If you have not done the arithmetic, reader, you should: technically there is only one year left until the battle for power in 2015 formally begins.  By this time next year, you would only need to crane your neck around 2014 to see the Promised Land, or the land of empty.

By this time next year, all of those interested in federal power in 2015 would have started work in earnest, fobbing off competition, engineering alignment or announcing new convictions.  

Already, two important political stalwarts, General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Political Change (CPC) and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), have made important statements.  Buhari predicted bloodshed unless there are proper elections and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stops shortchanging Nigeria and ends corruption.  

Similarly, in a highly engaging written comment on the reinstatement of Justice Ayo Salami as President of the Court of Appeal, Tinubu warned that the federal government’s refusal to reinstate Justice Salami goes beyond political partisanship.  “It will define the very meaning of governance in Nigeria, either for good or bad. It is time to select the side that you are on. Either you are for right or for power. You cannot be both because the improper actions of government have precluded such a combination.”

Asiwaju Tinubu’s gospel, like General Buhari’s warning about 2015, cannot be faulted.  We need proper elections and we need a government that is subject to the law, not a master over it.  

The problem is that both men are playing the wrong game.   They are playing an old and unproductive game: the game of words, not action.  And they are playing in their own 18-yard box, where they cannot advance the ball, let alone score at the other end.  

On account of this approach, it is clear that both men may have unwisely become a part of the problem, for two reasons.    

The first is that just over one year ago, these two men had a chance to present Nigeria with a united electoral front that might have completely changed the current balance of forces—“for right or for power,” to borrow Tinubu’s metaphor—but they blew it.    I do not recall Buhari—whose candidature I endorsed in this column because I argued that of the candidates in the presidential contest only he could confront corruption—putting Nigeria first by making that choice available.  

Nor do I recall Tinubu choosing “right” over power in order to give ordinary Nigerians a strong option to the PDP at the presidential polls.  CPC went its way, as did the ACN, and they were both overrun by the PDP.  In Tinubu’s case, his party was curiously trampled upon over and above his own candidate, a phenomenon he has never explained.

The second reason why both Buhari and Tinubu must resist the self-serving temptation to believe they are speaking for the ordinary Nigerian is that none of them is doing anything today to advance Nigerian politics as we have known it since 1960.

In 2011, the ACN maintained its stranglehold on the old West.  But it is a script we have seen before: from the Action Group through the Unity Party of Nigeria into the Alliance for Democracy.  With three years to the next election, this is the time that the ACN ought to be sowing and planting in the North and in the East with an eye its first trophies outside its comfort zone.  

Similarly, this is the time that CPC ought to be in the East and the West, so that in the future it can market itself as a national party and enjoy brighter prospects.  

This is the time that these parties ought to be opening local government offices and doing such grassroots work as sponsoring libraries, helping farmers or offering scholarships in an effort to increase name and voter recognition.

On the contrary, they seem content with routine politicking by press statements.  To be sure, the PDP will provide opportunity for many such statements, but that does not necessarily translate into voter affection for any other party, or into the keys to the kingdom.

Any political party that says it is different must prove it.  To begin with, instead of criticizing the PDP at every anniversary, parties in control in the States should ask those States to publish anniversary reports to let Nigerians see what they are missing, if anything.      

At the national level, much of what ails us comes down to the rule of law, but this is a general problem and should not be cited only when there is such an issue as Justice Salami’s reinstatement or the fuel subsidy shame.

What the opposition parties—and I use the term very loosely—should do, is develop a strategy that enables the entire country to focus on the development of better laws, and their implementation.  The obvious starting point is the Electoral Law.  

What passes for the Electoral Law at the moment can never give us respectable elections, but we have the brilliant Justice Uwais Report that—for those who have read it—is the clear path forward for Nigeria.  Parties such as the CPC and ACN can rise above themselves and become adoptive parents of that labour of love, relentlessly advocating it until it becomes the law.  

Unless we have the kind of restructured and truly independent electoral system proposed by the Justice Uwais panel, elections in Nigeria will be a bigger joke every four years, and lazy parties will have much more to write press statements about.  

Think about it: does anyone really expect Professor Attahiru Jega of the “Independent” electoral commission to be loyal to anyone other than the person who appointed him?  He cannot, and to prove it, over one year after the last election, Jega has not started the prosecution of the Big Men he announced as having rigged the last voters’ register.  I wonder why.

A similar kind of independence is demanded in our struggle with corruption.  In order to be effective, Nigeria’s so-called anti-corruption bodies must become independent of the executive, of which they are currently designed to be a tool.  This is another key area in which the CPC and ACN can be of great help to Nigeria over their narrower interests.    

In terms of the challenge of establishing structures, reforms and processes that will serve all Nigerians, it was distressing to hear Buhari say last week that he is considering running for the presidency in 2015.  The law does not bar him, but if he does run, he would be 73, and it would be 32 years after he first served as Head of State.

Buhari should have the courage to tell the so-called supporters who are telling him to run for the fourth time something I hope he understands: politics is not only about elections or getting oneself elected.  It is about service, and you do not have to be in office to offer it to the people.  

Of greater importance, the most important politics is in-between elections, where vast investments of energy and commitment can be made to make elections and governance a true tool of social advancement.  
Buhari has lost three previous elections, partly through rigging.  But a good deal of his defeats, especially in 2011 where the rigging was more sophisticated, cannot be blamed upon the PDP rigging machine for the simple reason that the CPC was barely present in many States he lost.  Buhari can work to rectify that for his party, and therefore for our country.

Equally important is that Buhari must remember that arrogance can appear in many forms.  While Nigeria is a country where integrity is in very short supply, surely since Buhari’s days as Head of State, he has identified younger people with similar values?   If he has, he should be supporting one of those people now for leadership.  If he has not, it would be difficult to argue that he has been a success.  And if he is the only principled man he knows, that is no success at all.

At 70, people like Buhari can best serve Nigeria if their focus is not necessarily on winning the presidency, but on developing structures, processes and mechanisms that will guide Nigeria well, no matter who is in charge, and irrespective of who is not.
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