Buhari at 79: Lessons we’ve learnt from him

When he popped out of his mother’s womb 79 years ago in rustic Daura, now in Katsina State, nobody could have predicted that he would bestride the country, nay the world, like a colossus.

Who could have predicted that a honest man, Mai Gaskiya, had come forth? Who could have foretold that he would rule the country twice, first as a soldier, and later, as a civilian, a democrat? And who could have prognosticated that he would perhaps be the politician with the greatest crowd in the history of the country, for a long time to come?

But we’ve had all these, and more, in Muhammadu Buhari, the child of destiny, who turns 79 December 17, 2021.

This country will never forget this President, will it? And for good. He came, he saw, and he’s conquering.

I’m a student of Muhammadu Buhari. I study him like a book. I plumb his depths, and learn from him daily. And what are the lessons? Many. Very many.

Attaining stardom, reaching the highest rungs of the ladder in life, is not determined by the circumstances of your birth. You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon. Doubtful if baby Buhari even had a wooden spoon. He grew in the plainest of all areas, and ended at the very peak of the military profession: a General. He has been round the world, as a professional, a head of state, a retiree, and a two-term elected President. The auguries didn’t tell these about the baby, but it has happened. You can get anywhere, attain any height, if the divine powers are with you, irrespective of the circumstances of your birth. Vital lesson.

‘Honesty is the best policy,’ I can recall my father, that great educationist, drumming it into the ears of his children daily. And he lived it, showing us an example. Today, I’ve seen another honest man, the Mai Gaskiya. He has been everything possible, held positions which could have made him stinking rich: Governor of a territory which now covers six states. Minister of Petroleum for over three years. Head of State. Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, with billions of naira in his care. A civilian President, running out his second term of four years each, in another 17 months. And yet he remains a man of modest means.

Let me tell you a story. Have you been to the Buhari home in Daura? Modest, modest, modest, is what the structure shouts at you, as you approach. The furnishing; modest. The locale itself; modest. The appurtenances; modest.

It is said that President Buhari had used a carpet in that house for almost 20 years. He knew every bit of furniture and fittings like the back of his hands. And then, one day, in his first term as President, he visited home, and a new carpet was in place.

Who changed my carpet? That was the first question he asked, as he stepped into the house? Imagine the President of Africa’s most powerful country, the largest economy on the continent, having time to ask about a carpet that had become old and threadbare? But that is Muhammadu Buhari for you. Simple man, if ever there was one.

We know of the 50 bedroom hilltop mansion (even if slightly exaggerated) where his former colleagues live. And we know of presidential libraries and other mansions built by somebody else, through what Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, called “executive extortionism.” But not all these trappings for Buhari. Scant regards for material things, what I recall my father describing as “shadows of life.”

Devout. Faithful and committed to his God. That is Muhammadu Buhari. Some people, who have not attained one-third of the heights he reached, would already have their shoulders permanently up, kicking at God, saying: “Is this not the great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4: 29, 30). Godliness with contentment is great gain.

We are mere actors, playing on a stage, having our entrances and exits. “Out, out, brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow. A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” wrote William Shakespeare. You can’t relate with Buhari, and not internalize that lesson.

Apart from at official hours, I often drop into the house at nights on goodwill visits. When he’s at dinner table, he eats the most modest things. And his talks are interspersed with “while we are here, we will do our best.” You know what that means? He knows that he’s but a tenant in the Presidential Villa. He would do his bit, and one day return to his home. That is the same place some people occupy, and they try all gambit to become President for life, attempting to sit tight by changing the laws of the land that prescribes term limit. But President Buhari is fully aware of the fact that he would drop the trappings of power one day, so he wields that power with simplicity. A vital lesson. Nothing lasts forever. Not power, not position, not even life itself. That is why I often laugh delightfully, when some people think they are needling me, saying: ‘you will soon be out of that place. You will come back and meet us. You will spend a maximum of eight years there, no more.’

In their vexing against the good fortunes God has bestowed on others, they keep thinking of evil. Fall, fall, fall. Fall on bad times. Or even, fall down and die. But they don’t know that whatever God gives, He also preserves. And He takes His own people from one level of glory to the other. And then, when the man you work with has learnt to count his days, who are you to think like an army of occupation? We are mere pilgrims, in government, in office, wherever. A pilgrim always returns home, and joyfully, too.

