Does Nigeria Need Another Messiah?
…I tire for this problem, I tire for life o, no work no food, no house, no light, na small water na so so dirty dey full am, the small money I dey get na so so transport dey chop am.., MKO Abiola’s SDP advert
When Chief Moshood Kashinawo Olawale Abiola keyed his campaign on hope in the run-up to the 1993 presidential election, the focus was for him to combat what was thought to be rampant poverty in the country. At that time, the wealthy businessman deemed a fresh air in Nigerian politics, having not contested for a public office before.
The messianic air that surrounded his candidacy gave the electorate a sense of hope that the years of locust spent in the military juntas will be consigned to the dustbin history.
But that was never meant to be. It was the hope that Abiola represented that was buried by another military misadventure in Nigerian politics.
Hope was restored in 1999 when a former head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo was declared president. Obasanjo had been thrown into jail by Nigeria’s head of state, Sani Abacha and encountered the turmoil of the common man under Abacha’s regime. At the time of his miraculous release, Obasanjo had become repentant of military’s excesses. To show his seriousness, Obasanjo added Matthew, the biblical taxpayer who exploited people for their money and changed his ways, to his name. Indeed, Nigeria had finally gotten its messiah.
By the end of 1999, Transparency International ranked Obasanjo’s administration 98 out of 99 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), only higher than Cameroon. Obasanjo’s administration had become characterised by huge theft, the death of industries, unemployment and the killings of the common man. Nigerians no longer wanted a part of it and one of the gallant men who publicly spoke against the ills of the government and termed it the “most corrupt of them all” was SAN and human rights crusader, Gani Fawehimni.
In 2003, Fawehimni who had become popular among Nigerians for his integrity and his fearless criticism of the Nigerian government declared for the presidency under the National Conscience Party (NCP) in 2003. Fawehinmi’s declaration was a welcome development. Fawehinmi was not new to the sufferings of the masses. In fact, such was his defiance against the ills of the government that has nicknamed Nigeria’s only Senior Advocate for the Masses (S.A.M).
With his popularity and his solid credibility, one would assume that Fawehinmi will be an easy favourite among the masses. However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won with a landslide 24,456,140 against Fawehinmi’s 161,333.
Although there were claims of electoral manipulation, the results were telling: the Nigerian electorate prefers not a leader in the mould of selfless Gani, who went to the grave without securing the Nigeria of his dream.
This is because unlike 1999 where a saviour was presented to Nigerians, Nigerians were presented with several options. In this regard, Fawehinmi was in the race against Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state who thought he’d do a better job at correcting the many mistakes of the military government; Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Biafran leader and Jim Nwobodo, the handsome governor whose achievements of ruling Anambra successfully spoke for him and the President himself who opined that he deserved a second chance.
Despite their credentials, there was still one major problem: They all presented the same manifesto of 1993.
Obasanjo was declared winner and Nigeria once again ranked 132 out of 133 countries in the CPI.
The Bad And The Worse
Despite the accusations his government, Obasanjo desired to follow the path of his fellow African leaders by seeking a new law which will enable him to become president for a third term.
His failure to achieve this showed another side of him. Obasanjo had become a political godfather whose words were final. Thus, he single-handedly presented two candidates Umaru Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan whom he proclaimed will continue with this works. Yar’Adua having a credible record as a governor in Katsina state got to work. His short-time as president before his death witnessed a transformation and progress that gave hope to the common man.
Jonathan became the president after Yar’Adua’s death.
Jonathan seemed a better option, a PhD holder who once “had no shoes” was the Nigerian quintessential case of grass to grace. By the time he contested for the presidency, it was easy to choose him because of the sentimental affinity for his meteoric rise in politics and his grass-to-grace story wooed more than a few.
Within two years, Jonathan’s appointed technocrats transformed the country. Nigeria, for the first time, had the highest GDP in Africa ($574 billion)and overtook South Africa as the largest economy in Africa.
Despite this check, the country became the top spot for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Years later, Jonathan lost his lustre and allegedly watched as the government officials claimed the right to some government funds and infrastructures deteriorated under his watch. He defended the allegation of theft with his now infamous quote, “Stealing is not the same thing as corruption.” Despite recession warnings by the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria ran underground and Jonathan turned a blind eye.
