CREDITED TO : Idowu Akinlotan in THE NATION
The March 28 presidential election has been framed as a contest between a young and energetic politician and an old and infirm opposition standard-bearer, between a liberal Christian and a Muslim extremist, and between a southern federalist and a northern unitary and hegemonic slaveholder. Around these divisions have grown and flourished a noisome assemblage of vicious and unrelenting propagandists and a coterie of uncouth, remorseless and violent party supporters. And at the centre of these divisions has perched in all his resplendent best and on all fours a detached President Goodluck Jonathan sometimes conniving at the divisions, but more often feigning ignorance of these divisions or pretentiously sermonising against the deepening political and social vices spawned by his policies, politics and subdued rage against opponents.
In reality, however, and as the campaigns have shown so far, the March 28th presidential election is all about the failure of Dr Jonathan to offer brave and brilliant leadership. He doesn’t think so, and his supporters, especially his kinsmen and other paid loyalists, insist the animosity against him reflects the sectarian, regional and ethnic schisms in the country. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo even recently alluded to the president’s leadership failure, but because he himself offered uninspiring leadership in his eight years in office, his views are either discountenanced or ridiculed. Evidently, however, Dr Jonathan has indeed given his more than 170 million compatriots poor leadership, and deliberately accentuated the divisions in the country, divisions which now run dangerously wide and deep.
The opposition against Dr Jonathan, this column has always insisted, has very little to do with his background, religion, or the vaunted bogey of northern supremacy and irredentism. Everything boils down to his unsatisfactory leadership, his poor grasp of issues — whether economic, political or cultural — and his lack of colour, charisma and incomprehension of the fundamentals of leadership. His failures made the search for an alternative relevant and desirable, and the people’s preparedness to embrace former head of state Muhammadu Buhari an obligation. It does not matter that Dr Jonathan’s supporters vociferously but without substantiation portray him as the man for the moment; or that his kinsmen threaten war in case of defeat; or groups such as Afenifere mischievously rest their support for him on chimeras; or that poverty has made many susceptible to the ruling party’s fecundity in buying and enslaving consciences; or that individuals like Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, having taken leave of their senses, hysterically and with unrestrained ferocity concoct lies to advance Dr Jonathan’s interests.
It is baffling to hear the president’s supporters present their case. Obviously, they are living in denial. Should Dr Jonathan win, he will doubtless take actions that will worsen the alienation being experienced in the country, compound the nation’s economic woes, aggravate divisions, and judging from the way he has allowed his reelection campaign to be run, exacerbate tension and hate speech, and enthrone propaganda, lies and vile and scurrilous media attacks on persons and opponents. In addition, he will promote all forms of assaults on civil liberties, subvert or attack the courts, and further lower Nigeria in the esteem of regional and continental neighbours and rivals. Already the image of Nigeria is badly battered. Should Dr Jonathan return, it is inconceivable he will begin to demonstrate the inspiring leadership for which he showed no inclination in his first term, or enunciate lofty values the rubric of which he has so far been incapable of grasping and evaluating, let alone projecting.
Furthermore, though Dr Jonathan has laboured strenuously to keep the economy from keeling over in the face of perhaps the most horrendous mismanagement of the economy ever experienced in these parts, should he win, he is expected to enunciate in a brutal and pigheaded fashion a devastating welter of measures certain to undermine the polity and trigger more revolts, if not a conflagration. It would be foolish to take such huge risks when in fact the country should be running in a totally different direction, exploring other options and paradigms. The choice before the people, therefore, is not between a young and energetic president and an old and infirm challenger, nor one between a liberal and an extremist. These are inaccurate and unsubstantiated labels and categorisations. The choice the country faces is one between an undisciplined, uninspiring and mentally exhausted president — in short paralysis and disaster — and a disciplined and sensible patriot — in short the country’s last straw. Nigeria should not be discouraged from trying the alternative because of Mr Fayose’s hysteria and the grudge and animosity of self-centred groups like Afenifere.
But perhaps more frighteningly, there are strong indications the Jonathan government is working ardently, in collusion with powerful cabals within the country, for a political stalemate. There is no question a second Jonathan presidency will doom democracy and enthrone fascism. But a stalemate, as is being widely speculated, will plunge the country into something far worse, something far more violent and bloody. It is believed that Dr Jonathan and a few other power mongers are determined to exclude Gen Buhari from power should he win the March 28 poll. In furtherance of this, some sources suggest, everything is being done to ensure the elections are either sabotaged and judicially postponed one more time in favour of an interim government which would be presented as a fait accompli, or the elections are compromised through rigging and/or violence. This is why many analysts are suggesting that Nigeria may be back to the trenches of 1993, and doomed to fight a fruitless and needless war of attrition all over again. Should that war be fought, it is uncertain what the fate of the country would be or what would be the end of the protagonists of the war who are playing God.
The panic believed to be fuelling this speculated stalemate is the fear that Gen Buhari is expected to win the poll, and should he win, would enunciate and implement far-reaching changes in the country’s body politic. Indeed, few believe the postponement of the elections from February 14 to March 28 was prompted by either security measures, even though that excuse on the surface seemed plausible, or by low distribution of permanent voter cards (PVCs), even though subsequent more robust efforts at distributing the PVCs give a fortuitous ring to the postponement. Had the elections held in February as originally planned, it would have been difficult to prevent the Gen Buhari/All Progressives Congress (APC) momentum from translating into victory. The momentum has been checked but not destroyed. It is even likely that one or two weeks to the polls, another Buhari momentum could be triggered. Should the elections hold on March 28, there is nothing on ground to indicate that the APC would lose or even win narrowly. This may account for why there are speculations of a contrived stalemate being engendered by the Jonathan government.
Three reasons account for the Buhari/APC momentum, and why neither the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nor Dr Jonathan will be able to arrest it. First, Dr Jonathan has not shown leadership, has been the most divisive president Nigeria has ever had, and he has run the economy and society aground. These troubles have turned many voters against the president and his government. Second, Gen Buhari, notwithstanding his weaknesses, has enjoyed cult following in many parts of the country, particularly the North. His reputation is enhanced by the absolute colourlessness and ineffectiveness of his opponent, Dr Jonathan. Third, by a seeming celestial sleight of hand, the APC has managed to put Yemi Osinbajo, a reputable professor of law, south-westerner, and leading pastor in the large pentecostal Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) on the APC presidential ticket. The worst efforts of the now morally weakened and politically compromised Southwest group, Afenifere, a group that tends to reflect only the Christian perspective of politics, has failed to make a dent on the reputation and appeal of the APC presidential ticket both in the North and in the Southwest. The PDP now fears the ticket to be solid and impregnable.
Whatever stalemate Dr Jonathan and other power cabals contrive can only end either in bitter confusion or violence that may consume the perpetrators or in the emergence of a new dawn that will exclude those who have abused their offices and the trust reposed in them. Fears of a breakup may be exaggerated. And the belief by the government that the security agencies are united behind it may also be a mirage. One way or the other, peacefully or otherwise, a faction of the political class appears destined to be demystified on March 28. It is hard to see mediocrity rewarded, or the country plodding down the same dusty and treacherous road it had trudged for about 16 years