The 2015 elections have come and gone, winners and losers have emerged. Nigeria as widely predicted has not exploded into smithereens. Rather, there is some peace and quiet in the land. Needless to say, Nigeria was on the edge of a precipice and so, we have to be grateful to God that we still have a largely peaceful country. The people have emerged the winners, and in the real sense, there are no losers.
The contest was a straight fight between continuity anchored on transformation as represented by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and change anchored on regime change at the centre and possible change of policy direction as represented by his main challenger, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is now a fact of our daily lives that one has prevailed over the other – Buhari has emerged as the preferred choice of the people despite my best effort to hold him to account for his past misdeeds. At least, with this historic victory, he has proved Mallam Nasir el-Rufai wrong who once said of him: “Buhari is perpetually unelectable” and has entered the history books as one who never gives up on his dreams – he was fourth time lucky. This will no doubt inspire generations of people never to give up on their dreams. I admire this tenacity, strength of character and congratulate him on his achievements. I wish him well on his mission to fix our country. As God said in the Bible: “Heed the voice of the people…”. The people have spoken, we must all respect their choice.
Expectations are quite high and I sense in Buhari’s supporters, that insatiable thirst for the illusion of a perfect man who will make everything perfect – a fanatical expectation borne out of a devotion to make-belief, substitution of historical facts with a warm embrace of fantasies that often isn’t driven by calm reasoning and pragmatism – exactly the type that drove his campaign on social media. It’s a moonshot to think that all of our problems will just go away under Buhari. But more than anyone else, Buhari is to blame for the overblown promises he made and the great expectations the people now have of him. Many, including myself are waiting on him to deliver on those promises – even though I do fervently pray he succeeds because, “this generation of Nigerians, and indeed future generations, have no country other than Nigeria”. And so, we’ll all be affected by his success or failure. The beauty of democracy is that while the minority must have their say, the majority must have their way. That is what has happened.
While I concede to Buhari’s supporters the right to celebrate after a long and bruising battle, however, early signs indicate a sense of gloating – which to me is unhelpful for the country. And I must state here without equivocation that the task of national rebirth is too serious for anyone to gloat in an election where nearly 13 million registered voters voted against him. The circumstances under which Buhari is assuming power are quite dire – and require a deep and sobering reflection on his part. The president-elect needs to contain himself from those baying for blood and vengeance. He should see his mandate as a rare second chance at self-redemption and not persecution of real or perceived enemies. He should rise to the occasion and unite the nation instead of taking any action that will further exacerbate the current divisions and suspicion about his motives.
All those who can help, whether in the out-going government or technocrats from the private sector or in diaspora, should be brought on board to add value to the cause of nation-building. As I write, many states have not paid five to six months salaries owing largely to maladministration, mismanagement and dwindling oil revenue. The stark reality of the fierce urgency to build a credible team that will hit the ground running will become clearer when he assumes office on May 29. The fact of the matter right now is that there is no money to meet the high expectations he created with some of the unrealistic promises he made on the campaign stump. So, tackling the myriad of socio-economic problems should be the utmost priority for Buhari. And I dare say the current honeymoon won’t last long before the people start demanding to cash the promissory notes he has given them. Those promissory notes will fall due from May 29 and the people will not accept a default or a returned cheque marked “insufficient funds”.
But beyond the victory of Buhari, something momentous and monumental happened – and it has changed Nigeria for good. At exactly 5.15pm on March 31, the unintended real change finally came to Nigeria. An ordinary telephone call from Jonathan to Buhari to concede defeat, burnt-down- the-harry and unleashed extraordinary forces of change on our landscape – finally taking the much needed small step to consolidating Nigeria’s democratic credentials for good. It was unbelievable news to my ears, but then, it was true. The tension-soaked atmosphere immediately cascaded, dramatically replaced with relief, backslapping and joyous celebrations that the doomsday prophets had once again been proved wrong about Nigeria. I was completely dumbfounded by the gracious humility of the act, and how an otherwise difficult situation can be made to look so simple.
That singular act of statesmanship demonstrated by the president, wrote Nigeria straight into the history books and the roll-call of democratic nations. It pulled the country several notches back from the brink of disaster and political instability and effectively set the agenda for national development. Jonathan has brought political stability without which economic progress will not be possible. Indeed, for our tomorrow, Jonathan gave his today. It is an extraordinary measure of personal sacrifice that has elevated the most vilified president in the country’s history to an instant hero in the hearts and minds of the people. And indeed, his supporters may have some good reason to crow, and we should allow them, if it mitigates the pain of their loss. Instructively, in all Buhari’s three previous failed shot at the presidency, he always refused to concede defeat even when it was obvious he lost.
