By Chido Onumah
I would be deluding myself if I imagined that my article last week, “2015: Who will defeat Jonathan?” would not elicit the kind of “violent” outbursts that have trailed it. After all, this is Nigeria where you can’t take a position without being accused of “looking for something”. It is understandable. Some journalists and columnists have written their way to plum government jobs.
That piece was meant as a wake-up call for the opposition and an attempt to redirect the jaded public discourse on the future of Nigeria. In a way, the diatribes notwithstanding, I am happy we are gradually shifting gear and are inclining toward a proper debate about 2015.
This is helpful considering that the only debate on that subject so far has been name-calling and threats by ethnic warlords and religious bigots. If it is not Ohaneze N’Igbo shouting from every rooftop, “It is the turn of Ndigbo” or Dokubo-Asari threatening that the country will go up in flames with the aid of oil from the Niger Delta or Kingsley Kuku promising us that militants will return to the creeks if Jonathan is not reelected in 2015, then it is Prof. Ango Abdullahi or Farouk Adamu-Aliyu assuring us that the North (which North?) will break away and form its own republic.
In his rejoinder to my piece, Joe Igbokwe took umbrage at my assertion that, “If free and fair elections were held today (even though the PDP would never permit free and fair elections), chances are that President Jonathan will emerge victorious”. According to Igbokwe, “I do not know what led Chido Onumah to believe that PDP led by anybody in Nigeria today can win a presidential election in a free and fair process”.
“Now the question is this: On what basis is PDP going to win this election? Is it based on performance? What is the basis? How good have we fared in the past 14 years to warrant Chido to make this egregious forecast? Are we getting better? If you still give PDP 50 years can it do anything better than what we have seen?” Igbokwe asked.
Need we remind Joe Igbokwe that even with the knowledge and experience of the wreckage and wanton pillage since 1999, the PDP led by Goodluck Jonathan won in the South-west during the presidential election just two years ago? In the same South-west, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) won convincingly in the gubernatorial and National Assembly elections.
I did not infer that Nigerians do not have the capacity to bring about change by voting against PDP, but it will take more than saying President Jonathan is clueless to achieve that. For the avoidance of doubt and contrary to Joe Igbokwe’s assertion, I did not gloss over “the critical importance of performance in winning elections or the issue of party unity”. The point being made here which was the gist of my article is that Nigerian voters are not as “sophisticated” as Igbokwe assumes, notwithstanding the grinding poverty, President Jonathan’s lack of performance and the unmitigated disaster that has been the hallmark of the PDP since 1999.
I have watched Goodluck Jonathan closely since I first met him in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, in 2006 during a continental environmental conference that looked at the impacts and implications of renewed mining boom on communities in Africa, and it is difficult to put performance and Goodluck Jonathan in the same sentence, yet he won a presidential election “convincingly” in the South-west, even with the level of education and exposure of voters in that geo-political zone. We need to know what made that victory possible in an opposition stronghold. Obviously, Nigerians notice the imperative of performance in winning election as Joe Igbokwe rightly noted, but whether this imperative is overriding every time is another matter.
I did not tie the future of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to one man – Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) as Igbokwe erroneously implied. I was clear in my assertion. As an aside, the former head of state will be 73 in 2015. I personally do not support gerontocracy in an era in which the world is electing young and visionary presidents in their 40s.
Talking about the presidency in 2015, the APC, undoubtedly, is a party of immense potentials. But it remains just that, a party of great potentials. We would need to translate that potential to reality and time is of the essence. I stand by my assertion that, “If elections were held today, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) is perhaps the only person with the pedigree, name recognition and national appeal who can give President Jonathan and the PDP a run for their money”.
“Is Chido saying that if anything happens to Buhari today, APC will not fill a presidential candidate in 2015?” Don’t we have more than 50 presidential candidates who can do better than Buhari if we search for them? Joe Igbokwe queried. The answer, my dear Joe Igbokwe, is that the issue goes beyond fielding a presidential candidate. You want to field one with the pedigree, integrity, national appeal and acceptability that stands a chance. Now is the time to make that decision no matter how difficult it is; not tomorrow, not next year. As a card-carrying member of ACN, and now by extension a member of APC, I would love to have the debate about the 50 potential presidential candidates in the party.
I appreciate what Joe Igbokwe refers to as “mines and bombs PDP mercenaries have been sowing on APC’s highway to reclaim Nigeria”. We must add to this the fact that APC is contesting against an incumbent president (whom some have described as the most powerful in the world) who has made corruption the directive principle of state policy.
I hope this resonates with Joe Igbokwe. Let’s assume elections are in April 2015. There are 36 states and 774 local governments in the country. If a candidate (but not just a candidate) emerged today, that means he or she has 22 months (or about 675 days) to make an impression. This is not an attempt to pull down the APC, but in all seriousness to show the urgency of the task at hand.
I agree with Joe Igbokwe that it is not “easy for ACN, ANPP, CPC and APGA to come together in today’s Nigeria to challenge PDP”. In my appraisal of the APC a few months ago, I noted, “If the APC succeeds, and I hope and pray it does, it will be “a marginal improvement over where we are coming from”. I ended the appraisal by quoting Edwin Madunagu who noted in his piece “Reflections on Party Combinations”, The Guardian, March 7 & 14, 2013, “Someone has referred to the newly-formed APC as the ‘new’ SDP. Yes, there are a couple of elements in common. But there is at least one more requirement for the APC: It has to show that not only is the status-quo totally bankrupt (which is the case), but also that the APC is a historically progressive way forward at this moment, and that it is the only one”.
“Now, if the question is, ‘Is the opposition ready to compete in 2015?’ please take notice that the answer is yes and this is final”, Igbowke concluded. Quite reassuring! I am currently teaching a summer course for young journalists from around the world on media and information literacy at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain. There are many students and academics from Egypt – some of them active participants in the “Egyptian Uprising”.
Very often our debates veer toward the situation in Egypt which bears an uncanny resemblance to what we have in Nigeria. After one year in office, Egyptians are tired and angry with Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood/Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and they are eager to end their reign. Egypt is known as a nation where people, no matter their religion or culture, leave together in peace. But that is no longer the case under Morsi who, late last year, granted himself unlimited powers to “protect the nation and to legislate without judicial oversight”. My students say he is destroying Egypt, undermining its constitution and using religion to divide the country.
“If elections were held in Egypt today what would happen to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood?” I asked a group of students. They were unanimous in saying Morsi would “win”. I then asked why. The response was that the opposition had not been able to unite around a nationally acceptable candidate that could articulate the feelings of Egyptians. But beyond that, one perceptive student noted, “a lot of Egyptians are illiterate; they are easily swayed by religious arguments – which the Muslim Brotherhood is manipulating.
The Muslim Brotherhood is well funded, getting support from some of the very rich countries in the Middle East. During election they will buy people with bags of rice, cloth and oil”.
Does this sound familiar?