Restoring hope at a time of a nation’s despair

by Max Amuchie

My younger sister, Olivia, was mobilised for National Youth Service early this year. At that time, she was posted to Bauchi State but she did not like the idea of going to Bauchi. I told her there was nothing wrong with going to Bauchi to spend one year especially considering that she had spent all her life in the South East. With my own experience of serving in Kaduna State several years ago, I encouraged her to go to Bauchi and she did. However, she had to be redeployed to Abia State on health grounds after the mandatory orientation for new corps members.

When I read the Facebook posting by Ukeoma Ikechukwu, a corps member serving in Bauchi State, before his gruesome death in the hands of rioters who were protesting the outcome of the April 16 presidential election won by President Goodluck Jonathan, I became misty-eyed. On his Facebook wall in the early hours of Sunday, April 17, the slain NYSC member had written, “Na wao! This (sic) CPC supporters would have killed me yesterday, no see threat ooo. Even after forcing under-aged voters on me they wanted me to give them the remaining ballot papers to thumb print. Thank God for the police and I am happy I could stand for God and my nation. To all corps members who stood despite threats especially in the North bravo! Nigeria, our change has come.”

Ukeoma was one of the several Nigerians, among them youth corps members who were killed in three days of what looked like programmed violence in reaction to the outcome of the election in many parts of the North.

In the last few days, there have been calls for the scrapping of the NYSC. Even the National Assembly has announced that it could take a second look at the scheme. Already, Akwa Ibom and Osun State governments have evacuated their indigenes serving in parts of the North. This is sad.

It is very unfortunate that an election that was acknowledged by both local and international observers as the best organised in Nigeria’s recent history has come under such dispute and controversy to the extent that Nigerians had to be killed in cold blood.

Yet in spite of the venom that has attended reaction to the election and the violence it engendered, what is needed is to restore hope at this time of despair. President Goodluck Jonathan’s broadcast in which he deplored the violence and warned perpetrators of the riots was a good way of restoring hope. The speech was very presidential and I personally felt proud of him.

While the government is doing its bit to restore hope, General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), has a lot of work to do in this regard. On this column last week, I stated that Buhari is a great Nigerian. I also said he is a great Nigerian who would not be president. That piece was written even before the results of the presidential election started hitting the airwaves. Any serious political analyst knew that the odds weighed heavily against the former military head of state and that given the reality on the ground it was a pipe dream for him to hope to win the 2011 presidential election. I had stated that the fact of not being able to win the election did not subtract from his greatness.

The rioters in the North went wild because they felt that power was slipping off their hands. They felt that Buhari was their only hope of having power returned to them and that with his defeat, all hope was lost for the next four years.

To underscore the fact that Buhari became the unofficial candidate of the North in the presidential election, all the former military heads of state from the North save Yakubu Gowon were involved in last minute effort to get Nuhu Ribadu step down for Buhari. In the meetings held after the National Assembly elections the outcome of which gave indication that the PDP, despite losing overwhelming majority in the National Assembly elections, still had what it would take to win a nation-wide election, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Aliyu Gusau and other influential Northerners, shelved their differences with Buhari and tried to patch up an alliance between CPC and ACN.

This election was one Buhari stood the best chance of winning but he got his strategy wrong. Apparently, he was deceived by the sheer number of registered voters in the North as released by INEC. The North West zone alone had more than 19 million registered voters. He felt that if he could get Northern votes, he could force a run-off which he could easily win based on population.

That was why he never really campaigned in the South East and the South South. In the South East, he visited only Owerri and made a brief stopover in Onitsha. It is very possible that his campaign was hampered by lack of funds. If he had tried to make some inroads in the South East and South South and then consummate an alliance with ACN, probably the outcome of the election would have been different.

Then he had a running mate who was as much an electoral liability as the late Phillip Umeadi was to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1979. Awo had committed a strategic error in picking the late Senior Advocate of Nigeria as running mate at a time South Easterners had not forgiven him for the role they felt he played in the Nigerian Civil War against the South East. Picking Umeadi, a brilliant Igbo lawyer as vice presidential candidate of defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) did not do anything to endear him to region. In fact, Awolowo’s helicopter was said to have been stoned when he went to Aba for campaign.

In picking Tunde Bakare as his running mate, Buhari made the same mistake. Bakare, a respected pastor, is not a politician and could not have swayed votes in the South West for the ticket.

In all of these, Buhari cannot blame PDP or INEC but his team that did not come up with a winning strategy. It is, therefore, necessary for him to take steps that will restore hope to Nigerians so that the present crisis will end. It was he who in 1984 declared that: “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country. We must remain here to salvage it together.” This is the time for him to walk the talk.

It is a responsibility he owes Nigeria and Nigerians because it will be a sad commentary on him that in the twilight of his political career, he left a deep cut in Nigeria’s body politic. As a man of integrity, this is the time to offer the olive branch so that total peace can be restored in the country.

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