Odiadi: Jonathan, Buhari and the 2015 election
THERE is no election that will task President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s political acumen and ability to face a challenge like the 2015 election in which he is also the candidate for the PDP. He will be both President and a contender; he will provide leadership even as he faces partisan concerns as a politician in power seeking re-election. The reason is obvious, for at no time in this political dispensation has the nation been so drawn apart along clear political cleavages and inclinations by sections of the country. There’s an opposition that has risen to expand its platform through a regrouping and re-invention, bringing several disparate elements into its fold. This new opposition party is now staking a more determined pitch for power, particularly in the Presidential election.
For some, former Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate for the APC is somehow a masterstroke even if less so the subsequent selection of Professor of Law Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, a Redeemed Church Senior Pastor from Ikenne with a marital connection to the Awolowo family, without much political base. In a sense, this combination ordinarily can energize the voting hordes, but that will be so if politics operates in a historical vacuum where human memory does not exist or count for nothing. For many others also, far from being a strong candidacy, certain burdens and deficits are immediately in tow following the selection of the former Head of State by APC and the party will be kept busy as it logs that heavy historical load on its shoulders, heading towards the presidential election come February 14, 2015.
Not in 2003, 2007 or in 2011 has an opposition gone this far to galvanize and try to create a frenzy of support within its ranks like the APC has, though the true worth, sustainability and national reach of this support, will be a matter of proper evaluation in the coming days and weeks as the election draws near. The capacity to withstand an equally decisive onslaught from PDP as a party with all it has in its political arsenal will be the hardest test for APC. The party is still a long shot away from showing itself as a better alternative to PDP with its candidates. Nonetheless, as opposition politics go, there is a loud cry and clamour for change and so a number of issues has been appropriated and projected into national consciousness.
For example, the issue of national security exemplified in the on-going menace of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern plank of the country and more tellingly on the Chibok school girls capture; the problem of power which is yet to be wholly resolved despite current efforts; the perennial issue of ‘corruption’ in our national life, which has characterised much of what is seen as one of our greatest challenges to the proper functioning of our public service delivery and also of the private sector; the issues of leadership style relating to the obvious paradigm shift from the personification and swagger of power to its more restrained use and deployment; and a whole series of visible and invented issues in the economy, oil sector, social life, etc.
To be sure, in issue is the President’s scorecard for which reason, the President and his handlers will be obliged to push a case for continuity, for consolidation. The platform provided by incumbency is important; it is part of the President’s obligations to show to Nigerians what he has done these past years. The political arithmetic on the ground puts the PDP as a majority holder in the political estate on a ratio of over 3-1. That is an advantage, the party has 22 states to APC’s 12. If the point is that the President’s achievements in government have been deliberately under-reported by sections of the media, he must now get out the message, his visions and his accomplishments to the Nigerian masses in the states and all the geo-political regions away from those vocal numbers, who will remain unimpressed regardless of whatever.
No economy is wholly insulated against global economic recession, least of all a mono-product economy like Nigeria’s. The Jonathan’s administration pursues growth through development plans – the National Vision 2020, the National Infrastructure Master Plan, etc. The outcomes are there for all to see by way of sectorial growth, for example, in Agriculture – increased food production, in Aviation – remodeled and expanded airports all around the country, in Education – facility upgrade in all tertiary institutions and new universities, Almajiri schools, etc; in Transportation – new Rail tracks from Kaduna to Abuja, Rail transportation – Lagos-Oshogbo-Kano and Port Harcourt to Enugu; in Health- expansion of facilities for better healthcare delivery; in Youth development – skills acquisition and professional trainings, locally and overseas; on Corruption – significant strides evidenced by the lowest rating of Nigeria in the last two decades, in Security, steady successful engagement with Boko Haram, inflicting significant losses on the insurgents from across borders while avoiding needless loss of lives of the innocent citizens. On the whole, the economy finally recorded as the largest in Africa with expansion of the informal sector.
