By Ochereome Nnanna
HERE is how the New York Times reacted to President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement on Monday that he would run for a second term: “Nigeria’s 75 year-old president, who spent four months out of the country while getting medical treatment, says he will run for a second term”.
The newspaper, which used to write very nice articles and flattering editorials about President Buhari, could not hide derision in this tweet. Firstly, in saner and more civilised societies, a leader who gets sick gets treated in his country’s hospitals and probably by his country’s doctors. But ours spent over a hundred days in London, and it took megaphone-wielding protesters heckling him to “resume or resign” before he hustled himself back to Nigeria in August 2017.
Secondly, a president who survived that kind of health challenge only seven months ago would most likely opt out of his constitutionally-permitted second term, more so, as Buhari had openly lamented how his old age has greatly incapacitated him physically and mentally. If he refuses to do so he would be rejected by the electorate. But of course, Nigeria is neither politically sane nor civilised.
This declaration by President Buhari, once again, brings to focus this now worn tag of “Mr. Integrity” which is used to deceive gullible Nigerians. On several occasions as a presidential aspirant he had given undertakings to spend only one term in office. In February 2014, he granted an interview to Daily Trust, saying because of his old age he would only do one term. Even Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, his Minister of Women Affairs, in September 2017, justified her pledge to join her political mentor, Alhaji Atiku in the pursuit of his presidential ambition on the ground that Buhari had promised to do only one term.
Other presidents before Buhari, especially Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, had similarly been caught in the web of promising to do only one term but reneging when the time to walk their talk was up. Their supporters justified their change of mind on the grounds that their constitutional rights to two terms towered over any real or imaginary promise. However, neither Obasanjo nor Jonathan was dressed in the chimeric robe of “Mr. Integrity” like Buhari. “Lesser mortals” (or should I say “lesser animals”, since animals – jackals, hyenas, rats, snakes and monkeys – are now in vogue under the Buhari dispensation) like Obasanjo and Jonathan could be forgiven to give their word and fail. But when “Mr. Integrity” falls into the same trap, it shows that that moniker is just there to deceive the gullible.
An APC-friendly newspaper carried a banner headline last Tuesday that Buhari’s declaration “shocked” members of the party’s National Executive Council, NEC. What a joke! Why would they be shocked when Buhari said that he decided to run again in response to a “clamour by Nigerians” including, obviously, the NEC members? When will Nigerian politicians run for office without blaming their ambition on pressure from others? Senator Arthur Nzeribe, the fire you lit with your Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, in May 1993 with a view to “forcing” Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, to abort the transition programme and continue in office, is still burning! Even Mr. Integrity is scorched by it.
Everyone who has ruled this country since Babangida always succumbed to the antics of mercenary clamourers. What a silly joke! Can you imagine a starving man saying: “I decided to eat because I was begged”? Even while Buhari seemed on his death bed eight months ago, I told people that the only thing that would stop him from running for a second term is if he stopped breathing. Because of the level of corruption in Nigerian politics, a person occupying the Office of President of Nigeria is a “bread winner” to millions of those favoured by his being there. Because they don’t want to lose their honeypot, they will do everything in their power to keep the man in power till the last day permitted under the constitution. These clamourers are self-seekers who are not interested the fates of millions of Nigerians who are outside the President’s gravy train. The President’s poor performance on almost all fronts does not matter.
What amazes me, however, is that the President is aware that people are clamouring for him to run again. He was not aware that the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, did not obey his order to relocate to Benue and stop killings by armed herdsmen. When he found out he did nothing, and the killings have continued. He was not aware that pension fund fugitive, Abdulrasheed Maina, had been smuggled back into service, and when he found out, Maina was allowed to escape. Those who brought him back remain in their cozy offices. But when it comes to the “clamour” for him to run for second term, he responds like a wounded lion and throws his hat into the ring. At least, he is aware of that one. There is hope.
The upshot of Buhari’s declaration for a second term in office is that the whistle has been blown for the start of the 2018/2019 electioneering season. The game is on. Even though the APC is internally fractured and the Buhari government seriously wounded by poor performance, the challenge to snatch presidency from him has been less than convincing. The emergence of the so-called Third Force at this juncture is a huge advantage to Buhari because it means the opposition will face him with a divided house.
Secondly, the PDP has not been convincing in its opposition politicking. The PDP governors, save for Ekiti State’s Ayo Fayose, are too chummy with the President for comfort. Contrast this with the anti-Jonathan sabre-rattling that reigned supreme from opposition governors four years ago, in the media, on the streets. You wonder if Buhari will get a run for his money.