Fellow Nigerians, no matter your faith or religion you’ll agree that there’s something spiritual about the current contradictions afflicting the ruling class in Nigeria. A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the almighty People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would be on the defensive in a major election year. Not when its powerful operatives had projected that it would reign and control Nigeria for a minimum of 50 years. But how the times have changed, sooner than later.
The PDP is now fighting the battle of its life and desperately searching for an escape from a seemingly imminent massacre in the hands of its most daring foe to date, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Presidential race has become such that even members and friends of Nigeria’s biggest political party would confess secretly that the war is virtually lost and won. As at last week however, a few members of the privilegentsia still lived in denial, under the illusion that the election would not hold and that there are options to be explored. One prominent member assured me that “all of us are thieves and most people at the top don’t want and can’t even contemplate a Buhari Presidency.” Another told me “I’m a Northerner and I can tell you that most Northern elites are opposed to Buhari’s ascendancy.” While I do not doubt the veracity of some of their postulations, I have always believed that there is a power bigger than all of us and that God, Allah, Olodumare, Chineke, or whatever name He’s called in your language, is the One and Only. It is true that since 2003, General Muhammadu Buhari has emerged as a recurring Presidential contestant beating previous contenders like The Owelle, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The full story of Buhari’s audacity of hope and tenacity of spirit would have to be told by historians, political scientists and eminent psychologists in the future. It will be a tale in the realm of thrillers.
Not many of us anticipated that, a day like this would come again when, Nigerians would practically unite behind a man who once upon a time, carried so much negative baggage that we all treated him with disdain. I’ve read and heard of salacious tales of turning adversity into prosperity but this is indeed a classic in all ramifications. I would like to posit that the foundation for this miracle was laid by no other than PDP, a party that burnt many bridges and wasted its uncommon goodwill and humongous privileges.
We must travel to the past in order to understand how we arrived at this junction of confusion. PDP was the biggest beneficiary of the protracted crisis that resulted from the annulment of our best election yet on June 12, 1993. Power was then auspiciously handed over to the usual conservative elements in Nigeria, offshoots of NPN and NRC, so to say. My theory at the time and till this day is that General Ibrahim Babangida was encouraged and actively supported by the Nigerian Mafia to kill the baby of June 12 right inside the labour room. This innocent kid was just about to birth when they struck and its life was cruelly terminated. That was it! Since then, Nigeria has known no peace. What we’ve managed to enjoy are occasional flashes and sparks of hope but nothing tangible about moving our nation forward in the right direction.
We watched in wonderment and amazement as our country waltzed from one demonic attack to another. For example, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s reign had a fair share of its own turbulence. Senate Presidents were changed like diapers. Governors were in suspended animation under the close watch of Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC. A promising regime almost collapsed under the weight of a Third Term misadventure. Somehow, President Obasanjo survived the political volcano and promptly handed over power to a rather taciturn and sickly President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who seemed to have had some great vision but was handicapped by ill-health. The months leading to his demise were highly suspenseful as those referred to as the cabal vanished into rarefied air with the terminally ill President.
As always, many concerned Nigerians rose up stoutly to the occasion. The then Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was seen by many of us as an underdog and a pawn in the power game. Human rights activists and celebrities gathered and lined up the streets not because they believed that PDP would suddenly become a party that would care more about the people but to establish the rule of law and enforce the rights of man. This defence of principle led to the emergence of President Jonathan in an acting capacity until the death of his boss was finally confirmed and publicly announced. The mileage accruable to President Jonathan was so massive and he enjoyed this till the election of 2011 which swept him to power in his own capacity. His Fresh Air campaign and the grass to grace trajectory resonated with most Nigerians at that time.
But no sooner had Jonathan settled in than the tribal warlords moved in confidently and hijacked the President in the fashion of “he’s our son and it is our turn to enjoy power like other regions…” Thus a man who ought to have been the father of the nation was soon transfigured into an ethnic jingoist, inadvertently. He began to dress the part due, I am sure, to some experts who must have assured him that it would be better to portray his Ijaw nationhood through his mode of dressing.
The President needed to concretely invest in infrastructural development for his people rather than turning a few guys into emergency billionaires. All it would have taken to build a mini-Dubai in the South South was the will and determination to resist the flights of fancy; reduce graft and profligacy, and work as if there is no second chance. But reverse was the case. What we have seen is nothing short of a monarchical Presidency, with exhibitionist proclivity. I seriously doubt if an average Niger Deltan can confidently say that his life is much better today than it was pre-Jonathan. Whatever support the President therefore enjoys today is plainly filial and no more.
PDP and the President have been extremely lucky that Nigerians don’t ask for much from their leaders. I had tried in my own little corner on this page to write endless epistles to Dr. Jonathan. The whole idea was to advise and encourage him, at no cost, and warn him about a future that would creep in on him like a thief in the night. I have been around long enough to understand and appreciate the foibles of leadership as well as the sinful appurtenances of power. It would take plenty of prayers and loads of discipline to survive the temptations that strut and fret along the corridor of power.
