By the age of 36, Ibrahim Salisu Buhari had made history, rising to become the fourth most important person in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. Soon though, it would emerge that he was a fraud – a man who was not anything he said he was.
Nigeria, in 1999, was a country recovering from a long era of successive military regimes characterized by misrule and oppression. The country and its people sought new leadership that would be accountable to them.
Salisu Buhari, a young businessman, emerged among the young population of the country seeking political office as a member of the House of Representatives.
Supposedly aged 36 at the time, Salisu won his election bid into the House of Representatives and immediately began his ascent, competing for the position of Speaker of the House.
On the 3rd of June 1999, his wish came true. He was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives after only a short time of being in the House. His election boosted the hopes of the youth especially because they believed that he would remain accountable to them.
Salisu set about snuggling into his new role as the new political administration settled in and began restructuring Nigeria’s mangled government institutions. Unbeknownst to the entire country, Salisu was nothing like who he said he was.
But barely six weeks into his new role, a huge veil was lifted off him, beginning the descent to his disgrace and his downfall.
On the 16th of February 1999, The News Magazine, a Nigerian investigative news publication, ran an article attacking Salisu Buhari’s credibility. The magazine claimed that the new speaker, contrary to his claim that he was born in 1963, was rather born in 1970. Also, he had claimed that he graduated from Toronto University.
The article dispelled that according to its findings, Buhari had not even attended the university, talk less of graduating.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian, Section 65(1) disqualifies anyone below the age of 30 from running for membership of the House of Representatives. Running at the age of 29 would disqualify Buhari from his membership and his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
As expected, Buhari vehemently denied the accusations, vilifying the publication for attacking him and protesting his innocence. The BBC reported that the statement amounted to a humiliating climbdown for Buhari, who insisted that he did not lie about his age and educational achievements in order to qualify for the post.
Buhari took a further step by making efforts to sue the publication for libel but the magazine stood by its story.
His confidence and assertive nature in addressing the allegations were relatively convincing but the magazine had the right silencer for him. First, they released a letter and the response that followed from writing to the Toronto University requesting confirmation that Buhari was an alumnus.
In response, Carlo Villanueva, an official of the Institution wrote, “Regarding your request for confirmation of degree for Mr Ibrahim Salisu Buhari. We have searched our records and could not find anybody with the name you are inquiring with”.
It didn’t end there. Buhari had claimed that he completed his National Youth Service at Standard Construction in Kano. This was also proved untrue as his name could not be found in the list of those who completed the scheme.
Blockaded in every way, Salisu Buhari had no way of escaping the consequences of lying and forgery. After several open denial of the allegations, and threats to sue The News Magazine, Salisu Buhari On Thursday, July 23, 1999, eventually faced Nigerians and admitted declaring false age and forging certificate.
He said in tears: “I apologize to you. I apologize to the nation. I apologize to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them. I was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation, I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”
He then resigned from his membership of the House of Representatives and walked into the shadows, but only for a decade.
In 2013, he made his return to the news and the public space when he was appointed as a member of the governing council of the University of Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
Naturally, the move drew a lot of criticism. In a feeble attempt to justify the appointment, the government had explained that Buhari’s apology had earned him a presidential pardon from President Olusegun Obasanjo.