No doubt, the first reaction to an article bearing a title of this nature in a blame-weary nation that Nigeria has currently become, will be “What has that got to do with Jonathan again?”. While such exasperations may be founded on legitimate and fully comprehensible grounds, the facts underlying the assertion are dangling right before our very eyes.
When crisis rocked the ruling People’s Democratic Party under the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan in the run-up to the 2015 Presidential election, little did anyone fathom that this singular intra-party crisis will reverberate deep into the tenure of the successor and even force the successor to employ highly unconventional means to fight for his political life, 4 years after. The internal crisis of confidence in the PDP that culminated in the formation of the nPDP is, no doubt, still fresh in recollective minds. The conflict climaxed at the time, in mass defections to the newly formed coalition of major opposition parties called the All Progressives Congress.
Many people of distinction – or as we popularly call them – people of “timber and caliber” deserted the ruling party in defiance of the leadership that had also sought to see the back of most of them to advance the strategy of reelection. The defiant deserters found a new home in the new ‘Congress of Progressives’ – APC. They were rich. They were powerful. They controlled electoral bases. They controlled resources. But they also had their agenda in differing colorations.
The first warning shot was fired when the grassroots grumbled in the ‘Congress of Progressives’ reacting to the imposition of defectors in leadership positions, t6o reap where they did not sow. This was quelled quietly and swept beneath the carpet. The Tambuwals, the El-Rufais of this world took their inevitable slots after contributing to success in different capacities.
But the big bang blew beyond the finishing line when victory took hold and the new government was installed. Rebellion began from Day 1 and his name was Bukola Saraki. For people in the know, though, the rest is now history. The failure of the newly installed President to swiftly recognize the long-term impact of that rebellion and move to quell it in real-time in spite of several prudent recommendations almost cost him his political life four years later. We will revisit this issue as our discourse progresses.
As they say that empty vessels make the loudest noise, the strongest challengers to the political life of the President were not necessarily those that made the loudest noise challenging the authority of leadership in legislative houses. No. Saraki’s example now shows that such people ended up almost being the easiest to send to temporary political oblivion in the chess game of electoral machinations.
The powerful forces, who bore the lion share bankrolling the 2015 battle came to pose the most potent danger in 2019.
A very intriguing anecdote of this defection saga was the ambition that almost every defector brought in his baggage. From El-Rufai through Bukola to the legendary Kung-Fu star, Bruce Lee, of commonsense fame, everybody had presidential ambitions. El-Rufai played it cool and loyal and is seen today, as a potential heir-apparent. The power-bank voltage of a former Vice President lurked in the dark in all quietness making no fuss of his ambition until the season drew close. There are many more, unseen and unknown, who started and ended up quietly. Even a non-APC-rascal, Kpomo-market-choir-leader also dreamt of being spiritually ordained to become a President.
Unfortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari failed to nip all pains in the bud to save nine stitches with just one stitch in time. Saraki grew wings and played a major role in aiding and facilitating what became a potent fighting electoral machine forcing incumbency to the brink in political survival. That was lesson number one.
Now, President Buhari’s electoral success in 2015 was a product of collective efforts and a coalition of odd bedfellows, who had a common denominator in an enemy called Jonathan, who made life easier for his enemies by being a weak President that condoned corruption in body language and actions, no matter what he or his admirers may choose to say today.
Since ascension to power and the myriad of expectations heaped on and encouraged by him on the heels of past military memories, President Muhammadu Buhari has come a long way. His lack-luster beginning wasting good six months in the formation of a working team, when he was expected to hit the ground running as El-Rufai did, was soon followed by a decisive clampdown on corruption. In spite of his one-step-forward-three-steps-backward approach, corruption, thank goodness, is no longer as rampant and uncontrolled as it was under his predecessor. There are many, who will jump at this statement, protesting and trying to controvert it. Their arsenal of facts will be very thin indeed. Just one of several possible examples: The presidential campaign did not witness open looting of the public vault to buy prayers from Cardinals, Primates, Overseers, Imams, Marabouts, traditional looters (oh sorry) rulers, etc.
Yet, this election season taught us one more grim lesson. We were brought one step closer to the President’s personal and health problems. We were brought one step closer to an understanding of what Aisha Buhari talked about in her two-time outburst against the circle surrounding her husband. Which man of sane and average rational disposition will have watched the townhall interview of the President with his Vice President and not worry and ask questions? Who will have seen the President of his country failing in the discernment of complex questions that is not wholly the aftermath of hearing impairment and not worry? Who will see a Vice President answering questions meant for the President saying, “He doesn’t know”and not imagine how day-to-day business is most likely run in government house? This was further exacerbated by incidents on the campaign trail.
