As a pan-African Free Agent observer and commentator, my position of choice when it comes to politicians and public personalities, is to be neutral. But like I often argue with friends, neutrality is something against which we humans are innately wired.

I very much doubt that neutrality is natural, especially given the set of circumstances or facts that often surround people or events requiring one to take a position.

Oftentimes, some -especially professionally trained people, do a good job setting aside their own feelings and sentiments to be neutral. At times, even this group of people fails in that regard. Sometimes, it’s easy to see through people’s biases despite their pretense otherwise. Other times, its’ not so easy to discern. But make no mistake; it’s a rare person who can remain truly neutral in a battle of ideas and personalities.

I’d like to save you the trouble of any guesswork about my bias and neutrality: I won’t be caught dead sitting on the fence on anything worth discussing. I do my little research, take the preponderance of evidence under advisement, and go with what I sincerely believe to be the right position.

I’ve been following Nigeria’s various political groups and their flag-bearer selections these past few weeks – the intrigues, the horse-trading, the usual banality, and all.  Like many other observers, I believe the battle will ultimately be among three candidates: incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, and Rtd. Gen. Muhammad Buhari.

This is not an attempt to dismiss serious-minded candidates like Pat Utomi, who I watch on TV weekly and like very much. Utomi might in fact make a great chief executive given the chance. However, this opinion is base on a realistic assessment of the candidates’ chances given the current Nigerian political terrain.

I hasten to make a clear distinction between the Pat Utomis and the Dele Momodous. The only thing the two have in common from what I’ve been able to gather, is the weakness of their respective support bases. While Mr. Utomi has established a name for himself as a visionary of intellectual persuasion, Mr. Momodou is a different subject altogether.

Mr. Momodou is a man who has made a name for himself as one who gave plaudits to Nigeria’s high and mighty, irrespective of how they attained such height and might. Through his Ovation magazine, he cheered on the country’s rich (mostly shameless looters of the commonweal,) to outdo each other in their conspicuous wealth-flaunting in the midst of misery by sensationalizing their many wasteful celebratory occasions. Which is why at the very primal level, one can’t help but wonder how a man who has himself acquired his wealth by encouraging debauchery among his nation’s thieving class, can turn around and ask his fellow citizens to trust him to change that which he applauded gleefully all the way to the bank for years?

The European and mid-eastern style weddings and parties that Mr. Momodou awarded Nigeria’s Movers and Shakers kudos for, are part of the reasons why the nation lacks behind in all vital areas of human progress. In stark terms, money that ought to have been used to build many a road, school, or hospital was what went to extravaganzas during which belly dancers from the Middle East or Asia performed erotic gyrations for Mr. Momodou’s erstwhile model citizens for a few hours, for which the performers carted away more money than the average Nigerian makes in years. The behavior that he has been glamorizing in his magazine is in fact the bane of contemporary Nigerian society.

So, exactly what does Mr. Momodou want to change about Nigeria now, and when did he have that epiphany? His candidature should therefore be seen in one light: as comic relief! If Mr. Momodou desires to atone for his past, one might dare suggest that he study and emulate the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. He should give back to Nigeria’s poor what was passed to him by its thieves. President material, Mr. Momodou is not.

So, we begin with the first serious candidate, President Jonathan – our man Friday. By virtue of his status, Jonathan is the man to beat among the top three contenders. He is also a man with a compelling story. Dr. Jonathan is an extraordinary man. Anyone who has gone as far as he has with as little political gumption as he has, is extraordinary. Jonathan also has much else going for him.

Tops, he still has considerable goodwill on his side. In my heart of hearts, I’d love to see someone from his area and background win the presidency. Jonathan’s win in a clean election would portend a wholesomeness that Nigeria could really use given the previous holders of the position he is seeking.

Also going for Jonathan is the power of incumbency. Under any circumstances and in any nation, this is almost always formidable. In the Nigerian context, it has always been the most decisive factor in what has passed for elections so far.

Another feather in Jonathan’s cap is his personal mien. Regardless of what one thinks of his politics, party, or associates, Jonathan is a man who lacks the swagger that so many African Big Men like to flaunt which tends to rub some of us professional or principled types the wrong way. This suggests a certain amount of self-discipline and humility that is endearing. But that’s where the positives end for Jonathan in my book.

