By Segun Adeniyi
Despite dozens of presidential candidates on the ballot, next Saturday’s election is essentially between the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Sadly, the expectation that the campaign would be issue-based has turned out to be a mirage. With just nine days to the poll, the choice between the two, especially for non-partisans, has been reduced to the candidate they distrust (or dislike) less rather than the one who inspires them more.
I find it difficult to believe that federal universities in our country have been closed for more than three months as a result of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Neither of the two candidates is offering ideas on how to resolve this nagging problem or any of the other contradictions that define our nation today. Aside the tantrums, abuses and disinformation being exchanged in the social media by supporters of these two leading candidates, one cannot ascertain where they stand on critical national issues that my colleague, Kayode Komolafe, highlighted in the last few weeks. For Buhari and Atiku, the campaign is about who can pull the larger crowd.
Because a choice must be made, we are now in the season of endorsements and predictions. Fishermen, bus conductors, witches and wizards, retired and expired generals as well as renowned entrepreneurs of social-cultural groups are telling us which way to cast our ballots. On Tuesday, the National Association of Nigerian Prostitutes took their ‘bed-to-wealth’ policy to another level by endorsing Atiku. Four years ago their endorsement went to Buhari. Regrettably, at a time you expect my friend, Dr Reuben Abati, to dissect the ‘bedmatic’ implications of this development on how Nigerians will exercise their franchise next Saturday, he is busy canvassing for votes that will enable him to become the next deputy governor of Ogun State.
The idea of predicting who will win the presidential election on the basis of unscientific assumptions is even more ludicrous. From the Brexit vote in the U.K. to the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., we have seen how unreliable opinion polls can be. Most often, they are a reflection of the bias of whoever is doing the sampling or making the prediction. So, the only poll that matters in Nigeria will come next Saturday and it is imperative that the electorate walk away with confidence that their ballots will be counted and will count.
While this election is not being fought along traditional fault-lines, and will not be lost or won on that basis, we are nonetheless still a fragile country. That explains why even when there may be little to cheer about the election, there is indeed a lot to fear in the aftermath. In a milieu where going to government appears to be the only rewarding enterprise for many people and seeking elective offices a financial investment with attractive returns, it would not take much to push the country down the road to Venezuela. We don’t need another political crisis that could add to the growing population of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and create further problems for the most vulnerable of our society.
It is comforting that the two leading presidential candidates have so many things in common, although their worldviews are markedly different. Both are in their seventies and have had opportunities to serve this country at the highest level of government. Both are northern Muslims and Fulani. But while those considerations should ordinarily matter, their supporters are already weaving all manner of conspiracy theories so there is no guarantee for peace if the outcome does not conform to expectations on either side. That is the challenge of the moment.
For years, commentators have harped on a United States “prediction about the collapse of Nigeria”, although the oft-quoted 2005 report on sub-Saharan Africa by the American National Intelligence Council on “likely trends in the region over the next 15 years” merely built hypothetical scenarios. It is, however, noteworthy that the report also stated that “while currently Nigeria’s leaders are locked in a bad marriage that all dislike but dare not leave, there are possibilities that could disrupt the precarious equilibrium in Abuja”. One such possibility, as we have seen from examples of other countries on the continent, is that crisis could result from a disputed election. We must do everything to avert this happening in Nigeria.
The last word is for the supporters of the two leading candidates who must have seen how the children of our prominent politicians are always marrying across ethnic, political and religious lines. These children of privilege, like other members of their families, study abroad, go to hospitals abroad, give birth abroad, shop abroad, go for vacation abroad and enjoy all the trappings of power. Yet, our politicians arm their young supporters with dangerous weapons and a few thousand naira to kill and maim; or provide laptops, handsets and stipends for them to spread stories to damage the reputation of their opponents.
Now take this: If your only value is as a ballot box snatcher or internet destroyer but not good enough to be a son or daughter-in-law who could be empowered economically and politically in the spirit of ‘Iberiberism’ chapter 20, verse 19, then your foolishness is beyond human remedy. In that case, open your mouth and repeat this prayer from Saint WhatsApp after me: ‘Father, let sense fall on me today’!
