It is often said that all good things must come to an end; and that presupposes that bad things eventually end, too. Depending on where you stand on the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the message from the president last week was that his civilian stint at the helm of power may not be coming to an end just yet. By declaring his ambition to run again in 2019, the president has set the ball rolling for the uncertain race ahead.
For those who have been groaning under the weight of the decisions and seeming indecisions of the Buhari administration, the news was met with some dismay, while the president’s loyal supporters appear to be grateful for the confirmation of their wishes. President Buhari has taken the entire country on a course with his style of leadership over the last three years. For the most part, the people have felt like spectators at a political concert due to his lack of connection with the ordinary Nigerian. Whether his performance has been good or bad, he now seeks to render his swansong as leader of the country and it is left to be seen if the people are interested.
When President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) swept aside the behemoth Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, there was some hope for a new beginning. International opinion about the development was that of ‘measured optimism’, with Barack Obama, then U.S. president, congratulating Nigerians for their courage. Last week, when the New York Times picked up the news of President Buhari’s declaration, he was referred to as the “Nigerian president beset by health problems, Boko Haram and calls for him to step aside…”. Notwithstanding the harsh reactions of some Nigerians to that description, the words may be a true representation of the president at this time and it gives some insight into how he is perceived abroad.
It is irresponsible for anyone to dismiss the criticism of the president. For instance, the president’s long absences from the country for health reasons are not ideal for a growing democracy. In making his declaration, one would have expected a longer and more detailed statement by the president to the people, where he should have given assurances of his good health, if he really thinks himself fit to continue in his position. It would have shown an awareness of the justified concerns of Nigerians for his health.
President Buhari may not have been the messiah the people expected, but he was the messiah that was available against the corrupt machinery of the PDP… While all the focus was on anti-corruption, Boko Haram was under-estimated and many more security concerns like the clashes between herdsmen and farming communities, were allowed to fester.
Also, beyond Boko Haram, the insecurity in the country right now cannot be ignored, especially when the president is seeking an extra $1 billion to purchase military equipment to fight the insurgents, amidst deadly communal clashes instigated by herdsmen and other security concerns. The country should not have to wait for the president’s party to endorse him before hard facts are laid out explaining how these issues will be handled.
President Buhari may have now become a candidate for the primaries in his party, but he is still the president of the country and as such owes the Nigerian people explanations about his future moves and plans to further the work of his government. A declaration made at the National Executive Committee meeting of the APC and relayed to the people afterwards by a representative on twitter is demonstrative of the cold and distant relationship of the president with the Nigerian people, especially since the announcement was made just before a trip to London, which may likely be another unannounced health excursion. If one didn’t know better, one could interpret the president’s body language as that of arrogant disregard for the people he leads.
President Buhari may not have been the messiah the people expected, but he was the messiah that was available against the corrupt machinery of the PDP. Anti-corruption became the buzz word of his campaign and integrity, the selling point of candidate Buhari. While all the focus was on anti-corruption, Boko Haram was under-estimated and many more security concerns like the clashes between herdsmen and farming communities, were allowed to fester. Even the fight against corruption has rarely crossed partisan lines since 2015.
Although the president has now declared for 2019, there are still many pockets of opposition against his ambition. Even before his declaration, the Senate leadership had launched a crackdown on pro-Buhari lawmakers with a rash of suspensions on those whose support of the president was deemed to be disruptive to the workings of the house. The latest victim is Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of Delta State who accused the Senate of changing the order of elections to hurt President Buhari’s second term chances. The Bukola Saraki-led Senate has not always been in step with the president and the Senate president himself is a dark horse within the ruling party. The APC increasingly displays uncanny resemblance to the party it deposed in 2015, with in-fighting that may eventually lead to its collapse, if not in 2019, then soon thereafter.
What is indeed best for the country is an extended period of stability, which requires continuity at some level. Whether this should be a continued Buhari presidency or continued APC rule is difficult to ascertain, but a radical change in government is the last thing that the country needs right now, especially if it means a return to the hands of a kleptocratic order…
While Buhari’s government has indeed made great strides to open the economy to foreign investment by tightening ship and plugging many leaks through which public funds are lost, the effort of the government has rarely reflected in the daily life of the people. This ‘abstract’ success and the lack of sincere communication with the people have done more harm than the APC realises. There are many angles for credible opposition forces to exploit in the coming elections and it will be a mistake for the APC or the president to become complacent in the run in to the elections. At this juncture, the PDP has the upper hand as the major opposition party and it may only need to pick a candidate that is everything Buhari is not, which may be a long list of things from the “spinach” served to the people in the last three years.
As often, in election cycles in the country, there are strategic quarters that are important to secure electoral victory. Buhari’s main advantage is the much revered “power of incumbency” and the commonsense of maintaining a government of continuity. Already, the feelers have it that the important rulers of the North, like the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano, may be working to mobilise the great numerical strength of the North in his favour. The problem is that there are many Northern candidates that may prove to be ‘stronger’ candidates than Buhari, if only the PDP can capitalise on this. Indeed, the APC itself can come to this realisation. The South-East may also be crucial, as the APC has been on a pacifying mission there to capture the votes.
As things stand, there is great likelihood for the two top political parties to field Northern candidates on the basis of the questionable zoning formula that they tend to operate. In four years, the APC has come to resemble the PDP in many ways, so that it is difficult to make any real projection about the dividing lines between the two parties. Any number of APC potential candidates can become PDP candidates in the near future. Names like Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and even Bukola Saraki come to mind in this regard. One feels that those, even within the APC, who think Buhari does not deserve his swansong in 2019, may rightly or wrongly outnumber those who are truly in support of the president.
What is indeed best for the country is an extended period of stability, which requires continuity at some level. Whether this should be a continued Buhari presidency or continued APC rule is difficult to ascertain, but a radical change in government is the last thing that the country needs right now, especially if it means a return to the hands of a kleptocratic order under the weakened PDP, apology or no apology. The last elections seemed like a break away into different and better times for the country, but it now appears that Nigerians will again be faced with the devil’s alternative in 2019.