Opinion: Now that Buhari has let the Cat out of the Bag By Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, it has been a very interesting week in our dear beloved country. What has been a long purportedly hidden, but open secret, which we all knew about anyway, and which we knew was going to happen finally did happen.

Our President, Muhammadu Buhari, dropped his muted bombshell as he was just on his way to London on a “working visit” but it was not exactly the explosive denouement to the “would he run, would he not” saga his acolytes would have expected. Rather it was an anti-climax or, more appropriately a whimper or simply, déjà vu.

It was always obvious that the President would find the temptation to seek a second term very irresistible, like all ordinary mortals. The trappings, ceremonies and ostentation of power are too appealing and difficult to give up. The ability to shun this enticement is what made The Madiba, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela an uncommon and apotheosised being. He knew not all rights must be claimed or actualised. However, no one can deny anybody, including our esteemed President, his rights, if he chooses to exercise those rights. Clearly, those who have advised him against what they perceive as a misadventure, were amongst his biggest supporters in the past. They wanted him to recuse himself from the excruciating agony of what has turned out to be very tedious, unprofitable governance, and thereby rescue Nigeria from the burden of weak and ineffective leadership. Now that the President has made up his mind that those reasons are not strong enough to dissuade him from re-contesting a record fifth time, the best we can do, as his former followers, is to wish him the best of luck.

The beauty of democracy is that it guarantees the rights of everyman to vote and be voted for, as long as he has no criminal record or other impediment to debar him from doing so. I’m looking ahead to a very rigorous selection process and robust campaign in the dozens of political parties in Nigeria. It is obvious that the ruling party, APC would try to railroad its ticket in favour of the President. As for that, there is not likely to be any negotiation. Any challenger within the party would have an uphill task and be treated automatically as a renegade and recalcitrant outcast. For me, that is not a reason to give up. Any would be contestant within the APC must simply realise that he has a mountain to climb, but even Mount Everest has been scaled, so the task is not impossible. Indeed, it may be the saving grace of the party and its Presidential candidate, whoever emerges, be it President Buhari or some other person.

The other major party, PDP, would try to be more democratic in its selection process and hope the fallout from its primaries would not further deepen and expand the chasm within the party which is still trying to pick itself up from the recent near disintegration and catastrophe it has been faced with. Those hoping for a third force may be disappointed in the long run because it may not fly for this particular election. The time and resources needed are not there at this point in time. However, If I were the PDP, I would gauge the mood of the nation and plan to rebrand and merge with other parties. I would contemplate a change of name, like APC did, because the present name is greatly tarnished and damaged, albeit psychologically. Its recent campaigns in Jigawa and Katsina States may have however rejuvenated and emboldened them to consider retaining their present name

Let me now address the issue of our restive youths who are clamouring for a total sweep of the old brigade from power at this upcoming elections. I sincerely doubt they would have their wish and desire in such a jiffy. I am under no illusion, or delusion, that any of our younger contestants would have the stamina, resources or experience to muscle their way through to the candidacy of either of the major parties. The obvious threat to their aspirations would be the proliferation of Presidential aspirants/candidates. The second, and more potent, threat is the ability of the oldies that they seek to depose, to clannishly stick together against an unwanted intruder. Therefore, none of them is going to emerge from either of the two leading parties. The smaller parties lack the structures to help launch and catapult them to power. I’m not a prophet of doom but I am only speaking from my personal experience in 2011. Not much has changed since then. I will now present some of the hurdles they would have to surmount.

ETHNICITY. One of the biggest diseases afflicting Nigeria today is ethnicity. It is not going to fly away readily by any magic. The most educated Nigerians behave like stark illiterates when it comes to defending their place of origin and tribe. The more States we have created, the more splintered the divisions have been. The two leading political parties have virtually, wittingly or unwittingly, zoned their candidacy to the North of Nigeria thus shutting out any chance of considering any genius from other parts of Nigeria. One of the younger candidates, like Donald Duke is already wasted, despite his wealth of experience. If he decides to try a third force, he would be stunned that most of those asking for his kind in Nigerian politics are really negligible and too few and far between. You would expect a lot of Nigerian students in particular to queue behind Omoyele Sowore, one of the greatest products of students’ unionism ever, but the students’ unions themselves are already divided along ethnic lines. Those who killed Nigerian education also killed students’ activism with it. They ensured the fractionalisation of our unions for their nefarious ends. I have spoken before of the Rwandan example, where ethnicity is now taboo, and, it is now prohibited to refer to tribe in public discourse. I believe and fervently maintain that one the greatest bane to our national cohesion, unity and development is the principle of Federal Character, which not only enshrines mediocrity and poorness, but crowns inferiority and dreadfulness. A nation that allows individuals who score less than 20% in exams to attain the highest levels of its technocracy and government can never expect to do well. Its progress is rooted in failure.

