By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, incumbent president of the federation of Nigeria has officially been nominated, and handed the ticket of his party – the All Peoples Congress – as its candidate for the presidential elections in 2019. That election is just around the corner. The canvasing is afoot. The horse-trading too. The alignment and realignment of forces.
The midnight walks that yield surprises – all leading to what is shaping to be a most contentious polls in 2019. President Buhari was elected in a surprise turn of events in 2015. This was the fourth of his attempts, and he threw in everything, including threats of a bloodtide if he did not win – his now famous “monkey and baboon” quip that will haunt his legacy down the ages. Many analysts in fact now say it was the very fear of that promised bloodtide from “the North,” that convinced the former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to concede the elections, and accept defeat. Jonathan had always said that the loss of a single Nigerian life was not worth his ambition.
He stood true to his convictions, and like a true democrat, invited Buhari to lead, when the polls closed, and it seemed clear that Buhari was in the lead by some means. Jonathan did not contend, and indeed quickly shut down a move, led by Godwin Orubebe, to question the veracity of the results and the conduct therefore of the elections, and presumably initiate a move towards its cancellation. Jonathan did not wish to blow up the country. He seemed also in unseemly awe of the “international community” – mostly an alliance of the United States, France and the UK governments – who had unambiguously backed Buhari and his new partners of the then new coalition called the “APC.”
Perhaps nothing would have happened had Jonathan stubbornly summoned Nigeria’s sovereign will, and challenged the results that came. Afterall, there were very clearly recorded images of underage children voting in great numbers places like Kano which gave Buhari massive numbers. Had he wished to play the long game, Jonathan could have, given the enormous power he had, used the power of state and of his incumbency to suppress the votes of Nigerians North, South and Central.
He could very easily have deployed troops on the streets to quell any ensuing riots especially in restive areas of the North and could have called it, “Operation Crocodile Dance,” claiming residual emergency power already granted him by the 7th Assembly. He could in fact have read the tea leaves, and could have used the excuse of the Boko Haram insurgency which he had very successfully contained in spite of the subversions of folk, including the current president, and declared the North in a permanent state of crisis and a thus a national security risk, and postponed the general elections as a result of the insurgency. Under guise of a national emergency, he could have governed with the let of the then National Assembly of which his party had a majority, which could review his emergency tenure every six months, until he declares normalcy.
But thankfully Jonathan was not tempted by overreach. He ran a broad-based government. He reached out to all parts of Nigeria in an effort to balance power and achieve national representation; he tried to bring all sections of the nation to the table. The problem was, he was listening mostly to elite interests, and not the interest of a wider category of the Nigerian middle class from which he emerged – the professionals, the workers, the town unions, the intellectuals – all of whom formed his natural power base, but who felt betrayed by Jonathan’s economic and domestic policies, and his consorting with the same old elite national and international interests that have always overdetermined Nigeria’s political outcomes.
The problem was that Jonathan came to power without a rolodex of his own. He was only slowly growing into his own man, and forming his own networks, except that he was often blindsided by his inexperience. I remember my early conversations with my friend, the late Oronto Douglas, whom Jonathan had appointed Director of Strategies on how to protect Dr. Jonathan. But it was clear that by his own unique individual weaknesses and his unique disabilities as an outsider to the traditional equation of power, both Oronto Douglas and his man Jonathan, not always as “swift” and witty, felt the need to look over their shoulders for some lurking myth of “power” outside of themselves, that they had sometimes to make fatal compromises. Jonathan was called “weak” by his severest critics because he would not use brutal and illegal means to oppress Nigerians, hunt down his opponents, or violate the rule of law.
But under him, Nigerians felt the highest sense of freedom and liberty. There was a great sense of prosperity; Nigeria seemed again to matter in the world; she began to regain her place both economically and socially; there was increasing reverse migration, as those in the “diaspora” began a steady move back home. Now, almost four years after he was voted out, it seems appropriate to say all this, and put in perspective, the humongous changes that have happened under the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected on a momentum of “change.”
Now, change to what? That was the question critical Nigerians asked in 2015, and nobody seemed to have answers. Jonathan was not voted out for mismanaging the economy. Indeed, even at that time, his opponents agreed that there was real economic growth, there were more people with jobs, there was more money circulating, but Jonathan was voted out on two main issues raised by his opponents: he was a “weak” president, because he compromised too much; and because he compromised too much, he could not deal seriously with the Boko Haram insurgents who had grown bold, and among other things, kidnapped over two hundred Nigerian girls in a very swift operation in Chibok; and because he could not account for the Chibok girls and deal with Boko Haram, he was put on the marked list by key players in the “international community,” some of whom also had some very strategic issues with Jonathan in terms of his domestic and foreign policies which directly affected the long and short term interests of these foreign players in Nigerian affairs. In response to Boko Haram, Jonathan established a special task force to deal with the issue in the presidency and placed the operational power under the charge of his National Security Adviser. He had secured a special $1 billion supplementary budget from the National Assembly.
In the course of this operation, and because his administration had to buy military equipment in the black market (his opponents had successfully campaigned against the sale of arms to his government), a campaign of calumny was launched against his administration by his political opponents. His government was repeatedly called “corrupt” until it stuck among the Plebeians who often do not have the time or even the luxury, or intellect to discern the deeper issues of statecraft but are perfect ventriloquists for catchphrases and polispeak. In this age of the social media, just craft a word, gin it up a bit, and it begins to ride the crest of popular assertion.
Riding on these waves, Buhari and the APC came to power. Now, Nigerians have since seen Buhari’s efforts. It is appropriate, going towards this elections, to x-ray Buhari in his first term. It is prudent of course to use the balance of his performance to weigh his next moves. All the issues which APC campaigned against in 2015 have multiplied under this government: the Boko Haram insurgency which had very nearly been wiped out by the end of Jonathan’s time in office, has grown fiercer under Buhari. Boko Haram not only continues to fight, it has also kidnapped over 200 girls, this time in Dapchi under Buhari’s watch. Among its victims is a young Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, whose voice continues to haunt this nation and this administration. Leah has become “Saint Leah of Dapchi,” patron saint of all kidnapped women.
Under this presidency, Nigerians seem even more divided: the neo-Biafra movement has grown under this administration with IPOB asserting its right to self-determination. The president’s ethnocentrism and narrow, identity politics has created a sense of deep division among Nigerians, so much that schismatic movements are growing; the Cattle Fulani – the so-called Herdsmen are in rampage; any modicum of faith in Nigeria as a “single organic nation” of equal opportunities have faded under this administration, and more than anything else, this feeling that not all Nigerians share the same sense of national belonging according to the president’s critics, creates the highest national security risk for corporate Nigeria.
There is very little pubic buy-in to government policies and operations, and this has led to closure of businesses; serious port congestion, the hoarding of capital; greater unemployment cycles, and a generally very bleak economic outlook for a market the size of Nigeria’s. The Federal Office of Statistics have rolled out data that suggests that unemployment grew by double digits since Buhari came to power.
To be continued…