It has been an exhausting political season in the Nigerian polity that finally saw General Muhammadu Buhari, former military dictator, now a “reformed democrat” emerge as the President-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And even though I was never on the campaign trails of any of the political parties, one needn’t be on one to feel the sense of relief that greeted many after the last months that our streets have been tainted with an avalanche of posters of the various political parties— with promises of change and transformation flooding our senses of perception.
After the elections, the precarious streets were deserted, informed by the blizzard of reports over the weeks of what could happen should any of the side lose the battle—the prognosis was nothing short of a looming danger and the clouds for an immutable civil war had gathered. Also the suspense and the melodrama that has unfolded since the elections were held last Saturday and the keenness of Nigerians to know the outcome had been second to none since the history of democracy in Nigeria. Everyone was glued to their TV sets and the rating for INEC electoral proceedings would have been at the acme on cable TV, with Professor Attahiru Jega being the man of the show. For those without power, the radio and internet became their sources of news. Everyone was in their own “situation rooms” with pen and paper computing and comparing results while posting same online simultaneously. It won’t be too long to deduce that the ruling People’s Democratic Party was playing the catch up game this time and the prospect of an incumbent president been kicked out of office, albeit through the power of the polls, was imminent.
The whole hoopla then reached its crescendo by 5:15 P.M., the exact time when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who must also have felt lethargic as he watched on hopelessly on the ginormous screen in the palatial Aso Rock villa, with the figures heading north, put a call through to General Buhari to congratulate him over his victory at the polls.
Throngs of youths and political aficionados turned to the streets and celebrated into the nights as the news of the triumph of the “people’s General” filtered the air. The scenery that greeted the streets of the most populous black nation was reminiscent of the joyous mood of 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence. Everyone associated with the broom-flinging party busted into exhilaration, with the chanting of “Sai Baba!, Sai Buhari!” renting the air. Even those who did not subscribe to the political notions of the All Progressives Congress joined in the chorus—it was too potent to quench. Deep down within me, I wished I was a part of this change that was sweeping across the nation and could genuinely join in the chorus of “Sai Baba, Sai Buhari!”
I did not vote for General Muhammadu Buhari—call it swimming against the tide and I wouldn’t begrudge you. And while I was only about a year old when he first took the reins of power in Nigeria as a military potentate on December 31, 1983, the trails and tales of his iron-clad rule are well documented. If those where not enough, I could recall the lyrics of the Beast of no Nation album by the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti that talked about “…. wan dash us human rights!” The “War Against Indiscipline” and the flagrant human right violations, which were well doused and sophistically converted into a selling point by a Promethean PR team during his 2015 campaign, remained vivid in my consciousness.
I don’t need to dwell much on these as Nigerians have been reminded of many atrocities of the Buhari-led military government by the opposition in the smear campaigns that littered our media. If all these indelible marks of injustice which many have become insulated to or see as an exaggeration, can be tolerated, the sheer fact that General Muhammadu Buhari toppled a democratically elected government was enough for me to pitch my tent against him no matter how “born again” he had become. I didn’t think someone who has scuttled a process should be made to benefit from that process, no matter how hard he tried and no matter the “conditions” that we are in presently. I didn’t think that only ex- generals have a repository of knowledge on marshaling the affairs of this country. For me, a Buhari coming back would be an unfortunate precedence and a travesty of justice—an assault to our collective psyche as a people.
Unlike me, however, Nigerians nary cared about that sentiments earlier expressed – they wanted change—and rightly so. They wanted a government that is more vociferous against corruption—they wanted to see a leader that would impose himself on the affairs of the nation and the seat that he occupied; they wanted a government that would provide power, they wanted more jobs, more roads– and all the perennial wants of the Nigerian populace that governments after governments have never been able to give to them. They wanted the Boko Haram insurgents to be pulverized and “Our Girls” to be brought back. If that meant that they will pitch with a “reformed dictator” who is famed for his incorruptibility and competence, so be it. They felt President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is a “nice guy” but has not always being in charge. For many, he didn’t deliver the goods and his barrage of unimpressive gaffes didn’t help his popularity—the “I have no shoes” rhetoric had lost his potency and many wanted to see him commute back to his Otuoke base with alacrity. This insatiable quest for change intertwined with the main opposition party’s quest to get power at the helm, coupled with the depleting power of the ruling party, helped form an unstoppable force that was always going to lead to a political Tsunami.
Now this “change” has come and Nigerians have high expectations and their sense of optimism is highly commendable,but before we get too consumed in the ecstasy of this moment, I hate to play the naysayer, a lot of work still has to be done in our democracy. It will not be uhuru. The sheer voting patterns that trailed this election haven’t shown that we are one people. The reality of the statistics that came from the election indicated that the issues of ethnicity,religion and vested interests are still the drivers of our polity. How could you explain that General Buhari never won in any state of the South- South and South-East of our geopolitical zone? How could you also explain the overwhelming votes that General Buhari got in the Northern region other than everyone rooting for his own?
While there were a lot of hopes from the process that is playing out right now, our democracy is still very much an electoral democracy and if we must move to a liberal democracy, we must strengthen our democratic institutions—the legislative arm, the judiciary, the watchdogs, the civil unions…. Our political parties must also go beyond umbrella and broom-flunking and all the gerrymandering that characterized the recently concluded “free and fair” election. Our lives must not “shut down” and our future hanged in the balance because we are going through an electioneering period. We must not be on tenterhooks as to whether the nation would still be knitted as one because we want to get a new leader.
While I congratulate the never-say-die General Muhammadu Buhari who can now be aptly dubbed as the Abraham Lincoln of Africa and could inspire even his hardest critics like me never to give up, the burden of proof as a reformed democrat is on him. He must take this opportunity of a rare second chance to rewrite his legacy in our political stratosphere. He must not toe the line of vindictiveness and divisiveness as he exercises his power as the new Commander-in-chief. The economic issues that confront this nation at this critical time require all the right moves and he must tackle this head on. While I will admit that Nigerians, for some reasons, require extra nudge to do things rightly at times, his disciplinarian approach should be done with all sense of civility—wars against indiscipline and fights against corruption should not be a cop-out to humiliate anyone in this nation—I warn!
I must not fail to lavish praise on President Goodluck Jonathan. Although it had appeared that his good luck ran out when the momentum was shifting towards the opposition and was always going to be difficult for him to match the likeability that his campaign had in 2011, he never lost his dignity. After all, everyone knew how he became president in the first place and I sense a man who has gratitude for the opportunity he has had to serve this nation. Posterity would judge him whether he was able to take that opportunity well or not. His bravery to congratulate his conqueror even before he was officially declared as President-elect will go down the history of this nation as his greatest achievement. By that call, he doused the inferno that could arise and the lives that would have been lost should he have insisted to cling to power or resort to anything mischievous. He also made us proud in the comity of nations and set a good precedence for our democracy by that singular act. I wish him well in his future endeavors.
I believe Nigerians deserve the best and the commonwealth of this nation should be evenly distributed for everyone to enjoy—we pray this new administration deliver on their promises and once again lead us to the path of greatness.
O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.