RELIGION. There is no opium stronger than religion in Nigeria. We used to tolerate religious freedom in the past, not anymore. It is one of the reasons Buhari, as a candidate, had to pick ardent Christians as his running mates in the last two elections he has contested. He actually got two Pastors, Tunde Bakare and Yemi Osinbajo, back to back, for these two contests. That was also the only reason the former Governors of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola, could not be considered by him. It is noteworthy that in 1993, Moshood Abiola was forced to risk a Muslim/Muslim ticket because the North told him plainly they would not accept a Christian to represent them. He got away with it because the South parades many Christians and Muslims, except in the South East and South South where Christians are very dominant. Abiola’s unprecedented popularity across the nation helped propel him a great deal and made for the success of this ticket. The type of religious tolerance that existed then has since exited with Abiola. Any Southern Christian would find it almost impossible in this coming election to get substantial votes in the North. That is too certain. This is another of our hidden, unuttered taboos that we must do away with if we are to make any progress as a nation. This will not however happen at this impending election.

MONEY. The role of raw cash cannot be over-emphasised in politics all over the world. It plays an even more crucial role in poverty-stricken nations. With all due respect, as prosperous as Nigeria is, ours is still rated as one of the poorest nations on earth. I won’t bore you with the obvious reasons. The disparity between members of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is unbelievably wide. It is, therefore, very easy to induce the poor with what may be considered a mere pittance. The very poor constitute the highest number in any nation, and given the state of the Nigerian economy, the percentage of impoverished people is naturally larger. The influence money would play in the next election would therefore still be huge. The candidates would have to run their campaigns nationally, by road, by air and by water in the riverine areas. They need to print banners, posters, leaflets, t-shirts, face-caps, handkerchiefs, gift items, etc. Nigeria is a big country in land mass and population. Let’s even assume the new breed candidates would perform the miracle of turning water into wine, they would still need to pay for their agents nationwide, without whom their genuine votes may not be protected. This would run into billions of Naira.

This is why it is not easy to fight corruption in Nigeria. It would have been impossible for Buhari to win the last election without the avuncular support of moneybags within and outside his political party, including some very wealthy members of the private sector. Until he makes his second term, it is virtually impossible to fight all the humongously wealthy politicians in his party right now. They have to be carefully managed and jealously guarded for the party to have any chance of winning the next election. How many of such filthy rich Nigerians are available to sponsor our fresh candidates? Most of them have fled to APC while the balance of them are in PDP. While Sowore would appeal to the downtrodden who want to shut down the prevailing system, Fela Durotoye would appeal to the middle/upper class, but I’m not sure either of these classes can fund their campaigns yet in Nigeria.

Those three highlighted issues of ethnicity, religion and money are the major obstacles to getting good leaders in Nigeria. The other major problem is the confusion amongst the electorate on how to make their choice. An enlightenment and awareness campaign is absolutely necessary. For example, many Nigerians would tell you corruption is their biggest and only worry. That was the main reason we ended up with Buhari. Most of those who supported him in 2015 merely pandered to pervasive public opinion engendered by those who saw Buhari as the last remaining saint standing. Had we not tried Buhari, they would have told us Nigeria is in a mess because he was not allowed to assume power. They would assert that the free fall of the Naira would never have occurred under a Buhari Presidency and that Buhari would have wiped out corruption and exterminated corrupt leaders within a short time. This is why the APC change mantra has remained “war against corruption.” Despite the obvious hypocrisy, the APC would have to shout that slogan till kingdom come, hoping that more and more politicians would run into its fold for much needed protection, and that the gullible public would buy into the charade. This is its own winning formula. Time will tell.

The PDP would try to contradict this APC mantra by exposing the APC as a party of liars and incompetent people. There is already a tit for tat approach with PDP offering its counter list of corrupt persons ensconced and buried in APC. This melodrama would continue unabated. PDP would have to be an umbrella for all those who feel Buhari would victimise them if he comes back to power. This would be the biggest attraction to hard core politicians. APC may suffer a major setback and lose a large chunk of its big names in the near future because of the palpable distrust between the party chieftains.

These looming elections promise to be one of high stakes and protection of vested interests. It is a chance for Nigerians to embrace true change not just in personnel, but also in their approach to the selection of their leaders and their demand for accountability and improvement in governance.

Time will tell.

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