This month, on the 14th (now postponed to 28th March), Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country, goes to the polls to elect a new President. According to local pundits, these will be make-or-break elections. The list of challenges facing this West African giant seems endless and the current sliding price of oil is adding an ominous new dimension. Will the winner prove to be a champion or will he compound an already dire situation? We present two views. By Frederick Mordi
As soon as Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) threw his hat into the ring in 2013, for the fourth consecutive time, political pundits had predicted a rematch between Nigeria’s current President Goodluck Jonathan, and the retired general, at the Presidential election scheduled for 14th February this year.
Buhari was Nigeria’s former Head of State from 31st December 1983 to 27th August 1985, when General Ibrahim Babangida overthrew his administration in a putsch.
He kept a low profile afterwards until the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, appointed him to head the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a government agency established to manage Nigeria’s oil money, in the ’90s. He later ventured into politics, where he lost out at the Presidential elections held in 2003, 2007 and 2011. This may be his last attempt as he turned 72 last December. However, analysts believe Buhari’s chances are bright this time, based on the perceived growing popularity of his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC, which is the country’s main opposition party, is the outcome of a merger in 2013, of four political parties.
The parties include: the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), with deep roots in the southwest; the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), popular in the northern parts of the country; and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), which has a solid base in the southeast. The merger, the opposition believes, would boost its chances against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has dominated the political scene since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic rule after 16 years of military dictatorship.
While the ruling party handed Jonathan an automatic ticket to seek re-election in this year’s Presidential election, Buhari, the soldier turned politician, had to slug it out with four other aspirants of the APC at the primaries held in Lagos last December. They included former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha; and publisher of the Leadership newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah. Buhari eventually won the ticket. Apart from Jonathan and Buhari, 11 other contestants are vying for the position. Jonathan retained his deputy, Namadi Sambo, as running mate, putting paid to speculations that he would drop him, while Buhari settled for a former attorney-general and commissioner for justice in Lagos state, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. However, unlike Jonathan, who had no trouble choosing his, Buhari could not immediately announce his running mate, due to internal wrangling among party members.
Various contenders were bandied about as Buhari’s likely choice. The prominent ones among them included the leader of the APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu; the incumbent Governor of the State, Babatunde Fashola; Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi; and Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole.
Religion and ethnicity played a role in the eventual selection of Prof Osinbajo, a Christian from the southwest, as Buhari’s running mate – Buhari is a Muslim from the northwest. Tinubu, a Muslim, and major financier of the APC, who had expressed strong interest in the position, was forced to step down at the last minute, due to fierce opposition from party faithfuls, to a Muslim-Muslim pairing. He is said to have indicated a preference for Osinbajo, who served under his administration, in his stead. This political manoeuvre was necessary to maintain the delicate balance of power in the country, where religious sentiments and ethnicity run high. Even though some analysts believe Osinbajo might not add much electoral value to Buhari since he is virtually unknown outside Lagos, others argue that his relationship with the late Obafemi Awolowo family could be an advantage. Awolowo, a former politician, is highly respected in the southwest.
While the masses, particularly in the North, are staunchly behind Buhari, who they see as a leader that could rescue Nigeria from its multiplicity of woes, the elite dread him and fear he would institute probes into their past should he win the election. As such, there are indications that they might work against the interest of the man reputed for his Spartan habits and zero tolerance for corruption. It is widely speculated that the ex-General would come after those that have pilfered the nation’s wealth if he became President.
Apparently mindful of these fears gnawing at the elite, Buhari has given assurances that he would not probe corrupt past leaders, politicians and government officials if he gets the people’s mandate. But he vowed that he would make those who continue to engage in corrupt practices during his tenure as President face the music. Similarly, the national chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, has explained that Buhari’s main preoccupation would be cleaning the Augean stables if he secures victory. Odigie-Oyegun, who decried widespread rumours that Buhari would jail many corrupt Nigerians, insisted the former Head of State would let bygones be bygones.
He said: “The first moments of a Buhari Presidency will be on the future. The only people I think should fear the Buhari Presidency are those who do not want change. Those who want to continue with business as usual are those who want to continue to profit from the level of corruption in the society.
“We will have no apologies for people like that. But it is clear that from the Buhari perspective and that of the APC: the future of the people of this country is too important for us to spend valuable time trying to dig into the past.” By taking this soft stance, Buhari, and the APC by extension, may be unwittingly heeding Robert Greene’s admonition in ‘Law 45’ of his bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power, which states: “Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once.”
The Italian statesman and author of The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, expatiated more on that law when he said: “He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities.”
That may well explain the remarkable transformation in recent times of the retired army general, who is now moving with the times, as attested by a noticeable change in his attire and political associates.
Meanwhile, the ruling party, the PDP, has welcomed Buhari to the Presidential race. According to a statement credited to its national publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh, the PDP remains the party to beat. Metuh said: “We believe that despite the distractions, President Goodluck Jonathan has a genuine record of accomplishments on which to run and deserves a second term. President Jonathan’s re-election will guarantee unity and stability for Nigerians. His second term will also deliver prosperity to Nigerians.”
The die is cast
According to the electoral timetable that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will take place on 14th February, while the governorship and state assembly elections will be held on 28th February. But the preoccupation of Nigerians for now is the Presidential election, which experts say will go a long way in determining the political future of the country.
While the north continues to clamour for a power shift to the region in line with a gentleman’s agreement allegedly put in place by the ruling party, Jonathan’s south-south zone insists he must complete two terms in office before relinquishing power. The key actors in the heated debate have not been able to reach a compromise on the issue.
Buhari is relying on his popularity in the north and growing influence in the southwest to secure electoral victory, while Jonathan, who has a strong foothold in the southeast and south-south, is expected to split the ex-General’s votes in the two regions, banking on his incumbency factor.
Lingering insurgency in the northeast, perceived rising corruption and the poor state of the economy are the major campaign issues. The chairman of INEC, Prof Atahiru Jega, has pledged credible elections despite the challenges the country is facing. Meanwhile, a former Minister of External Affairs and Deputy Chairman at last year’s national conference, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, has enjoined Buhari and Jonathan to sign a peace accord, to forestall the reoccurrence of post-electoral violence recorded in 2011 elections.
The US is alleged to be predicting a doomsday scenario over the likely break-up of Nigeria in 2015. However, the US has a long track record of getting African politics spectacularly wrong so few are losing any sleep over but everyone is aware of the tensions. But Jonathan has allayed fears over 2015, insisting the unity of the country is not negotiable. However, the electorate themselves will determine the direction of the country with their votes.