The Ugly Side of Buhari and Jonathan
by Atedo Peterside
Opinion polls commissioned by ANAP Foundation and conducted by NOI Polls (using Gallup methodology) show that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) and his main challenger, Major-General Mohammadu Buhari (Buhari) are currently running neck-to-neck in the 2015 Presidential race. The difference between them in terms of potential votes nation wide is statistically insignificant because it is dwarfed considerably by the much larger percentage of voters who remain “Undecided” - and so the race is truly too close to call. This election will therefore not be decided by the loyalists. It will be called by the large number of undecided voters (these are the swing voters) and they have one thing in common - they do not like GEJ, but then they do not like Buhari either (they want change but see Buhari as the type of change that is both alarming and worrisome).
In such circumstances, efforts by both candidates to sell themselves forcefully to their core constituencies may simultaneously alienate the swing voters. When Hausa/Fulani elders and/or retired Generals and Muslim leaders shout forcefully that Buhari must have it, the rest of the nation recoils in horror. The same thing happens when misguided elements from the South-South zone and Christian leaders insist that their zone (or a Christian) must have two full terms in Aso Rock. The truth is that the Presidency is not anyone’s birthright and so it is naive and downright foolish to go down that route. Indeed some of these bold declarations by core supporters are akin to a kiss of death with swing voters.
Buhari publicly declared in 2011 that he will not contest again. Jonathan is said to have privately declared in 2011 that he would only stay for a single term. Let us therefore assume that they have both broken their word by contesting in 2015 and so there is little to be gained with the swing voters by dwelling on this.
Swing voters are moved more by what they do not like about either candidate. At the end of the day therefore they will vote “against” the candidate that they dislike more and their collecive actions will determine who wins. That is why this article focuses on the ugly side of Buhari and GEJ and not on their strengths.
Many of the swing voters are upset. They feel that our two major political parties have “cheated” them by forcing them to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
During the course of the 2014 National Conference, where I was a delegate, I made a contribution to the effect that past military rulers, who toppled democratically elected governments, should still be tried for treason so as to serve as a permanent detterent to young and ambitious military officers who will the understand that the long arm of the law may get them even in their old age and even after they claim to have repented. Buhari dethroned a democratically elected government in order to become a military head of state at the end of 1983. Many of the swing voters are true democrats who abhor authoritarianism. Buhari was not a benevolent dictator either. He was a vicious and wicked one who used retroactive decrees to sentence youths to death and to jail journalists who dared to publish the whole truth. Can the leopard shed it’s spots overnight as some would have us believe?
Wickedness and callousness are not matters of style and/or fashion they are a reflection of a real personae. Buhari’s unguarded utterances about him supporting the institution of sharia nationwide and his “famous” statement that Muslims should only vote for Muslims and his threat that the baboon and the dog will be soaked in blood if elections were rigged are all consistent with his unelectable personae, hence his persistent search for devout Christians (with little or no political clout) as Vice Presidential candidates while he is on the capaign trail. Is he simply hanging on to political lightweights that he knows he can devour the day after he gets elected?
On the economy, Buhari was a disaster first time around. He was clearly an economic illiterate and thought he could run the complex Nigerian economy by controlling rations as was done in a military cantonment. He placed everything under import licence and empowered some individuals under him to prescribe what quantity of every good Nigeria needed and also sought to prescribe which individuals would import the item and in what quantity. Ignorance was on display all around and it was exploited through massive racketeering by persons in his government who called the shots. That he was deemed to be personally honest became irrelevant and so many of us cheered when soldiers (not known for honesty) put him out of his misery by kicking him out of office in less than 18 months and before he could torture the nation any further.
GEJ is unliked by many because he is seen
as being weak and unable to control the excesses of some of his close aides and party chieftains. YES, he eventually stood up to ex-President Obasanjo (who tries to dictate to every serving President), but then who wouldn’t? All future Presidents (including those unborn) now know to avoid Obasanjo like a plague. What manner of ex-President will divulge details of his one-on-one meeting with a serving President to the general public ( in a book), without getting the latter’s prior consent?
NO, GEJ’s vulnerabilities are from the party chieftains and a few dodgy aides that he accommodates and/or tolerates. He also believed too much in assurances from our Security Agencies, Defence Ministers, Chiefs of Defence Staff, National Security Advisers etc. This entire group have lost credibility in the fight against Boko Haram. His most recent utterances suggest that he has realised now, how deadly Boko Haram are, but it is rather late in the day as the elections are a little more than a couple of weeks away. My own position on Boko Haram (BH) has remained consistent. The entire Nigerian elite continue to under-estimate BH at our peril. I would love to wish them away, but history and my head tell me that, like Colombia’s Farc Rebels, BH will still be around in some form or the other for decades.
Presidents who aspire to have a second term in Nigeria face this paradox; if they stand up to all the party Chieftains, over-bearing Governors and Security Chiefs, they will not get re-elected because the Party will throw up a Challenger. If they succumb to this motley/unholy lot, they will slow down economic reform, secure their Party nomination but alienate swing voters nationwide.
The only reason for the swing voters to vote for GEJ therefore is if he can convince them that he will be free himself from this motley crowd next time around. Afterall, a second Presidential term is a final term and nobody (except Obasanjo) will ever dream about a third term. In effect, GEJ must convince swing voters that, if they give him a second term, he will be man enough to bite many of the grubby hands that lurk around the higher echelons of his party.
Further complexities in the Presidential race arise because some of the ambitious and highly educated politicians from the North East (in particular) do not want an ageing and not so capable Buhari to ascend a throne which they aspire to occupy in 2019. Buhari was rejected consistently by some of his newer supporters when he was younger and more capable. Ironically, the older and less capable he becomes, the more he appeals to them because they hope to usurp his authority. He has agreed to be dressed up in sheep’s clothing now, but they should beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They might be shut out of Aso Rock if he wins.
Ironically, if these power brokers (who are not known for honesty) come out now to publicly affirm that they will have continuing relevance if Buhari wins, then again the swing voters get turned off because they see corrupt persons surrounding an old and infirm “honest” man who is driven by a blind ambition to re-occupy a seat from which he was booted out prematurely in 1985, even though he recognises that he is not clever enough to understand 21st Century economic and financial transactions through which some of his new and unscrupulous friends hope to loot and/or corner the national treasury under his lazy and ineffective watch.
GEJ has also gathered all sorts of renegades unto his campaign ship. The enemies of his enemy have all become his friends overnight. They are strange bedfellows. In his second term (if he wins) he will need to cut off many of these hangers-on. If he does that they will try to resist, but a second term President is hard to bully. GEJ needs to convince the electorate that he can continue with his bold agricultural sector reforms, his power sector roadmap, overhaul and reform of the transportation sector (beyond the celebration of token and/or paltry railway services) etc.
GEJ’s biggest failure on the economic front was his inability to introduce earth-shaking reforms to trim our recurrent expenditure budget at the Federal level by instituting the massive lay-off of idle civil servants. He did not confront the National Assembly either on this thorny issue. Ironically many of those who accuse him of guilt in this area are guilty of the exact same allegation in their respective States and Local Government Areas.
I am sad that GEJ did not simply go all out to transform our economy in his first term at the risk of being a single term President. Instead he slowed down on some economic reform because he was pandering to power brokers within his political party, who would have a say in helping him to secure a second term.