The life of a leader is both complex and simple. He is usually endowed with virtues very rare to find. In leadership, he exudes what he was at childhood and brings it to bear on his leadership of the people or the country in adult life.
Nigeria’s President Muhammedu Buhari (PMB) has an inspiring background. And a perusal of his teenage days discloses a promising child whom fate would later entrust with leadership of Nigeria.
Most Nigerians would hardly know that what Buhari has demonstrated today in leadership share a symbiotic relationship with the characters he exhibited as growing up boy in his small community of Daura. If many perceive him as strict and uncompromising, these are virtues innately embedded in him from birth.
Born on December 17th, 1942 to the family of Alhaji Hardo Adamu and Hajiya Zulaihatu Musa in Daura, present day, Katsina State, Buhari was the 13th and the last child of his mother. He was also the last born of the 23 children of his father.
Orphaned at the age of four, the young Buhari grew up under the tutelage of his mother, Zulaihatu, a Hausa woman, said to be from of the Hausa sub-tribe of Habe.
Buhari’s ancestry shows that he hailed from the lineage leaders and warriors as both in paternal and maternal roots. His parents had once in history played such roles in leadership or liberation of their communities from enemy forces.
Buhari started the quest for wisdom at the age of six, as a pupil in the local Central Primary School in Daura. In 1956, Buhari proceeded to the Katsina Provincial Secondary School (now Government College, Katsina). While in school, his innate attributes began to manifest.
His mates Kankia and Katsina testified that Buhari was more focused, deeply religious,very studious, hardworking and always targeted excellence in all his endeavours. These exemplary virtues stood him out among his mates and earned him outstanding respect from them.
The late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua (Rtd), Buhari’s only classmate from secondary school since 1953 who enlisted into the Nigerian army had revealed some time ago that much of the traits Buhari displays today were peculiar to him in his growing up years.
Gen. Yar’Adua had said, Buhari “….Worked fairly hard at his studies and games. He was reserved. He was one of the few boys in the school trusted by his classmates and was quite dependable.”
And the flurry of testimonies from those who knew Buhari from when he was aged 12 or even younger attest that he was broad-minded, strong-willed and principled.
For instance, Alhaji Fathu Abdullahi says, “Buhari made a lot of friends from outside his Daura group. He was very broad-minded. Very serious for his age and had no time for frivolous talks. He was very religious even at the age of twelve.”
Similarly, to Mallam Muhtari Zango, Buhari awes him infinitely; “He used to baffle me. He was so strong-willed and principled. He always stood his ground and did not follow the crowd.”
Therefore, by virtue of parentage, destiny placed on Buhari leadership roles right from his childhood days and he has lived it all his life. In secondary school, Buhari was made class monitor, school prefect, house captain and eventually the head boy of the school. In military school, Buhari became a member of the School Military Cadet and later headed his unit. And he faultlessly discharged these responsibilities.
Twice, Buhari has had the privilege of leading Nigeria. He was first, military Head of State from December 31,1983 to 27 August 1985 and is Nigeria’s incumbent democratic President, having been elected in 2015.
Interestingly, throughout Buhari’s more than four decades of public service both in the military and in politics, the traits identified with him in his childhood days have never ceased playing out. He lives it with his interaction with people and interrogation with governance.
As a principled person, Buhari does not believe in the bandwagon effect commonly exhibited by Nigerians. It accounts for his rejection of the idea of joining the Government of National Unity (GNU) which his party then, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) accepted after he lost the presidential contest to former President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007.
Buhari declared the election as a fraud and when ANPP agreed to join Yar’Adua’s government under the contraption of GNU, Buhari censured this agreement. In March 2010, Buhari dumped the ANPP for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), saying he declared support for foundation of the CPC “as a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party, the ANPP”.
It is Buhari’s principled nature that made him remain in opposition politics, the proverbial “last man standing” in opposition politics, at a time politicians were cross carpeting to main stream politics to seek for greener pastures. He made history as the first Nigerian to win a presidential election on the platform of opposition.
An ardent believer in hard work, Buhari has always excelled in all the assignments given to him. For instance, when Buhari was military Head of state for just a few months, Nigeria was on the path of recovery until IBB toppled his regime.
He replicated the same feat as the Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a creation of General Sani Abacha’s military junta. He excelled in the pursuit of developmental projects around the country and the relics have lived till this moment. A 1998 report in New African praised the PTF under Buhari for its transparency, calling it a rare “success story”.
A deeply religious person, Buhari has not hidden his desire to grant freedom of worship to every Nigerian according to his faith. In January 2015, Buhari again reiterated this stand when he 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”.
Today, when Buhari emphasizes the need to cleanse Nigeria of corruption and restore the lost dignity of his country, it is all about his conviction about the seriousness of life and the belief in the understanding that no society should be hamstrung, but allowed to flourish based on its potentials.
Just like his classmates in secondary school saw Buhari as someone dependable and who could be trusted with responsibilities, Buhari has exuded this character in all the years of service to fatherland. It explains why a mean dictator like Gen. Abacah could trust him with PTF leadership/management and the belligerent former Head of state and President, Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) could trust him with the Petroleum portfolio of federal commissioner. It is this same dependability on him that Nigerians now entrust him with the task of rescuing the country from its doldrums and mirage of afflictions by overwhelmingly voting him into office in 2015. And the steps he has so far taken in this direction are laudable.
He endears himself to honest and hardworking members of his cabinet just like him, but loathes laziness with a passion.
Odoma is National Co-ordinator, Africa Arise for Change Network and contributed this piece from Abuja.