In my recent visit to Nigeria, the first sight that got my attention was the posters of the two candidates of the two foremost political parties, APC (All Peoples Congress) and the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) hung on billboards, streetlights and electric poles. As is with such times, activities and conversations around every small and big gathering of Nigerians, formal or informal gravitates towards the forth coming election. Like previous elections, this election is yet another defining moment for Nigeria as a country.
Seizing the opportunity my visit granted, I decided to take my own random poll of opinion from people I had opportunity of meeting in order to get the pulse of the electioneering phase. When in a cab or just sitting around with people, I would strike a conversation with the simple question of who the preferred candidate is and the ground for such a choice. In the responses I got, I quickly realized that the most buzzed words in this year’s elections are, ‘Change’ and ‘Continuity’ and depending on the leaning, people passionately argued their cases whether or not they had verified their claims.
But such is the melodrama with most electorates. There are shared opinions on pressing issues but largely based on hearsay.
For the serving president, Goodluck Jonathan, who first became president after succeeding the late President Umaru Yar’adua whom he deputized and completed the last two years of his remain tenure, now seeks re-election into a second tenure, a second tenure some from the North do not think he should be contesting in owing to an alleged pact made within his political party.
However, Mr. Jonathan and his cohorts strongly believe otherwise. As a result, he seeks a continuation of his presidency in 2015 election and if he succeeds, he would be looking at serving as president for 10 years at the end of the tenure thus making him the longest serving president Nigeria would probably ever have except situation work otherwise.
The other strong contender is not a new face in Nigeria’s political history and indeed its nascent democracy. Apart from being the military dictator that ended Nigeria’s democratic rule in 1983 and who by that singular act ushered in a prolonged era of military rule in Nigeria, he is also the longest opposition candidate (who is yet to be elected) consistently standing against the ruling party (PDP) of Nigeria in the past three elections (2003, 2007 and 2011) thus making his bid in the present (2015) elections his fourth. He bares the mantra of change and without a surprise it has been his message for a little over a decade. Sceptics fear that his military past would still shape his form of leadership in a democracy; Buhari has consistently argued though that he is a converted democrat whose ‘Eureka moment’ occurred with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
What manner of continuity?
As a result of the forgoing, one is forced to closely examine the very nature of the messages these two candidates carry with the promises of shaping the future of Nigeria.
Today, Jonathan presides over the current situation of affairs in Nigeria with an economy that has a very mixed outlook and a security situation that is arguably one of the worst the country has faced since the civil war. Critics of the President do not hold him responsible for the emergence of these problems but the management of them which shows a lack of political will and an utter weakness of character in leadership is often highlighted.
On the economy, three main issues seem to define the failure of the Jonathan led government. First the so-called depletion of Nigeria’s foreign reserve and the excess crude oil purse. This is being adjudged against the backdrop that this depletion of the foreign reserve happened in one of the times Nigeria was making more money from crude oil than any other in the recent past. The Second issue is the 27 percent youth unemployment despite the different projects such as the You-WIN and SUR-P which the government launched. This was demonstrated in 2014 when over 500, 000 Nigerian youths applied for entry into the Nigerian Immigration Service where only 3000 people were needed. The third issue is the question of the honesty of the president to fight corruption. His pardon of a corrupt kinsman and former Governor of Bayelsa State after being charged with corruption charges and also his failure to launch formal investigations into alleged corrupt practices by members of his cabinet leaves a lot of question unanswered.
On the matter of security, his allegedly, or perhaps seemingly clueless disposition over the severity of the mass killing of people and abduction of hundreds of girls and women in Borno; his prolonged silence over the killings in Baga even though he was commiserating with the French Government over the Paris tragedy that occurred about the same time all add up negatively against him. Aside the security challenges in North eastern Nigeria, other parts of the country have seen bloody ethnic and sectarian crises that have been quietly swept away.
