Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Picture: Xinhua/Chen Shupin
Were it not for his fickle health, one would overlook that nagging argument about his age and let President Muhammadu Buhari run for high office in 2019.

My high regard for this Nigerian statesman notwithstanding, he will be 76 years old when he commences his second term, if his All Progressives Congress (APC) wins.

If someone spent 155 days on sick leave in just over 14 months, would a normal business not consider medical retirement?

That is what Buhari did, between June 2016 and August 2017. Is his deputy, 60-year old legal eagle Yemi Osinbajo, that insufficient an alternative that the APC opted to stick with the septuagenarian?

Buhari has served since the age of 19, when he joined the Nigerian army in 1961.

That year, someone three years his senior, Hugh Masekela, would probably have been honing his musical skills in the UK.

Buhari’s Tanzanian counterpart, John Magufuli, was two years old and Rwandan Paul Kagame going on three. Fidel Castro had just taken over Cuba and the 35th president of the US, John F Kennedy was inaugurated. Oh yes, and Barack Obama was born!

My reverence for Buhari is anchored in his achievement each time he occupied any position of authority; and he had some stints before his current role.

One must also respect Buhari for his persistence in running for office, apparently motivated by something other than unbridled hunger for power.

Almost like George Weah, who was inaugurated as President of Liberia this week, Buhari ran unsuccessfully for the top job in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

His stance after losing to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in the 2007 polls solidified his image as a principled man.

He had been the candidate for the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), pitted against Yar’Adua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He did not take kindly toreceiving only 18% of the votes, and even when his party agreed to be part of the Yar’Adua administration, Buhari opposed the move.

When his day finally came in 2015, he took over where he had left off in his 1983 - 1985 term as head of state. Back then, Buhari was commended for cutting the size of his cabinet to under 20.

He passed many laws and regulations, including those meant to fight corruption, trim expenditure and grow the economy.

It was probably his tough anti-corruption demeanour that led to his removal from office in August 1985 by General Ibrahim Babangida and his fellow ruling Supreme Military Council comrades.

Even before the mid-1980s taste of power, Buhari had displayed decisive leadership in 1976, when he was the equivalent of a minister of petroleum and natural resources. Under another military ruler of the time, Olusegun Obasanjo, he would a little later also be appointed to chair the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

During this episode, Buhari was arguably the closest Nigeria got to transparency in the petroleum industry since the discovery of oil in the 1950s.

Commentators have praised him for his role as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, which deployed oil revenues to embark on development projects.

Although after his tenure, the government of General Sani Abacha externalised chunks of oil revenues to Swiss bank accounts, the return of Buhari to power in 2015 was punctuated by clear measures to stabilise the NNPC and get the Nigerian petroleum industry back to the days of good governance.

To his credit, the NNPC was restructured and even published financials for the first time in years.

He introduced more transparency to the procurement processes and made some kind of progress in tackling Boko Haram.

As a sign of his maturity as a statesman, Buhari continued with the good projects introduced by his predecessor; even as he was viciously pursuing Goodluck Jonathan’s Petroleum Minister to recover missing oil revenues.

He did well, while his health played ball; but I struggle to see how his health will not compromise his ability to continue his relatively good work.

* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs; and a columnist for African Independent

Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica

The Sunday Independent