Since the 2015 general election kicked into high gear three months ago, a worrisome pattern about General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) seems to have developed in tandem with the season: A few days of speaking vociferously like a genuine democrat, followed by a controversial statement that reveals his real personality, followed by ridiculous damage control, followed by churlishness towards anyone in the media who notices his inconsistencies.
In a nutshell, Buhari has consistently showed traits that are emblematic of a man trying to get comfortable in someone else’s skin.
The latest example is his promise to ban importation of rice if elected into office: “How can Nigeria be importing virtually everything? How can we be importing even tomatoes? If I am elected, basic items like rice and tomatoes, which we have the capacity to produce, will be banned from being imported,” the APC presidential candidate said on February 2.
The above statement would be hilarious if available data do not show that, despite incumbent administration’s encouraging rice policy, the county still needs to import north of 3 million metric tonnes of rice to meet annual demand of the product that means almost everything for the average Nigerian (Source: Federal Ministry of Agriculture). In fact, Nigeria is the largest importer of rice in the world, which means anything short of gradual transition into locally made rice could prove an unmitigated catastrophe to the great unwashed.
Following the ensuing firestorm, the APC walked back the statement, saying its candidate was talking about “creating employment for Nigerians,” even though it’s quite ostensible from Buhari’s statement that he wanted to ban importation of rice without recourse to preconditions.
When President Jonathan commits a gaffe on corruption and reverses himself, it indicates a man out of his depth. With Buhari, it reveals the unexplored depths of a highly ideological and dictatorial belief system.
By any objective measure, Buhari is a strong presidential candidate. He is one of a few progressives capable of raising formidable political capital to run a national campaign. And he is one of the most consistently interesting candidates amongst those running in the upcoming elections. But he is likely to be interesting in self-destructive ways, as on the issue of rice importation and his certificate faux pas. For all its flaws of length and cost, a presidential campaign strips away pose and pretense. And that is a particular problem for Muhammadu Buhari.