Ability to overlook and ignore. That is one thing I’ve learnt from President Buhari. Imagine all the noise in the country. On social media, traditional media, from political opposition, separatists, everywhere. But when you are in the market, you ignore the noise, ululation of the place, and focus on the person you are transacting business with. President Buhari is an expert at that. He ignores wailers, no matter their wailings, and just focuses on the job he has been elected to do.

At one time, an issue suffused the atmosphere about his family, so much so that it could deafen anyone. So I went to see him, and raised the matter. He asked me; “Where did you hear that?”
On social media, I responded.
He swept his hand through the air, and exclaimed: “Don’t mind the nuisance!”

And we laughed. Yes, we do laugh. The President enjoys his laughter, and you don’t go to see him without hearing one wisecrack or the other. Very witty man. But some people don’t know. They only remember the unsmiling duo of Buhari/Idiagbon days, in the 1980s. They think he’s all iron and steel, no soft side. Ask me, and I’ll tell you. That was why we did a documentary couple of years ago on the human, soft side of the President. Laughter is music of the soul. If the President is comfortable with you, there are no dull moments.

Ability to listen. Oh, the President has it. I know a former President who would never let you speak. He knows everything. You start a sentence, he completes it for you. And he tells his interviewers openly that they are talking rubbish. Not Buhari. He listens to you patiently, not interjecting. He lets you make your point to the end.

Can I ever forget the first day I resumed on this assignment, and he met with me privately. He said; “Adesina, please tell me the truth. You can be in this type of position, and people won’t tell you the truth. Argue with me. As a General, I may not agree, but please, argue with me. If you have a superior position, I will eventually see your point.”

You can argue with him. He listens, and is humble enough to change his mind and position. And he would tell you: “You are very right,”, adding: “My good God!” And he laughs.

Stingy but generous. President Buhari is very thrifty. He does not throw money at things, and as his media adviser, I can tell you. He even pokes fun at himself, saying; “don’t you know I’m very stingy?”

True. He doesn’t waste public money. He won’t misappropriate, and neither would he let you, if he knows about it. But when he needs to give, he does. I have personal experiences, which I’ve related before. I won’t repeat them, lest some people ask me to bring part of it, as they’ve done before. Lol.

No bigotry. He’s a Muslim who loves and respects other religions. Part of the de-marketing against him over the years is that he wants to Islamize the country. Really? Then he should start with me, and his other Christian aides. And his Vice President, a pastor. He should urge us to embrace Islam. Has it happened? Not even a whiff of it. When it is time for Christian festivals, Easter, Christmas, he’s the one who tells Christians working with him: “Take some time off. Spend the season with your family.” Bigot? I hear.

What of his compassion, his love for the lowly. I remember 2015, in the earl days of the Administration. Someone had said at cabinet meeting that the civil service was bloated, and it could be time to cut the size by half.

The President listened patiently, and then said: “I agree with you. But times are hard enough, and if it lies in my power, I won’t want to see even one person lose his or her job.” And so it remains.

The lessons are plenty. The man has a mind of his own. That’s why I laugh when they say a cabal is controlling him. Yes, he delegates a lot, but to abdicate responsibilities? He takes decisions, and he’s not even afraid of taking tough ones.

Unflappable. Cool, calm, collected. Straight talker, no tongue-in-cheek. That’s why you can’t afford to spin anything on his behalf. Otherwise, he comes out one day, and tells the truth. And you become damned as a liar.

Capacity to forgive. How many times have I seen people who abused his father and mother on TV in the morning, coming to see him under cover of darkness? And he’s all genial with them. He is all chummy, when they should rather have left with black eyes.

The lessons are inexhaustible. But let me say this last one. Who has the final say? Jehovah has the final say. Do you know how many doomsday prophecies we have heard about this President? They come from all angles, including embarrassingly from the pulpit. One said he would never return, when he was ill in 2017. Another said before the 2019 polls that Buhari was a goner, that God had revealed it to him. And another declared pontifically: “ Get out of that place! Your time is over. Power has been taken from you.” He even directed fasting and prayers against the President. But who says a thing, when God has not spoken? Heaven is with this President, and Heaven will see him through, no matter what finite man says.

Happy birthday, Mr President.

About Author
Femi Adesina
Mr Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.