The President Who Belonged to Himself Assessing Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidential Legacy

More than anything, Buhari will be remembered as the president who belonged to nobody but himself; one who converted Aso Rock, a seat for agile, fit-as-fiddle occupiers, to a retirement home for senior citizens.

‘I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody.’ This (in)famous phrase by President Muhammadu Buhari on 29 May 2015 heralded his return to power since being ousted from military rule in August 1985. In 2015, Buhari rode on the then-exalted slogan of ‘change’, as championed by his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buhari defeated his top contending opponent, former president Goodluck Jonathan, and won the 2015 presidential election. Though not without electoral irregularities, the election and Buhari’s win was sealed with President Jonathan’s historic concessional phone call.

Today, the name Muhammadu Buhari elicits mixed feelings amongst different groups of Nigerians. With Nigeria’s large youth demographic, the percentage of the population who witnessed Buhari’s military reign is a significant minority of Nigeria’s current population. Those who were spectators during his civil war exploits make up an even smaller minority. Much of the social commentary around Buhari’s 2015 electoral campaign were based on oral and archival recollection of events. Some of this commentary, including those written by victims of his draconian rule in the 80s, portrayed Buhari in the brightest and most positive light possible. He was presented as the archetypal messiah that would help Nigeria restore the ‘locust and cankerworm years’ of the PDP!

This essay features in our forthcoming print issue, ‘The Road to 2023’ and is only available to paying subscribers. To subscribe, buy a subscription plan here from $1.99 / month (students) and $5.99 / month (non-students). Already a subscriber? log in.