distance learning program, the United States Army War College (USAWC) college awards its graduate officers a master's degree in Strategic Studies.
Other roles include:
- General Officer Commanding, 4th Infantry Division, Aug. 1980 – Jan. 1981
- General Officer Commanding, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Division, Jan. 1981 – October 1981
- General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armed Division Nigerian Army, October 1981 – December 1983.
Northern counter-coup of 28 July 1966
In July 1966 Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari was one of the participants in a coup, led by Lt-Col Murtala Muhammed, that overthrew and assassinated Nigeria's first self-appointed military Head of State General Aguiyi Ironsi, who had assumed leadership of the Nigerian government after a failed coup attempt on 15 January 1966, which overthrew the elected parliamentary government of Nigeria (also known as first republic). Ironsi's assumption of Nigeria's leadership was technically another coup following the January 15, 1966 coup. Other participants in the coup on 28 July 1966 included 2nd Lieutenant Sani Abacha, Lieutenant Ibrahim Babangida, Major Theophilus Danjuma, Lieutenant Ibrahim Bako among others. The coup was a reaction to the January coup where a group of mostly Igbo officers led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Many Northern soldiers were aggrieved by the murder of senior politicians, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, northern regional premier, Ahmadu Bello, and four senior officers, Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, Colonel Kur Mohammed, Lt-Cols Abogo Largema and James Pam. The counter-coup was very bloody leading to the murder of mostly Igbo officers. Among the casualties were the first military head of state General Aguiyi Ironsi and Lt Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, the military governor of the Western Region.
July 30, 1975 Coup
Then Lieutenant Colonel Buhari was among a group of officers (led by Colonels Ibrahim Taiwo, Joseph Garba, Abdulahi Mohammed, Anthony Ochefu, Lieutenant Colonels Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Ibrahim Babangida and Alfred Aduloju) who overthrew the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. Col. Buhari was appointed military governor of the North Eastern State after the successful execution of the coup.
Governor of North Eastern State
In August 1975, after General Murtala Mohammed took power that year, he appointed Buhari as Governor of the North-Eastern State, to oversee social, economic and political improvements in the state.
In February 1976, the North Eastern state was divided by the Military Government into Bauchi, Borno and Gongola states. In August 1991, Yobe state was created from Borno state, while Gongola state was split into two states, Taraba and Adamawa. In October 1996, Gombe State was created from Bauchi State.
Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources
In March 1976, the Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, appointed Buhari as the Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources. When the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was created in 1976, Buhari was also appointed as its Chairman, a position he held until 1978. During his tenure as Commissioner, 2.8 billion Naira allegedly went missing from the accounts of the NNPC in Midlands Bank in the United Kingdom. Former President Ibrahim Babangida allegedly accused Buhari of being responsible for this fraud.
However, according to the Modalities for Coordinating Nigeria's Anti-Corruption Strategies, Constructive Engagement Vol. 1 No. 1 (2009), in 1983, Shagari administration inaugurated the Crude Oil Sales Tribunal of Inquiry, headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe, to investigate allegations of N2.8 billion misappropriation from the NNPC account. The tribunal however found no truth in the allegations even though it noticed some lapses in the NNPC accounts.
1983 Chadian military affair
In 1983, when Chadian forces invaded Nigeria in the Borno State, Buhari used the forces under his command to chase them out of the country, crossing into Chadian territory in spite of an order given by President Shagari to withdraw. This 1983 Chadian military affair led to more than 100 victims and "prisoners of war".
December 1983 military coup
Major-General Buhari was one of the leaders of the military coup of December 1983 that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari. At the time of the coup plot, Buhari was the General Officer Commanding (GOC), Third Armored Division of Jos. With the successful execution of the coup by General Buhari, Tunde Idiagbon was appointed Chief of General Staff (the de facto No. 2 in the administration). The coup ended Nigeria's short-lived Second Republic, a period of multiparty democracy started in 1979. According to The New York Times, the officers who took power argued that "a flawed democracy was worse than no democracy at all". Buhari justified the military's seizure of power by castigating the civilian government as hopelessly corrupt and promptly suspended Nigeria’s 1979 Constitution.
