I looked into the likely outcome of the 2011 presidential elections; except for any unpredictable determinant circumstances, one of the following shall occupy the highest political office in Nigeria—Goodluck Jonathan, Atiku Abubakar, Nuhu Ribadu, and Muhammadu Buhari. Those four deserve to be taken seriously, each for a specific reason or combination of reasons.
Goodluck Jonathan: He is the incumbent president, with considerable amount of influence, regarded by many to be an “outsider.” He does not have the baggage of the past that perennial politicians in Nigeria are perceived to have. It is hard to convince an informed Nigerian that Jonathan is responsible for Nigeria’s problems, whether it is political or economic; social or religious. By his confession, he has no foreign bank accounts or investments. He asks if his colleagues can say the same thing. He is obviously a man of modest means, who would not be reluctant about making up his mind concerning what is in the best interest of Nigeria as he does not need to worry how such decisions would affect his personal investments and business interests. Of all the four, he alone has the practical experience as president in a democratic dispensation riddled with checks and balances. A president in our kind of democracy must possess the right negotiation and persuasion skills in his dealings with the legislature, patience, calm and good judgement under pressure, and ability to respect and listen to all sides, while being firm. President Jonathan has demonstrated all these qualities, not least during the Yar’Adua drama. What some may say he lacks in experience, he makes up for in that every day he grows on the job, which the other three are seeking to enter upon. Therefore, none of the other three can claim to have the experience of a democratic president more than Jonathan has; in fact, none of them has such experience yet.
He has put forward clear plans to resolve the electricity power problem (The Jonathan Road map). He has proposed a 2011 budget which is modest and realistic, and has sent to the national assembly a Sovereign Wealth Fund bill, which would provide a legal framework for savings for the future. With the passage of the bill, a strong foundation for infrastructural development in Nigeria would have been laid. It is generally agreed that the resolution of the electricity problem of Nigeria would make the GDP of Nigeria to almost double within a relatively short time of such resolution. Frequent changes in governments and thereby policy thrusts have robbed Nigeria of the needed momentum for development. Nigerians who understand the policy direction of the Jonathan government would be afraid of changing the pilot in the middle of the storm. With his planned massive public works captured in the 2011 budget, which contains a capital expenditure proposal of just over one trillion naira (almost 7 billion US dollars), aimed at providing jobs, massive bailout for the textile industry, provision of about N 70 billion for access by the small-scale entrepreneurs, and his focus on education, indicated by the recent education summit, which he personally attended, it is clear the direction in which the president wants to take the country.
The persistent allegations against President Jonathan by apostles of zoning democracy, is feared to be his worry, especially with the recent claim that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) delegates of northern extraction are 61 percent of all legitimate delegates, who shall vote for a presidential candidate of the ruling PDP. There is also the veiled threat given by one of the presidential aspirants, who is against Jonathan running in the 2011 presidential election on account of “zoning”, that “those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.” Some have warned that if the president wants Nigeria to remain peaceful, he should not run for the office of President of Nigeria. It remains to be seen if Dr. Jonathan would give in to this unceasing pressure and scarecrow. He symbolizes a hero of the new Nigeria, where the constitution, and not an arrangement by a few, is supreme. Should Jonathan win the presidential primaries of his party, a clear message would have been sent by the delegates that Nigeria is ready for a new kind of politics. But if he losses (and we are told by one of the apostles of “zoning”, that the “North would decide who wins the presidential ticket of the PDP”), it would be clear that Nigeria has not outgrown her primordial and immature considerations. But if he wins, then a new dawn has come in our politics.
Atiku Abubakar: He is a veteran politician who knows what elections are about. He is a bold and courageous fighter, who knows how to use the law to make a point. He has cultivated friendship across the nation. Contrary to the general perception that he is “not loyal”, he is just someone that believes truth must be told. In fact, he encourages people working with him to disagree with him where they feel he is wrong. But I observe he is a bit too outspoken sometimes, and that makes him to convey a distasteful personality to some Nigerians who are used to politics of unquestioned deference. When I asked him to resign in 2007 in my article “The Atiku Conundrum” (available online), it was because I saw that he could not accomplish what he wanted to accomplish if he still remained vice-president while Obasanjo was president. I wanted him to realize and seize the moment as a veritable arrow head of Nigeria’s opposition. He had just commissioned the Democracy House on Gimbia Street, Garki, Abuja; his dogged fight had given significant interpretation to certain portions of the constitution. He should have crowned that with a resignation from the office of Vice-president, no matter the present risk at the time. But regrettably, he passed up the opportunity. The sense of timing of Mr. Abubakar is not encouraging. He must know the times. But I know he is a good democrat who listens and submits to superior argument.
