The countdown has begun. Nigerians will, in a matter of hours, go to the polls. Expectedly, the reality of the situation has put the polity on edge. The major political actors are on each other’s throats. Virtually everything has become an issue. Nothing is being glossed over or ignored anymore.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State threw faggots into the blazing fire when he said election observers from the outside world who try to interfere with the elections would be taken back home in bodybags. That was most inflammatory. Hours later, he stepped out to elaborate on what he meant. He explained his intent. But he did not take back the body bag threat.
El-Rufai’s controversial statement is reminiscent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s baboon and the monkey would be soaked in blood declaration in 2011, when he alluded rigging. In 2015, the threat of four years earlier worked for him. Jonathan chickened out of the presidency owing to a number of factors, including probably, fear of bloodshed. This is apparently the same game el-Rufai is playing.
The February 16 election, as we all know, is essentially a contest between Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The show of brilliance and expertise displayed by Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye and Obiageli Ezekwesili looked more like an entertainment than the proper yardstick for deciding who the next president will be. Nigeria is, clearly, an anti-intellectual environment. The people do not value intellect. What drives them is load of cash. Therefore, the Moghalus, the Durotoyes and the Ezekwesilis may have to wait. Nigeria is not yet ready for their likes.
But then, that was not our focus in that debate. Nigerians stressed themselves to no end over the absence of Buhari and Atiku. Their supporters took on one another. The Buhari people said their man had a very busy schedule and therefore could not come for the debate. Atiku cut short his visit to the United States in order to catch up with the debate. But he ultimately declined to participate because Buhari was absent. By that, Atiku felt that what matters is to face his main rival rather than waste valuable time debating with those who will come nowhere near the presidency at this time.
Perhaps one of the most interesting outcomes of the debate was what some interested Nigerians had to say about it. Of particular interest to me was the interjection of the chairman of the Presidential Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay. He said that Buhari had no business debating with dwarfs. I am still trying to understand what has driven Sagay into guttersnipes. But what is undeniable about him is that he has suddenly developed a mania for Buhari. He is the president’s super salesman. He does not sound anymore like the Sagay that we used to know.
While the Sagays of this world were trying to sell Buhari to us, the Lai Mohammeds and Festus Keyamos of the APC were busy jibing at Atiku and his trip to the United States. The APC and its chieftains had earlier mocked Atiku as a pariah who can never step into the United States. Atiku needed to prove the APC wrong. And he did. The APC must have been embarrassed by that masterstroke from Atiku. But rather than eat their words, they decided to engage in a wild goose chase. But we can understand the uneasiness in the air. The APC is scared stiff of a possible Atiku presidency. And it is doing everything within its reach to shoot down that possibility.
The APC, as it were, is bent on selling ice to the Eskimos. They want Nigerians to forget very conveniently the nightmare that the Buhari presidency represents. Many are watching in amazement the transformation of the likes of Keyamo. An activist who once held governments accountable has become an apologist for bad governance. Nigerians are a passive lot.
Some people are however filling the gap on behalf of Nigerians. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, stands out here. Long before now, he has advised Buhari to take a dignified exit out of office by shunning the allure of second term. But Buhari would take none of that. He has gone ahead with his second term ambition. And Obasanjo has taken him on frontally.
In recent weeks, PDP, the main opposition party, has had cause to accuse the APC-led federal government of plotting to rig the 2019 polls. But because we are in the mood of elections, the outcries from PDP can, at best, be seen as partisan. But the consideration moves away from the orbit of partisanship when respected voices outside politics say it as they know it. This is what Obasanjo has done.
In a recent review of the Buhari presidency, Obasanjo lashed out mercilessly at Mr. President. He said Buhari was desperate to remain in power, knowing that Nigerians have suffered under his presidency. To actualise the dark agenda, Obasanjo said Buhari had recruited the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) to carry out a hatchet task at the polls. He cited the recent Osun State election where INEC declared the election inconclusive, which thereafter gave APC victory through a controversial supplementary polls in some wards. He wants Nigerians to be vigilant in order to guard against rape of the country’s democracy.
Obasanjo did not stop there. He said that Buhari has become the Abacha of our time. According to him, like Abacha, Buhari has a self-perpetuating agenda. He said like Abacha, voices of dissent must be silenced. Like Abacha, all and sundry must be intimidated and harassed to the point of submission. The latest act of intimidation emanating from Buhari, Obasanjo said, is the unlawful attempt to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, from office.
The exchanges are going on. And in a matter of hours, the issue would have come to a head. But as I noted in this column a few weeks ago, so much depends on the INEC headed by Mahmood Yakubu. Nigeria will not fall if he decides to be his own man. If INEC were to be trusted, Nigerians will worry less about President Buhari. But now they have to worry much because INEC has not given them cause to worry less.