Muhammadu Buhari has denied his role in the December 1983 coup; however, the example of Major Bamidele betrays Buhari's complicity in the December 1983 coup. Nigerian military historians Max Siollun and Nowa Omoigui note that when Major Bamidele got wind of the coup to oust Shagari, Bamidele reported the issue up the chain of command to his GOC 3rd Armored Division (Major General Buhari) who was allegedly in on the plot. To prevent Bamidele from leaking the plot, Buhari ordered the arrest and detention of Bamidele for 2 weeks. Bamidele wasn't released until the successful execution of the coup. Learning from this unfortunate experience, Bamidele didn't report any rumors of the so-called Vatsa coup (between 1985 and 1986) and was executed for it. Bamidele's words to the Special Military Tribunal that tried and convicted him are:
"I heard of the 1983 coup planning, told my GOC General Buhari who detained me for two weeks in Lagos. Instead of a pat on the back, I received a stab. How then do you expect me to report this one? This trial marks the eclipse of my brilliant and unblemished career of 19 years. I fought in the civil war with the ability it pleased God to give me. It is unfortunate that I'm being convicted for something which I have had to stop on two occasions. This is not self adulation but a sincere summary of the qualities inherent in me. It is an irony of fate that the president of the tribunal who in 1964 felt that I was good enough to take training in the UK is now saddled with the duty of showing me the exit from the force and the world."
Head of state (1983–85)
In order to reform the economy, as Head of State, Buhari started to rebuild the nation's social-political and economic systems, along the realities of Nigeria's austere economic conditions. The rebuilding included removing or cutting back the excesses in national expenditure, obliterating or removing completely, corruption from the nation's social ethics, shifting from mainly public sector employment to self-employment. Buhari also encouraged import substitution industrialisation based to a great extent on the use of local materials and he tightened importation.
However, Buhari's bid to re-balance public finances by curbing imports led to many job losses and the closure of businesses.
Buhari broke ties with the International Monetary Fund, when the fund asked the government to devalue the naira by 60%. However, the reforms that Buhari instigated on his own were as or more rigorous as those required by the IMF.
On 7 May 1984, Buhari announced the country's 1984 National Budget. The budget came with a series of complementary measures:
- A temporary ban on recruiting federal public sector workers
- Raising of Interest rates
- Halting Capital Projects
- Prohibition of borrowing by State governments
- 15 percent cut from Shagari's 1983 Budget
- Realignment of import duties
- Reducing the balance of payment deficit by cutting imports
- It also gave priority to the importation of raw materials and spare parts that were needed for agriculture and industry.
Other economic measures by Buhari took the form of counter trade, currency change, price reduction of goods and services.
Buhari's military government continued largely with the foreign policy it inherited from Shehu Shagari. In January 1984, in his new year broadcast speech, Buhari stated that he would maintain and enhance diplomatic relations with all countries and international organisations such as the OAU, UN, OPEC, ECOWAS and the Commonwealth of Nations. He also stated that he would honor all treaty obligations entered into by previous governments, which he did.
Buhari's foreign policy also focused on Africa, mostly Nigeria's neighbors due to financial commitments.
53 suitcases saga
Buhari's administration was embroiled in a scandal concerning the fate of 53 suitcases, allegedly containing $700 million in Nigerian naira (which, at the time, was not allowed to leave the country due to inflation control efforts). The suitcases were being transported by the Emir of Gwandu, whose son was Buhari's aide-de-camp, and were cleared through customs on June 10, 1984 without inspection during his return flight from Saudi Arabia.
According to Decree Number 2 of 1984, the state security and the chief of staff were given the power to detain, without charges, individuals deemed to be a security risk to the state for up to three months. Strikes and popular demonstrations were banned and Nigeria’s secret police service, the National Security Organization (NSO) was entrusted with unprecedented powers. The NSO played a wide role in the cracking down of public dissent by intimidating, harassing and jailing individuals who broke the interdiction on strikes. By October 1984, about 200,000 civil servants were retrenched.