Sustaining the Jonathan Legacy
The career of most politicians tend to be defined by a single moment. For former President Goodluck Jonathan, it was the telephone call he made to his challenger (and current incumbent) on 31st March 2015.
Given the pervading tension in the country at that time and the ethno-religious dimension to the contest, the concession saved the nation the crisis that could have ensued had Jonathan rejected the result as some hawks around him were urging him to. At the end, Jonathan kept his own counsel that his election was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian. In his final moment of loneliness, as I wrote in a post-election column in 2015, Jonathan finally found himself—unencumbered by the hidden motives of the army of power merchants and ethnic salesmen who had held him hostage. But it could not have been an easy decision for him.
In a piece she contributed for the UK Guardian in September 2013, former Prime Minister of Australia, Ms Julia Gillard, spoke about the regrets and pain that come with losing power. Gillard, who was Australia’s first female prime minister, was ousted by long-term political rival, Mr. Kevin Rudd, in June of that year, because the Labour Party felt she had become unpopular and might lose the general election. Notwithstanding, Labour still lost the election to the conservative party. Losing power, according to Gillard, “is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation, in moments of acute distress… know too that you can feel you are fine but then suddenly someone’s words of comfort, or finding a memento at the back of the cupboard as you pack up, or even cracking jokes about old times, can bring forth a pain that hits you like a fist, pain so strong you feel it in your guts, your nerve endings…”
I am sure President Jonathan must have felt all that, and perhaps more, in the past four years. But history will be very kind to him because when it mattered the most, he made the correct judgement call. As someone who has researched into what happened before, during and after the 2015 general election, I am quite aware that the story of the concession is not straightforward. But the fact also remains that the decision to concede was Jonathan’s to make. And he was the one who made it, even before all the votes were tallied.
More remarkable is that Jonathan conceded to a man who lost three previous presidential elections (including one against him) but never for once accepted that he was defeated. This is why concession, an act of subordinating personal ambition to national aspiration, is not only for the incumbent, it is also for the opposition where they are defeated. In this context therefore, Nigerian politicians must come to terms with the fact that in an election in which only one person can win, others will have to deal with defeat – and how they do that have serious implications for democracy and the rule of law in our country.
I hope the example already set in 2015 will become the norm so that whoever loses between Buhari and Atiku will have the grace and decency to accept the outcome of the poll, as the will of the Nigerian people. Just as President Jonathan did four years ago.
A Humbling Feedback
As a rule, I don’t publish ‘fan mails’ in my column even when I receive many on a weekly basis. I, however, crave the indulgence of readers to publish a recent admonition that I found both uplifting and humbling at the same time. I am posting it because it may also benefit someone, especially in a season when encouragements and kind words are in short supply.
Upon receiving a particular video clip about a public official, I forwarded it to some of my contacts with a pithy two-line comment about the level to which our country had been reduced. But not long after, I got a reply from Mr. Ferdinand Agu, an architect but easily one of the most profound Nigerian thinkers around.
Agu’s comment: “Ordinarily, it would not be difficult to agree with your comment on the video. In fact, I could well have said what you wrote or I could accept it from some other persons; but not from you, Segun. You have to realize that at this moment in time, you cannot afford to join the rest of us in despair or cynicism about Nigeria. You are one of the few people with the capacity and platform to lift our national gaze to a vista beyond this south-bound course of the present state of affairs. You can make a lot of us to look at the stars instead of bemoaning the gutter in which we are all stuck. That is why I endeavour to send you inspirational clips or pieces of writing. You must keep your aim high, your heart pure and your head focused on the best there is in us. With that spirit, and in that mode, you will continue to inspire us as you are uniquely gifted to do. That is your calling. Be faithful to it.”
I thank my brother, Ferdinand Agu for that inspiring and uplifting message. I won’t forget!