In his fourth pursuit for the presidency, Muhammadu Buhari is in his old age adopting new patterns of political behaviour. How the rebranding will help him is another matter.
DEMENTIA is an ailment of the old and it was not surprising when First Lady Patience Jonathan, at a campaign rally in Lokoja last Tuesday, warned Nigerians about the prospects for Nigeria if an old man like Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is elected president.
“Wetin him dey find again? Him dey drag with him pikin mate. Old man wey no get brain, him brain don die pata pata,” Mrs. Jonathan was quoted as telling enthusiastic supporters of her husband before doling out rice, meat and brocades in thankful appreciation of the women.
The assertion remarkably did not go down well with the Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation which in response urged President Goodluck Jonathan to warn his wife for taking the campaign away from the issues of concern to Nigerians.
If President Jonathan cautioned his wife on the matter, no one can for now say. Buhari has himself not personally responded, neither had his wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari spoken out on the alleged degradation of her husband’s mental faculties.
Irrespective of Mrs. Jonathan’s delivery, the issue of Buhari’s age and mental alertness is a matter for any one wishing to lead a country of more than 170 million people.
It is thus not surprising that Buhari’s handlers and associates are prompt to assure the citizenry of the mental alertness of the candidate.
“If you watched or listened to the Chatham House lecture, you will not condone anything of that sort that the PDP people are saying of him. Especially the question and answer session where he interspersed his answers with humour,” an associate of the general told Vanguard.
“He is someone that listens a lot and would wait until the end of a discussion before giving a response. He is very diplomatic and tactful, and when he speaks, he is very deliberate in his choice of words as you saw with him at Chatham House,” the associate, a member of the APC’s Presidential Campaign Council said.
General Buhari has also sought to reach out to voters in other ways, moving out from his closest as a taciturn, conservative that only associates with fellow Fulanis.
Remarkably, the general has been almost reticent on responding to insinuations of him being a religious fanatic, only saying that he had more Christian associates than Muslim in the army.
Gen. Sam Momah (retd.), a Christian who worked as Principal Staff Officer when Buhari was General Officer Commanding, GOC, of one of the army’s divisions said: “if anybody is trying to input that Buhari is a religious bigot, just know that the person is playing naked politics, far from the truth.”
The Chatham House lecture was only one opportunity for Buhari to show the world that he is not the kind of person that his political adversaries have sought to project.
In a number of other ways, the candidate has also rebranded including in his dressing and political strategies.
Several dimensions of the new look Buhari, it was gathered were worked out by Governor Chibuke Amaechi, the Director-General of his campaign organisation. Indeed, the appointment of Amaechi was the first indication of Buhari’s determination to branch out from the stereotype he had been used to.
In the past, his campaign had been managed by a few northern eggheads within The Buhari Organisation, TBO, who were seen at that time as being narrow minded and only preoccupied with projecting Buhari as a champion of the north.
Unlike in past campaigns, when he only donned the Hausa-Fulani attire in his campaign outreaches to some other parts of the country and when he did not even visit many areas, this time, Buhari has worn different attires to reflect the custom and attire of everywhere he went.
That, coupled with the challenges of the incumbent president, have helped to blossom support for Buhari in distant places.
From the South-East through the South-South and to the South-West, support for Buhari has skyrocketed to the point that he has become a potent threat to the PDP’s Jonathan in a number of southern states.
In the Southeast, a number of dissidents within the PDP are believed to be covertly or openly working for Buhari including a son of a foremost crusader of Nigeria’s independence.
Buhari’s associates say he is also not that dry and humourless person. A member of his campaign team disclosed how one occasion as the campaign bus travelled through the night bushes in Delta State, some campaign officials decided to loosen up and framed a song: “we no go tire…we no go tire. Until we win, we no go tire..”
As they sang, Buhari who all the while kept mum, received a phone call and all of a sudden everyone kept quiet. Once he was finished with his call, he now bellowed unto the singers, “Now you can continue with your noise,” the official said and everyone burst out into laughter.
“He has a sense of humour which you will not get until you come close to him,” the campaign official told Vanguard.
Mr. Uche Ofearoh, who served as Anambra State Coordinator for the Buhari Campaign Organisation, BCO, prior to the presidential primaries spoke in the same manner.
According to him, the general had been widely misconceived, but he expressed satisfaction that a number of the misconceptions have been widely seen to be ill-founded.
But even as he crusades for change of the Jonathan administration, Buhari campaign insiders say he remains stuck in his old conservative ways of handling relations especially exposing his family to campaign. Though his daughters, Halima Sherrif and Safina Buhari, represented him at a Valentine Night outing themed for his political campaign, the candidate remains stuck in the culture of keeping one’s wife and family out of the limelight.
It is one argument that Mrs. Jonathan sees as a threat to her personal crusade to project Nigerian women as she had in the past warned that Buhari could cancel the office of first lady.
After Mrs. Jonathan’s dig on Buhari’s brain, there was pressure from his sympathisers for Aisha to respond. Those who suggested this were motivated by the fact that Aisha is regarded as a better speaker than Mrs. Jonathan and would as such rubbish her. But few dared to personally bring up the matter with the general.
“We know what it took for him to allow his wife come out at campaign rallies, and I am not prepared for that again,” a source within the Buhari circle confided. So even while he may have branched out in terms of political pattern, Buhari remains dogged-in in his cultural upbringing.