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For many months now, General Muhammadu Buhari’s name has been rolling on the tongues of Nigerians and among interested foreign observers. It is no longer news that Nigeria is warming up for its general elections, and it would all have been history at the time of writing this article if not for the six weeks postponement which placed the new dates at 28 March and 11 April, respectively.
For close followers of the proceedings — of which you need no magnificent efforts to be one — it has been a long story of intrigues and sensationalism worthy of a blockbuster movie. The writers of the American political TV series, House of Cards, should pick one or two pointers from the ongoing Nigerian show.
One of the reasons for the intense interest, both locally and internationally, is the fact that for the first time in recent times, the opposition has managed to organize itself into one powerful and formidable force. The ruling party is now staring at a glaring reality; their sixteen-year reign may be coming to an ignominious end.
For the first time in Nigeria’s political history, an incumbent President running for re-election may actually lose!
The saga becomes more interesting when you observe closely to discover that the growth in support for the opposition is not because they have offered any spectacular program or plans. Support grew because they had an easy in campaigning based on the many failures with security and the economy and the incompetence of the incumbent administration in dealing with corruption.
When you understand the landscape, you will see, on one hand, a ruling party that embodies poor governance and is rapidly sinking in a new wave of political awareness and dis-apathy by the electorate. On the other hand, there is a formidable opposition which now rides a sudden burst of optimism of success at the polls, triumphantly, with minimal effort.
The above analysis explains why the opposition continues to cry for an issues-based campaign focusing on the economy, insecurity and corruption. They have nothing for which to be held to account by the electorates on these issues. Whatever plans they can outlay, which represents any forward movement on these topics, makes them look ‘messiah-esque’.
The incumbent, on the other hand, cannot match them blow for blow in debates because he is accountable and has so far been widely rated as a monumental failure. Little wonder then that the incumbent has resorted to games, propaganda and character attacks on the candidates and key figures of the opposition party.
To be clear, the opposition party is no holy cow. The party’s ranks are not short of questionable characters. A number of the key figures in the All Progressive Party (APC) are widely reputed to have been involved in corrupt activities in the past while holding public offices. The majority of the prospective voters however do not seem to care as most people would accept ‘change’ in whatever form.
I heard once someone say on the streets, “Even if the APC should present a cow as their candidate, I will vote the poor animal”. The more discerning supporters of the opposition, however, do not base their support on a blind search for change. They do so largely on the impeccability of the characters and records of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates of the APC and the need to demonstrate the might and willpower of the electorate to oust an under-performing government.
The six weeks postponement of the election under the guise of security concerns seems to have achieved the result desired by the president and his party. The opposition APC has had their frightening momentum yanked away from under them. The ruling PDP has stepped up its game.
The president has made numerous trips to Lagos, a stronghold and de facto base of the opposition. Lagos also boasts of just below 10% of the total number of registered voters in the country. The president also intensified his campaign with the traditional monarchs, especially in the south west and in the north (areas which are widely believed to be tilted towards the opposition). He is alleged to have distributed petrodollars with reckless abandon while the country’s foreign reserves continue a downward spiral.
The president remembered to visit Maiduguri, Chibok, Baga, and all the Boko Haram strongholds, which were hitherto no go areas; he compensated the families involved in the immigration recruitment scandal, after they had been forgotten for about a year; he granted scholarships to selected members of the National Youth Service Corps. These are just some of the ‘dividends of democracy,’ which the president suddenly realized that he needed to provide for the citizens. Rather than rather than endear the president to them, these acts have strengthened the resolve of a majority of informed voters to vote him out. To most people, these acts smirk of sheer desperation and even count as an insult to the citizens’ collective intelligence.
Not taking anything away from the Nigerian army and their gallantry at the war front in recent weeks, they have now recaptured most of the territories occupied by Boko Haram. However, Nigerians (or majority of them) are questioning the timing of these heroic feats. Why was it convenient for the Nigerian military to suddenly start recording those successes when it did? Why could they not in the past four years achieve these feats which they achieved in just two weeks? Why did the giant Nigerian army need the support – with all due respect – of their less revered neighbours; Chad republic and the Republic of Cameroon to record any meaningful success in the battle against Boko Haram? These questions and many more have been left unanswered and Nigerians are largely in the dark as to the true position of things in respect of this matter.
