Are expectations too high for President Buhari? Will the center hold for the coalition cobbled by the new ruling APC? Will the PDP survive now that it is in the opposition?
These and more are questions one of Nigeria’s seasoned journalist, Chido Onumah discussed with Pan African Visions’ (PAV) editor-in-chief, Ajong Mbapndah L, as Buhari takes over political leadership in Nigeria. Onumah opines that Nigerians may be looking up to Buhari more than the APC and that putting Nigeria back on track will take more than just an election.
PAV: To the surprise of many, elections in Nigeria went hitch free, especially low incidence of violence and maturity from the main candidates, has Nigeria turned a pivotal corner in its journey to genuine to democracy?
CO: I wouldn’t say the elections went hitch free. There were many cases of violence and deaths across the country before, during and after the elections. I think there was a high sense of foreboding and expectation concerning the level of violence which didn’t materialize so it is understandable in that sense to say the elections were hitch free. Nigeria dodged a bullet and in that sense we can say the elections went hitch free.
There were manifest irregularities on a scale perhaps never witnessed in the annals of elections in Nigeria. And both parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are guilty in this regard. In my view, both parties rigged in places where the balance of forces was in their favour.
But to address your question directly, I think Nigeria hasn’t really turned the corner with regard to credible election. There are two points we can highlight. One is the obvious deficiency of the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which had four years from the last election in 2011 to prepare for these elections and it did such a shoddy job. And of course the broader issue of why every election in Nigeria seems to be a referendum on the survival of the country. I think there are lessons to be learnt about the last elections in Nigeria. The question is whether Nigerians are ready to learn those lessons. It’s a major challenge for the Buhari administration.
PAV: It was going to be an uphill task for Jonathan to get victory in the face of challenges he faced and the security mess created by Boko Haram. Do you think the unprecedented move he took in conceding and congratulating Buhari is what will remain his legacy?
CO: The legacy of the Jonathan administration will largely be that of corruption and ineptitude. The jury is still out on the level of economic and financial devastation created by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Having said that, it is important to stress that it has been the nature of governance in Nigeria. The Obasanjo administration witnessed mind-boggling corruption. It appears successive governments in Nigeria have to outdo one another in this regard.
Of course, it is important to stress that President Jonathan conceding defeat and congratulating the president-elect will place him in good reckoning in the international community, particularly coming from a continent that is used to sit-tight rulers. But President Jonathan had very little choice. He was a victim of his own misrule and once the mood of the country had turned against him it was going to be difficult for him to summon the moral courage to continue. Clearly, he could have decided not to concede and contest the outcome of the election and I’m sure there were those within his inner cabinet who may have pushed him in this direction for purely personal and partisan reasons. But the outcome would have been disastrous for him and even the country as a whole.
As I mentioned earlier, he had fallen out of favour with Nigerians across the country and there were those who were ready to use the national mood against Jonathan to cause mayhem if Jonathan was declared the winner of the election whether genuinely or otherwise
PAV: Following the bashing it suffered, the PDP will be enjoying opposition status for the first time. Will the party remain a force to reckon with in Nigerian politics, considering there are accusations flying already on who betrayed the President and why the call for the Chair of the party to resign?
CO: Well, there have been accusations of betrayal flying around. I think President Jonathan should take full responsibility for the crisis in the party. He didn’t behave like a politician or play the politics associated with such high office. He lost control of the party a long time ago. So, it was not if, but when it would happen. Chances are that the party will witness an implosion. A new party could emerge out of the bowels of the PDP, perhaps, in the next six months. A lot of course will depend on how well the incoming ruling party, the APC, manages its own internal contradictions.
The outgoing president is not politically savvy enough to hold the PDP together. He didn’t wield much control over the party when he was president; chances are that he will even be less visible when he leaves office on May 29. The PDP is looking for a new rallying point and they won’t find it in President Jonathan.
PAV: Jonathan was recently quoted in the media as saying he expects he and his officials to be persecuted, and there have been calls to probe the petroleum sector already. Will it be a wise move for President Buhari to start with such probes?
CO: I expect that to happen, but I think it is meaningless the way people are clamouring for it. Corruption is a big problem in Nigeria. But the new president shouldn’t entangle himself in the politics of fighting corruption. All he needs to do is to empower the various state agencies that have the responsibility of fighting corruption. Once these agencies are truly independent and functional, they can deal with the many cases of grand corruption in Nigeria. So I don’t expect the new president to busy himself with chasing after politically exposed persons who have cases of corruption or financial crimes.
There is a lot of work to be done in Nigeria. The state has all but collapsed. Of course, this is due in part to corruption and partly for other reasons, the structure of the country for one. It is this structural problem that creates the environment for corruption to thrive.
