by Raymond Eyo
“Politics is a game of numbers and total inclusion. How can Buhari have mass appeal by being snobbish? Politics is miles away from activism. We just need to chill and get a perspective.” –Ayobami Oyalowo
On November 13, the national leaders of the leading opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) visited two former heads of state, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, at their homes in Minna, Niger State.
A cross section of Nigerian youths, on social media, condemned the visit, arguing that Buhari, generally acknowledged as a man of integrity and one who could deal decisively with corruption if elected president should not visit or be seen standing alongside Babangida, generally regarded as a very corrupt man and held in contempt for annulling the 1993 elections which were adjudged as the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history. In fact, some of the youths even claimed that the APC leaders visited the duo to solicit their membership of their party. Others said the very idea of the visit amounted to a dent on Buhari’s sincerity as an anti-corruption crusader and discredited the APC’s avowed pledge to be different from the PDP.
However, contrary to that claim, when questioned, both Babangida and Abubakar denied that the APC leaders had come to woo them into their fold. Abubakar said: “I am not a partisan politician and don’t need to be wooed… APC leaders have come to inform me about their merger and how far they have gone and how things are moving.” Meantime, General Buhari said that they were visiting the leaders for a wide consultation in the interest of the nation. Another APC leader, Bola Tinubu, said “We are consulting with leaders who have governed Nigeria and seen the nation through thick and thin…”
Truth be told, Nigerians have been so enmeshed in bad governance that we tend to fault just about anything, including the trivial, that seems to strike our fancy! Seriously, how does Buhari’s visiting Babangida make the latter his political associate or suggest that he will lower anti-corruption standards if elected?
In political theory and practice, it is expedient to reach out to all and sundry when embarking on such a nationwide consultation – especially in this case where they were visiting former heads of state. That Buhari visited Babangida is no tenable ground to say he won’t fight corruption doggedly and resolutely, if he is elected president. And, certainly, no one can get elected president of a diverse country like Nigeria, only by reaching out to those perceived as good!
Buhari’s antecedents sufficiently demonstrate what he will do with political power, regarding corruption, if he gets elected. Contrary to what the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, is doing, Buhari has proven that he can use political power to crack down on corruption. He should be judged on his merit, not on unsubstantiated assumptions arising from a mere visit. It will be the height of political naivety, worse than the deception inflicted upon Nigerians in 2011 by Jonathan’s “I once had no shoes” mantra, if some vote Jonathan against Buhari, for example, in 2015, because Buhari visited Babangida!
Due to his advanced age, Buhari is not my ideal candidate for president in 2015 but if 2015 comes down to him and Jonathan, I won’t hesitate to vote for him. Jonathan is an utter mess, especially in the fight against corruption. On April 6, 2011, just before the last general elections, Buhari said, “I have had the privilege of managing national resources in various capacities – as a military commander, as a state governor, as a minister, as head of the Petroleum Trust Fund and as the Head of State of this great country. In all that I have been and done, I have never touched a Kobo of public funds.” Can Jonathan, who doesn’t give a damn about declaring his assets publicly, say the same? No wonder, though the late legal luminary and good governance advocate, Gani Fawehinmi, detested military leaders, he endorsed Buhari for president in 2007!
Politics is inclusive! Governance is selective! Some Nigerians are criticising Buhari and APC for reaching out as if they have appointed Babangida into government! I can bet that Babangida won’t be consulted by Buhari if he gets elected into office. In an argument against this assertion on Twitter, political analyst, Chinedu Ekekee, said, “I don’t believe in that theory of Buhari not consulting Babangida when he gets to power. When Jonathan was singing his ‘fresh air’ poem, I saw him in a picture with Tony Anenih, and I wrote that there can’t be any fresh air around Anenih. I said he will pollute the air with a stench of sleaze. Today, Anenih is fully in charge in this government. There’s this law of reciprocity in politics.” Unlike the Jonathan and Anenih romance which Ekekee referred to above, Babangida was visited basically as an ex-head of state. If he is elected, Buhari won’t need Babangida playing any direct role in his government.
Ekekee again said: “I know one or two things about politics. That open endorsement of a crook like Babangida says so much about APC.” But the fact is, that wasn’t an “endorsement” of Babangida. For emphasis, what harm is there in visiting a former head of state, even if he had a bad record in government? In the American system, for instance, each newly sworn-in head of state is visited at the White House by every living former president regardless of their records in office or their party affiliations. Let us see the APC’s visit to Babangida and Abubakar in that light.
In any case, political pragmatism requires that we look at the big picture. What options do we have for 2015? Buhari’s antecedents, unlike Jonathan’s, suggest he will act differently if given presidential power. In one of my discussions on the topic, and in a veiled reference to the Babangida visit, someone said, “I don’t think Buhari will have the space to act differently with all the people around him.” I believe that with the enormous powers of Nigeria’s presidency and Buhari’s own political will, he will act differently!
We must note that we will never have only angels in Nigeria’s corridors of power! Anyone waiting to have only good guys in the corridors of power is on a long thing. The very attractive and rewarding nature of power means it will always be contested between the good and the bad guys. Any leader will make a difference if he/she will have the character/will to keep the bad guys at bay. What Nigeria needs to begin erasing the influence of the bad guys in power is a man like Buhari! Lasting, sustainable, change is never sudden. Indeed, the kind of overnight, ‘armageddonic’ change some seek isn’t feasible in 21st century Nigeria!
Lastly, someone said to me: “Before [this Babangida visit], I had no doubts about Buhari but now I can’t vouch for him.” Any sensible person can’t make a volte-face on a core political conviction because of just one perceived wrong. Even if Buhari’s visiting Babangida was tangibly untoward, taken as a singular event, it is no sufficient ground for a core supporter’s volte-face. By and large, as long as politicians are human, they will always make mistakes and perceived mistakes. If you change your mind about Buhari because he visited Babangida, then I will advise you to never support any politician on earth. Buhari’s visit to IBB doesn’t amount to any fundamental degradation of his character. We must separate facts from assumptions. Assumptions don’t make for sound political judgment. That visit does not equal a political association. Integrity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit controversial people!