In early 1979, the British Labour Government lost a motion of vote of no confidence at the House of Commons forcing it to call an election. The election saw the Margaret Thatcher-led Conservative Party securing a parliamentary majority and effectively making Mrs. Thatcher Europe’s first ever elected head of government. This is against the backdrop of the Conservatives Party’s four previous electoral disasters. Four years later, in Nigeria, the political landscape began to change. The Shagari government began to wallow in the web of corruption and indiscipline. Series of political and economic crises led to a military coup to usher in the 41-year old Major-General Muhammadu Buhari-led regime. Buhari again, 31 years later, it will be that will defeat an incumbent president and a fiercely-contested election in the first time in the country’s electoral history. These two personalities – Thatcher and Buhari admired and loved by the supporters, but hated passionately by their critics – are manifest examples of toughness, mental aptitude, and discipline all essential attributes of leadership.
Both personalities came into each other’s part of toughness in 1984. The Buhari Administration had launched an ambitious effort to recover all ill-gotten wealth from politicians and other public officials, no matter how highly placed. This drive cuts across persons or strata irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliations through trials at special investigative tribunals. The Administration’s spirited anti-corruption campaigns went far beyond the experiences of Nigerians when a detachment of the Nigeria secret service went to London (where ex-Minister of Transport under Shagari was then living before the coup) to literally “abduct” Dikko back home to face trial. This mission was largely unsuccessful but the intent was well noted and admired. After what became known as the “Dikko Affair”, Thatcher and Buhari administrations responded using diplomatic and political measures in a “Who blinks first?” manner.
Some of Buhari’s critics have recently gone to town with the news that Buhari, unlike some of his fellow retired service men, does not own a large-scale business. While it is true that many retired generals and customs bosses in Nigeria may have business concerns largely gotten from privatized former public corporations, Buhari operates a small farm in his modest home in Daura, Katsina state. There is nothing unusual about this. President Jimmy Carter (1976-1980) even after previously serving as Georgia state Governor, lives in his modest farm in rural Georgia with no known large-scale business concern. Even with the exemption of Donald Trump, not many American presidents are known to have large-scale business concerns either before or after public service. Thatcher on her part spent most of her childhood in Grantham with her father, Mr. Alfred Roberts, who owned two small grocery shops. Apart from helping to manage these shops during her holidays, she had no known large-scale business concern either before or after she became prime minister. Yet, if Carter and Thatcher were the embodiment of excellent leadership traits through strict adherence to their political callings by shunning baser instincts of primitive accumulation of wealth at the public’s expense, it is therefore baseless to equate having or not having large-scale businesses (often corruptly acquired) as a requirement for political leadership. Like Carter, like Thatcher, like Buhari!
When Thatcher was elected in 1979, one of her first main challenges was how to deal with the “wets”. The “wets” were traditional “owners” or “landlords” whose opinions in the party and British government at the time cannot be taken lightly. They controlled and dominated the Conservative Party and government till Thatcher decided to confront them. Her response to their charge was to purge them and their supporters from the party and her government in what many feared may spell doom for her in the next election. In the next elections (1983 and 1987) she not only beat the wets to their game, but she also crushed the Labour Party. Like Thatcher, Like Buhari. Unlike Thatcher, Buhari does not have the “wets”, but a more formidable group of retired generals and oil tycoons, to deal with. This group pride itself as the traditional kingmakers who install and remove Presidents at will. Like Thatcher, Buhari has instituted strict measures, including signing the Executive Order 6 which placed a ban on foreign travels for corrupt politicians with court cases. He also purged them from his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), and his government to the dismay of many. Like they said Thatcher will lose the 1983 election, so they are saying Buhari will lose the election in 2019. In my opinion, a lot of people are simply overestimating this so-called “kingmakers” and their powers against Buhari because the retired General is a though politician and he is by no means an easy meat for anyone even when he was in the opposition!
Another striking similarity between both politicians is the extent of their critics’ hatred for them. Everyone has critics and detractors but, both Buhari and Thatcher’s detractors went steps higher than mere distractions or criticisms. In 1984, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) launched an audacious assassination attempt on Thatcher during a Conservative Party conference at Brighton Hotel. Though she survived the onslaught, she went tougher on the assailants by requesting those arrested in connection with the assassination plot be treated as “criminals” rather than the traditional status of “political prisoners”. In the same vein, Buhari has equally survived numerous assassination attempts from his unforgiving detractors. The boldest of these was in 2014 when the retired general had a close shave with death from a bomb blast in Kaduna state. His reported poisoning in 2017 when some of his well-known critics pronounced him “dead” while still receiving treatment in London attest to the fact that, even in death, their detractors will never forgive them. The “jubilation” of the news of Thatcher’s death in some quarters in 2013 demonstrates this!
Just like both have strong and unrepentant critics, so are their supporters. Both Buhari and Thatcher’s supporters have demonstrated their undying love, loyalty, and devotion to their, united in the face of fierce criticisms from their detractors. The truth is their supporters’ devotion to them has largely been shaped their critics’ constant, often unfair and irrational, bashings. While Thatcher’s supporters have gone on to develop a philosophy now known as Thatcherism and their adherents known as Thatcherists; Buharists, as his supporters are sometimes called, on the other hand, are still in the process of developing Buharism. Just like no British prime minister before Thatcher has had any ideology in their names; few Nigerians can remember any sitting President having an ideology after his name!
While it is true that no two individuals can be the same in terms of temperaments and orientations, the similarities between two greats leaders at different worlds – Britain and Nigeria – are just too tempting to ignore. Both may have met, as leaders, under very disappointing conditions like the case of Dikko affair, drawing similarities in the different “though” personalities can provide an interesting study for researchers in comparative politics interested in leadership traits in developing and developed states; democratic and democratizing states; and the politics of the global north and south. One thing is clear, Thatcher and Buhari, irrespective of what their critics may think, provide an excellent example of though personalities!
Olalekan Waheed ADIGUN is the author of the fast-selling book WITNESSING THE CHANGE. He can be reached on +2348136502040, +2347081901080 or email: [email protected] He tweets from @adgorwell.