By Douglas Anele
As the 2019 general elections draw inexorably closer every day, it is highly probable that millions of Nigerians are yet to make up their minds about how they would vote.
In other words, they are still considering who to vote for with respect to the political positions that would be available during the elections. Another possibility is that some who right now are inclined to vote for a particular candidate or party might still change their minds before the election day proper.
Certainly, of all the elections, the presidential election is the most crucial in terms of the intimidating amount of power, influence and authority conferred on whosoever is elected President by the 1999 constitution.
Accordingly, a significant proportion of the electorate might vote only for the presidential candidate of their choice and ignore the remaining elections, whereas an overwhelming majority will participate in the presidential election and others, depending on their personal interests and understanding of what the issues are all about.
It is interesting to observe that even now, millions of Nigerians have, for different reasons, already decided that come rain or high water, they will vote for the incumbent President, retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), or for his closest rival and possible replacement, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
That notwithstanding, in every election period it is important to examine critically the credentials, antecedents and performance of those seeking to be elected into political offices in order to reduce or minimise the emergence of misfits or incompetent leaders who are solely interested in satisfying their own bulimic selfish interests.
Therefore, free, fair and transparent election is the oxygen of democracy properly so called, because, as Karl Popper, the Austrian-born British philosopher correctly remarked, the fundamental advantage of democratic system over other political arrangements is the opportunity it provides for non-violent or peaceful replacement of bad leaders.
In this connection, the elections of 2019 provide eligible Nigerians with a chance to decide whether the people governing them now at various levels have done enough to remain in power or must be replaced by others in the hope that the latter would perform better than the former.
Every well-informed Nigerian has a right to make political choices, that is, the capacity to choose those that should be vested with political power for a certain period. In reaching such decisions, the basic requirement, in my opinion, is that the choices ought to be based on objective assessment of the character, academic qualifications, antecedents and track records of those seeking to be elected into various political offices, given that from experience wrong political choices made in the past have been detrimental to our collective well-being and quest for rapid national development.
As a result, before voting next year, every eligible voter must ask himself or herself the following question: who among the candidates for a particular office is the most suitable for that position? An honest answer to that question will help one reduce the possibility of wrong judgment.
Now, given that a lot will be at stake in 2019, it should no longer be a matter of just voting, of putting one’s thumbprint beside a particular party’s logo on a ballot paper. What will be needed this time around is reasoned voting, that is, voting on the basis of careful assessment of each candidate’s capacity for selfless service and compassion for the masses if elected. This point cannot be overemphasised: Nigerians must stop the habit of voting just to fulfil all righteousness or follow the crowd.
If they want improvement in their lives, our people must learn to vote for politicians that have the requisite intellectual, affective, moral and spiritual qualities needed for honest, responsible and transparent leadership. Of course, sentiments or emotions will always figure in the electoral choices Nigerians would make at any point in time. However, if there is sincerity of purpose and a determination to let truth, objectivity and pragmatic realism lead the way, the quantum of emotions that will inevitably influence those choices will not be powerful enough to becloud their sense of reasoning and sound judgment. To be sure, that is a tall order. But until we began to set high voting standards for ourselves and work towards attaining them, our desire for meaningful change will remain a mirage.
In my opinion, it would be unwise to re-elect President Muhammadu Buhari for a number of reasons. Before I present those reasons, some preliminary comments and clarifications are necessary. To begin with, it is increasingly becoming dangerous to criticise the President, mainly because, aside from vicious name-calling and silly insinuation that anyone who does not support him is either corrupt or has been benefiting from corruption and wants it to continue, his diehard fanatic supporters and sycophants have almost succeeded in describing or categorising any negative comment about the President, no matter how level-headed and factual it might be, as “hate speech.” These buharimaniacs forgot that the President, Lai Mohammed and several chieftains of the APC have said so many things in the past that genuinely qualify as hate speech.
Two examples from President Buhari himself would suffice to buttress my point. During his 2011 presidential campaign speech in Minna, Niger state, with a spear swirling over his head in different directions, Buhari severally called on his supporters, employing the Hausa language, to put it in a most decent manner, to forcefully deal with those he believed to be involved in rigging. On another occasion, he was credited to have said that should what happened before repeat itself again, “the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”
His supporters or defenders might argue that he was just trying to warn against rigging. Yet, the horrifying aftermath of those incendiary speeches was the cold-blooded murder across northern Nigeria of hundreds of Nigerians, mostly from the south, and including youth corpers serving in the north.
Apart from that, the main headache now for many Nigerians, including members of civil society organisations and activists, is that since President Buhari and some of his lieutenants have proclaimed that the federal government will not tolerate hate speech, and given the penchant of this administration to approach issues from a biased, we-versus-them perspective, one would not be surprised if in the coming weeks and months there will be an increase in clampdown by security and law-enforcement agencies on individuals and groups, or even media outlets adjudged by stalwarts of the ruling party to be guilty of hate speech, in other words, of speaking against President Buhari’s second term bid.
Clearly, hate speech is reprehensible and should be discouraged lawfully, irrespective of who is responsible for it. Still, curbing it can be used by the President and his security apparatchik as a convenient alibi, excuse or pretext to hound his political rivals.
Now, it appears that this government is hyper allergic to criticism and desperate to hold on to political power at all cost, judging by the vicious manner the President’s attack dogs like Festus Keyamo, Loretta Onochie, Lai Mohammed, Adams Oshiomhole and others insult fellow citizens courageous enough to criticise him.
That notwithstanding, reasonable Nigerians must continue to point out the failures of this government, insist that the country has evolved beyond the nightmares of Decree 2 and Decree 4, and that the admittedly flawed democratic system we are operating presently cannot develop beyond its present wobbly state if the garrison approach to issues during military regimes is surreptitiously reintroduced again. In short, Nigerians will resist any attempt to use hate speech as an instrument to suppress their democratic freedoms, especially the freedom of speech.
Again, President Buhari’s supporters should stop behaving as if they are more patriotic than those who are indifferent or opposed to his re-election – not all Nigerians suffer from psychotic messiah complex with respect to the President.