A little after a year into his first four-year tenure, the honeymoon between Nigerians and President Goodluck Jonathan had turned to a bitter and acrimonious relationship. He failed to meet the expectations of the masses and fell short of satisfying majority of the ruling elite. Nigerians were convinced that corruption, which was rife in Jonathan’s government, was responsible for his arrested performance in power. Every of the nation’s ills, ranging from economic underdevelopment, insecurity and societal rot, were attributed to corruption. The 2015 presidential election was not going to be decided on the sentiments of ethno-geographic and religious balance of power but on the pragmatic issue of the monster of corruption and how to tackle it.
And it came to pass that Muhammadu Buhari, at the time a man reputed for unimpeachable integrity and forthrightness, was elected over incumbent President Jonathan, whose image suffered from a corruption toga due to the widespread perception of his inability to tackle corruption. Since Jonathan failed to kill corruption, it was decided that Buhari was the man that would kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.
However, once again, Nigerians are beginning to express discontent about the leadership style of Buhari. In almost three years as President of the Nigerian federation, Buhari has not been able to deliver on three of his key promises of fighting corruption, curbing insecurity and growing the economy. Under the Buhari administration, corruption has assumed a more amorphous dimension, with cancerous effects on governance. Similarly, security challenges have deteriorated to a state of undeclared war within the Nigerian territory. In addition to the Boko Haram insurgency, the menace of killer herdsmen currently ravaging Nigeria portends existential threats to its stability and coherence.
The economy was mismanaged by the Buhari administration in its early days due to poor or lack of sensible economic policies, leading to a debilitating recession with high inflation rates, high exchange rates and higher price of energy as permanent scars. The concomitant effect of Buhari’s economic mismanagement is a drastic reduction of the standard of living of Nigerians, widespread poverty and misery. Despite his abysmal performance in office and frail health, Buhari has indicated his interest to continue in power beyond 2019, if given the mandate by Nigerians. For lack of a clear justification to reward failure in governance with another fresh four-year mandate, Buhari’s handlers have advanced the absurd argument that there is no alternative to him from among 180 million people that populate the Nigerian geography. This standpoint is not predicated on any outstanding performance index but merely on hero worship of the Buhari personae in the worst form of sycophancy ever witnessed in the history of Nigeria.
For a President that has displayed a lack of proper understanding of his three-pronged campaign promises of fighting corruption, ensuring adequate security of life and property and fixing the economy, hence failing to deliver on his promises, resulting in diminished hope of a better Nigeria, there are millions of alternatives. Among the millions of Nigerians who are credible and capable alternatives to President Buhari in 2019, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar stands out clearly. If Jonathan’s high corruption perception index disqualified him from winning the 2015 presidential election in the court of public opinion, Buhari’s extreme sectionalism with its devastating consequences now more than ever before is likely to disqualify him from winning the 2019 presidential election in the same court of public opinion.
Similarly, if Buhari who was reputed for incorruptibility was a credible alternative to a corrupt Jonathan in 2015, then Atiku who possesses an impeccable nationalist credential is the alternative to Buhari in 2019. From his personal life, including marital ties to the four cardinal points of Nigeria, to his close political associates, business partners and public service, Atiku reflects a pan-Nigerian agenda throughout. His pan-Nigerian identity is quite discernible from afar. His antecedents in public service clearly illustrate a man at home anywhere in Nigeria and with everyone, irrespective of ethno-geographic origin or religious beliefs.
Atiku, unlike Buhari, is not known to have pandered to ethno-regional sentiments. He has been a consistent voice of liberal moderation from the North. While Buhari actively supported the introduction of Sharia law in some northern states in the early days of the Fourth Republic to the applause of the conservative Muslim North, Atiku resisted the temptation of temporary rewards of political correctness and openly advocated for the strict adherence to secular constitutional legal framework. Again, in 2003, Buhari demonstrated insensitivity to Nigeria’s power zoning and rotation arrangement between the North and South that was established to ensure unity and stability, when he championed the cause of the conservative Muslim North by running against Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.
On the contrary, Atiku once again demonstrated the sensitivity associated with great diversity management, when he resisted the tempting offer to run against Obasanjo, his boss. On that occasion, Atiku put the overall interest of the nation ahead of his personal interest. Whereas, the quest of restructuring of the Nigerian federation, which has become a matter of emotion in the southern half of the country, is a taboo as far as the northern political establishment is concerned, Atiku again stands out from the crowd of politically-correct northern politicians.
While Buhari, as usual, has toed the hard line position of opposition to any form restructuring in order not to offend his support, Atiku, like a statesman, has demonstrated understanding for the need to restructure Nigeria in order to ensure every component does not feel less Nigerian than the other. He believes that restructuring will not take away anything from the North, instead the region will become more prosperous with the freedom from the bondage of complacency brought about by a sense of entitlement to revenues from oil mineral resources.
Buhari’s elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy is consistent with his original agenda of far right ethno-geographic supremacy. His much-talked-about integrity has been revealed to be nothing more than poorly disguised self-righteousness.
Buhari’s sectionalism has promoted cronyism and nepotism, with massive economic and financial crimes as consequences. Therefore, rather than fight corruption, Buhari has revived corruption to all-new heights. Similarly, Buhari’s sectionalism has elevated mediocrity over competence, thereby hampering the economic recovery promise of his government. Buhari’s sectionalism has also comprised national security on the altar of ethno-religious sentiments, which has left marauding killer herdsmen the freedom to destroy life and property across Nigeria. To put a stop to the current haemorrhage that is threatening the very foundation of the Nigerian state, a sectional Buhari has to be eased out through the ballot in order to bring on board an Atiku who has enough nationalist credentials to earn the trust, confidence and loyalty of Nigerians across all divides in order to evolve a pan-Nigerian consensus going forward.
The unity and cohesion of any nation is a condition precedent for socio-economic development and whereas a Buhari presidency post-2019 can only divide the nation more, an Atiku presidency will provide the essential soothing balm to heal the festering sores along Nigeria’s ethno-geographic and religious fault lines.
Despite the inherent defects in Nigeria’s political culture arising from certain uniqueness of the ethno-geographic and religious configuration of Nigeria, which often results in the undermining of constitutional framework of setting up democratic institutions and processes, civil democratic rule has been quite beneficial to Nigeria.
Notwithstanding prevalent cases of electoral malpractices and manipulation through vote buying, imposition of candidates and outright deployment of power of incumbency to rig elections, distillable from this chaotic mixture is that election to the highest office in the land has been largely a reflection of elite consensus as popularly championed by the masses.
As corruption was the major campaign issue in 2015, the consensus opinion towards 2019 is the realisation of the danger of the existential threat posed to Nigeria’s unity and stability by Buhari’s unbridled sectionalism.