Having observed Mr. Abubakar at close range for some years, I have come to the realization that he is a man of taste, who wants nothing less than excellence. He does not play with the welfare of his staff (He is the second largest employer of labour in Adamawa State after the Adamawa State government, employing more than 4000 people working in his business interests in Adamawa alone). In his employ are people from all parts of Nigeria and outside. He believes that if the worker is well-paid and cared for, he would give the best form of productivity. His clear vision that education must be functional, and that there must be a useful link between universities and the society, thus crafting relevant solutions to societal problems, propels him to embrace the American form of education. He does not hide his aversion for the British university system, which he views as too isolationist, creating ivory towers, rather than a seamless blend with the society. Scholarships are given every semester to academically deserving students from all parts of Nigeria and beyond, irrespective of religion and other sectional considerations. He desires to replicate what he has achieved privately in public education in Nigeria. He is an advocate of massive public works in order to create jobs. He is as responsible for the problems during the Obasanjo/Atiku government as he is for its successes. Accordingly, his strong point, which he has not shied away from making, is that their government left more than 20 billion USD in the Excess crude account, and about 60 billion USD in foreign reserves. Less than four years later we have less than 1 billion USD in the Excess crude account and just over 30 billion USD in foreign reserves. He is an apostle of fiscal responsibility.
But rightly or wrongly, Atiku has a bad perception of corruption, and perception is very significant in politics. Several allegations have been made about Mr. Abubakar, but hardly do people doubt his ability to bring about quality accelerated development. I have written about the necessity to bring closure to the PTDF fund scandal; I have read about the Halliburton and Congressman Jefferson affair; I have come upon allegations bordering on money laundering involving even our university, the American University of Nigeria, of which Mr. Abubakar is a worthy founder. But I have not read about a single court charge against the man. It is important to note that allegations do not amount to convictions. But will the Nigerian electorate ignore this reputation? More importantly, for now, will the PDP delegates ignore the allegations; will the PDP screening panel wave aside those allegations? The Atiku campaign must frontally address those allegations at a world press conference, where journalists should be given the chance to ask him prodding questions about those matters. When a politician confronts his seeming sore points courageously, he ends up gaining political capital from them.
Personally, I have no doubts about Mr. Abubakar’s abilities to lead Nigeria well.
But I know that an average Nigerian does not hide his hatred for him, whether it is because of jealousy over his Midas touch or perceived bad reputation, the end result is the same. However, I would advise that we should judge the sense of judgement, knowledge, and compassion of a candidate to serve even as we scrutinize their moral character.
Nuhu Ribadu: While many Nigerians are excited by the presence of Mr. Ribadu on the singular account of his perceived impeccable character and crusade against corruption (the very opposite of the perception of Atiku Abubakar), that alone is not sufficient to win him the office of the president. His ideological convictions and vision for re-engineering Nigeria are yet hazy. His voice against the aberrations of governance in his home state of Adamawa remains unheard.
His economic agenda, social agenda, education agenda are not clear, whether in practice or ideal. While he may gather some momentum at this time, it may only be to prepare him for the future. We need to listen to him some more and get to feel him on those issues that affect our lives directly. Fighting corruption is commendable, but certainly not enough for the exalted office of president of the federal republic of Nigeria. His resume for now is too short, and his views on important national issues too scanty. We need to hear his views about resource control, resolving the Niger Delta problem, fiscal federalism, functional education, raising the literacy level in the nation, fighting crime, social security, discouraging and fighting corruption etc.
Muhammadu Buhari: General Buhari was one of the military officers that truncated a democratically elected government, took away the liberties of Nigerians, and killed young Nigerians (Mr. Owoh and friends) via a decree that was used retrospectively. He gagged the press, and destroyed the prospects of good governance in states such as mine, where a visionary government was in place. For instance, the millions of dollars that had been procured by the Aper Aku government of Benue state for the industrialisation of my state were stolen and wasted during the regime of Gen. Buhari, while they waged their War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Strangely, that is what some Nigerians would point to as Buhari’s achievement—WAI. His chances are not bright. Nigerians, generally, have short memories, so there are yet many people that will vote for him because of his perceived impeccable character. But character alone does not make a good leader, otherwise we would be asking Bishops and Imams to come and run for political offices. Buhari is a leader of the past. The sun has set on him, at least politically.
While chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Buhari used judiciously the resources under his care and built great roads in the nation and other PTF-assisted projects. Those who remember this might vote for him. His weakness is his lack of diplomatic finesse.
Nigerians, register and encourage your neighbours to do same. Huge voter turn-out will reduce rigging. But if you refuse to vote you have no right to complain after May 29, 2011.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ).
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