Feb 16: Nigeria’s date with destiny

On February 16, 2019, in less than two weeks from now, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect their representatives for the next four years. Despite the presence and participation of a record number of political parties and candidates, the contest will be effectively between the ruling All Progressives Congress, and the Peoples Democratic Party.

The main gladiators will be the current President, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, the man who wants to replace him. The two of them are both Muslims from the Northern part of the country, while their running mates, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and Mr Peter Obi, are both Christians from the South-West and South-East respectively. The first point of note, therefore, is that the usual cleavage along religion and ethnicity has been blurred if not neutralised this time.

By consequence, and also given that the two parties sprang up from one into the other (the APC and the PDP members have cross-carpeted so many times that the two parties appear different in name only), the choice facing the electorate in terms of policy is more of the same, and in terms of the dramatis personae, the choice is one between the devil and the deep blue sea. That makes the forthcoming election arguably the most inconsequential in Nigeria’s history yet, one whose outcome will have the most far-reaching consequences for the foreseeable future. Here is why.

If there is anything the ruling elites are good at in Nigeria, it is the game of brinksmanship they tend to indulge in especially at electoral cycles. Over time, they have come to take the electorate for granted so much in this country that they feel the people are so docile, so unresponsive that they usually bear and grin at politicians’ antics in office in a “suffering and smiling” style. They feel no scent of a revolt in the air, feel no backlash to misrule, feel no direct pressure from the hungry mob, so, they ensconce themselves in the Abuja bubble and damn the consequences, which, time and time again, come to nought. “This country will go on” is their favourite fire-side yarn. It is this crass complacency on the part of the ruling elite that may spell disaster for the country going forward irrespective of the victor.

Since the so-called “Third Force” touted as the alternative to the APC and the PDP at the beginning of last year has fizzled out as predicted, see; “The Third Force Fever”, The PUNCH, January 30, 2018, where this column pointed out quite clearly the misguided notion of some ‘third force’ parachuting itself onto the political stage to clear out the Aegean stables.

Such a proposition was merely pie in the sky. “If the new coalition wants to win power by playing regular politics, they are much too far behind to make a meaningful impact come 2019”, the column stated. “Only a long and sustained campaign of voter education over a couple of electoral cycles would suffice to overcome that”. The column went further to assert, and predicted a win for the APC in the 2019 election. The analysis concluded back in January 2018 remainsvalid today as the PDP has spectacularly failed to come up with a distinctive agenda from that of the APC. Rather than simply mouthing ‘restructuring’, the PDP presidential candidate should have committed himself to the convening of a Sovereign National Conference on the day of assumption of office. That would have been a masterstroke, as it would have opened up huge divisions within the ranks of the APC, leading to its collapse at the polls. Here then are the likely scenarios in Nigeria after the election.

First, the APC wins a disputed election at the Supreme Court. The man who could possibly stand in their way in the judiciary, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has been removed (albeit) in an unsavoury and rather shambolic manner. Let us be frank, Justice Onnoghen was a sit-tight judge, who was determined to take cover behind the letter of the law by affirming his innocence when he was no longer morally and ethically suitable to remain the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Yes, going by the letter of the law, he was legally protected, but the letter of the law is not a sufficient standard for a man in his position. He ought to have held himself to a higher standard in the spirit of the law, and by virtue of his position. He ought to have tendered his resignation from office the moment he knew and admitted in writing to his “forgetfulness” on his assets declaration.

The APC, sensing that the judge wanted to dig in his heels, preparing to preside over a possible presidential dispute at the Supreme Court after the election, Buhari and his administration smelt a rat. They developed cold feet that the Honourable CJN might indeed be the PDP’s ace card; the fifth column in the theatre of war. They decided to strike before being struck down later along the line themselves. It was a dishonourable way of treating a dishonourable matter, but in the APC’s view, the end justifies the means.

Removing the Chief Justice was the APC’s major blunder of the election thus far. It will cost the party votes, as it cannot be reversed, but not removing him would have left too many hostages to fortune. The people heaping condemnation of the move on President Buhari, and clamouring for its reversal are out of sync with the mindset of the administration. It is that it sees itself above all else, as a ‘cleansing’ administration on a ‘rescue’ mission to extricate Nigeria from the palsied grip of marauders and latter-day brigands desperate for a return to power.

The greater good, therefore, must always be considered first, before issues of due process and civil liberties. To this end, the person of Buhari, himself, is held out as a shiny example of a modest and uniquely incorruptible leader, whose occasional digression from procedural nicety can, and should always be waved away. To the supporters, it is a salutary lesson in leadership and vision, and to the administration’s teeming critics, they see a predilection for tyranny, as the road to hell is often paved with marvellous intentions.

That said, the APC may end up only winning a Pyrrhic victory at the Supreme Court if it means massive protest, riot and unrest throughout the country, but the lack of a viable alternative independent political force makes that scenario unsustainable in the long run. A viable uprising cannot be the PDP-led; it would have to be a mass, grassroots, spontaneous reaction to a glaring injustice and a yearning for a different political path. Are we there yet?

Another, more plausible, scenario is that the President is taken ill and goes on a prolonged medical trip soon enough after the election.  In that case, ethnic sentiments would inevitably spread onto the body polity and pollute the atmosphere very quickly indeed.

And, amid the clamour for the South-West and the South-East “turn to eat”, the North would interject with elements from the army firing ‘warning salvos’ at the political elite to maintain the status quo. At that point, Nigeria enters an uncharted territory with extremely unpredictable and dangerous consequences for its survival as one.

 These are all mere conjectures, of course. Everybody hopes the aftermath of the election will pass without much incident; the winner being magnanimous in victory, and the loser gracious in defeat. Everybody hopes for the triumph of hope over reason in the situation we are in right now, but natural instincts tell us to expect different. The stake is as high as anything the country has seen since 1966.



Tayo Oke

drtayooke@gmail.com (The Punch)