The other day, President Muhammadu Buhari tried to calm frayed nerves. That was shortly after receiving his Certificate of Return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). On that occasion, the President spoke in a manner he had never done before. He wore the garb of a pacifist. He sounded sober and considerate. He was not brash and abrasive. In fact, he did not sound like the Buhari that we know. We almost could not believe our ears when we heard him say that election is not war, that it is not a do-or-die affair. He even went further to tell his supporters not to gloat over his electoral success because, according to him, his victory is for Nigeria. To assuage us further, he promised to run an inclusive government with all doors kept open in his second tenure.
Anybody who has the faintest idea of the Buhari disposition before now cannot but be pleasantly surprised. A man who is given to tough talk and who brooks no nonsense has suddenly become a pacifier. A man who approached elections with threats of bloodbath has asked us to sheathe our sword. He wants us instead to stand in brotherhood for a bright and fulfilling future. A man who wilfully excluded a critical segment of the country from the commanding heights of his administration because they did not vote for him is promising to run an inclusive administration this time around. There were so many surprises in the President’s declarations. But they were welcome ones. If the President goes beyond precepts and delivers on his promises, then we can safely say that he has, to borrow the biblical parlance, become born again, and old things have passed away.
The new Buhari disposition is apposite at this time. Coming on the heels of a poorly conducted election, Nigerians need a soothing balm. They need something to console them. They do not need the pretentious disposition of the electoral umpire who promised so much and delivered so little. This man called Mahmood Yakubu really failed in the critical assignment of giving Nigeria free, fair and credible elections. Before the elections, the man told us repeatedly that only Nigerians with permanent voter cards read by the smart card reader would be allowed to vote. His mien always radiated seriousness each time he said it. He sounded like someone who meant business. I believed him. I suspended disbelief. I settled for optimism in readiness for a man who many of us thought was going to make a remarkable difference.
But what I experienced on Election Day was the direct opposite of what Yakubu promised. The smart card reader brought to my polling unit did not work. The ad hoc staff on ground were reluctant to go ahead with the election on account of this. My people were not going to accept further delay, especially in the light of the fact that voting materials and INEC personnel arrived late. In no time, tension began to build up. Hoodlums hovered menacingly around the voting area. We needed to do something to save the situation. We made calls to know what the situation was in my entire ward and parts of the local government. The feedback was that the situation was the same. Consequently, the election had to go on without the smart card reader. That was a clear sign that Yakubu was about to fail. Everything went wrong in the process of voting. There were no security agencies to save the situation. Only one unarmed policeman was attached to the polling unit. He was helpless. While all this was going on, it became clear to me that Yakubu’s declarations were only as good as the paper on which they were written. I have been seized by disappointment since then. Yakubu has disappointed us greatly. But he does not seem to recognise the fact that he has not done well. That is why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which feels shortchanged by INEC’s incompetence has decided to seek redress in court. Its message is that propriety is an irreducible minimum in matters like this.
As PDP goes through the legal process, let us return to the President and proceed on the assumption that he will remain President in the event of the courts not upholding the prayers of the opposition party. If that should happen, we cannot but hold Buhari accountable for his promises. It is gratifying to note that our President is tending towards change. As a matter of fact, his station in life at this stage of his life demands change for the better. Experience teaches us that hate is ultimately counterproductive. It is a wasteful emotion. For decades, our President has fought many wars. Since his advent as military head of state, he has always come across as a fanatic of sorts. He hardly changes his ways. This has, expectedly, put him on collision course with people and institutions.
One of the most recent experiences is his no-love-lost relationship with the Igbo. The impression out there, right or wrong, is that Buhari holds the Igbo in disdain. Those who feel this way point to his discriminatory appointments under the present dispensation, which are skewed against the South-East. For nearly four years, the Igbo have been shouting themselves hoarse. But our President has not made amends. Nothing can, therefore, be more reassuring than the President’s promise of an inclusive government. My understanding of that declaration is that our President will, in his second tenure, treat every segment of Nigeria as an equal stakeholder in the Nigerian project. By that declaration, I take it that our President is now ready to rise above primordial sentiments and is prepared to play the role of a statesman. As a retiring President, our President must steer clear of any baggage that will leave a bitter taste in the mouth. He should build bridges across divides. He should, as the Irish novelist, Edward Morgan Forster, would say, connect the prose and the passion. There is no more time to brood and count how many enemies we have. The President should liberate himself from avoidable shackles in order to set sail. He has set a good agenda for himself. It will be in his own interest and the interest of Nigeria if he does what he has said.
To live up to his declared intent, I suggest that the President should begin by embracing the Igbo and giving them the proper sense of belonging. One way in which he can do this is to ensure that the headship of the National Assembly does not elude the South-East. Already, there is clamour to cede the office of the President of the Senate to the zone. Let the President give a listening ear to this agitation. That will be a major proof to Nigerians that he is ready to bring every section of the country on board. If that should fail for any reason, Speakership of the House of Representatives should be the next option.
Essentially, Nigerians want a new Buhari. Fortunately, he has voluntarily offered himself for the new order. Time will tell how the declarations will unfold.