Ballot Box

By Joshua Omoju

I sometime stop in amazement when I remember how much I supported Buhari’s presidency bid since 2007. After three unsuccessful shots at the presidency, General Muhammadu Buhari finally assumed Nigeria’s top office in 2015; riding on the back of popular sentiments against the discredited Jonathan administration. Indeed, such was APC and Buhari’s popularity in 2015 that, for many Nigerians, there seemed to be no other alternative. Some people even joked that “I’d vote anybody but GEJ, even if that candidate is a goat”. Well, it’s perhaps not worth repeating how that has turned out.

In just under three weeks from now, Nigerians will be going to another presidential polls, and Buhari is yet again on the ballot. Needless to say, PMB has no business running again, let alone believing that he will win a 2nd term if Nigeria were a saner country. But PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, another perennial contestant whose recent trip to the US is being celebrated widely among his supporters, is also on the ballot and is being positioned as the credible alternative to Buhari. Not surprisingly, a large proportion of voters have, in characteristic manner, promptly dismissed the chances of other candidates and conceded the election to a race between the bad and the less bad. What a tragedy!

Four years on from the 2015 debacle, are we about to succumb to another “anyone but Buhari” mantra? In case we have not learnt our lessons already, it is important to remind ourselves of what to expect if we reward Buhari or Atiku with votes. There is perhaps no better description of the situation than the analysis provided by Eurasia Group, arguably the world’s leading political-risk consultancy. Excerpts:

“One candidate is the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari. He is an elderly, infirm leader who lacks the energy, creativity, or political savvy to move the needle on Nigeria’s most intractable problems. A second term for him would mean the country at best muddles through the next four years, with little progress on critical policy priorities like tax reform or a restructuring of the energy sector. Buhari would be a lame duck from day one, with power brokers in his own party quickly shipping their focus to the next electoral cycle in 2023”.

“His opponent is Atiku Abubakar, another gerontocrat who would focus on enriching himself and his cronies, avoiding the difficult and politically unpopular tasks necessary for reform. A win for the challenger, Atiku, would create a brief, superficial boost to the country’s image—largely because of his better health and keener intellect. But it would also pose the risk of a return to an even more rent-seeking governing style…Atiku would face significant infighting within his People’s Democratic Party as well, as leaders try to hold him to his promise to serve only one term (a pledge he’s likely to retract).”

This is why I cringe whenever I hear people say we are limited to a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. This impervious mentality is rather unfortunate, and is the singular reason we have remained perpetually in an endless cycle of mediocrity. Ironically, it is this same mentality that our mindless ruling class rely on to continue to perpetuate their oppressive acts on ordinary Nigerians. Needless to say, the PDP and APC are two sides of the same coin. How does one even begin to determine which of the two parties is bad and which is less-bad, assuming one even decides to engage in such arduous but fruitless exercise?

The latest political developments suggest that the ruling APC is desperate to cling on to power; but the challenging PDP is just as hell-bent on returning to power. Except Nigerians have really short memory, we’d be quick to realize that many of the things we’re seeing under APC government happened under PDP. Have we forgotten so quickly how the past government was dangling US dollars all over the place during elections all in a bid to remain in power? Do we not know that the same overbearing influence that a cabal wielded ten years ago is yet again playing itself out before our very eyes? Can anyone deny the fact that under both PDP and APC, key instruments of state have become tools meant to fight political opponents and advance selfish ambitions? Ask yourself, does any one of these two parties seem committed to healing the wounds of the nation and fostering a truly united and equitable country for all Nigerians?

These are just few questions to ponder and examples to show that nothing happening now is really new; these are things the PDP did and are still capable of doing if they return to power. Just look at the people in the APC and PDP; are they any different? Unlike President Buhari, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku and others leading the PDP presidential campaign appear to wear a cosmopolitan outlook; hence, they are naturally able to get many unsuspecting youths on their side. Do not be deceived again!

Thankfully, the coming election is different from 2015 for a number of reasons. First, Nigerians are gradually becoming more politically aware and are somewhat increasingly asking questions of their leaders. But that’s not enough. Second, more alternative candidates are vying for the presidency with the kind of intent and vigour never previously seen in our political landscape.

