Happy New Year, everyone. Well, the biggest game in town this year is the February 14 presidential election. The choices are stark I’m afraid – President Jonathan or General Buhari.
Nigeria is being short-changed again. Neither of the two gentlemen is particularly appetising, but those are the options before us. So we have to choose. We should make that choice based on what we know of the two gladiators. Fortunately for us, we have enough records on both men to lead us down a coherent decision pathway.
Jonathan became the President of Nigeria through divine intervention. He has conducted his presidency since then as if he expects to rely exclusively on that special favour. But they say heaven helps those who help themselves. Jonathan has not helped himself. That is not the bad news. The President, too many times, has taken steps to inflict embarrassing harm on himself and on the government he leads.
It is not for nothing that Abacha was called a thief and a mad man, and Babangida was tagged a dribbler. People will always eventually situate you where you belong. We’ve had Jonathan for close to six years and in all honesty, the gentleman cuts the figure of someone who ought to be anywhere but in Aso Rock. There is a distinct lack of genuine leadership and charisma. Whether unintentional or not, the President comes across as weak and unwilling. It is easy to see that things happen around Jonathan rather than through him. Nigeria just drifts along; sometimes nicely, other times with plenty of bumps. Jonathan is wheeled out occasionally, when it is safe enough to do so, to perform the ceremonial bits and say one or two largely bland things.
Worse, Jonathan has chosen to canoodle with some of the more corrupt elements in the land. Only a few weeks ago, he caused the case the government itself had brought against Abacha jnr for stealing more than N445 billion from the Nigerian state to be withdrawn. That is just one example. For the sake of winning a few votes, Jonathan is now in active partnership with the scions of Abacha who are flagrantly using blood money to buy political influence and office. There was the Presidential pardon of Alamieyeseigha, the national honour bestowed on late General Abacha. There’s the partnership with Fayose in Ekiti, Buruji Kashamu in Ogun, etc, etc.
Jonathan’s lack of decisiveness (which is what is generally referred to as cluelessness) and an obvious lack of will to tackle corruption – even nominally – hurts the man greatly. Perhaps corruption is so prevalent now because there is a deliberate strategy to level the playing field, to bring other sections of the country to par – economically and politically – with our hegemonic overlords. But is this the best way to redress our political imbalance?
In six whole years, what has become of ‘resource control,’ ‘true federalism,’ and other imperatives that have been canvassed by the South-south (and others) and for which some of their leaders have given their lives?
Nevertheless, in spite of all of that and despite Jonathan’s lack of vigour, his government hasn’t been all bad. The economy is actually not bad at all, and had in fact been growing. There certainly have been appreciable gains in the Agricultural, Aviation, Communication, Transport and Financial sectors. Construction and the real estate industry are similarly doing very nicely. The rapid containment and eradication of the Ebola disease virus in Nigeria is, in part, a credit to Jonathan’s government. Also, there is relative freedom in the land and citizens’ harassment by the government is probably at its lowest since I’ve known Nigeria. There’s human dignity and a greater sense of inclusion.
Yet, with Jonathan’s seeming lack of direction and coherence, with his lack of dynamism, his handlers have taken to comparing the man to Mandela, Obama and Martin Luther King jnr. It is that kind of illogical perversion and over indulgence that has helped define Jonathan’s government. The man wasn’t even astute enough to announce even a token reduction in fuel pump prices in the new year for goodness sake!
General Buhari on the other hand seems a man of personal integrity and discipline. He appears frugal and non-ostentatious. I remember him from his War against Indiscipline days when Nigerians, perhaps for the first time ever, were forced to queue up and behave reasonably well in public.
Yet as Jonathan is tagged as clueless, Buhari is an accomplished sectional champion. He is not perceived a real national leader. He has repeatedly opposed the idea of a national ID card system because he thought it is “not in the interest of the North.” He has openly called for the full implementation of the Muslim Sharia system on a nationwide scale shortly before he called on fellow Muslims to only vote for a candidate that will protect their interest. It was the same Buhari who led a small delegation to a former governor of Oyo State to tell him that “your people are killing my people” in a Yoruba farmers / Fulani herdsmen face off. That is not the way of a bona fide national figure or statesman.
Buhari more or less made his name by leaving polish imprints from his army boots on the backside of the collective Yoruba leadership. But today, he is their hero-king. This country sef! And over time, Buhari has come to be a cult figure. He has acquired a lot of worshippers within and outside Nigeria. How this came to be, is a mystery of sorts. I think a lot of people – especially young people – have a romanticised idea of what Buhari’s Head-of Stateship was like in the mid 1980s, some 31 years ago.
Not too many of those young people know that Buhari was the first (and perhaps only) Nigerian leader to proscribe the National Association of Nigerian Students. He also banned the Nigerian Medical Association, among others.
Truth is Nigeria wasn’t a pleasant place when Buhari’s junta called the shots. It was a jack-boot state with very little human freedom – physical and mental. Repression was the order of the day and people (especially down South) lived in fear. I tell you, it was an era of dour unpleasantness.
To be continued…