Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse – African proverb
Loyal readers of this great paper with fairly long memories will remember me as a weekly columnist who took a break. It turned out to be a lot longer than I planned, but I am glad for the opportunity to be back.
I did some research on our circumstances as a nation between the last time I was here (October 2014) and where we stand today. It is incredible how much can change in six years. I needed the break to help defeat President Goodluck Jonathan and make General Muhammadu Buhari President after three previous attempts.
Like millions of fellow Nigerians, I believed that the Jonathan administration had run its course and a lame, confused and rapacious administration that was losing the war against Boko Haram and corruption needed to give way for a tough and clean leader to lead the nation to reclaim its security and integrity of the public office.
I did get a front row in a successful campaign, and the euphoria that followed the election of President Buhari was grounded in profound significance. An incumbent administration was defeated for the first time.
The defeated President did not challenge the result. The North was politically united in choosing Buhari over Jonathan, an unprecedented event with huge symbolism. The nation had a seamless transition from fear and bitterness to relief and confidence in our capacity to grow and develop our fledgling democratic ambitions. To be sure, we swept a lot under the carpet.
The conduct of the 2015 election was never interrogated by the usual heavy-handed judicial role in deciding the legitimacy of mandates; so there was no opportunity to establish where the electoral process was weak or strong.
It was good enough that its outcome did not repeat the 2011 bloodletting on a grander scale. It is very likely that a few behind-the-scene understandings were given and received regarding the future of key persons in the outgoing administration which may have oiled a historic friction-free transition.
So we moved on, flush with confidence that insecurity, corruption, and an economy with major limitations were about to get a deserved treatment under a tough President Buhari.
We were substantially wrong. Buhari turned out to be indecisive, hesitant, and dangerously looking as if power was an end in itself, and governance was all about the personal convenience of the leader.
Boko Haram, Jonathan’s ultimate nemesis, was pushed back to its originating base, where it adjusted to a role of a constant threat that would defy Buhari and our beleaguered armed forces, even as we speak.
Within a year, a few of us in the winning party began to raise our voices at gaping holes between promises and results. By the end of the second year, it was clear that Buhari was not the solution. Indeed, he looked more like the problem.
If he could not dramatically improve on the much-maligned standards of Jonathan, in the context of the elections that brought him to power, he could only be worse.
Me, I jumped ship, left the party, and resumed a familiar role as a critic. This time, the fightback was more vicious. People like me, the din from the chorus line will chant, would only criticise Buhari because he did not make us ministers.
We were ignorant of the rot he had inherited. We were closet PDPians, people against whom the tap of corrupt wealth had been switched off. It was particularly louder in the North until the loud drums celebrating the infallibility of Buhari began to quieten down as the fight against corruption took on a decidedly political hue; poverty and insecurity became more pronounced;
A nation that had shown promise for more quality in the co-existence of its communities began to drift apart owing to incompetence and indifference in managing its plural character, and the nation and the world saw through the false front that advertised the Buhari administration as a solution.
The nation had a chance to retire a tried and failed administration but did not. Two elderly Northerners with huge baggage squared up in 2019. The votes gave Buhari a second term, and an invaluable opportunity to make amends, particularly for Northern voters who made the difference with numbers and faith that more time was needed to realise the Buhari magic.
The votes were right, the voters were wrong. Everything that was wrong in his first term got worse in his second term. The voices against the failure to stem new threats to citizens, in addition to the survival and even resurgence of Boko Haram, a crumbling economy and leadership run by people you can count on one hand gave the impression of a leadership that had no plans or intention to change its style or substance.
You got the distinct impression that President Buhari was deeply averse to change of any type, a betrayal of the widespread belief that the promise to affect positive change in the lives of citizens and the fortunes of a nation fighting on many fronts was singularly responsible for his two victories.
Things only get worse when leadership does little or nothing to address serious problems, or locks itself up and governs with tired statements from hired hands. And they did. The nation’s security challenges grew.
A pandemic wrought havoc on an economy that was hanging precariously on the export of crude oil whose prices collapsed. One or two key players in a severely limited administration died. Bandits, kidnappers, robbers, sundry criminals in urban centres, and insurgents took up more space in the lives of citizens.
Elderly Nigerians raised voices against each other and began to issue dire threats on the future of the nation unless major changes in its structure are effected. Groups and regions drifted apart, the young vented its frustrations through social media in such an unrestrained manner that saner Nigerians would switch off the possibility of a future of the nation with this generation.
Now, I resume at a very sad moment in the life of a country I took a break to help fix. I always had an identity, but now my identity is more pronounced. My name alone determines responses to what I write. I am also more sensitive to the vulnerability of my identity, my region, and a nation I still have strong faith in.
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I am active in geo-politics, the type that allows you to work with elders from all parts of Nigeria today, and quarrel like perfect strangers tomorrow. I am part of an emerging consensus that it is dangerous to assume the survival of our nation only on the say-so of a few people in leadership positions who cannot say anything else to citizens operating under major stresses that make softer options attractive.
I am part of many initiatives to re-visit our foundations as a nation; lower the hostility against each other; re-invent dialogue and negotiation as political tools and improve elite cohesion and popular support for serious changes in the manner the nation is structured, governed, and secured.
I find myself in the midst of a raging debate on what is the right approach to amending the Constitution; which part of the country should “produce” the next President; if there will be an election in 2023 if the nation does not restructure, and other weighty issues.
Now that I am back, I hope to share these with you.