On the downside, he is the linchpin for a party dominated by people who appeal to, and operate, on the darker side of human nature. The irreplaceable sage Wole Soyinka, aptly described their party as “a den of murderers.” Add to that -thieves, perverts, and deviants of all sorts. They see elections purely as “financial investments” worth life and limb to win. In fact, what makes Jonathan a formidable candidate is not so much the bully pulpit of the presidency, as it is the No-Lower God Fathers who are literally willing to kill, torture, or maim as many as they have to, to hand him a “victory.” The recent re-run gubernatorial election in Delta State was the latest specimen in that tradition that has made Nigerian elections occasions to test the law of the jungle. Those nursing romanticized notions about Prof. Jega’s magic better have a re-think given the Delta experience. Nothing short of a determined population willing to protect their votes will stop Jonathan’s party, regardless of how well the on-going biometric voter registration goes.

In a just world, most of Jonathan’s party stalwarts would constitute the underbelly of Nigerian society, but given the perverse state of affairs they’ve made Nigerian reality, they happen to be the ones running the show. If they were Chinese, most of the King Makers who nominated Jonathan last week would have long been executed because of their lifestyle. But alas, they jail petty thieves and High Five each other whenever one of them pulls off a spectacular heist a.k.a. commandeering a Federal or State Department or Local Council budget. Nothing will change as long as such people hold sway in Nigeria.

Jonathan’s problem is he lacks the mettle to stand up to these daredevil crooks. We’ve seen indications of that lack of forte during the Umaru Yar’Adua hostage crisis. If Jonathan had any real backbone, he’d have floored that cabal long before they made Nigeria the laughing stock of the universe. All he had to do was call their bluff and force their hand. Even that, he couldn’t do.

In many other areas, he comes across as a man way out of his league. When he and Yar’Adua took over, they froze countless projects and programs initiated by Obasanjo. We were told that because of the haphazard way things used to be done – no planning, no in-depth analysis, etc, national development was uncoordinated. Everything was done in a knee-jerk and myopic fashion, we were made to understand. After clocking a full year in office, his boss – the late Yar’Adua told a select group of newsmen that Nigeria was on the cusp on “an exciting year.” He implied that the Planning Phase was done, and the Implementation Phase  was upon us. Three years on, we are still waiting.

Not only that, but crucial areas like electricity supply, road and railway transportation, schools, hospitals, security of life and property, have all actually gotten worse in the last four years. One promise after another has gone down the drain. And it would have been great if one were able to point to the post-Yar’Adua era to credit Jonathan for signs of a turning tide. There’s no such thing. Nothing the man has done to date is inspiring. What has been holding up the implementation of those wonderful Yar’Adua-Jonathan plans? Especially as Jonathan was a key part of that Planning-Only first year.

When Jonathan was asked to account for Bayelsa State funds in response to accusations regarding expenditures relating to the pursuit of his vice presidential ambition, his reply was that “government is a continuum.” He suggested that it is impossible for him to tell how much money he found in the State treasury when he became governor, how much he collected while at the helm, and how much he left as he was leaving for federal office. Why that is hard to do, he never bothered to educate us. Anyhow, as it was then, so it should be now: Jonathan should be held responsible for all the cluelessness and waste of the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration because “government is a continuum.” Especially as no one can discern where Yar’Adua stopped, and Jonathan began.

Goodluck Jonathan should be voted out of office. Nigeria needs and deserves a better president at this critical juncture. 

Then we take a look at Rtd Maj. Gen Muhammad Buhari, a man who represents different symbols to different people because of his reign as a military dictator. There are many who cannot get over the fact that a man who truncated democracy over two decades ago would ask Nigerians to entrust him with their leadership in a democratic dispensation. Especially as Buhari is an old (military) school type when it comes to law and order. The biggest mark against him is the decree under which three drug peddlers were executed through a retroactive application of the law. Many cite that incident as being symptomatic of the impunity with which Buhari and his team operated under as military rulers.

Years later, Gen. Buhari told some reporters that almost all of the excesses his team committed was motivated by the alacrity to reform Nigeria quickly. History has shown that Gen. Buhari and team had justified cause for concern. In fact, it is the man’s history that makes him a candidate worthy of election to the presidency.

