Change. All over the world, ‘change’ is one word opposition politics exploit to sell a supposedly different idea or ideology to the voting public as against what the party in power represents. The events leading up to the ouster of the Peoples Democratic Party at the 2015 polls is well documented and was quite apparent to all, except, perhaps, members of the PDP who were as at that time living in a world of their own. If there was anything the public shared in common with the profligate world of the ruling PDP it was social media and of course, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s e-voting platform. Aside these, one can submit that the difference between the realities of the government including individuals who had indirect access to power, and those they purport to serve was as day and night. As the desire for change moving through the land caught up with the government and its cronies, they sought out last minute means to rescind the INEC e-voting system they had approved and revert to manual voting, all in futile hopes of manipulating the elections outcome in its favor. The PDP lost and uncharacteristically of African politicians, President Goodluck Jonathan peacefully handed over power to the APC.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, was applauded for the step she had taken towards democratic consolidation (the process by which a young democracy matures, in a way that means it is unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without external shock). Since the APC took power however, too many red flags have characterized the Buhari led FG in a manner that questions his administration’s commitment to further advance this course. From an anti-corruption crusade that fails the test of bias to high handedness and nepotism in government appointments fanning the embers of rebellion along ethnic lines, poor communication lines between the people and government, stubborn pursuit of ineffective economic policies to poor fiscal and monetary planning, a lack of political will to fire underperforming high ranking cabinet members/ministers to defending northern loyalists neck-deep in corruption allegations etc. For a supposedly progressive democrat government, it sadly suggests a president at the centre with poor knowledge of building bridges; bridges between people and people and people and government in a divided society. It shows Buhari’s leadership as sorely deficient in the multi-skills required of functional presidencies.
But while these tendencies are not peculiar to countries in the backseat of so-called developing nations like ours, Buhari betrays the collective hope of the Nigerian people who thought they had elected a leader with experience to drive our State from a dark, divided past into a united, secured future. Surely, in today’s complex world, a president’s ability to forge unity government accountable and accessible to its people, show empathy for humanity, embrace diversity, express sound decision making without alienating members of staff, maintain equipoise under pressure etc are germane for modern day leadership.
True, no nation in the world is problem free but 15 months is long enough time to give a new sense of purpose and direction to a people badly in need of one. Yes, the problems were not created by this administration but what are the short, mid and long term solutions being proffered? The life span of any 4 year tenured presidency is 36 months –the remaining 12 months is dedicated to politicking. Thus, Buhari having spent almost half that period in office and with no tangible or meaningful change being felt, apart from appointing Hausa-Muslims to high and sensitive positions in his cabinet and gaining a suspicious loyalty of the military to execute his orders, what change has Buhari brought Nigerians? If remarks such as recently made by the INEC chairman that the commission cannot guarantee conclusive general elections in 2019 amid the high spate of inconclusive elections that has already bedeviled his chairmanship does not warrant a sack or resignation demand by Buhari, what does? The political atmosphere that brought the APC to power was charged and keenly contested, yet his predecessor at INEC never made such remarks, so the electoral umpire’s excuses of violence and what-not with over 2 years left to prepare for the 2019 elections is not justifiable.
On democratic consolidation which our country was so applauded for and which Buhari himself spoke enthusiastically about at Chatham House in London during the electioneering period, with his government’s approval ratings going down south and the turn for the worse which INEC has taken since the retirement of its immediate past chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega, coupled with sentiments of a northern hegemonic agenda through bias appointments gives a foreboding that this government is propping itself up not for progressive change, but to hold on to power. The age-old argument in favor of strong institutions over strong men is also worth mentioning on our sleep-walk on the path to democratic consolidation. INEC, under Prof. Jega, who played a heroic role in the 2015 elections, seemed to finally have gotten it right but since his demise, the commission has since regressed, making sure that Prof. Jega’s case goes down as another strong man in another weak institution. President Buhari can learn a lesson from Prof. Jega’s experience in his anti-corruption campaign. If the only legacy Buhari can leave Nigerians is to institutionalize transparency in governance and a strong electoral body truly independent of government interference, then Buhari would have done his part to further consolidate the gains of democracy from the previous administration, however calamitous his administration is remembered as. Notwithstanding the economic woes and self-induced unrest in some parts of the country, Buhari has a chance to ensure history remembers him as a hero and not a villain of democracy, just as we hate to love to remember ex-President Jonathan, by ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections come 2019.