The way forward is to understand that our current set of political players have failed the nation. They have destroyed Nigeria, filtering away the country’s goodwill and resources while dangling crumbs and poverty to the people. As one of the presidential candidates, Omoyele Sowore, puts it, “this is the Nigeria of their dreams”; a country driven by patronage-based leadership. Yes, the political elite, in cahoots with the military, have conspired to bequeath to us a failed nation with a dysfunctional structure.This is something we always knew, but the last four years have reinforced the lessons.

Many have lost hope in the Nigerian project, or at least as it’s presently constituted. But it is important to state that the PDP and APC cannot be the solution to the problems confronting Nigeria. The structure of these two parties; their candidate recruitment process, their orientation and electioneering, and their funding mechanisms are antithetical to good governance, due-process, and meaningful development. However, this is not to say that there are no pockets of decent politicians vying for various positions in the APC and PDP. The problem is not entirely about any one individual they put forward; it’s rather more about the need to change the entire political narrative in this country.

My thought is that if we’d begin to make any progress, we must desist from making statements such as “I’d rather not waste my vote on Moghalu, Sowore, Fasua, Felaand other new breed candidates even though I know that they represent the best that we have among all contestants at this time”. Is it a betting game that we must vote only for candidates that seem likely to win? And who says one of these new candidates can’t emerge the winner? In any case, even if our preferred candidates do not win the election, the only way we can escape this endless pattern of recycling failure is to begin to reinforce competence and pursue a clean break from the past. PDP and APC epitomize a lot that is wrong with Nigeria in the last 59 years and we must begin to look to the future. Once that happens, the APC and the PDP will either be forced to embrace change once and for all, or sink into the abyss forever. Indeed, we would have changed the country forever. The key point then is this: the power to change a country is in the hands of its citizenry.

Now, if you genuinely believe either PDP’s Atiku or APC’s Buhari is the best for Nigeria at this point in time, that’s fair enough. You have a right to choose any candidate of your choice. But if your default mindset is that “I cannot vote for whom I know to be a better candidate because (s) he cannot win”, then you are one of Nigeria’s major problems. If we continue with such mindset, nothing will ever change or if we’re lucky, we will at best record marginal progress on rare occasions. However, I insist nothing short of a generational and revolutionary shift can salvage Nigeria and take it to its full potential. The coming elections present us with a wonderful opportunity to achieve just that.

We need to get to the point where we actually start ‘voting for’ as opposed to only ‘voting against’. If APC or PDP nevertheless ends up winning as many are projecting, we will at least be able to say that we have not reinforced failure. More importantly, if everybody votes according to their conscience, the outcome of the elections, even if not what we desired, will reveal clearly where we currently are, and will ensure that we are inching ever closer to the desired shift.

Having said that, most of the newer contestants are good in my opinion. It’s a shame they haven’t been able to form an alliance, but Madam Oby’s commendable decision to opt out of the race offers a ray of hope for now and for the future. But have we left it too late? Probably. In any case, in the unlikely event that a coalition effort is rekindled, such effort must be fair and seen to be transparent by all candidates, especially given the overall objectives and enormity of the task ahead. More importantly, the consensus arrangement, if it materializes, should put forward a candidate with proven character and competence as well as an all-important ground game to mobilize and turn a powerful message into a strong support base. It is not enough to merely shout the idea of coalition; any consensus candidate should be one who has demonstrated the ability to convincingly take the message of liberation to the grassroots.

In order to enhance credibility of the process, it may help to follow the suggestion of ANRP’s presidential candidate, Tope Fasua, to have a public debate in which the people would be the ones to decide on the choice of whom to put forward. After all, if the overall objective is to present a formidable candidate that will fight for the best interest of the people and lead the push for a fundamental change in the political status quo of Nigeria, then it is only fair that the people themselves are involved in the process. Indeed, with many new-breed candidates throwing their hat into the ring, the next elections surely represent an epoch in the history of Nigeria, whichever way you look at it. Let February 16 come!

Joshua O. Omoju is a public affairs analyst.