Who is Muhammadu Buhari?
He ruled Nigeria as a military Head of State between January 1984 and August 1985.
He’s one of the most popular politicians in Nigeria at the moment, with a cult following across Northern Nigeria, especially in the twelve states generally referred to as the “core” North.
He contested for the Presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011, emerging runner-up on all three occasions. In the 2011 elections he amassed 12 million votes (mostly from the North) even in the face of what was generally adjudged a chaotic and poorly run campaign; further evidence of his political clout. He is therefore seen as the person most likely to pose the biggest threat to President Jonathan’s re-election chances in 2015.
The Assassination Attempt
On Wednesday July 22, Buhari’s convoy was attacked in Kaduna State. According to news reports and eyewitness accounts and photographs from the scene, the attackers both detonated bombs and fired bullets at Buhari’s convoy. (There’s a video from the immediate aftermath here).
So, who might be after Buhari’s life?
There are four competing theories, as follows:
1. Boko Haram
In an April 2013 interview, journalist Ahmed Salkida, said, regarding reports that Boko Haram was seeking to negotiate a ceasefire with the Nigerian government:
“I am sorry to say this, if the sect knows where to find General Buhari (someone I respect a lot) they will make an attempt on his life. To them, any retired and servicing soldier, police, politician or civil servant is an infidel that deserves to be killed. So how can the same sect with such an ideology listen to General Buhari, the Governor of Borno state or any other politician or the Sultan? The average member of this sect see all these people whether they are muslims or not as ‘living corpses’. For God sake have we not been listening to this people in the last couple of years?. Am I the only one listening to them? It seems the sect have been more consistent with their message than the Federal and state governments involve in this conflict.”
Sahara Reporters quoted Buhari in a March 2014 interview as saying he is “not bothered” by the possibility of Boko Haram targeting him for elimination. He also reportedly credited the government with providing him “adequate protection” – an assertion that finds confirmation in Akin Osuntokun’s revelation in today’s This Day that Dangiwa Umar convinced President Jonathan to beef up security around General Buhari “a while ago.” If that is true, we may have that beefed-up security (armoured cars, etc) to thank for Buhari’s survival.
Buhari has in recent times been strident in his condemnation of Boko Haram. After the sect attacked several Borno villages last February, killing more than a hundred people, Buhari issued a statement that described the sect’s ideology as “a devilish ideology that has no place in a civilized society.”
2. The President and/or his party (PDP)
We’ll have to turn to the letter former President Obasanjo wrote to President Jonathan last December to explain this theory:
“[The] allegation of keeping over 1,000 people on political watch list rather than criminal or security watch list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha, and training them where Abacha trained his own killers, if it is true, cannot augur well for the initiator, the government and the people of Nigeria. Here again, there is the lesson of history to learn from for anybody who cares to learn from history. Mr. President would always remember that he was elected to maintain security for all Nigerians and protect them. And no one should prepare to kill or maim Nigerians for personal or political ambition or interest of anyone. The Yoruba adage says, “The man with whose head the coconut is broken may not live to savour the taste of the succulent fruit.” Those who advise you to go hard on those who oppose you are your worst enemies. Democratic politics admits and is permissive of supporters and opponents. When the consequences come, those who have wrongly advised you will not be there to help carry the can. Egypt must teach some lesson.”
The President, in his reply to that letter, denied this allegation that he is keeping a hit list:
“Perhaps the most invidious accusation in your letter is the allegation that I have placed over one thousand Nigerians on a political watch list, and that I am training snipers and other militia to assassinate people. Baba, I don’t know where you got that from but you do me grave injustice in not only lending credence to such baseless rumours, but also publicizing it. You mentioned God seventeen times in your letter. Can you as a Christian hold the Bible and say that you truly believe this allegation? The allegation of training snipers to assassinate political opponents is particularly incomprehensible to me. Since I started my political career as a Deputy Governor, I have never been associated with any form of political violence. I have been a President for over three years now, with a lot of challenges and opposition mainly from the high and mighty. There have certainly been cases of political assassination since the advent of our Fourth Republic, but as you well know, none of them occurred under my leadership. Regarding the over one thousand people you say are on a political watch list, I urge you to kindly tell Nigerians who they are and what agencies of government are “watching” them.”
With the revelation that he provided increased security for Buhari, it’s hard to see why he would do that if he really wanted Buhari dead.
3. The APC or other opponents of President Jonathan
“The way some APC partisans have latched on to the Buhari attack to rope in the president would have been comical were it not so tragic. If anybody should talk of conspiracy theories, the finger pointing may actually be more plausibly directed near home. The instant scapegoating of Jonathan – pointedly precluding Boko Haram as likely suspect – is in itself cause for suspicion. General Buhari had better watch his back against those who would rapidly concoct diversionary excuses for his potential assassination.
Even if Jonathan were to be incredibly naïve politically, he would at least know that Buhari is more useful to him alive than dead. Nothing solidifies support for Jonathan’s candidature better than the personality and potential candidacy of a divisive and polarising Buhari. So why eliminate such a rough and ready mobilisation tool? My thinking is that Buhari is a problem not for Jonathan but for the APC.
Contrariwise and for the same reason of his utility for his political opponent, Buhari has become like a fishbone caught in the throat of the APC. He is the central dilemma figure of the party.”
Osuntokun clearly has PDP sympathies, and his column can generally be summed up as a series of eloquent attacks of APC and eloquent denunciations of the PDP.
There is also the view that other opponents of President Jonathan – an allegedly power-hungry “Northern Elite”? (who may or may not necessarily be APC sympathisers – may have plotted this knowing that the death of Buhari would likely bring down the Jonathan government.
4. Buhari himself
This argument emerged on the Internet immediately after the news of the attack broke. Pushed by rabidly anti-Buhari people, the idea is that he arranged the assassination attempt to clear himself of allegations that he and his party are sympathetic to Boko Haram.
Of course ‘APC-is-a-party-of-extremist-Muslims’ allegations have gained ground in recent months, pushed by a wide range of sources: the PDP, a former APC member with a penchant for rabble-rousing, an ex-Kremlin adviser, and a UK Conservative think-tank.
While it may sound ridiculous – especially when one considers the extent of the attack – the Internet tells us there are people who actually believe it.