Some have argued that Jonathan didn’t have much of a choice than to accept defeat. Well, true. But my response to that is: we are grateful he didn’t think he had a choice. All he needed for trouble to have started was to disagree with the results – and all hell would have broken loose – as many precious lives would have been lost needlessly and businesses destroyed or disrupted and the much needed foreign investors who held back to await the outcome of the election would have looked elsewhere for their investment.
Now, to underscore the seriousness of the situation: just look at the report that 23 people died celebrating Buhari’s victory, then, pause for a moment and imagine how many people would have died protesting his loss at the polls.
And who knows the form the violence would have assumed and how long it would have taken to restore normalcy. The attendant socio-economic cost to the country can better be imagined. But living true to his now famous refrain, he proved that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. He has put the country first and set a precedent that will be difficult to ignore by anyone. In fact, Jonathan has become the bellwether of our democracy as this event is a turning point in Nigerian history and should this precedent endures, it will change our conduct, attitude to politics and interaction with the system for the better. Consequently, the struggle for power would be less vicious and acrimonious.
Another real change that happened in the 2015 elections is that in three federal constituencies of Amuwo-Odofin, Ajeromi-Ifelodun and Oshodi-Isolo in Lagos, non-indigenes were elected by the people to represent them at the Federal House of Representatives to the chagrin of the promoters of change. By electing Chief Oghene Egoh, Mrs. Rita Orji and Mr. Tony Nwoolu as their representatives to the House of Representatives, the people are sending a loud and clear message to the godfathers that their time is up – and that they need change from the godfathers themselves. I am sure that when they started the campaign for change, they didn’t intend change to mean non-indigenes winning elections in Lagos. But inadvertently, they have unleashed a tidal wave of forces that could change our politics sooner than later.
The president may have been the target of the clamour for change which has now happened. But as in most revolutions, those who start them are more often than not – consumed in the mob hysteria of the moment before sanity prevails. The apostles of change will now have to grapple with a far more deeper and meaningful change than they bargained for. As the saying goes “events that change the course of history sometimes happen by accident, when they succeed, they have changed the course of history”. We are at that moment in our history now, and I sense that those who promoted change are suddenly worried and fearful of change.
Let me leave no one in any doubt here: I am going to hold the president-elect, Buhari and APC to account for every promise they made on the campaign stump. That is the only way to ensure that they do not take Nigerians for granted as we march to a new era, guided by profound uncertainty and extraordinary faith in our nation.
Fayemi Unlike Jonathan
Let me remind Nigerians that what Jonathan has done that has earned him many accolades from all over the world was first done albeit on a small scale last year by ex-governor Kayode Fayemi. I was among the many who praised and commended him for his statesmanship and extraordinary courage conceding defeat. After the results were declared by INEC, he phoned Ayo Fayose – the winner, to congratulate him on his victory. He followed that up with a broadcast to the Ekiti people. Here is an excerpt: “Following the gubernatorial elections held in the Land of Honour, Ekiti State, Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has officially returned the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the election.
“If indeed, this is the will of the Ekiti people, I stand in deference to your will. If the result of the elections is an expression of the voice of our people, we must all heed your voice.
“I have just spoken with my brother, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, congratulating him on his victory. In a few hours from now, I would be meeting the governor-elect to discuss the future of our dear state and how we would work together to institute a smooth transition programme… Despite our diverse party affiliations, and regardless of which way we voted on Saturday, we must remember that we are all sons and daughters of Ekiti State. Ekiti is ours to build together.”
When I read that speech, I told myself: “This is it. Finally, we are at the beginning of a new dawn in our politics”. But no sooner he read his speech he recanted, denying he ever conceded defeat in the first place. Then he went on a fishing expedition for tapes on how the election was rigged. He found one and announced to the world that he was rigged out of office. I have seen the transcript of the tape. The best I can deduce from it is that there was no level playing field on the day of the election in terms of movement. I didn’t see actual rigging or thumb printing for the winner. Everything in that tape was largely circumstantial – there was no hard evidence of rigging. I doubt very much if the allegations made much difference to the outcome of the election. Though not a lawyer, I doubt if that tape will withstand thorough cross-examination in a court of law.
The doctrine of the soon-to-be ruling party is that elections are only free and fair when it is victorious, otherwise they are rigged. There is no spirit of sportsmanship in its DNA. Fayemi’s recant has denied him a place in that hallowed roll-call of statesmen. He is now just an ordinary politician with eyes always set on the next election.