BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to say happy new year to you all. May God almighty make this a peaceful year for our dear beloved country. There is nothing greater to ask for than peace in an election year. And this is the main crux of my message to you on this page today.
The tension in the land is so hot and suffocating because of the general elections coming up from next month. In case you are wondering why I’m specifically appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari and not to his main rival, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the deluge of other aspirants, let me explain quickly. I’m a social media addict and through this, I’m able to gauge the mood in public domain. I have been active in politics since 1982. The first crazy election I witnessed was in 1983 when the ruling party, NPN, declared itself winner in several unlikely places. The result was fatally cataclysmic as people in those areas reacted spontaneously and violently. Some parts of Yorubaland went up in flames and human beings were roasted like barbecue meat. About three months later, the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari collapsed like a pack of cards.
The military coup that came capitalised on the recklessness and profligacy of the Shagari regime as a veritable excuse to torpedo that government. Politicians were promptly arrested, detained, prosecuted and jailed and given horrendous prison terms that made a mockery of the justice system in Nigeria. There were too many examples of double standards which portrayed the government as vengeful or outrightly neurotic. Laws were made and backdated. Journalists were tried by decrees and jailed by fiat, God’s case, no appeal. Before long, the Nigerian economy took a nosedive and and plunged into a bottomless pit of misery. The situation was so chaotic that Nigerians queued for mere commodities like victims of war or famine. It never recovered until the Buhari government itself was sacked and banished to the dustbin of history. The full story is for another day.
The next election, thereafter, was that of June 12, 1993, which turned out to be the best conducted and the least controversial until the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida decided to intervene and aborted a full grown baby just before it was born. Since then, Nigeria has known no real peace, possibly, as punishment for this pre-meditated murder of an innocent political baby. Instead of learning our lessons and apologising to Nigerians for this unfortunate saga, government after government, like the ostrich, buried its cocky head in the sand, pretending that there was nothing special about the election and that life can move on as normal.
From 1993 to 1999, Nigeria, once more, came under the jackboots of the military after the short-lived Interim Government, headed by Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan. General Sani Abacha led junta ruled with iron fists from November 1993 to June 1998, when he suddenly took ill, mysteriously, and died, and General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and handed over to a former military ruler, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who led a new civilian administration from May 1999 to May 2007.
Interestingly, for a man that many had clearly forgotten about, General Muhammadu Buhari resurfaced from nowhere, around 2003, and promptly announced his interest in the Presidential race. It was like a script out of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “we have scorched the snake, not killed it…” Buhari was well and alive. While many laughed, scornfully, at him, there were those who admired his guts. Poverty was already growing in the land and politicians had returned to their days of psychedelic existence. Thus many Nigerians longed for those days when Buhari took over power and punished the politicians mercilessly. The only thing they forgot was that Buhari would no longer be a military dictator with all the appurtenances of State coercion. And he would no longer have the collaboration of his second in command, Babatunde Idiagbon. But Buhari was very smart, or better put, his packagers. He had transfigured into a friend of the poor and champion of Northern interests. He returned triumphantly from the throes of disgrace and incarceration after the Babangida coup. He contested serially, and stubbornly, on three occasions, against Presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan and lost monumentally, but he garnered millions of votes from his catchment areas, especially in the North.
By 2011, Buhari had become battle weary and it seemed it was over for him. He was quoted to have said he would no longer contest. But one thing led to another and Buhari’s interest was re-awakened, and re-activated, by certain interest groups looking for a way to scatter the ruling party to the winds. PDP was becoming too comfortable and very self-conceited. It was also engaged in a silly war of attrition that led to the exit of some key members of the party. Perhaps, if PDP had not mismanaged its internal wrangling, the end would not have come at the time it did, and the manner it happened. Lord have mercy, the grand conspiracy against the incumbent President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, would ultimately go into the history books as one of the most lethal. Anyway, Buhari returned to the race and contested in 2015, and won resoundingly.
Buhari’s victory was a popular mandate from all over the country. We were all very happy and excited and many friends of Nigeria from everywhere in the world rejoiced with us. The goodwill Buhari commanded was almost unprecedented. But no sooner than he took over power that things began to fall apart. I will spare you the horror of how Buhari frittered away that massive equity, as we watched helplessly, with our arms akimbo. A few that warned him about the sad turn of events were soon labelled enemies of Buhari, friends of looters, corrupt people, who are no longer making and enjoying free money in the system. It didn’t take long before the economy collapsed, as scare-mongering crept in on the country again.
