By Fisayo Soyombo
There are numerous disgruntled Muhammadu Buhari supporters straddling the social media space. Worried by a series of controversies in a government they placed high hopes in, many of Buhari’s supporters are penitent.
“Throwback to when I used my bike to campaign for Buhari preaching change. God forgive me,” one named ‘Hur’ recently wrote on social networking site Twitter, accompanied by teary emoticons.
Did people like Hur really have a choice in 2015?
The Jonathan years
It was always clear to the neutrals that Buhari was not Nigeria’s best-possible presidential proposition in 2015. But weighing him against Goodluck Jonathan, he was the perceptibly better choice. Two disappointing Buhari years are not enough to exorcise the ghost of the Jonathan years. A quick rundown, for those who have forgotten.
What collective progress would Nigeria have made under a man who personalized and institutionalized corruption? This was a man, who, speaking of his aversion to assets declaration for public officials, as mandated by the Code of Conduct Bureau, said: “The issue of public asset declaration is a matter of personal principle. That is the way I see it, and I don’t give a damn about it, even if you criticise me from heaven.” That was in 2012.
Two years late, at a presidential media chat, he made a woeful attempt to separate corruption from stealing, saying: “Over 70 percent of what are called corruption, even by EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies, is not corruption but common stealing.”
Under Jonathan, common stealing was the norm — left, right and centre. It was so bad that a returning minister, seeing the scale of looting all over the place, would say in private circles: “I have not come to Abuja this time around to count the bridges; I must get my share.”
Of the numerous corruption cases under his watch, one was particularly problematic for Jonathan. Stella Oduah, his Aviation Minister, was found guilty of procedural breaches in the purchase of two bulletproof cars for $1.6m — about $1.2m more than the market price. Still, Oduah prospered under Jonathan and in fact played a big role in his 2015 campaign; he only dispensed with her when he sensed her baggage could hurt his reelection bid.
Let’s not even talk about Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the Bayelsa ex-governor convicted for multi-million-pound corruption who disguised as a woman to jump bail in the UK but was eventually granted state pardon by Jonathan. In that administration, the nation’s treasury was national cake and anyone bold enough to approach it with a knife was free to have his cut! That is why there is nothing to show for the periods in his reign when crude oil prices were favourable; Buhari nevertheless ended up inheriting an economy in tatters, many states unable to pay workers’ salary.
How can we forget Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgency? For so long, he viewed it as a plot of the opposition to hunt him down. And the Chibok girls’ abduction? As former President Olusegun Obasanjo would eventually reveal, Jonathan, for 18 days after the kidnap, insisted that no abduction took place. By the time he finally accepted he had the largest-scale abduction since the start of the insurgency on his hands, the girls’ captors were well and truly beyond overhauling.
That wasn’t just an odd error of judgement; it was the archetypal Jonathan. Remember when more than 80 people were bombed to death in Nyanya, Abuja, in April 2014? Two days later, the President was dancing away at a PDP rally in Kano. And only a day after at least 48 were killed in a blast in Potiskum in November 2014, Jonathan organised a colourful ceremony to announce his reelection ambition. What about parents of the abducted Chibok girls? The President refused to meet with them — until Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old, came here to beg him. Security of lives is one the simplest responsibilities of a government. And when a government cannot guarantee this (and its head literally rubs it in), thereby leaving the people in a perpetual state of panic, such President deserves to be shown the exit door.
It will be deja vu in 2019
Why is it so important to harp on the talking points of an election that was staged two years ago? Because we’re inevitably going to find ourselves in a similar situation in 2019.
Like the litany of unfulfilled promises under Jonathan, Buhari has underwhelmed in that office. He promised to fight corruption but he didn’t tell us he would only fight it in the camp of his personal and political enemies; he didn’t tell us his cabinet members were immune from the much-vaunted anti-corruption campaign, that the war would be restricted to the PDP and the Jonathan regime. We didn’t expect that the economy would regress under his watch or that the administration would be so disjointed that government agencies would overtly and covertly antagonise one another. We didn’t expect that the regime of Buhari, a former military strongman, would be hijacked by a cabal.
Buhari has brought a new dimension to the people’s dissatisfaction with governance. To his credit, Jonathan assembled a fairly technocratic cabinet but Buhari’s is inferior by a distance. Buhari made enormous progress with limiting the Boko Haram damage but cronyism and ethnocentrism are some of the hallmarks of his reign. We chased Jonathan away and got rid of his problems; with Buhari, it’s fresh man, fresh problems.
The rising disillusionment with the current administration means Buhari’s long-time and newfound haters will likely be fixated on getting rid of him in 2019 — not necessarily finding the best possible replacement. That would mean we haven’t learnt a thing from the desperation to eject Jonathan and the disappointment of electing Buhari. It would also mean that rather than upgrade our political leadership from one election cycle to another, we’re only stuck in the vicious cycle of unseating one underwhelming government to make room for another.
Looking ahead to 2023
For all the attention that the 2019 election has been recently generating, I’m struggling to see how it can become a watershed in Nigeria’s political history. Any serious challenge to Buhari’s reign will likely come from the PDP — a party still in tatters more than two years after losing power.
All those who have so far showed interest in the PDP ticket are the usual suspects — regular faces that have graced the political scene for years or sometimes decade; same old, same old! As it stands, none of the other registered parties is strong enough to gatecrash the PDP-APC hegemony. In 2019, the options will be either returning to messy way of old or sticking with the sticky patch of now. Neither is attractive prospect. We’ll be torn between the devil and the deep blue sea, like we were in 2015.
This is why, ahead of 2023, the electorate need to gravitate towards selection rather than election. There is an urgent need for a non-partisan movement to identify a genuine presidential material among us, and subsequently raise a partisan platform with which the selected material can challenge the PDP or APC. It is a long-term project, and it is far more difficult to achieve in reality than it looks on paper. But something is no longer difficult to see: we can no longer be satisfied with picking one of the two candidates thrown at us by the APC and PDP. It’s time we picked our candidate and threw it at them!