Critics of the regime were also thrown in jail, as was the case of Nigeria’s most popular artist and one time presidential contender, afro-beat singer Fela Kuti. He was arrested on September 4, 1984 at the airport as he was about to embark on an American tour. Amnesty International described the charges brought against him for illegally exporting foreign currency as “spurious.” Using the wide powers bestowed upon it by Decree Number 2, the government sentenced Fela to 5 years in prison. He was released after 18 months, when the Buhari government was toppled in a coup d’etat.
In 1984, Buhari passed Decree Number 4, the Protection Against False Accusations Decree, considered by scholars as the most repressive press law ever enacted in Nigeria. Section 1 of the law provided that “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement […] which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offense under this Decree”. The law further stated that offending journalists and publishers will be tried by an open military tribunal, whose ruling would be final and unappealable in any court and those found guilty would be eligible for a fine not less than 10,000 naira and a jail sentence of up to two years. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian were among the journalists who were tried under the decree.
Decree 20 on illegal ship bunkering and drug trafficking was another example of Buhari’s tough approach to crime. Section 3 (2) (K) provided that “any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sells, smokes or inhales the drug known as cocaine or other similar drugs, shall be guilty under section 6 (3) (K) of an offence and liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad.” In the case of Bernard Ogedengebe, the Decree was applied retroactively. He was executed even if at the time of his arrest the crime did not mandate the capital punishment, but had carried a sentence of six months imprisonment.
In another prominent case of April 1985, six Nigerians were condemned to death under the same decree: Sidikatu Tairi, Sola Oguntayo, Oladele Omosebi, Lasunkanmi Awolola, Jimi Adebayo and Gladys Iyamah.
In 1985, prompted by economic uncertainties and a rising crime rate, the government of Buhari opened the borders (closed since April 1984) with Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon to speed up the expulsion of 700,000 illegal foreigners and illegal migrant workers. Buhari is today known for this crisis; there even is a famine in the east of Niger that have been named "El Buhari".
One of the most enduring legacies of the Buhari government has been the War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Launched on March 20, 1984, the policy tried to address the perceived lack of public morality and civic responsibility of Nigerian society. Unruly Nigerians were ordered to form neat queues at bus stops, under the eyes of whip-wielding soldiers. Civil servants who failed to show up on time at work were humiliated and forced to do “frog jumps”. Minor offences carried long sentences. Any student over the age of 17 caught cheating on an exam would get 21 years in prison. Counterfeiting and arson could lead to the death penalty.
His regime drew the critics of many, including Nigeria’s first Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, who, in 2007, wrote a piece called “The Crimes of Buhari” which outlined many of the abuses conducted under his military rule.
The Umaru Dikko Affair was another defining moment in Buhari’s military government. Umaru Dikko, a former Minister of Transportation under the previous civilian administration of President Shagari who fled the country shortly after the coup, was accused of embezzling $1 billion in oil profits. With the help of the Mossad, the NSO traced him to London where operatives from Nigeria and Israel drugged and kidnapped him. They placed him in a plastic bag, which was subsequently hidden inside a crate labelled as “Diplomatic Baggage”. The purpose of this secret operation was to ship Dikko off to Nigeria on an empty Nigerian Airways Boeing 707, to stand trial for embezzlement. The plot was foiled by British airport officers.
Buhari mounted an offensive against entrenched interests. In 20 months as Head of State, about 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed for corruption during his stewardship.
Buhari responded to his human rights criticism, by saying that if elected in the general election due to take place now on 28 March 2015, he will follow the rule of law, there will be access to justice for all Nigerians and respect for fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
1985 Coup and Detention
In August 1985, Major General Buhari was himself overthrown in a coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC). Babangida brought many of Buhari's most vocal critics into his administration, including Fela Kuti's brother Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a doctor who had led a strike against Buhari to protest declining health care services. Buhari was then detained in Benin City until 1988.
