This year’s Democracy Day anniversary is very spectacular. Being the last of such anniversary before a transition, it calls for close consideration. However, a cursory evaluation of the period leading to the next general election in the country reveals a somewhat replay of history and similarities of political happenstances. A hurried recapitulation of some political events during the last twelve months to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s handover to President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, 2015, could provide a fitting backcloth to understand the ongoing political occurrences in the last one year of the incumbent.
It should be noted that events of the past seven years marked out the two presidents as beneficiaries of fortuitous circumstances that disavowed their inaugural messages and lost popular goodwill at the tail end of their tenures.Former President Jonathan elicited national empathy and support when he remarked that as a regular Nigerian, he once trekked to school barefooted, stressing that if he could make it, other less privileged citizens can make it in a Nigeria that works for all.
However, midway into Jonathan’s Presidency, particularly the attempt to jack up the prices of petroleum products through the removal of controversial subsidy, Nigerians turned against their supposedly hero, who rose from grass to grace. Perhaps, based on a combination of these factors- timing, volume of price increase and antics of opposition- the public image of the President suffered irreparable damage.
With the loss of his good image with time the groundswell of national opposition began, and the President, who was seen from the perspective of a whiff of fresh air and transformation catalyst, dwindled as a wastrel, weakling and unfeeling.On May 29, 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari mounted the saddle as Jonathan’s successor, he moved the nation to dizzy heights of monumental expectations of probity, order, justice and fairness with his inaugural speech.
Buhari had dismissed apprehensions that he was coming to carry out vendetta against the opposition when he remarked that the past is a prelude. Moreover, his declaration that “I belong to nobody, I belong to all,” sounded not only ecstatic, but helped to set in the psyche of Nigerians the mental image of a leader purposed to uphold equity, natural justice and good conscience.
But when as President Buhari began to make his appointments and pull punches in the fight against corruption, Nigerians began to hold him in suspicion, wondering why he was sounding paternalistic to some perceived corrupt persons in his party. So, in terms of their commencing messages, both Jonathan and Buhari disavowed their beautiful teasers and left the country on the throes of continuing suspense, thereby placing the country’s democracy on a nervy trail.
Contrasting pre-2015 and pre-2019 politics
The crucial one-year period preceding the 2015 election was defined by conflicts in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the determined efforts by some opposition political parties to fuse into one mega party so as to be able to effectively challenge the ruling party.
After heightened recriminations and finger pointing, the ruling party, PDP, decided to remedy structural defects noticed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about the composition of its National Working Committee (NWC). INEC had noted in a report that election of some members of the PDP NWC did not conform to the party’s constitutional stipulations.Prior to that verdict, seven serving state governors, namely, Chief Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Alhaji Babangida Aliu, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, Ahmed Abdulfata, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso and Alhaji Magatakarda Wammako, had embarked on shuttle visits to founding fathers of the party to complain about the running of the party.
The then national chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, was accused of running the party as his personal estate, thereby constituting himself as a cog in the wheel of progress. An attempt by 10 members of the NWC to remove the national chairman through a vote of no confidence neither held nor was it able to assuage the ire of the aggrieved stakeholders.
However, when the party decided to hold a mini-convention to remedy the defective election of some of the NWC members at the Eagle Square Abuja, five state governors and the Fourth Republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, alongside their supporters deserted the venue in protest. PDP insisted on fielding the same NWC members who were elected by mere affirmation without confirmation through the ballot. Some of the aggrieved party men expected that the remedial convention would have helped to make the NWC inclusive, as well as, pave the way for a competitive presidential primary that was months away.
Sensing that the mini-convention was programmed to keep them out of reckoning in the party, the aggrieved stakeholders went ahead to found their own faction or what became the New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP).Expectedly, the leadership of the parent organ went to court, praying the court to determine whether their voluntary exit from the party’s mini-convention constituted sufficient grounds to warrant fractionalisation of PDP.
The court was later to rule that the aggrieved PDP stakeholders did not exhaust an internal conflict resolution mechanism of the party before attempting to rupture the platform. By that ruling also, the faction was denied the use of the name PDP. In the long run, the nPDP faithful crossed over to the inchoate All Progressive Congress (APC) that had just been duly recognised by INEC. What followed was a rash of defections of high-ranking political appointees and elected representatives, including senators, House of Representatives members, ministers, commissioners and heads of agencies and parastatals, especially from the five states where the state chief executive had defected.
In the current dispensation, what looks like a caricature of same political motions that characterised the pre-2015 era is playing out in the ruling party and the central government it formed.President Buhari is under fire for neglecting allegations of corruption against some of his lieutenants and feigning ignorance about the scale of insecurity in the country. and while the President encourages the investigation and prosecution of some members of the opposition for the sources of campaign funding in the 2015 election, the people sulk in subdued pain about monumental evidence of malfeasance in some states the proceeds of which went into funding his election.
Within the APC, Buhari has tried on a number of occasions as Jonathan did, to save the national chairman of the party, even when some stakeholders insist that Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is part of the lingering problems of the party. After many vacillations the APC decided to remedy the breach of its constitution through the fangled tenure elongation for the NWC members, down through the states and wards. Although it is yet to witness mass defection in the magnitude of what befell PDP, there are indications already that some prominent stalwarts of the ruling party would seek membership elsewhere to express their electoral clout and relevance.
Against popular contemplation, President Buhari has indicated his intention to contest the 2019 poll in search of a second term in office, a similar step that Jonathan took, which cost his party the general election.And just as seven governors tried to whip sentiments to dissuade President Jonathan from foisting himself as the sole presidential candidate of PDP, seven state governors are on record as having visited President Buhari and talked him into contesting the 2019 presidential poll on the promise of right of first refusal.
Desertion of former salesmen
As happened during the Jonathan era, some prominent promoters of Buhari’s presidential ambition have decided to turn their backs on his aspiration. Prior to 2015 election, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was among the leading voices in support of Jonathan’s presidency, had become a leading opponent. The same Obasanjo, who served as navigator for APC in its plot to dethrone Jonathan, has emerged as a major opponent to Buhari’s aspiration for a second term. This time around the former President is championing a paradigm shift in the leadership narrative of the country, stressing that the old brigade should give way to the new breeds.
To a large extent, even the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the main canvasser for change, is not as bold and vocal in his marketing of Buhari as he was four years ago. Some level of mutual suspicion seems to exist between Tinubu and the President, such that the parallelisms that trail the APC congresses are blamed on the half-hearted support from the President to Tinubu to reconcile the party.
FROM the foregoing, it seems that despite massive investment of hope by Nigerians that democracy will help solve the nation’s socio-economic challenges, particularly leadership atrophy, the system has returned despoiled dividends. Godfathering and capital-intensive electioneering have continued to shrink popular participation in the democratic process. The element of winner-takes-all abounds, such that the elected representatives become potentates and tin gods.
But following the pattern that has already been established, there is hope that Nigeria’s democracy would reinvent itself, whether as an accident of class suicide or fallout of clash of vagabond forces that would cancel themselves out in the next election. That hope is conveyed by the growing agitation for restructuring and introduction of fresh ideas at the apogee of national leadership. But as Nigerians wallow in the hope of better deal from democracy, citizens should be prepared for eventualities that might threaten the system. If an incumbent loses an election, it would not be a novelty, but given the excesses of certain officials in some positions of influence, what the nation should pray against as they celebrate another Democracy Day is that no individual rejects the verdict of the votes in 2019.