By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to continue with my Presidential race series today. It has become obvious that nothing else, but the lack of competent, visionary, detribalised, selfless, accomplished, exposed, urbane, capable, cerebral, determined and ambitious leadership, has been the root cause of our intractable problems and incredible backwardness especially where national development is concerned.
Even the things we used to excel at, like quality education, agriculture and exportable cash crops and more importantly, morality, decency and humaneness have long since eluded us and taken wings into far flung places. Our type of politics, of snatch, grab and grab, can never lead to any substantial progress and development unless we change how we’ve been doing things. All men and women of good conscience in Nigeria are in agreement that our country is in a big mess and that changing the baton of foolishness, recklessness and incompetence every four years, in a relay race of raw cash, brigandage, ethnicity and religion does not augur well for our dear nation. This cannot continue unchecked.
This is not about liking or disliking one President. It is about loving our dear beloved country, Nigeria, more. Our nation has become not only a serious embarrassment to itself but a source of considerable disquiet and discomfort to the African continent. True, however, that this calamity did not befall us under this government. It started when the first military putsch terminated the First Republic. Thereafter, we witnessed successive coup d’etats. Each coup maker advertised himself as coming to salvage and change Nigeria for the better but things got worse in many instances. The Civilian population also played an infamous role in this area by dancing for joy whenever the soon to become familiar refrain of the National Anthem followed by the haunting words “Fellow Nigerians” were announced on the airwaves.. We expected our military rulers to perform many miracles since they wielded the power of life and death but we were not so lucky.
The Republic of Ghana was perhaps luckier, by having a no-nonsense leader Flight Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (aka Junior Jesus or Judas, depending on which side you belonged). He came, cleaned the Augean stable, erected a superstructure, improved the infrastructure, instilled discipline, reduced a culture of waste and inculcated a new ethos of doing things with less greed and avarice. Many Ghanaians disagree with this effusive description of Ghana under Rawlings but to onlookers, Ghana came out of that revolution better and stronger than most African States. I know many Nigerians who wistfully longed for some version of JJ Rawlings here but ours were too selfish, egocentric and clannish.
Nigeria has tried many leaders, from sinners to saints, but there is no doubt that none of them has taking us to Eldorado. It has been a tale of “all sound and fury…” but no performance. Two of our former military rulers came back from retirement to become civilian Presidents. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who served from 1976 and retired as Head of State in 1979, bounced back 20 years after, in 1999, and served a total of eight years as civilian President, making him the longest reigning leader in Nigeria’s chequered history, with a combined total of eleven years. I will not bore you with the melodrama of that era. His Vice President from 1999 to 2007 was Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who started nursing his own Presidential since 1993 when he was eventually out-manoeuvred by the enigmatic and redoubtable Baba Gana Kingibe. The relationship between the Obasanjo and Atiku was that of cat and mouse because the Vice President subsequently wanted to contest himself in 2003.
Around that same 2003, another retired military ruler, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, decided it was his own turn to collect the baton and return to power as civilian President. He had been the Head of State from 1984 to 1985 when he was unceremoniously sacked by Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. His fall attracted unprecedented relief and wild jubilations because of his draconian style and what many saw as the hypocritical and nepotistic disposition of his government. His 2003 attempt was like testing the waters. He was popular in the North but not in the South and the Northern Regions alone could never make him President without substantial votes and electoral spread from some parts of the Southern Regions. He contested and lost to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In 2007, Buhari contested against his kinsman from Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and lost again to him. He complained bitterly that the race was skewed against him and litigation followed in a jiffy but hit the rocks, ultimately. In 2011, Buhari became a serial contestant, throwing his hat into the ring for a third time. However, it was not third time lucky as the results claimed he lost ignominiously to Dr Goodluck Jonathan. He was so disappointed, frustrated and bitter, that he vowed never to contest again. But man proposes and God disposes, the ruling PDP was on a reckless binge of surfeit and megalomania and had to be stopped by all means. Buhari was approached to become the rallying force, in 2015, for all those who wanted PDP out, by fire and by force. Miraculously, he won as the whirlwind of “Change” swept away the rampaging PDP. The expectations of the people in respect of the Buhari Presidency were thus extremely high. The rest is now history.