Gen. Muhammad Buhari belongs to an exclusive club of human beings. He is  a man who has conquered the one primitive instinct that has been the bane of the human species – especially as it relates to us Africanoids: greed. This is a man who has been given FOUR different opportunities in a two decades period to enrich himself like other members of his military-ruling class: as Military governor, as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources, as military Head of State, and as Chairman of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund. In each of these positions, Gen Buhari chose to do the honorable thing by keeping his hand out of the public cookie jar. Gen. Buhari is also the only Nigerian military ruler to resist engaging in self-promotion to a higher rank. He has been tested over and over again, and he passed. Those that continue to throw corruption allegations at this man are not just being disingenuous, they’re betraying their own lack of depth.
Exactly what would stop Buhari from flaunting his wealth if he has any, like almost all of his mostly corrupt colleagues? It’s not like Nigeria has ever had a leader after him who cares to dig into the past of his predecessors. Military big names like the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Yakubu Danjuma, David Mark and countless others were never Head of State, yet we know for a fact that they acquired considerable wealth from their positions. Some have oil blocks, many companies, private airplanes or airlines, golf courses around the world, etc. Buhari has none of these. You can tell a lot about a human being from the way he or she carries him or herself. Buhari’s simplicity and his cavalier attitude about his individual security suggest a man unburdened by the weight of his conscience. There’s a reason why the Babangidas are paranoid about their “security.”
My only problem with Gen. Buhari’s candidature is his age. At 68, he is a grandfather who is susceptible to what I like to call the “sun effect.” African grandees are notorious for losing it in their 70s and beyond. President Abdoulie Wade of Senegal, who is presently openly flirting with his preference to have  his son Karim Wade succeed him, is a good example.
For that reason, Buhari wouldn’t get my vote. But I won’t shed tears if he wins. Nigeria will be in good hands under him.

Finally, the third serious candidate Mr. Nuhu Ribadu. Though a novice politician, Nuhu Ribadu is, at fifty, a real contender for the Nigerian presidency this year. That has everything to do with the name he has made for himself both as a police officer, and Chair of the country’s main anti-corruption agency – the EFCC. If there is a politician in Nigeria today who fires up African people’s hopes and imagination for a bright future, it is Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu’s ascendance to the presidency would signal an epiphany that is sorely needed continent wide.

Ribadu is by no means a perfect man or candidate. He did make many mistakes in his EFCC position, not the least of which was to have allowed himself to be Obasanjo’s hound dog. Wittingly, or unwittingly, Nuhu became Obasanjo’s pawn going after those the boss wanted out of commission while putting off the pursuit of even more corrupt friends and allies of the man. This is the main blotch on Ribadu’s otherwise sterling record.

I’d like to believe brother Ribadu has learned from that experience, and as president will push to cut the strings that keep the EFCC Chairman beholden to any Aso Rock tenant. The EFCC should have the freedom to go after anyone with or without presidential blessing. Ribadu’s personal experience ought to serve him well.

It is particularly heartening to see Ribadu keep his distance from the Obasanjo crowd. That he has chosen to run under a more progressive tent is a good omen.  Unlike most, I’m not particularly seduced by the ACN party. My honest believe is that governors like Fashola look very good only because of how horrible the majority are. I seriously doubt that the people of Lagos State are getting the maximum value for their money.
I reached this conclusion after watching the short encounter between some citizens reporters and the governor in London recently as reported by Saharareporters.com. It was not so much what Fashola said, as what his body language did. No one without something to hide will bristle the way the good governor did when asked very simple questions. One can only hope that under a president Ribadu, those now inflating contracts by ten percent or more in ACN States, will drop their commission down to five percent or less. That would translate into tens of new schools, hospitals, hundreds of miles of roads, so on.

At the personal level, I have no questions about Ribadu’s integrity. Any person who can voluntarily turn over to government a bribe of fifteen million dollars in raw cash given in secret, has passed the honesty threshold. There is no doubt that Ribadu would not be alive today had he not fled his powerful enemies under the Yar’Adua dispensation. Like Buhari, Ribadu has also been tested and he passed with flying colors.

I therefore vote for Mr. Nuhu Ribadu the candidate. I refuse to endorse his party.
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