As he did in 1983-85, Buhari renewed his war against corruption but, this time, without military power to enforce anything. Again, like it happened to his predecessors, he was accused of witch-hunt because most of those under siege were members of the opposition. The blame game also became over-amplified. Every failure, and frustration, of government was explained away as the stultification of governance that was brought about by Jonathan and his crew. Buhari and his acolytes have never stopped groaning and complaining about Jonathan, PDP, or both. According to the APC, PDP was responsible for all the bad things that happened in Nigeria. That’s fine. But the real enemy is time.
Now, suddenly, reality has dawned on the Federal Government that it has spent nearly four years in power. Yes, time truly flies. And the next cycle of election has come. The pressure is usually on the ruling government. This is the reason for my long preamble. The Federal Government and its ardent supporters would want members of the public believe they have performed wonders, and that President Buhari is the 21st century wonder, but this is far from the truth. Many APC chieftains would normally confess privately, and confidentially, that they have fumbled, big time, but we should, please, give, or just dash, them another term, with promises to do much better.
Personally, I believe it is up to Nigerians to vote for any candidate of their choice, or fancy. As for me, I’m convinced that Buhari has already exhausted the capacity to govern a country as complicated, and convoluted, as Nigeria. I may be wrong. My support in 2015 was based on certain misplaced hopes and permutations. 1. That, after 30 years in retirement, he has had enough time to reflect on his past mistakes and he is ready to make amends. 2. That he would hit the ground running and pursue the onerous task of nation-building with assistance from some of the brightest people it has pleased God to bless Nigeria with. 3. That he would give more power to his highly cerebral and cosmopolitan Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. 4. That he would abhor nepotism, unite our divided country and treat all Nigerians as free citizens of this great nation. 5. That he would build stronger institutions and not tougher dictatorship. 6. That he would empower our anti-corruption agencies and embolden them to operate without fear or favour. 7. That he would make the welfare and well-being of our security forces his top priority in this season of unprecedented anomy, as a retired General himself. 8. That he would reduce waste in government to barest minimum based on the promises he made, before God and man, during his campaigns. I can go on, ad infinitum. But, to my chagrin, Buhari’s government failed on most of these counts.
Please, note that I did not even mention issues of the economy, infrastructure, youth employment and empowerment. I’m aware they have been distributing ten thousand naira in market places but I’m not sure how far this can go in a country where over 80 percent of the population live in abject poverty. Of course, President Buhari is blessed with some fanatical supporters who see him as the only saint in Nigeria who will help them deal ruthlessly with the enemies who have impoverished them. Buhari appeals to this young Nigerians and they don’t mind if Nigeria is engulfed in mass poverty. Their attitude is since they are already poor, Buhari should tear down the whole system and make the rich poor. The sad part is the fact that they can’t distinguish between those who worked hard and the so-called looters. Herein lies the danger to society at large.
I have spent the past weeks engaging with these guys on social media. Many of them are loose cannons who have become totally obsessed with the fake mantra that whoever is not with Buhari is a thief. This may work in favour of Buhari in the short run but may hurt Nigeria and Nigerians, irredeemably, in the long run. I foresee them turning into an uncontrollable army if Buhari does not win the Presidential election next month. Our usually taciturn President must not keep quiet on this danger waiting to explode. At 76, officially, God has been very kind to him. There is nothing in democracy that guarantees two terms for a President, so it should never be a matter of life and death. If you win, you win, and if you lose, you lose. Every effort must be made to make sure the precedence bequeathed by President Jonathan is maintained, even if not improved upon.
I was privileged to accompany the former President of Ghana, Dr John Dramani Mahama, to The Gambia during the imbroglio that engulfed that tourist destination after President Yahya Jammeh refused to hand over power despite the obvious fact that he lost election in 2017. I saw the great efforts of President Buhari, Eileen Johnson Sirleaf, Mahama, Mackey Sall and others. It would be a monumental disgrace for the world to start begging our own President, in the same manner, to hand over power if he does not win.
My appeal is to President Buhari to prepare the minds and souls of his supporters for any eventuality in the next couple of weeks. If he wins, fair and square, the whole world will celebrate him. I will join them, as an avowed democrat. But if he does not win, he should do us the favour of going in peace, and not leave our dear country in pieces.
God bless Nigeria.