Nearly three years have passed since Buhari’s triumphant comeback and the next election is already knocking. The general consensus is that the Buhari government has underperformed, even if his hard-core loyalists disagree very vehemently. They point to several salutary achievements in the area of security (particularly with regard to the Boko Haram menace), increased reserves, improved Foreign Direct Investment and an ongoing relatively successful fight against corruption. The Opposition and the generality of the people want more. They say that things have simply not changed. Instead they have become worse because, there is great fear and tension in the land. The disunity is there for all to see and corruption and nepotism seems to be the order of the day within government circles. The seething anger is palpable and it is like the country is a tinderbox, a nation sitting on a primed keg of gunpowder waiting for the fireworks of social disorder and violence to erupt. We continue to pray against such folly, but the government is simply not helping by the macabre dance, with ethnicity and religious jingoism, it seems to be engaged in.
By 2019, Buhari would be 76 years old. He has suffered health challenges. His style of governance has also been rated as too crude and sluggish. Some say he is not a President for 21st Century Nigeria because he lacks the physical and mental resources needed to crossover from the analog era of the 20th century into the digital age of the 21st century. Many of those who wished to support him to the end have become irritated and impatient. They simply cannot understand how the “People’s Messiah” frittered away such humongous goodwill and lost the chance to leave a glittering legacy for our people. His avuncular supporter, former President Obasanjo, has since jumped ship after releasing a most blistering attack in a very scathing open letter made public globally.
I have gone through this long preamble to remind us of why it has become imperative for Nigerians to pay more attention to who leads us henceforth. On my part, I have decided to speak to as many potential Presidents, Vice Presidents, Governors, Senators, House members, State Assembly members, etc, as possible. Four years is a long time to waste on frivolities, in the life of a nation. Never again must we elect people based on primordial sentiments.
If President Buhari presents himself again, as it is his Constitutional right to do, he must be subjected to the most rigorous of tests. We must find out why he failed to become the change agent that we desperately wished for. He must know, that it is not sufficient to blame the unbridled corruption that characterised the previous government. That was enough to deal with lack of progress for one year, possibly even eighteen months, but for two years and counting, Haba! Regardless however, he still has a bit of time to demonstrate what a second term under him will look like, but if truth be told, he is fast running out of that time. His challengers must even face tougher tests. For them we look for physical fitness and mental alertness, freshness, transparency, accountability but above all, vision, innovation, technological savviness and adeptness, leadership and progressive action. We should never base our choice and decision on empty promises but practical roadmaps and blueprints.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is long overdue for a major overhaul, but it is not going to happen overnight. It may not happen in the next four-year sequence, but we must begin the journey in 2019. While the experiment being attempted by the COALITION FOR NIGERIA is desirable, every care must be taken to ensure that this does not make our situation worse. I wish to warn again, and do so repeatedly, that there are presently no saints to form a new Party or, indeed, force. APC would not have materialised if those PDP Governors and big moneybags did not throw their weight behind Buhari. It is gratifying to note that for now, the Coalition is making the right noises and saying that it is a pressure group. Given the fact that the period between now and the next elections is short and is almost upon us. What it seems would be most desirable to see, is members of the Coalition going back to the two main parties and taking over from them. Surely, the generality of the Nigerian public would back such a move by those seen to be a bit more principled than the rogues gallery that has held sway over our political lives for more than 40 years. However, this may not be feasible for now, since money continues to play a big part in politics and the ignorance and impoverishment of our people continues to be an impediment for such a civilian coup at the present moment.
Therefore, the best way to go, for now, is to have a coalition of forces and make them form a government of national unity that would draw its personnel and operatives from the different political Parties, including some of the fringe Parties. Indeed, it was my sincere hope that the configuration of the APC following the merger of the opposition Parties before the 2015 elections would have led to such government. It is sad that from the very beginning the Party embarked on fratricidal, internecine and suicidal warfare from which it has not since emerged.
In reality, I predict two options. The PDP may implode and dissolve into the old PDP and a new Party, or the coalition may form a third party and draw extensively from APC and PDP. The problem is that not much would have changed. Only the name, and nomenclature, perhaps, would have changed. The same characters would migrate into this potential third Party from both Parties and no one would reject them. It may be, that this is one of the failings of democracy as all views should be accommodated within the respective Parties. The inherent danger is it may help APC remain infallible, despite the fact that it would have been greatly weakened by the exodus of a few good men. The truth is that both principal Parties need to be shaken up. The Coalition for Nigeria may well offer an avenue for this to happen but we must be vigilant. We must not enter “One Chance” again! The Coalition must not become like the Trojan Horse, primed to lull us into a false sense of security, when the real motive is to spew its rotten guts into our polity and thus damage us even further. My concern stems largely from those who appear to be the conveners. I am not overly confident of their credentials to do the task that Nigerians expect of them. We pray and wait with trepidation.
Meanwhile, I plead with the conveners of the Coalition, again, to think through this risky adventure and not set us back several decades.
God bless Nigeria!