PAV: On Buhari, was the victory that of his personal integrity, or the alternative proposed by the APC, and what could Nigerians expect from the APC government?
CO: I think Buhari won the election for APC. Very few if any of the other candidates that ran against Buhari in the APC primaries would have gotten the support he got in the national election. Even though many people were fed up with the ruling PDP that had been in power since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, there wasn’t any difference in terms of clear fundamental direction of the Nigerian state between the PDP and APC.
Of course, many people that formed the core support base, financially and otherwise, of the APC were just a few months before the elections stalwarts of the PDP. The fact that Buhari had run for president three times before, lost and continued to press on made him a sellable candidate to Nigerians who were looking for a credible alternative to President Jonathan.
When Nigerians talk about expectation what I sense is that they are looking toward Buhari and not necessarily the APC. The expectations are high, particularly in the area of fighting corruption. And this is so simply because of Buhari and his antecedents. There are many people in the leadership of APC that have corruption cases hanging over their necks.
PAV: Buhari himself has been trying to mitigate expectations, did he and the APC make promises far and above what they could do and are there fears that they may not deliver?
CO: Clearly they did. Not that they had to. By this time last year with the formation of APC and the floundering of the Jonathan administration, it was clear that re-election for President Jonathan was going to be an uphill task. Not undoable but a tough task. But trust our politicians. Promises are part of the game. Nigeria has been so badly run in the last 16 years, indeed since independence in 1960, that it will take more than promises to get it back on track. I am cautiously optimistic about the Buhari regime. I think he can make a difference if he sets his mind to it. But again you can’t discountenance the Nigerian factor.
PAV: And on the APC itself, what are the chances that the party will maintain the strength and solidarity it displayed in the elections, now that that the common enemy in Jonathan is gone, and there is Buhari the President and powerful figures in the party like Bola Tinubu. How challenging will it be for the APC to stick together?
CO: I think you asked a very poignant question. APC is different from PDP in some ways. The PDP was the creation of the military wing of Nigeria’s power elite when they decided to hand over power to their civilian collaborators in 1999. They, the military, brought politicians together from across the country, supported them and gave the party a national outlook which then made it difficult for another “national” party to emerge. The PDP has managed to carry on with that national outlook over the years.
In the case of the APC, it was a coming together of strange bedfellows whose main aim was to get rid of Jonathan. Now the real politics will start. And it has started with the jostling for positions, for who controls the National Assembly, etc. I think it is this power struggle that will tear the party apart. There are a number of people who want to be relevant now because their relevance now will determine their position in 2019.
It is clear that the incoming president who will be 73 in December is not likely to run for a second term. So, now is the time to fight for who will replace him. If the new president were someone in his 50s or even 60s, chances are that he would seek re-election and that would put in check the ambition of many of those in his party seeking to replace him. I don’t know how this power struggle will pan out but it will definitely have consequences.
There are too many egos and ambitions at play here: we have Bola Tinubu, the national leader of the party who some say still nurses the ambition of being president of Nigeria someday, Atiku Abubakar, the former vice president, who sees an opening if Buhari is out of the picture. There is the former governor of Kwara State, Senator Bukola Saraki, who aspires to be the next senate president. Saraki is fiercely ambitious and he would do anything to achieve his ambition. Then there are other young and influential politicians from the North of Nigeria who rode on the back of the Buhari bandwagon to emerge as governors and senators, the likes of Nasir El Rufai, the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, and former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who I think feel a sense of entitlement as far as the presidency of Nigeria is concerned.
Of course, there are some fringe personalities in the party like the out-going governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, and the only APC governor in the south-east of the country, Rochas Okorocha, who want to remain relevant. The leadership of the APC is already jittery not to lose control of National Assembly with the jostling for who controls the principal offices of the Assembly. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.
PAV: As Buhari braces up to assume office on May 29, how do Nigerians use the gains of the elections to keep the country on track? What future do you see for the country?
CO: Unless certain things are done and urgently too, the future will remain very bleak. We can’t get the Nigerian state to work when the Nigerian nation itself is not working. That for me is the fundamental question. As far as the progress of Nigeria is concerned, I think we are putting the cart before the horse. There are too many things that can throw the country into anarchy or perhaps another civil war and we need to address those issues.
You can’t continue to run a country the way Nigeria is being run and hope that it will survive. There is an existential confidence in Nigeria that is lacking amongst those who call themselves Nigerians. Nigeria has a very shaky foundation. That is what is of utmost concern to me. Until we reconstruct the foundation to permanently resolve the issue of citizenship, the very idea of Nigeria as a nation remains a fiction.
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