Buhari's admirers believe that he was overthrown by corrupt elements in his government who were afraid of being brought to justice as his policies were beginning to yield tangible dividends in terms of public discipline, curbing corruption, lowering inflation, enhancing workforce and improving productivity. Ibrahim Babangida justified his coup d'état by saying that Buhari failed to deal with the country's economic problems and promised "to rejuvenate the economy ravaged by decades of government mismanagement and corruption". However, Babangida's military government also failed to deal with Nigeria's economic problems and failed to rejuvenate the economy.
Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund
Buhari served as the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a body created by the government of General Sani Abacha, and funded from the revenue generated by the increase in price of petroleum products, to pursue developmental projects around the country. A 1998 report in New African praised the PTF under Buhari for its transparency, calling it a rare "success story". However, the same report also noted that critics had questioned the PTF's allocation of 20% of its resources to the military, which the critics feared would not be accountable for the revenue.
Presidential Campaigns and Elections
2003 Presidential Elections
In 2003, Buhari ran for office in the presidential election as the candidate of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). He was defeated by the People's Democratic Party nominee, President Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ, by a margin of more than eleven million votes.
2007 Presidential Elections
On 18 December 2006, Gen. Buhari was nominated as the consensus candidate of the All Nigeria People's Party. His main challenger in the April 2007 polls was the ruling PDP candidate, Umaru Yar'Adua, who hailed from the same home state of Katsina. In the election, Buhari officially took 18% of the vote against 70% for Yar'Adua, but Buhari rejected these results. After Yar'Adua took office, the ANPP agreed to join his government, but Buhari denounced this agreement.
2011 Presidential Elections
In March 2010, Buhari left the ANPP for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a party that he had helped to found. He said that he had supported foundation of the CPC "as a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party the ANPP".
Buhari was the CPC Presidential candidate in the 16 April 2011 general election, running against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP. They were the major contenders among 20 contestants. He was campaigning on an anti-corruption platform and pledged to remove immunity protections from government officials. He also gave support to enforcement of Sharia law in Nigeria's northern states, which had previously caused him political difficulties among Christian voters in the country's south.
The elections were marred by widespread sectarian violence, which claimed the lives of 800 people across the country, as Buhari’s supporters attacked Christian settlements in the country’s center regions. The three day uprising was blamed in part on Buhari’s inflammatory comments. In spite of assurances from Human Rights Watch, who had judged the elections as “among the fairest in Nigeria’s history”, Buhari claimed that the poll was flawed and warned that "If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood".
However, he remains a "folk hero" to some for his vocal opposition to corruption. Buhari won 12,214,853 votes, coming in second to the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, who polled 22,495,187 votes and was declared the winner.
2015 Presidential Elections
In the run up to the 2015 Presidential elections, the campaign team of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan asked for the disqualification of General Buhari from the race, claiming that he is in breach of the Constitution. According to the fundamental document, in order to qualify for election to the office of the President, an individual must be “educated up to at least School certificate level or its equivalent”. Buhari has failed to submit any such evidence, claiming that he lost the original copies of his diplomas when his house was raided following his overthrow from power in 1985.
Buhari ran in the 2015 Presidential election as a candidate of the All Progressives Congress party. His platform was built around his image as a staunch anti-corruption fighter and his incorruptible and honest reputation. However, Buhari stated in an interview that he would not probe past corrupt leaders and that he would give officials who stole in the past amnesty, insofar as they repent.
In January 2015, the insurgent group "The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta" (MEND) endorsed Buhari in the Presidential race, saying he is the best candidate to lead the country.
Muhammadu Buhari's campaign was briefly advised by former Obama campaign manager, David Axelrod, and his AKPD consultancy.
In February 2015, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo quit the ruling PDP party and threw his support behind the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket.
On March 31, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan called Buhari to offer his concession and congratulations for his election as president; Buhari assumed office on 29 May 2015.
