It is that time again. Nigerians would go to the polls in about a month to elect new leaders. Most of the focus is understandably on the presidential race as the emergence of the APC, among with many other factors have contrived to ensure the presidency is actually in play for probably the first time ever. In a repeat of the 2011 elections, the two front runners are the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan and the challenger General Muhammadu Buhari.
In 2011, President Goodluck represented the unassuming underdog from a minority group and no discernable power base (apart from the fact he was the incumbent). This time however, the reverse is the case where General Buhari now represents change and President Goodluck represents a continuation of corruption, incompetence and a lack of progress (rightly or wrongly) that Nigerians want to get away from. How did Goodluck lose all this goodwill in a matter of four years? I believe this comes down to a set of factors;
- Subsidy Removal: The removal of the fuel subsidy as soon as he won the election in 2012 was a bold, unpopular move. He probably did not expect his decision to lead to massive protests and an extended shut down of the economy. He eventually backed down and reached a compromise and I believe had enough political capital to remain fairly popular.
- Alamiyeseigha:Corruption has always been one of Nigeria's biggest problems as the political class and Military rulers have collectively enriched themselves with Nigeria's meager resources since our independence. President Obasanjo probably did the most to create a perception of a battle against corruption by going after highly placed and corrupt people during his term. One of these people was Alamiyeseigha who was arrested in London and reportedly escaped by dressing up as a woman. You can then imagine the consternation when President Jonathan, who was already perceived as being soft on corruption decided to grant him a presidential pardon.
- Boko Haram/Chibok/Baga: The battle against Boko Haram and their increasingly frequent successes against the Nigerian army is damaging on its own to the approval ratings of any president. As a result, insecurity is right at the top of the key deciders in this election, which of course does not favour the president. When that is accompanied by a perceived unwillingness to take responsibility and a set of abysmal public relations failures, then all bets are off. The clearest example of such abdication of responsibility was the Chibok issue where 276 girls were kidnapped by the extremists. The government's initial response was to deny that it happened and then after a couple of weeks, commission what appeared to be an enquiry led by the First Lady which ended up even further embarrassing the government. The events in Baga months later were even more personally offensive to me. It was reported that the town was overun by Boko Haram with thousands of houses razed and estimates of up to 2,000 people killed. This occured at about the same time as the Charlie Hebdo events in France where 14 people were killed. While we were waiting for our government's official response to the potential loss of 2,000 of its citizens, the government went ahead to commiserate with France while keeping mum on the issue in its backyard. While I understand the importance of enhancing our relationship with France given its influence with our partners in the war against Boko Haram (Cameroun, Mali, Niger), the government's silence smacks of contempt for the life of its own citizens. It also perhaps didn't help that early on in this Boko Haram crisis, the president was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as viewing it as a Northern problem, thus allowing it to fester and become the monster that it is today.
Many other gaffes over the last four years (perceived corruption of his aides, spat with the CBN governor over his whistle blowing, his inability to project an image of someone that is in control, etc), and a coalition of the willing against Jonathan have contrived to ensure that Buhari is projected to win by many analysts, myself included. I think he will win an even greater majority in his traditional strongholds of the North East and North West, win the North Central and South West as a result of the alliance with the ACN, and make some gains in the South South and South East, Given that the got 12 million votes versus Jonathan's 22 million in 2011 with a largely regional campaign, I would put him as my front runner.
Is this a good thing? Yes and No. I have a personal aversion to Buhari as I do not see in him the qualities of the leader we should have in 2015. He truncated our democracy thirty years ago and I maintain that we would have been much further along the development curve if our democracy was allowed to continue and mature. Nothing about his two years in office also alleviates my concerns about him. While he may also be personally incorruptible, I struggle to see how this translates into an ability to wipe out corruption in a country built on rent seeking and patronage, cutting across every arm of govermment at Federal, State and Local levels, in addition to the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. What however alleviates some of my concerns are the calibre of people in the APC and a semblance of the team that may potentially work with him. I think his vice presidential candidate was an excellent choice and will excel if given executive powers. The fact that people like Fashola and Fayemi might form a part of his government are also attractive. The risk with this is that when elected, the president has the power to do as he damn well pleases.
All things considered, Nigerians are faced with two poor choices in my view. Voting for Goodluck will amount to rewarding some unforgivable sins. He has done many things well and in my view has the right economic policies when analysed holistically but is that enough given his gaffes? Voting for Buhari also means placing our fate in one of the old guard of military rulers who steered the country along the wrong course decades ago. That said, I believe the strongest part of a democracy is the signalling effect. We must send a message that poor performance will not be rewarded with a re-election. Our president must resume office with a healthy fear of the voting public.
Given the above, I believe Buhari to be the best of a bad bunch but happy that our democracy marches on. In my post in 2011, I decided to vote for Goodluck while hoping for a Fashola candidacy in 2015. We did not quite get that but given the events of the last year, I believe that the quality of candidates will improve going forward and the powers of kingmakers and godfathers will be diluted even further. Its a slow, long march to progress...but that is the beauty of democracy...continuous progress.