Make no mistake, the elections are as unpredictable as an election can possibly get. A rough estimation by a leading newspaper The Sunday Punch (March 22, 2015 edition) gave both Buhari and Jonathan 15 and 14 winnable states respectively, leaving 8 states unpredictable. The assessment is both fair and well calculated; the columnist only took into consideration the ‘readable factors’. However, close watchers will agree that unreadable factors are ever present in the Nigerian polity, possibly the most heterogeneous society in the world. All these are but permutations, which could be right or incredibly wrong. What is certain is that neither of the candidates will sweep the polls.
There is no prize for guessing that the eventual outcome of these polls marks a new chapter in the history books of the giant West African nation.
If the incumbent Jonathan wins, it may well spell the end of an organized opposition. They have never been this strong, and the various groups which came together to build the opposition force may well return to their private offices, pursuing their own interests and seeking ways of benefitting from the governance at the center with its attendant largesse. Students of politics understand that this is a marriage of convenience, which cannot stand the test of a loss at the polls.
If the opposition pulls through with their “change” mantra and sweep victory at the polls, it marks a new birth in the political set up in the country. Not only for the fact that a new party will be at the helm since the return to civil rile 16 years ago, but also for the fact that the new APC would want to put its foot down to ensure that the same fate will not befall them in 4 years’ time. In addition many will expect a change from the existing status quo in the country.
It is widely believed that the incumbent is weak and indecisive on most issues. Among other fatalities, this has damaged Nigeria’s position in the comity of nations and especially in Africa. The recent King of Morocco incident is just one of many examples. It is no secret that the level of foreign influence commanded by the country under the leadership of former president Olusegun Obasanjo has been depleted by the Jonathan administration. Not the least by the fact that the once widely revered armed forces now cannot deal with a rag tag militia group turned terrorists.
The message Jonathan sent to the world is that Nigeria cannot even defend her own territory against aggression from within; external aggression would be unthinkable. The world joined voices to cry out for the release of over 200 schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, but the government couldn’t be bothered. It took all of two weeks and some days to even convince the Commander-in-Chief that a single girl was missing. At the time of writing, nearly a year after, the girls have not been found – dead or alive.
The wastage in the economy needs to be plugged. It seems, for the most part, that the president hardly realizes that there is any such waste, not to mention ways of plugging it. An unimaginable number of crude oil barrels is stolen from the creeks every day.
The country’s revenue has been lowered by more than half its worth by the global plunge on oil prices. The economy is facing serious austerity because the resources were poorly managed during the boom. The ruling party has spent most of its time denying the existence of some of the country’s most glaring problems; it is puzzling that anyone would trust the same party to fix these problems. The country has been ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The New York Times says the feat was achieved “despite the government” and not as a result of its efforts.
Corruption and the culture of impunity — which has become endemic among public officials — needs to be checked. The president is rightly judged to be doing a very poor job of that. A government that has such a high tolerance for corruption (judging from the many scandals in his cabinet) will eventually run the country aground. Public officials loot the treasury with increasing impunity.
The once active anti-corruption outfit, the EFCC, has been largely crippled. Anyone on the EFCC prosecution list who pitches his tent with the government is assured of safety. Presidential pardon is now granted to high profile president’s allies who are convicted of corruption. Wanted criminals are candidates of the ruling party for elective positions, and corruption suspects standing trial are the face of the president’s campaign.
The Buhari train is promising Nigerians an urgent fix to insecurity, corruption and the economy, among other things. The elections have to be the end of the current administration; it is the only hope for Nigeria to survive its major travails in one piece. Nigerians have had enough, and a change is overdue, even if it doesn’t take them to the biblical Promised Land. For many, government needs to demonstrate a sense of direction, quality leadership, integrity, discipline in government circles, and to regain its place in the comity of nations.
It is only a few days to the polls; the final frontier is now. The world is watching, and Nigerians have their own destinies in their hands, literally! It will be interesting to see which side the dong swings for Nigerians on March 28. It is clear that the battle is beyond Buhari and Jonathan simplicita; a myriad of other forces are playing in the backgrounds. However, there are indications that things are about to ‘change’ and that had better be the case, for everyone’s sake.
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