Nigeria Tested by Choice: Buhari or Jonathan or No One?

The 2015 elections in Nigeria are about Muhammadu Buhari of APC and Goodluck Jonathan of PDP. Those who are not voting will be voting for ‘no one’. Voting for ‘no one’ is legitimate in a democracy. Beyond the relevance games, rumours, slander, seditions, insults, accusations, libel, smears, cross-carpeting, campaigns, anti-campaigns and all what not, on Election Day people will vote. I suspect the choice of candidate to be voted for will be based mostly on ethnicity, [political] ricism, religion and beer parlour logic or mai chai corner consensus. It would have been better if the elections were based on a rational basis.

Some say Jonathan should be president while Buhari should be head of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission because Buhari is so keen on anti-corruption. Some others say Buhari should be president and Jonathan the head of Niger Delta Development Commission because Jonathan is so keen on development. Such comments are an insult to democracy. A very fundamental implication of constitutional democracy is, that with certain few exceptions, “anyone can vote or be voted for”. Convicted felons even win elections from jail. This should be true in Nigeria and not be decided by expedient consensus but the constitution.

[Military] Dictatorships are exactly what they are, dictatorships. In every part of this world where a military coup d’état takes place ousting a democratic government certain “invariable things” happen; the constitution is proscribed; draconian laws are put in place; a high focus on state enforced social discipline is adopted; arrests, detentions and imprisonments without due process are common; media and information suppression becomes pervasive. The intensity of the “invariable things” depends on the level of enlightenment or the ability of the citizens to resist. I would like people to search for military dictators who have not conformed to enacting the “invariable things”. Note that military coups strictly arise in failed democracies not flourishing ones.

In democratic times, the introduction of neoliberal policy also enforces “invariable things” on the masses; brutal government spending cuts and investment embargoes in electricity, health, education, water; subsidy removals, the work force is down-sized creating mass unemployment; the local currency is crapiously devalued, starvation wages replace living wages; a culture of economic content (e.g. civil service mentality) is replaced with a culture of greed (stealing is right!); Human Development Indices decline sharply and stay down etc. Corporations and the interests of the power elite get deregulated while the lives of the ordinary citizen gets regulated creating what Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism”. Apart from intellectuals, many Nigerians often “miss” the days of a statocracy in democratic. This is the case even though democracy is what it is.

Nigeria is perhaps unfortunate to have had a tough choice of either military dictators or neoliberal democrats as heads of state since General Gowon came to power. Neither of such have truly satisfied the societal requirements of the everyday Nigerian whose unemployment, underemployment, poverty, social hardships, cost of living are always increasing while their life expectancy, opportunities of upward mobility, access to social amenities, power of votes, value of money in hand and savings, standard of living are ever decreasing. This has created a need for a “messiah” which may not be so obvious at the moment. It is unfortunate there is no serious debate about the condition of citizens and the role of the state in it.

Neither Muhammadu Buhari nor Goodluck Jonathan are potential messiahs. However, Nigerians have to choose between both of them to be their president come elections and some good can come from the winner. The “bads” of Buhari and Jonathan are well known, as they are, exaggerated or understated. The introduction of Decrees 2 and 4, civil servants late to work made to do frog jumps, the Chibok Girls fiasco, Boko Haram crisis, escalating corruption etc. I will not explore their “bads”.

Buhari was a military dictator. He had one and a half years to rule. Empirically, Buhari is by far the anti-corruption head of state Nigeria has ever had. He was the first president to “close the doors” of institutional corruption. Also, empirically Buhari sought to close the doors of criminal activities like currency trafficking, drug peddling, rent offering to the power elite and news buying. Currency trafficking meant Nigerians could hoard millions of Nigeria overseas and bring it back in when necessary particularly for elections and lobbying; Buhari changed the Nigerian currency rendering such reserves useless and it stung the power elite placing them in instant penury.

Ask the parents of those, especially the Big Men/Women in Nigeria who witnessed the addiction to and death from overdoses of hard drugs of their kids, if they support(ed) the death penalty for ‘your-destruction-is-my-profit’ drug traffickers? Buhari did not stay long in office because he refused to govern by sharing rents to the power elite. On record Buhari is the head of state that refused and diligently sought practical ways to avoid the dictates of the IMF or World Bank and that is the real reason why General Babangida was brought to power, to inflict neoliberal policy on Nigerians.

Punishing corrupt politicians, fairly administered, is one of the “acute costs” in the political economy Nigeria needs to develop. No country has progressed constructively without clearing such “acute costs”. Nigeria’s shocking national amnesia tells us that 2nd Republic politicians particularly Jim Nwobodo and Ambrose Alli did not steal a shilling from state coffers. Who then stole the multi-billion dollar surplus left to the leadership of the 2nd Republic and incurred the multi-billion dollar debt due to profligate mismanagement? 30 years from now it will be argued that James Ibori, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Olabode George and others did not steal a kobo from state or federal coffers. Has Nigeria ever had corrupt officials then?

Jonathan is a democratic president. Jonathan has had six years to rule. First of all Jonathan is neither an experienced politician nor leader due to no fault of his. His ascendance to being governor and president is one of the most dramatic “Cinderella” or “serendipity” stories of our generation. He lacks a leader’s personality or oratory skills. However, to many Nigerians, Jonathan has done well. He completed projects to extents and in ways President Obasanjo as a democratic president could not. Nigerians have consistently shown since Independence that tarring roads is much more important than creating jobs that provide a living, building an adequate health care system, providing everyday security and the like. So he has done well. Building federal universities is laudable but doing so without creating an economy that will provide the graduates jobs/enterprise opportunities cancels itself out.

Presidential pardons are neither criminal nor easy decisions and are often controversial. But they are a strong part of democratic politics and governance. Presidential pardons nominally are used to enable convicted politicians forced into exile to return home and be rehabilitated e.g. the Biafran rebel leader Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and sponsor of the April 22nd 1990 coup d’état attempt, Great Ogboru. Some guilty of corruption also get such pardons. I abhor corruption but the political implications of pardons can be extremely delicate.

I am aware of one case were an entire ethnic group refused to allow any of its sons or daughters accept federal political office till a presidential pardon was issued to one of their own. If the government did not comply in the press it would be reported that a Christian South ethnic has been shunned by government. Democracy defined as government by negotiation is applied to dilemma of “lesser of two evils”. The terms of presidential pardon should be simply made transparent in future with long-term considerations, if we expect the president to make those painful choices that will “balance the state”. Such acts will always remain controversial.

I do not consider routine governance activities or minor achievements with no significant outcome for society as worthy of mention. One may think from this article that I am biased in favour of Buhari over Jonathan. The facts are that Buhari’s regime happened 30 years ago and has been dissected and re-dissected with the privilege of hindsight and new information. Jonathan does not have such a privilege yet; judgements about his legacy are still in the making. This presents a true virtue of democracy; a political party and leader may lose elections because they were perceived as doing badly at the time but may win a future election when their legacy is properly evaluated by the electorate.

Buhari or Jonathan or no one? The choice is yours.

Grimot Nane

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