When many experts cried out that Nigeria’s economy under the present leadership was not a mere victim of crashing oil prices, I had my reservations. When details of specific decisions taken that hurt investors’ confidence were rolled out, however, it became obvious that better decisions were missed at the right time to manage the economy better. But this should be left for a detailed discussion on another sunny day.
Deep polarization of the entire country, however, set in when the opposition candidate was presented, who was expected to take the baton from the undeniably, ailing President. That is when I saw no choice but to cry out loud: “Lord have mercy”.
The opposition candidate did his best to free himself of the image of a deeply corrupt politician. The image had stuck for several years since his ill-advised open warfare against and insubordination towards his former boss. Many, who cheered him on then as now, joined him to work against a common enemy without wishing him to be the substitute for the coveted throne. His legitimate employment of lobbyist to facilitate a long-denied journey to the United States could not erase all the stench of corruption perception.
To further fan the embers of a raging bushfire, the closest aides of this candidate were prominent politicians of budget-padding fame and bank-killing reputation. There was commonsense everywhere and puberty in the giant shape of a Dino-saur looming in the horizon. These are characters that would have been weeded from the scene very early enough had the President known his onions and not pandered to displaying irrelevant democratic credentials, which he, in the end, finally dished for reelection desperation.
Now, I personally favored the removal of an ailing President from government house. I did not want a government, in which people would circumvent the elected President to form a government within the government. The infancy of such moves usually begins with the innocent plea “Please let’s handle this quietly between us. You know the old man doesn’t know”.The town hall scene gave us snippets to fan the ember. Before you know it, a secret team is formed, and the voters are hoaxed.
Yet, how can we sleep with our two eyes closed, day-in, day-out handing over the government to an opposition candidate with a trailing record of alleged massive corruption after spending massively from a private war chest to match the government’s public chest? Where will costs be recovered from?
In spite of all the contradictions in government circle, prioritizing sectionalism and clannishness, could Nigeria have been so gleefully handed over to uncertainty in the shadows of corruption doubts? Like Nigerians, the international community with the decisive leverage to shape events, also have the facts.
The massive stench of the Jonathan days that infuriated Barack Obama is no longer there. The Fulani herdsmen, the active polarization of the nation and resultant conquest of national unity didn’t seem strong enough an argument to force a determined intervention to usher in a highly uncertain future for a strategically crucial Nigeria in a volatile subregion.
Indeed, the international community feared for the overall consequence of what would befall Nigeria if a natural mass reaction of anarchy followed the presidential election with all the massive flaws that characterized it as perpetrated by the two leading parties. Memories of the 2007 elections rekindled, in which the badly aggrieved and agitated opposition rested its last hope on the international community to salvage its hopes. Alas, it took just one sentence from George W. Bush to dash all hopes. “We will work with the new government”.
Today, a government statement from 10 Downing Street prioritized the return of calmness and stability to Nigeria and dashed all hopes that someone would read the riot act. The magic sentence was that violence and irregularities were minimal and results largely agree with the records of independent observers.
The maiden deployment of the military in the premiere act featuring the unrivaled scenes of caging the opposition, storming centers and arresting functionaries was simply perfecting what Jonathan started in Ekiti State to install a kpomo-cutter. Combined with the long-accustomed act of snatching ballot boxes that both sides clearly featured in their movie scenes, the killings and arsons that western observers carefully trivialized for obvious reasons, the militarization simply goes to prove just one point. Democracy is, definitely, not an African thing.
Until we, as Africans, wake up from our self-imposed slumber seeing erudite minds and Nobel Prize winners holding back from positive advocacy, the journey will be a long one yet. The need to devise an indigenous political system based on African values and tradition that should be allowed to grow over time as western democracy thrived into maturity for western nations, has long been neglected. This is the sole missing link in the black continent.
I wrote a book called “Lost in Democracy”, in which I laid a groundwork for a possible indigenous political system for the continent. It is now time for advocates to pick the pieces and drive the point home. An indigenous system may start imperfectly but stands a chance to be groomed to growth to stem the spate of killings and arsons from election to election.
Frisky Larr is a diaspora-based writer and author of several books on Nigerian and African affairs.