Nigeria is a country with too many needs in the midst of plenty. Our country is a paradox or an oxymoron of pain and luxury. A committed leader has to urgently shed off the toga of American-style Presidency and instantly embrace the quasi-revolutionary outlook of a Welfarist. As I repeatedly maintain, it is impossible to practise Capitalism without capital. This is the crux of the matter. Both opposition and ruling parties in Nigeria have to make up their minds about their business-as-usual attitudes or let loose the wrath of the masses on the country one of these days. I’m certain that we are at our ‘Last Chance Saloon’ of having a bloodless revolution if we can successfully manage the forthcoming elections.
The popularity of Buhari is clearly evidence, and symptomatic, of a threat of revolution if we mismanage things as usual. I must say that this election has also brought out the best out of President Jonathan. The energy and resources he has pumped into this campaign should have been unleashed on the country upon attaining power. Now he’s looking very Nigerian by reflecting the fashion of different parts. He is now talking to Pastors and Imams unlike in the past when the impression was that he cared only about his Christian brethren.
He has suddenly energised the military by attempting to achieve in six weeks what he couldn’t in many years. The North East has finally returned to Nigeria after what seemed a deliberate ostracisation by the President and his war commanders. The President is making promises that may now be difficult, if not impossible to fulfil in four years. What I see in all of the above is that the President has ostensibly realised what we have been talking about, that he has underperformed, that some of his closest aides have undermined him by engaging in “galloping corruption” (apologies to Christiane Amanpour), that some of the most advertised achievements of his administration are of the lowest quality at this time and age especially for a country as important as Nigeria.
Yes, we can see the President working at frenetic pace in the hope that it is not too late to salvage whatever is left of his terribly decimated Presidency. The entire world seems to know that these are not the best of times for Dr Jonathan and indeed Nigeria. From editorials in The Economist, New York Times, and comments on CNN and Al Jazeera, the story is uniform that President Jonathan has lost substantial popularity to a former dictator. All those who wrote off General Buhari in the past (I was one of his most vociferous critics) now have no choice but to see him as a veritable option worth exploring.
Such is life. The arrogance of a ruling party that could not keep its house in order has now spawned a spiralling movement across the nation. The poor have always seen Buhari as their friend and saviour. What has finally put a stamp of authority on it is the fact that even members of the comfortable class are now ready to embrace Buhari warts and all. No one is ready to provoke the poor further in Nigeria. We’ve already seen the effect of poverty in the way many idle youths are easily recruited for acts of terror. If they can find someone like Buhari who they fervently trust and adore, we can hope for some reprieve from those children of anger. But if Buhari is patently and brazenly rigged out, we are at the risk of igniting a bigger conflagration. The other reason is that many of us now think we must practise democracy properly by demonstrating that no person or political party can condescendingly perpetuate itself in power when it is very obvious that it has not met our expectations
I offer the following advice to PDP, APC, INEC, Military, Eminent personalities, Nigerian Citizens, in that order. PDP – There is no question that as a party in power for so long, PDP may not wish to relinquish power but it must know nothing lasts forever. Please, try to run a clean race and leave the rest to the electorate. If you win, you will be applauded and if you fail but concede without rancour, the ovation will be louder. You have fought too many enemies lately and lost a multitude of friends in the process. Who knows, a man whose head has been chopped off may still try to puff some smoke! Nothing is impossible. But do not attempt to win through foul means.
APC – My admonition to you is not too different. This is your best chance ever as a coalition of opposition forces. You have managed a formidable campaign against all odds and all polls put you beyond or at worst neck-to-neck with PDP. This is a great compliment to a new party. You have two more weeks to perform a miracle. You are closer than you know but try to avoid complacency and over-confidence. Please, encourage your members and supporters to eschew bitterness and violence no matter the degree of provocation. In particular, reach out to all peoples and groups.
INEC – I watched the presentation of INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega at The Senate chamber a few days ago and was very impressed. With what I saw, nothing stops us from having near-perfect elections on March 28 and April 11, 2015. Between now and then, INEC should continue to train its personnel and educate the electorate. History will never forget your salutary efforts if these elections are concluded satisfactorily.
Military – Our military and security forces are first and foremost Nigerians. Your loyalty, as you swore, should be to your nation and not any individual or political party. You’ve always performed wonders while on national and international assignments. I’m happy and reassured about your renewed determination to rid Nigeria of insurgents. Our prayers continue to be with you. There have been all manner of rumours that you may be used by politicians to scuttle the current democratic process. Thanks for coming out openly to deny this allegation. We shall all build a better Nigeria together.
Eminent Personalities – Like your counterparts elsewhere you are always worried about safeguarding your personal interests but the time has come to put the nation first. Let’s give democracy a chance.
Nigerian Citizen – It is your right and prerogative to want the candidate of your choice to win. However, once we exercise our right to vote, let’s keep calm even if things don’t go our way even if we think elections aren’t free and fair. There are many ways to seek legitimate redress. We should utilise those options.