For the greater part of last week, and on Sunday, prayers and Thanksgiving services were offered in churches and mosques across the country. The event which peaks today, is the celebration of 19th anniversary of democracy since 1999. Expectedly, today’s event, christened “Democracy Day”, will witness speeches by President Muhammadu Buhari and the state governors. Each speech is also a window onto such a great occasion in our democratic history. It will capture our collective journey so far, some uplifting hymns to democratic freedom that encapsulate the principles of decency and liberty that we all cherish.
But make no mistakes about it: Some of the speeches you will hear today will capture not only the truth of how we have come this far, it will also capture the big lies, the so- called achievements and accomplishments you and I have not seen or felt, especially coming few months to another crucial elections. That’s the way of politicians, and that’s why speeches often reveal the character flaws and virtues of their orators.
But, after the speeches are over, analyses will follow. Critical questions will be asked on how we have faired, 19 years on. Such questions will include: Is the glass half-full or half-empty? In other words, have successive administrations since 1999 delivered the dividends of democracy to the people? How have our political leaders faired on the leadership scale? Or is Nigeria jinxed to produce transparent leaders? Are Nigerians hard to govern? I offer these questions and general observation by way of understanding better, the relationship between leadership and the qualities of leadership, events, historical circumstances and institutional structure. The above observations may offer the best evidence of some of the reasons why in spite of the goodness and benefits of democracy above other forms of government, our elect- ed leaders have failed us.
This is why political historians have argued, with some justifications, that the best evidence of what can be expected of anyone in high office, especially the presidency, can be better found in an examination of his pat- tern of activity at other stages of public life than in his statements or goals, and particularly in situation of stress, when such a leader is confronted with tough decisions that are bound to affect his ambitions, his leadership and his concept of himself.
For any President, any governor, any law- maker, politics is the “art of the possible”. Why? Because it provides a good platform to make good things happen to one’s country and for the people. That’s why life in the presidency, for instance, is a profound lesson of a lifetime. No president should remain the same in terms of experience and understanding of both local and global issues. However, it troubles the mind that of the four Presidents we have had since 1999, none has any enduring accomplishments after his name, nothing positive and inspiring to remember them for. Altogether, all of them have provided us with more of despair than hope. When we needed unity of purpose, what we got was division along ethnic lines. The fault lines that separate us is widening every day.
That’s why you see a deep frustration across the land. Go to the states, disillusionment has set in. Look at the faces of the vast majority, it’s like they are carved from weather-beaten stones. Their day-to-day rhythm of life has been hard- hit by the governments they voted into power. Workers and pensioners are owed months and years of their salaries and pensions. It’s indeed sad. Our elected leaders have squandered public trust.
Taken together, Obasanjo failed largely be- cause, despite his good intentions, he confused his own destiny with our collective destinies, he overreached his power. He didn’t know when to invoke the prestige of the presidency and when to hold it in reserve. He was always spoiling for a fight when it was needless to do so. He failed because of hubris. And now,he’s blaming others for the problems he sowed the seed. Umaru Yar’Adua was mere wimp as president. He behaved like a stranger in the Aso Villa, the seat of power. His terminal ill- ness made his presidency a sorry footnote. His successor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was simply naive, and governed with morbid fear that tor- mented him, and made him the butt of jokes as a “clueless” President.
And, now comes President Buhari, who providence and God’s grace gave power after three previous failed attempts. In the fullness of time, history will judge his administration, his actions and errors of judgment. For now, among the quartet, PMB is the one that has squandered public trust the most in such a short period in office. Under his watch, Nigeria looks like separate countries in one nation. Three years in the saddle, nobody needs to tell anyone any longer what to like or dislike about this president and the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC). Tremendous moral strength is not enough, neither is good intention. Buhari needs all the help he can get going to the next election. This President has my unalloyed respect. But, that won’t do it either.
The truth is that APC may have just discovered that it’s perhaps easier to win elections than to govern. It is disheartening that the party has not been able to get its act together. This has been on from the outset in 2015. Both at the two legislative houses and at state levels, this marriage of convenience that gave birth to its formation, has become evident for all to see. It’s all more largely self-inflicted than anything else. And, you ask: Is Nigeria proving harder for Buhari and APC to govern?
President Buhari and APC need reminding that they will be judged by how they fulfill their campaign promises of ‘Change’. History will judge the party harshly if it fails to impact lives of Nigerians in a positive way. So far, Ni- gerians are not satisfied with the President’s scorecard. Of course, his aides will disagree. But good performance is like a bikini, it reveals more than it can hide. Nigeria will remain on knife edge if Buhari fails to fix the key problems facing the country, especially insecurity, unemployment, poverty, the economy and alleged partisanship and lopsidedness in political appointments. And many more.
Let’s be clear on one fact: Nobody is saying that Buhari or APC has the magic wand to solve all Nigeria’s problems. When he hears Nigerians complain(as many are already feeling so pained by some of the administration’s policies and programmes), they are simply re- minding Buhari that presidents are not judged like other men. To borrow a sentence from Donald Reagan (Late President Ronald Reagan’s ex-Chief of Staff) memoir, “a president is a matter of luck and courtesy rather than by any rights”. Therefore, Nigerians demand performance from the APC government, not promises. We demand specifics, not scape goating as the party leadership has been doing. The party should make self-conscious effort to realise that the mandate given to it in 2015,can only be renewed with the consent of the people, not through raw power. Now is the time for the President to honesty look into his soul and quantify the party’s losses and missed opportunities and how to regain the confidence of Nigerians. Nothing less will do.