Based on these specific successes, the APC ‘Change’ mantra or slogan falls flat on its face for many as being without substance. If as it is clear, the APC is peopled and led by former stalwarts of PDP, if the APC has no clear ideology, or any discernible differences in the ideological principles from PDP, then the case for change has not been made. Also, if the sole cry and clamour for change by APC is merely to be given an opportunity to ‘taste power’ at the centre while not offering a credible, plausible alternative vision about how to shape our national future for the better, then the party is not ready for the 2015 electoral contest.
The first mistake of APC is not to draw any lesson from the previous elections. What is fresh in the offing from General Muhammadu Buhari that was not there in 2003, 2007 and 2011? By presenting the General once again for this Presidential contest after his previous forays in ANPP and CPC, the party APC has merely opened up anew the return to the records of Buhari as Head of State as a way of gauging his preferability, and therefore his electability, over President Goodluck Jonathan. APC as a party has therefore presented PDP another opportunity to demonstrate before the nation these limitations militating against the General and his party for a national office through a popular electoral mandate.
No surprise, therefore, that the alleged ‘sins’ of Buhari as Head of State, as Minister of Petroleum and thereafter, are back again for fresh examination as a reminder and warning about a leadership style that must be avoided. Statements have been made that a Leopard cannot change its spots and only recently the respected Sheik Gumi made the point that the General is not the type of leader Nigeria needs at this time and ever since the respected religious cleric has come under fire out of intolerance for criticism. It is argued that as a terminator of a democratic order which General Buhari did by the Coup of 1983 overthrowing the government of Shehu Shagari, he committed a cardinal sin that remains a major political albatross as well as an electoral obstacle in the minds of people. On seizing power by force, Nigerians are reminded that his leadership temper afterwards was self-righteous, intolerant of criticism or alternative views, contradictory of our national essence, isolationist even of his Military constituency which led to his easy removal.
It was a regime that relished spewing forth draconian decrees such as Decree No. 2, Decree No. 4, muzzling press freedom, imprisoning journalists, screaming anti-corruption slogans, dictating ‘discipline’ by authorizing every soldier in uniform to be the enforcer of good behavior in public places, carrying out public executions even with retro-active decrees, imprisonments of politicians using Military tribunals making the whole exercise a circus and mockery of judicial process, cancelling of developmental initiatives such as the Metro line project of Lagos State, removal of food subsidy of students from tertiary institutions which led to impoverishment of students on campuses, cancelling and curtailing a lot of state support for social services. But above all never initiating any developmental project throughout the tormenting tenure either in aviation, education, health, agriculture, transport or otherwise.
Again, APC may accuse PDP and many commentators of a needless fixation on history, but truth is, politics cannot thrive without a reading of the past because antecedents and political pedigree matters a lot. A conspiratorial amnesia or silence on our recent past as a nation tending towards deliberates mischief may not be easy to swallow by many who know and are obliged to speak up. If General Buhari is accused of being divisive, it is because he has not helped matters even in some of his outings no too long ago. He was said to have gleefully led a handful of people to engage the then Governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina alleging and protesting attacks on Fulani cattle herdsmen in the state even where it was the case that the cattlemen were the aggressors.
There’s the feeling in several quarters that Buhari’s presidential motivations at this time is merely egoistic and simply habitual, that it stems from a recurring sense of entitlement to power rather than from any well-articulated vision or interests to re-order our national condition in any superior manner. He has in all the intervening years never tried to burnish his national image rather than been seen as a champion of narrow interests who chanced upon national leadership by force of arms. His last CPC outing as a Presidential candidate led to a lot of bloodletting reinforced by his chilling warning of baboons and dogs to be soaked in blood in the next electoral cycle.
An election is often a fierce contest and the tactics and strategies of any combat come into use. As APC, the opposition party busies itself in the media and elsewhere with what the future it hopes to offer to the Nigerians however hazy and ill-defined, as it plays up from its own perceptions the problems or failures in the economy and national affairs, with much hysteria about dangers ahead, the voters on ground are not deceived and will not vote based on mere wishful anxiety of another party to experience power. The President and the ruling party have their electioneering work clearly cut out. It is therefore a sharp contest between a future that is unknown offered by the opposition party and what is already in existence.
• Odiadi, is an Attorney and Arbitrator in Lagos.