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O. Jason Osai argues that Buhari failed to provide a level playing field

for the 2023 Election

When I went to vote during the 2003 presidential election, I thumbed the ink pad ready to vote but, rather strangely, I froze. As a provincial political kingpin of Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in whose house unprintable things were happening, it was a natural assumption that I would vote PDP. But to my complete amazement, my thumb acquired a mind of its own and pressed the box of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) on the ballot paper. So it came to pass that I voted for Muhammadu Buhari instead of Musa Yar’Adua. Like many unsuspecting patriots, I believed that Buhari had what it takes to put Nigeria on the path to progress. Thoughts running riots, I took solace for that anti-party act knowing that Nigeria needed a person with the anti corruption pedigree, firmness and focus of Buhari to guide her towards economic recovery. How mistaken I was.

Sadly, under the old-age and ill-health induced feeble watch of President Muhammad Buhari, corruption became hydra-headed and sufficiently demonstrated the capacity and resolve to kill the country since we have woefully failed to kill it. Nigeria has become an unapologetic consumer nation with unemployment line elongating by the hour. Virulent ethnocentric vituperations have become the order of the day and centrifugal forces have taken the center stage of our national discourse. Religious and ethnic bigotry have been reanimated, reawakened and weaponized as veritable political tools. Obviously, Nigeria is at climacteric.

Given his challenges of old age and infirmity in the face of the arduous demands of public office, Nigerians expected President Buhari to be patriotic enough to steer the nation off the ignominious and retrogressive path of an infirm Executive President in the mold of Paul Biya of Cameroon. Granted that our cultural norms dictate empathy for the adversities of others, it would be a gross disservice to the nation for candidates who are challenged by either old age or ill-health to put forth themselves for positions where such infirmities will obviously hinder their performance. This is why the electorate in advanced democracies takes studied interest in the state of physical and mental health of wannabes during elections.

Though Buhari failed Nigerians in virtually every front, his pronouncement regarding 2023 elections left a glimmer of hope for a legacy. His promise to provide a level playing field for political participation and publicly encouraging people to go out and vote for a candidate and party of their choice spelt hope for a credible election. Said he: “My aim is to make sure that Nigerians believe that we respect them as an administration…Nigerians should vote for whosoever they like from whichever party. Nobody will be allowed to mobilize resources or thugs to intimidate people in any constituency  That’s what I want to go down in Nigeria’s history for”.

Against the above backdrop, the 2023 presidential election presented a veritable opportunity for President Buhari to leave a positive legacy irrespective of the ignominious two-term tenure that brought Nigeria to its knees locally and in the comity of nations. He could have achieved this by insisting on and ensuring transparency in the electoral process. That would have been Buhari’s moment in history. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Informed by a panorama of reactions on 2023 Election by newspapers across the world, Lasisi Olagunju offers that “The world is not pleased with [the 2023 Elections]”.  The Economist called it a “chaotically organized vote and messy count” and for The Financial Times it was “deeply flawed [and the winner] a wealthy political fixer” who The Guardian (UK) described as “an immensely wealthy veteran powerbroker trailed by corruption allegations”. New York Times referred to the touted winner as “a divisive figure in Nigerian politics” while Canada’s Globe and Mail said “Bola Tinubu’s election is another triumph for Nigeria’s corrupt old guard.” For The Times of London, Bola Tinubu is “a wealthy kleptocratic ‘godfather’ of politics”.

Resulting from the above dismal performance, Professors and Judges, two professions held in highest esteem globally, have been brought to ridicule in Nigeria. Rev Nosa J.I. Aso captures the decadence in the Nigerian academe in his poem “Professorial Illiterates”. At a recent wedding, attended by many professors in Port Harcourt, the MC mischievously said that “these are real professors, not those who cannot count 1,2,3 correctly”—an obvious allusion to the current controversy over the electoral fraud allegedly perpetrated by many professors. Again, “Go to Court” has taken the fore in social banters. In another gag, the MC said that he has “professorially counted five hundred and fifty thousand guests here and if you don’t agree, Go to Court”. Reacting to the current show of shame in Nigeria. John Dumelo said thus: “In Ghana, our politicians fear court a lot but in Nigeria, politicians will encourage you to go to court because they can bribe Nigerian judges.” Sadly. that’s what Buhari will “go down in Nigeria’s history for”.

To provide a level playing field for the 2023 Election was Buhari’s last chance to bequeath a positive legacy to Nigeria. As a result of his failure in that regard, Nigeria is on the cusp. Following five days of reading weighty commentaries across the world Olagunju said: “I have not seen, read nor heard a single positive review of the election in any credible media in any country of the world”.  He concluded that “Tinubu’s 2023 mandate is rivaled in content, texture and review probably only by Shehu Shagari’s Verdict ‘83 mandate”.

Posterity beckoned on President Buhari to recognize that the 2023 presidential election is a struggle between the nation’s corrupt oligarchy versus progressive Nigerians. Also, posterity beckoned on him to demonstrate patriotism by choosing country over religious, ethnic and party affiliations. Posterity further beckoned on him to join the overdue democratic revolution that Nigerian masses yearned and still yearn. Sadly, Buhari lost that chance to bequeath a positive legacy to Nigeria.

Professor Osai writes from Port Harcourt

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