News coming out of Nigeria in recent years might have made anyone repeatedly wonder why Nigerians seem rather unique among the rest of humanity. Well, Nigeria is actually on this planet. Were Nigeria a dog, its constituting 250 ethnic nationalities would be its tail. The often jaw rubbing news from out of there are the results of the tail wagging and jerking the dog. Otherwise, the country could have grown into a wonder nation. But all is not lost. Nigeria is currently in a momentous time zone.
The outcome of the March 28, 2015 presidential elections suddenly ushers in fresh hopes that the country may survive after all. Former military dictator turned democrat, General Mohammadu Buhari, became the president elect with over 2 million more votes than the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan.
Serendipity hardly played any role in either man’s political fate. It was Mohammadu’s fourth attempt at the ballot. Neither was Goodluck’s defeat due to bad luck. Mr. Jonathan’s political life is quintessence of how not to screw up opportunities. If there was a presidential candidate who did not need to learn on the job, it was Goodluck Jonathan. By the time Jonathan became an elected president four years ago in 2011, he had acquired a resume that included two years each as a state deputy governor, state governor, Nigeria vice president and Nigeria acting president, making him far more experienced than even Mr. Barack Obama was at the time he was elected POTUS in 2008.
Unfortunately, the twelve years of Jonathan in the top echelon of the Nigerian leadership realm did not translate into quality years for Nigeria. All the goodwill Nigerians had bequeathed on Jonathan somehow got frittered away and converted into misfortunes that eventually became Buhari’s good luck in his fourth coming. Everything that could possibly go wrong in a democracy presidency went wrong under Mr. Jonathan, mostly avoidable. Nigeria became the largest Africa economy and most profligate, both at the same time.
Boko Haram Islamic extremists abducted citizens in hundreds at will, killed over 12,000, dispossessed and drove over 300,000 Nigerian downtrodden into refugee camps. At its peak, Boko Haram carved out and occupied a territory the size of Belgium which they ruled on a level of savagery previously unknown anywhere. National corruption rose into the stratospheres, as Naira, the national currency, tanked into mother earth. Purposeless appointments, unrepentant foreign travels with unnecessary large contingents and absurd fleet of presidential jets, insensitive and outlandish statements by the president and his associates, official incompetence, odious lies and embarrassing falsehood, all characterized the last four years of Jonathan at the helms.
Mr. Buhari’s baggage from his tyrannical military days dogged him through 12 years of his repeatedly unsuccessful democratic presidential candidacies. But, by the time the 2015 elections came around, the only way for Buhari to go in popularity was up with the same hitherto rejecting Nigerians who now have grown fed up with their out-of-touch Goodluck. Sai Buhari! (only Buhari) was the chant that echoed across the country in association with the yearning for “Change.” It was as if Nigerians were just beholding Mohammadu Buhari for the first time.
Jonathan’s ruling party, PDP, had clenched corrupt power tightly for 16 long suffering years by all means necessary including use of state apparatuses as tools for intimidating, killing, bribing and renting electorates. And if all else failed, PDP would simply declare election victories with voting figures pulled from thin air. This election was no different, PDP thoroughly bested itself. In one night of fundraising, PDP raised over N21.7 billion ($105 million) which included N1.5 billion donation from PDP state governors. Banks in the country were literally emptied of all available cash, including foreign currencies. Bales of cold cash were thrown at people in the streets in exchange for their votes for candidate Goodluck Jonathan, surpassing N50,000 per person per vote before the day of election. It nearly worked, for despite the palpable desire for change, some 13 million Nigerians still voted for Goodluck!
In the end, one of the finest spots in history for Jonathan and Nigeria was that the elections were held, a winner was declared and the results respected by both candidates. The elections concluded under much less violence and bloodshed than had been widely predicted. His PDP still reeling in bitterness and sourly weighing its decision to accept or not the results, Jonathan called and congratulated Buhari for winning the elections even before the results became official. That very act of humility and bravery at the hour of defeat effectively put a lid on a potentially dire state of strife that could have tilted teetered Nigeria off the brinks. Most probably, that 2-minute phone call is one purpose of life of Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.
Apparently, without Jonathan achieving his purpose of life, Buhari’s own purpose of life could not begin. Now it has. One hundred seventy million pairs of eyes are now fastened on Mr. Buhari with such unimaginable expectation and hope. Nigeria has suffered so much cumulative damage. Nigerians currently do not have the privilege of the “pursuit of happiness” which, ironically, is actually guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, winning its elections could be a treacherous achievement. Like eating the foofoo from inside a keg, Buhari would have to first figure out how to scoop it out to reach the mouth.
Buhari has identified his first two priorities – Boko Haram and the Nigeria brand of corruption that constantly befuddles the watching world. However, a dozen other national issues can easily compete for the priority status. Nigerians live in the dark, literally and figuratively. Of about 40MW electricity load needed to power its homes and industry, Nigeria currently runs on less than 3MW from its lone national grid. Unacceptable youth unemployment, plummeting quality of education and endemic grinding poverty are the manure on which widespread insecurity and militant activisms have nurtured over the years, across the country. Most if not all of the 50 million voters would be satisfied if they could have just the basic standard of living with access to food, water and shelter. Health care, good roads, transportation, impunity of the political leadership, diversified economy are other debilitating challenges. No president can remove all of these roadblocks to development even in eight years of two terms, but Nigerians expect Buhari to genuinely try or die trying.
As this is not a military environment, it is not clear how Mr. Buhari will prosecute his change programs. Confronting the corruption demon alone is one sure shortcut to moving Nigeria forward. The scope of Buhari’s war against corruption should cover the totality of the nation’s corruption machine. That includes confronting the chicanery and gargantuan waste in its bicameral legislature.
Nigeria cannot afford its current political system of government. It is way too expensive with too many redundancies. The system is overworked with too many omnipotent governors and too many do-nothing legislators, all above the law. Nigeria cannot afford a legislator earning more than the annual salary of the president of the United States. Spending enormous public funds flying legislators abroad for medical check-ups is tantamount to having lawmakers making laws over a country in which they do not have vote of confidence. It does not make sense, certainly not with the impoverishing daily misery in which the citizens live, year on year.
These are what make the landscape that Buhari is entering rugged and unpredictable. Buhari will need to be wise and fearless if he wants to save and redirect Nigeria on the right course. The potential for failure is high. Like the lyrical tune of the agidigbo drums, only the sage understands it, the wise dances to it.
By Qansy Salako
Dr. Salako [email protected] writes from Boston, MA. USA. He is a frontline social critic and commentator on Nigeria and Africa.