The masses disinterest in him peaked after he played ignorant for about 14 days when 278 Chibok girls were kidnapped by the dreaded Boko Haram. In Jonathan’s opinion, it was a political ploy to kick him out of office. Offers by the British Royal Air Force to rescue the girls met a brick wall. According to the Observer that “[RAF] offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined,” because it treated as a “national issue” to be resolved by Nigerian intelligence and security service infuriating the public. In 2018, Jonathan admitted to the BBC that his“ security intelligence system was not strong enough to rescue the girls.”
With several protests held in various cities, it was clear that Nigerians no longer wanted a part of his administration.
Hinging on the need for a drastic change, a coalition involving ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria), APGA (All Nigeria Peoples Party), CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) and ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party) led to the creation of a new party APC (All Progressive Congress) in 2013. After reaching a presidential primary, Buhari was elected as their candidate for the 2015 elections.
Despite the past of being one of Nigeria’s harshest president, he had proven himself in some areas. In terms of security, he was the leader of the military group that fought against invaders of the Niger Basin and won; he introduced War Against Indiscipline and for the first time, Nigerians were standing in queues and obeying law and order.
“You will all remember me for the total freedom you enjoyed under my government”- Goodluck Jonathan.
Before the commencement of 2015 elections, two of Nigeria’s most vocal religious clerics Rev Father Mbaka and Tunde Bakare had concluded and informed their congregation that Jonathan was not the Messiah.
In Mbaka’s instance, Jonathan’s dove simply refused to fly. Pastor Bakare, who was running mate to Buhari when he contested in 2011, told his congregation, “These people fabricated all these lies against him because they know that if he wins the election, they would have to flee this country…he is not a fundamentalist.”
Despite saying little during his campaign, Buhari was celebrated as a tough, upright leader.
After his win, he famously declared, “Change has come. A new day and a new Nigeria are open to us” and he reiterated at every given opportunity the need to “change” the ills of every government.
In his first year, he embarked on what he described as diplomatic relations visiting 16 countries in his first year and 20 countries in his second.
His ill-health became one of the major criticisms against him: to be fair to his critics, the Presidency handled the situation poorly and never disclosed the nature of the sickness.
For a president that spoke little directly to the Nigerian press, President Buhari penchant for speaking to his people from abroad was another blight on his integrity. And sometimes, some of his comments about Nigeria in foreign lands could be described as gaffes, at best.
He received backlash for referring to the Nigerian youth as lazy at a panel with world leaders at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London and insinuating that Nigerians had criminal tendencies in 2016.
Buhari campaigned on the three-point promises of improving security, especially in the northeast rebuilding the economy that was in bad shape and fighting corruption that has left the nation struggling for survival.
But critics said none of the three promises has been kept in full.
“This is a Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari where the primacy of the human life has been completely devalued…life is cheapened,” Oby Ezekwesili told Guardian Life in November 2018.
“The lives of Nigerians today are not any better because President Buhari became our president. As a matter of fact, the quality of lives has taken a significant beaten.
Nobel laurate, Professor Wole Soyinka speaking at a conference titled: “Nomads and Nation: Valentine Card or Valedictory Rites” lamented, “So many unforced errors… What is that about? What is going on? It is like a certain kind of alienation from reality is going on”
Nigerians messiahs have failed to the image reacted for them. There is no doubt that Nigerians are culpable in their failings. Wrong choices, shaped by fleeting, inordinate gratifications, have plagued the choice of leaders who can lead the country out of the abyss.
The country is faced with another election. The incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari presents himself as a man on a mission to redeem the country. The past three-and-half years, he said, was spent preparing for a better future. An erstwhile vice president who is dogged by allegations of corruption is in the fray to get Nigeria working again.
There are others with credible credentials- Oby Ezekwesili and Kingsley Moghalu have proven themselves in and outside Nigeria.
Who do Nigerians trust with the immediate future? Only time can tell.
**Guardian Nigeria’s online editor, Tonye Bakare, contributed to this article.