On the surface, the victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the recently concluded presidential election might appear as the rational outcome of a successful political campaign. The All Progressives Congress (APC), the political party on which platform he campaigned for the Presidency for the umpteenth time, had run a well managed and focused campaign. In that context therefore, its success was logical. The same could be said for the choice of Buhari, first as the Presidential candidate of the APC and subsequently his election.
Since 2003, when he first ran for the Presidency, Buhari had emerged as the most consistent and credible claimant of the office in each successive election. So it was logical therefore, that weary Nigerian voters finally plumped for him. Nevertheless, as logical as all these may be, it does not fully explains the deeper meaning and symbolism of Buhari’s victory. In our view, the choice of Buhari was a desperate act, by a traumatized electorate at its wits end and desperate to save themselves and their country from imminent collapse. It was, in American football lingo, a ‘hail- mary throw!’ Contrary to the ringing campaign publicity of the APC, there are not too many Nigerians who would on a normal day, pick out Buhari as a credible agent of the kind of change millions of genuine Nigerian patriots have been yearning for. His best claim to heroism was his anti-corruption credentials which he earned during his first tour of duty.
The anti corruption drive and war against indiscipline which he launched remain the only bright spots in an era that was notorious for its gross human right abuses and lack of creativity in governance. It is a telling irony of the nature of man that the same Buhari whose removal from office excited nationwide jubilations in 1985, has today emerged a genuine hero to many. It underlines the old saying that time heals every wound. But does it really? Have the Nigerian people really forgtten? More importantly, has Buhari really changed?
An election victory in whatever circumstance is an endorsement and a validation. So the Nigerian people have eloquently endorsed Buhari and bought into his vision of the change Nigeria needs.
There are many Nigerians, (not including this Newspaper) who believe that Mr Buhari is the most suitable person to solve Nigerias myriad of problems. His reputation as an anti-corruption crusader has obviously earned him a great deal of goodwill. There is an enduring belief in several quarters, that the core problem of Nigeria is corruption. The logic therefore, is that if corruption is successfully tackled, Nigeria will be right. Wrong.
It is a fallacy that corruption is the main problem of Nigeria. Of course it is a serious issue, but merely a symptom of a more serious malady. The problems are more structural and speak directly to the foundation of the Nigeria state. The central question which is at the heart of every nation state; ‘to wit, who are we?, has not been successfully answered by successive Nigerian leaders. Let us therefore reiterate it here, in the desperate hope that the real issues will crystallize. Who are we? Are we truly a nation or a conglomeration of nation states in forced union? What does it mean to be a Nigerian? What is the concept of indigene and non- indigene in a nation state? Are we practising a federal system of government or a unitary system? What is the real religious status of Nigeria? In fact let us re-echo Prof Wole Soyinka’s poser at the 2012 NBA conference in Port Harcourt. “Is Nigeria a secular state?”or is it “an Islamic country with a large Christian population?”in the words of the Minister of state for foreign Affairs. What is the principle for appointments, advancement and promotions in Nigeria? In other words, is Nigeria a merit driven society or a country of cronism and nepotism? Does official Nigeria treat all her citizens equally, fairly and equitably or are there some who are born to rule?, To quote the infamous principle espoused by the revered Alhaji Maitama Sule, “the Igbos were naturally made by God to excel in commerce, the Yorubas in diplomacy and the Hausa Fulani in leadership!” It was the late South African writer, Alan Paton, who wrote,”Whereas it is acceptable to give unskilled labour to unskilled men, it is unacceptable to keep men perpetually unskilled because of unskilled labour!”Does official Nigeria work deliberately to validate Maitama Sule’s theory?
NOW OR NEVER MOMENT .
16 years ago, Nigeria was at a similar place. A desperate electorate had reached out to elect Olusegun Obasanjo in order to begin the process of changing Nigeria and constructing a new foundation. Obasanjo’s records sparkled.
He was a former military Head of State with an above average record of achievement in office. He had also emerged as a pseudo-democrat of some sort, with his singular record of handing over power freely to an elected President. His impressive international exposure had earned him the respect of many including this Newspaper. But sadly, we were not enamoured by him. Hallmark was never persuaded that he would succeed in reinventing Nigeria, because his understanding of the Nigerian challenge was fundamentally faulty. He never believed in restructuring. He felt that a strong leadership was the answer to everything. But as we asked then, just as we ask now, strong leadership, yes, but to what end?
It may not be immediately obvious, but the similarity between Obasanjo and Buhari is eerily striking. Like Obasanjo before him, Buhari has been elected in the popular expectation of massive changes and improvement in the lives of Nigerians. Unfortunately, it is the sad but sacred duty of Hallmark Newspaper, to put Nigerians on notice that such grandiose expectations will not materialize, unless Mr Buhari recognizes the desperate demands to embark on a fundamental restructuring of the Nigerian state. Nigeria cannot change in any significant way, if the present structure is not changed. The government is unwieldy, unproductive and alienated from the people, the national character lacks patriotism and nationalism, virtues without which no country has achieved significant development in history. There is too much discontent among large segments of the population.
It was because Mr Obasanjo failed to resolve these issues in his time that the despondency grew among Nigerians. Mr Jonathan’s inability to recognize it as the central challenge of his administration rendered him a failure in the view of many, and made the case for changing him historically inevitable.
CHANGE, WHAT CHANGE?
To the average Buhari supporter, his vote was to change the rapacious government in Abuja, so that the good times will roll again. But Mr Buhari will be wrong to interpret his mandate in such simplistic terms. If he listened carefully to the heart beat of Nigerians, what they were asking for as they voted, was for a new Nigeria- a true federal state, a more just and equitable country where every citizen is treated equally no matter his origin, sex or religion and not a country of “born leaders” and “born followers.”
That is Mohammed Buhari’s historic duty, his true destiny. If he rises to it, things will really change in Nigeria. If he does not, by 2019 a new group of Nigerians will march again for change, but then he will no longer bear the banner.