Abolishing the Office of the first lady, Nigeria
In December 2014, Muhammadu Buhari went on the record to say he would abolish, scrap or ban the office of the First Lady if he’s elected president of Nigeria, because it is unconstitutional.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) who endorsed Buhari for the 2015 general elections, commended Buhari for his plans, when elected as President, to scrap the so-called ‘Office of the First Lady’. MEND went on to say that the office of the first lady is obviously an irrelevant, fraudulent and unconstitutional office, whose only purpose is to further plunder the resources of the country.
In 2012, Buhari’s name was included on a list published by Boko Haram of individuals it would trust to mediate between the group and the Federal Government. However, Buhari strongly objected and declined to mediate between the government and Boko Haram. In 2013, Muhammadu Buhari made a series of statements, when he asked the Federal Government to stop the killing of Boko Haram members and blamed the rise of the terrorist group on the prevalence of Niger Delta militants in the South. Buhari stated that “what is responsible for the security situation in the country is caused by the activities of Niger Delta militants […] The Niger Delta militants started it all”. He also questioned the special treatment including close to $500 million a year paid to 30,000 militants under the amnesty programme since 2013 by the Federal Government and deplored the fact that Boko Haram members were killed and their houses destroyed. The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, emotionally reacted to the statements made by the retired general and called for his arrest.
In May 2014, in the wake of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping, Buhari strongly denounced the Boko Haram insurgency. He "urged Nigerians to put aside religion, politics and all other divisions to crush the insurgency he said is fanned by mindless bigots masquerading as Muslims”.
In July 2014, Buhari escaped a bomb attack on his life by Boko Haram in Kaduna, 82 people were killed.
In December 2014, Buhari pledged to enhance security in Nigeria if he wins the general elections on 14 February 2015, which were later rescheduled for 28 March 2015. Since this announcement, Buhari's approval ratings reportedly have skyrocketed amongst the Nigerian people (largely due to the incumbent Goodluck Johnathan's apparent inability to fight Boko Haram's brutal insurgency). Buhari has now made internal security and wiping out the militant group one of the key pillars of his campaigning.
In 1971, Buhari married his first wife, Safinatu (née Yusuf) Buhari (First lady of Nigeria December 1983-August 1985). They had five children together, four girls and one boy. Their first daughter, Zulaihat (Zulai) was named after Buhari’s mother. Their other children are Fatima, Musa (deceased), Hadiza, and Safinatu.
In 1988, Buhari and his first wife Safinatu were divorced. In December 1989, Buhari married his second and current wife Aisha (née Halilu) Buhari. They also have five children together, a boy and four girls. They are Aisha, Halima, Yusuf, Zarah and Amina.
On 14 January 2006, Safinatu Buhari, the former first lady, died from complications of diabetes. She was buried at Unguwar Rimi cemetery in accordance with Islamic rites.
In November 2012, Buhari's first daughter, Zulaihat (née Buhari) Junaid died from sickle cell anaemia, two days after having a baby at a hospital in Kaduna.
Previously, Buhari has given his support for the total implementation of Sharia in the country. He was quoted in 2001 as saying “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria”, he then added that; “God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country”.
On 4 January 2015, Buhari stated that he favoured freedom of religion, that every Nigerian should be free and secure to practice their different religions. Buhari said, “Religion must never be used as an excuse to divide us, oppress others or gain unfair advantage. All my life I have expressed the belief that all Nigerians must worship God according to their wish”.
Buhari has denied all allegations that he has a radical Islamist agenda. On 6 January 2015, Buhari said “Because they can’t attack our record, they accuse me falsely of ethnic jingoism; they accuse me falsely of religious fundamentalism. Because they cannot attack our record, they accuse us falsely of calling for election violence – when we have only insisted on peace. Even as Head of State, we never imposed Sha’riah”.
Major-General Buhari (Ret.) has received several awards and medals. In alphabetical order they include:
- Congo Medal (CM)
- Defence Service Medal (DSM)
- Forces Service Star (FSS)
- General Service Medal (GSM)
- Global Seal of Integrity (GSOI)
- Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR)
- Loyal Service and Good Conduct Medal (LSGCM)
- National Service Medal (NSM).
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