We have seen all of this before: an election, followed by a challenge of the result in the court of law.
We have seen all of this before: a legal process that runs all the way up to the Supreme Court, ending in a predictable result.
We have seen all of this before: that legal challenge consuming so much time that by the time it is concluded, the country is getting ready for new elections.
We have seen all of this before: the decision of the judiciary shredded by controversy as we have two “winners”: the moral victor side by side with the winner at the judiciary, who is normally the same as the electoral commission’s declared winner.
Since 2003, the claimant of the moral victory in the presidential election has consistently been one man: General Muhammadu Buhari. For three straight elections, in two different parties, he has lost to the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), “winning” 32 per cent of the presidential vote in 2003, 18 per cent in 2007, and 31 percent in 2011.
Buhari is currently in court once again, trying to get the judiciary to intervene in an election that was flawed. That is his right, but I now invite him to do something far more important and beneficial to Nigeria than winning an election or an appeal: to do something in-between elections.
Let us go back a little bit. As was the case in 1999 and 2003, Nigeria’s opposition parties spent a considerable amount of time in mourning, following the 2007 elections.
They screamed on our television sets. They wept on the streets. They vowed that at the next election—in 2011—they would defeat the PDP.
Well, the 2011 elections are over, and the PDP is still in control. The PDP certainly manipulated the election in clever ways, but the opposition did not really present a challenge. The reason that the PDP can claim not only that it won, but that it did so in a free and fair contest, is that there was no opposition solid enough to take advantage of its duplicity.
And the reason for that is that we seem to see politics in Nigeria only in terms of the frantic few weeks before the elections. Nigeria’s political life should not be reduced to an attempt to defeat the PDP, unless—like the PDP—your only interest is power, not service.
And even if politics was simply about defeating the PDP, somebody must invest greater imagination and commitment to ensuring such feasibility, so that such a transition does not simply mean transferring the asylum to a different bunch of inmates.
This is where I call upon General Buhari by name, because the problem with our elections is the content of our concern in between elections.
In between our elections, sadly, two sets of betrayals creep into our national life: the winners ignore the responsibility of office in favour of what Professor Richard Joseph has called prebendalism, while the losers creep into their shell, counting the days to the next election.
Think about it: on Animal Farm in between our elections, you do not hear many winners talking about electoral promises they have fulfilled. That is often because they are too busy at the buffet table.
And you do not hear much from the opposition animals much, either. That is often because they have their injured paws in their mouths as they glare menacingly at the greedy winners.
You do not hear them talking about party organization, or of activity aimed at boosting the party’s image or membership. You do not hear about new party offices or officials at the grassroots as a party tries to extend its reach and enhance its profile. You do not hear about engagement with other parties to explore cooperation opportunities. You do not hear about party leaders making appearances in areas where they did badly in the previous election in a determined effort to improve that party’s fortunes there.
You do not hear of emerging stars of a party on the basis of their accomplishments. And certainly, you do not hear about inter-party discussions of possible mergers or collective candidacies. That is treated as an unimportant issue until the next election is hours away and even the blind beggar at the street corner can see such cooperation as the only way to victory.
One reason why this happens is that many party chieftains d not really care if they ever win an election. They simply want to play our “Big Man” game and maintain sufficient fidelity to the law to remain registered. That way, they can enjoy the benefits of being recognized as being important, thereby enjoying a direct line not only to the electoral commission, but also to whomever wins.
This nonsense has to stop. I urge General Buhari, to whose presidential ambition I offered my unsolicited support last March, to lead the charge.
I say this in the assumption that he will not be running for office in 2015. If this is correct, I must make another: that he would like to see Nigerian politics boosted by an opposition that is strong and national enough to present a real challenge in the future.
If these assumptions are fair, General Buhari must come out of hiding and lead the way. Being either a candidate at an election or a challenger at the tribunal is not enough. Nigeria is not short of men and women who want to be called President; what she is short is men and women who want to serve.
Think about it: after two terms in 1999 and 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted an illegal one in 2007. Ibrahim Babangida, after the political distress he engineered in 1985, sought the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011 (withdrawing at some stage each time). Buhari himself has sought the leadership of the country in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
Our presidency should not be the retirement home of former military generals. As I have observed elsewhere, it is a shame that each of these men gives the impression they are all that Nigeria has, and that they know no younger people who are patriotic, passionate and capable.
This is where Buhari can make a genuine difference: by helping to develop a vibrant and patriotic political opposition, and a new concept of leadership: community and institutional drivers who are willing to get their hands dirty in order to empower the ordinary Nigerian. What we need are leaders who can lead progress in such fields as education, agriculture and political participation without the prospects of personal gain.
Nigeria needs leaders who use government hospitals and clinics in order to ensure they are actually fit for ordinary people who can afford no better.
Let us have leaders who can identify with, and rally popular causes that will benefit and nurture Nigerian talent.
Let us have leaders who, outside government, can lead the offensive against mediocrity, corruption, indolence, poverty. Let us have men who are big enough to provide opportunities for poor children without feeling they are doing this country a favour.
I do not know what happens in the National Council of States when our former leaders come out of their stone palaces and sit at a table for no better reason than that each of them once ruled this country. That table is, and will remain an aggregate of failure until one of them can stand up, look into the eyes of the others and tell them they are the laughing stock of the developing world. Nigeria has no other problem than at that table.
Buhari has a good chance to make a genuine contribution towards distinguishing himself, repairing his image and helping this country to move forward, but unless he is willing to be the one who publicly challenges his fellow former tyrants, he should not expect History to remember him with greater kindness than any of them.