By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Today is exactly 30 days to the presidential and National Assembly elections on February 16, the first in a two-legged ballot that will end with the governorship and Houses of Assembly elections on March 2.
Tension is high. It is always the case every four years. Nigerians are edgy and hypersensitive, and the country is on the precipice. All pretense to governance is jettisoned. The silly season of politics is in full bloom.
There hasn’t been much governance, though, in the last three and a half years, but the situation is worse now. Debilitating political intrigues have replaced statesmanship. A bare-knuckle politics that takes no prisoners.
Thirty days to the presidential election, there is little or no campaign across the country. Except for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, other political parties, particularly the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, are not crisscrossing the nooks and crannies to sell their manifestoes.
President Muhammadu Buhari has taken the unprecedented step of outsourcing his campaign to one of his party’s chieftains, Bola Tinubu, who will be totally in charge of his second term electioneering.
“… Tinubu, my co-chairman, will be fully in charge, and is going to be on 24-hour vigil.
“That is to say, the operational buck of this campaign stops at his table, and I, therefore, urge all of us in the leadership of this campaign, in the field operations on the campaign trail and in the secretariat to consult with [Tinubu] whenever guidance is needed,” Buhari announced during the inauguration of his presidential campaign council on January 7.
He said he took the extraordinary step because he would not allow his job to suffer during the campaign. That is laughable.
Who else is in a position to articulate the vision and the successes of the government so far, if any, and the way forward other than the president himself?
It is curious when a leader who for 44 months, refused to take charge of his government, allowing aides to run rings round him while he luxuriated in his nominal Presidency, suddenly wakes up from his lethargic slumber to remember it is high time he took charge.
Don’t be deceived.
Those who are lukewarm to campaigns have not actually taken their eyes off the ball. Not at all. They are concentrating on the things that matter most – the institutions that superintend over the electoral process.
That is why activities in these institutions which include the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, security agencies, particularly the police, and the judiciary, are of primary interest to the political gladiators.
INEC is permanently in the crosshairs of politicians, and therefore any move, no matter how innocuous – such as the appointment of Amina Zakari, Buhari’s niece, as head of the presidential election collation centre – is bound to raise some dust.
When the government deliberately throws into this combustible mix the bizarre drama of hauling Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, a few days to election, then tongues are bound to wag, as they are, indeed, wagging.
But it is also instructive that while the two moves cited above raised the country’s political temperature to a boiling point, the retirement of Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and appointment of Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in his stead, albeit in acting capacity, lowered the temperature considerably.
Adamu’s promise to be professional in the discharge of his duties by sticking to the rules of engagement is the kind of assurance Nigerians need now as the country tethers on the precipice.
That assurance to “do the right thing” by giving everybody “a level playing ground to play his or her politics”, was not made in a vacuum.
Rather, it was against the backdrop of the perception that the Nigeria Police headed by Idris had become overtly and unabashedly partisan, heightening the fear of compromise of the credibility of the election.
It remains to be seen if the new IGP will walk his talk and what he will do differently, but there is no arguing the perception that Idris took not only his office but the institution to a new low.
Idris in office did more harm than good not only to the police but also to the national psyche.
He became an exemplar of what happens when a public officer misinterprets loyalty.
For him, loyalty is subservience to the man who sacrificed the illustrious careers of several senior police officers, including seven Deputy Inspectors-General of Police, DIGs – Dan Azumi, Finance and Administration; Sotonye Leroy Wakama, Operations; Kakwe Katsonn, Criminal Investigations; Mamman Ibrahim Tsafe, Logistics and Supply; Saliu Arungu Hashimu, Training; Jubril Adeniyi, Research and Planning; and Chintua Amajor Onu, ICT – to make him police boss.
That wouldn’t have mattered much if Idris came to the job with any skill sets that set him apart from the crowd.
Apparently, he didn’t.
Perhaps, the only thing that mattered in his unmerited elevation is the fact that he was the Commissioner of Police in Kano State during the 2015 election where Buhari garnered 1,903,999 votes against Goodluck Jonathan’s 215,799 votes – the highest Buhari got in any state.
The state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mikaila Abdulahi, who superintended over the presidential and National Assembly elections did not live to complete his assignment. He was burnt to death a couple of days later together with his wife, Zulaiha, and two daughters, Aisha and Asmau, in a fire incident.
Extraneous considerations other than competence informed Buhari’s decision to elevate Idris to the very critical position of IGP. And since no man can give what he does not have, the result is very clear and the consequences very dire for Nigeria.
As the country’s IGP, Idris clearly lowered the standard. Since he had nothing to offer in terms of substance, he had to fall back on being subservient to the powers that be.
In the process, he also became a burden to the president.
Some believe that Buhari is a good man with a heart of gold who means well for the country. To them, Buhari’s Achilles heel is the people around him, his subordinates who they claim don’t share his vision for Nigeria.
One of such subordinates whose name readily popped up was Idris.
I am not impressed with such hackneyed views because those who espouse them fail to acknowledge that one of the hallmarks of good leadership is the ability to spot talent.
A subordinate is as good as his principal.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a virtuous, competent and proficient leader who only attracts debauched, bungling and ineffectual assistants.
The gloom which enveloped the land when Buhari’s body language didn’t indicate that he would let Idris go after 35 years in service was lifted instantly after he was removed.
Force Headquarters was agog and policemen were jubilant, politicians and political parties have praised the president, and Nigerians generally are happy.
Does Idris’ removal translate automatically to free, fair, credible polls and better human rights record? Not necessarily. It behoves Adamu to clear the huge mess his predecessor left behind.
But one fact is indisputable. The country is breathing easier now having exorcised one of its demons.