The 2015 Presidential Election has been concluded. Nigeria has a President-elect and Nigeria’s political history is richer on many counts. We have witnessed, for the first time, the electoral loss of a ruling party at presidential level. We also bear witness, for the second time, to the metamorphosis of once a military dictator into a democratically elected leader. The difference this time is that this President-elect was not recruited by his fellow dictators. Necessity prodded him to consistently recruit himself on the courage of his own conviction which fertilized severally through divergence of popular and civil political forces over three attempts until this latest one, the fourth, and the successful.
Barring any dangerous turns (I still have a June 12 hangover), Nigeria appears set for a seamless transfer of power after 16 years of political domination by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The media – print, electronic, social and, indeed, the entire blogosphere is awash with open letters and various forms of unsolicited counsel for the President-elect and the in-coming order. Here, I offer some discretionary and admittedly selective and random reflections as we anticipate an uncommon democratic transition.
There are as many opinions as there are opinion holders on why an incumbent government would lose an election in Nigeria. The simple reason however is that the people are boss over their political leaders. Ideally, the leaders serve at the pleasure of the people, the electorate. But it is hardly that simple. Even in advanced democracies that proposition stands at the cost of eternal vigilance. Where an electoral outcome truly reflects the will of the people, it does not lie on anybody or institutions to question the decision of the people let alone make a value judgement regarding such a decision. Because democracy is based on the supremacy of the people’s will, it is left for the people to reverse themselves as they please within the democratic framework. Nigerians have simply done that this past week.
But beyond theorization, in reality one can place fingers on a number of issues that appear to have pushed the ruling PDP out of power. Boko Haram, a pathological culture of impunity, intraparty fighting, alleged abuse or partisan co-potation of the armed forces into the electoral process among others collectively contributed to the rupturing of PDP. Add to those, civic vigilance and distaste; heightened popular frustration and loss of confidence in the government. A people’s bond with the government is akin to the dynamics of inter-personal relationship. Most normal relationships start on a clean note with either party determined to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Nigerians did so for President Jonathan in the 2011 elections. Over times, patterns emerged that would erode rather than consolidate confidence in Nigerians’ relationship with the President and his party. The people’s pact with the President did not endure because confidence eroded. Buhari and APC should take this lesson to heart.
Not many disagree that, at a personal level, the President comes across as a level-headed gentleman. But much more is required of leadership. Paucity of decisiveness, failure to step on toes and lack of resolve to rise above the mediocre culture of Nigeria’s political leadership were the President’s albatross. Boko Haram’s consistent taunting of the government’s resolve or lack of it, which climaxed in the group’s symbolically provocative mockery of the nation in the kidnapping of the Chibok girls added a terminal dimension to the Jonathan Presidency as it exposed its weak underbelly to the rest of the world.
Perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the pattern of electioneering that the ruling party ran at the federal level. From fund-raising, recruitment of arrow-heads of the campaigns to the dangerous deployment of sacred and not-so-sacred institutions such as the military, traditional rulers, militants, the religious establishment, it was very clear that the ruling party was not interested in issue-based electioneering but was determined to engrave the perception of its complicity in sleaze and graft further into the minds of the electorate. And it did not take long before it injected toxic fumes across the country, demonizing opponents with all manners of documentaries of red herring. Rather than issues, ad homimen and myopia reigned supreme. In the rank of the campaign were those who vowed publicly that Buhari will not rule Nigeria again; those who called him brain dead; religious bigot; who alleged that he had no requisite academic qualification; that he signed to do only one term; that he had questions to answer over his role in the civil war; that he would die in office; and all manners of inflammatory incitements. Add to those, orchestrated objections to electoral integrity and media blackmail of INEC and its Chairperson, which climaxed in the dramatic and shameful tantrum of a PDP leader in Abuja during the presidential election collation exercise. These forms of desperations conceivably backfired as they nauseated and alienated many.
From among the rank of those who hijacked President Jonathan’s campaign; who turned it toxic and inflammatory quickly came first rapprochements to the President-elect! Now, those mindless arrow-heads want the world to believe that they meant well and no harm. Yes, indeed. The lesson here for all Nigerians is that like all Presidents (out-going and in-coming) politicians are fleeting actors on the political stage. The polity and the commonwealth will endure beyond them. Like mayflowers, they bloom at the height of their fair-weather; and the electorate should not fall for their magical appearance and dramatic grandstanding. Only the country and no politician is worth dying for. This moral is as important to “bloody civilians” as it is to the members of the military who have committed to lay their lives down for our liberty. Theirs is the noblest of all callings and they should not lend themselves to the services of fleeting political travelers who do not even believe the sound of their own voices. It is instructive that Olusegun Obasanjo’s congratulatory letter to the President-elect identifies the military as one of the many national institutions that have been harmed politically. Recent triumph against Boko Haram reflects that Nigeria’s military can rise up to its constitutional calling if it is not distracted or if it refuses to lend itself to distraction. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Nigeria and its sacred institutions; civil society organizations and all stakeholders must continue this ongoing partnership in constitutional democratic transition. To the President and the President-elect, a toast to Nigeria’s resilience! But it is not over until it is over. Let there be no re-invention of June 12 in any guise!
Chidi Oguamanam is a Professor of Law, University of Ottawa, Canada you can follow him on Twitter at @chidi_oguamanam