However, let us cut him a slack by adjudging him within the wider reality of the political milieu of Nigeria. Elitism is one of the biggest forces that wield power in Nigeria. President Jonathan is a beneficiary of that. Even though Jonathan would appear like the very breath of ‘fresh air’ (his 2011 campaign mantra), a young face not carrying the same an elitist credentials, his emergence in the corridor of power in the onset had both the elements of elitist will and non-human circumstances (God’s hand or good luck as it were). If the saying ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’ is right, Jonathan’s loyalty is to be unbroken but should he choose otherwise, he risks being isolated into a political Island by this king makers.
It is no surprise therefore that even though a child of elite choice, he seems to have fallen out of favor with some these same elites; prominent among whom is the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In the recent past some of his other allies have abandoned him midway to the 2015 election, shifting their allegiances elsewhere. They have shifted allegiances from him and constituted themselves around new interests thus reminding us of the fact that interest is a permanent commodity in politics and people can move and trade it anywhere they stand to profit the most. It goes without saying that President Jonathan seems to have, over his first tenure, been beset by both internal wrangling within his political party and unrest in Nigeria. But since it appears the dividing line between Nigerian constitutional provisions and the arrangement of a political party are often blurred one can hardly tell how much loyalty Jonathan had paid to his party and that of the constitution of Nigeria.
What manner of Change?
General Muhammadu Buhari, certainly reminds us of that generation who today form the elite group of Nigeria and in many regards should be playing the role of elder statesmen. However, due to the lack of a tradition of generational shift in our polity, he today stands a good chance with the serving president, who although represents a new generation hasn’t demonstrated that character of leadership many Nigerians expect of a leader. Other than this reason, the Buhari campaign message finds most resonance in the claim that he is distinguished by his usually hard stern and zero tolerance for corruption.
What now may be regarded as the political loss of President Goodluck Jonathan has become gains for General Buhari. First, the merger between Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, a party with mostly Northern coloration) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN, a party with largely South-western leaning) into what is now All Progressive Congress is an action of expediency. It plays well by the number and that of regional collision and political collusion by some members of the President’s own party, thus giving Buhari a constituency he did not have in 2011.
But whatever necessitated this merger would definitely come under test and its true value proven. Should the APC win the presidential election, what will that translate for within the arrangement of the merger? What sort of consensus has the power brokers within this merger reached and how will that translate into the wider governance of Nigeria as a country? While the record of Buhari on corruption stands arguably clean, I wonder what the real cost of the political arrangements within the APC entails for Nigeria as a nation.
Religion and ethnicity
We cannot play the Ostrich by assuming that religion and ethnicity are not played in Nigerian politics. This has been the development in the sphere of Nigerian political history and there is no place that this is ostensibly displayed than in northern Nigeria. The major ethnic groups, the Fulani, Hausa’s and the Kanuri are bound by a singular Islamic identity notwithstanding their ethnic differences. Islam provides that glue for mutual loyalty and in turn forms the ground for solidarity towards political aspirations and retention of power. During elections, while the ideal expectation would be to elect credible leaders, the definition of credibility gets trapped and filtered through religious and ethnics sieves.
Conversely, minority tribes, who fall outside this framework of Islamic identity in the north and have historically fought for freedom from the dominance of the Hausa’s, Fulani’s and Kanuri’s and have found Christianity, since most missionary activities in the north focused more on the non-Muslim communities, as a galvanizing point for a collective identity which often play in political aspirations.
The very notion that the ‘winner-takes it all’, means he who sits on the place of power can access and use national resources as they so choose. It is therefore true that, most Christians may rather have a bad Christian leader than have a Muslim as president. Most Muslims will a thousand times prefer a bad Muslim leader in power than have a non-Muslim. This whole unfortunate state of things is built on mistrust. As a result, every religion or ethnic group believes it is best served when it has its own person at the helm of affairs.
However, this is not the place to lay all that pertains to Nigerian politics. We will have to watch as things unfold in the coming weeks. Already the election that was slated for the 14th of February has been shifted on the ground of insecurity. It is too early to start insinuating the real intent for this than to accept it as it is. Until then we will have to find answers to questions like, for example, when does the tenure of the president end? If it ends before the new election date, will he still be presiding over the affairs of Nigeria or are we going to be dealing with an Interim government? For now we are safe by saying as the President himself said: ‘there will be a government in place on 29th of May 2015’. However that will come to pass, we will have to wait and find out.