By Paul Onomuakpokpo
It is only those who are unfamiliar with the politics of mutual backslapping in these climes who are surprised by the verdict of the governors of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). At the meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in Abuja on Tuesday, the governors declared President Muhammadu Buhari fit to re-contest for the presidency in 2019. The governors strove to justify their decision. Buhari has done very well in the past two and half years and thus he needs to be rewarded with another fours years, so their argument goes. To them, no other person in the APC possesses so sterling credentials that conduce to the unity of the party and the country and the well-being of its citizens as Buhari.
But for now, the NEC does not share the enthusiasm of the governors. Thus, the governors were not able to convince the NEC to give an automatic ticket to Buhari to recontest. However, it is unlikely that the NEC would deny Buhari an automatic ticket at the right time; the governors were just the first to declare their position. It is clear to the citizens that these governors have only flattered the president for various selfish reasons. Of course, the governors are aware of the power of incumbency that could be used to hunt them if they were opposed to the ambition of the president to recontest. Most of these governors have not conducted their financial affairs in a manner that could make them different from those the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has hung charges of corruption. Again, most of the governors rode to power in 2015 on the back of the popularity of Buhari. Thus, the calculation of the governors is that once Buhari recontests, they are likely to return to power.
Clearly, in a fair election, the verdict of the governors would not count. It is the people whom the governors claim that Buhari has served well who would decide his fate. So, the governors who are obviously not actuated by patriotism can profess as many endorsements as they like, but it is the citizens who would decide how fit Buhari is for the next election.
However, a canny appreciation of our politics requires that we should thank the governors for wanting Buhari to recontest. For, those who do not want Buhari to recontest are about doing the nation a great disservice. Such people should rather channel their energies towards preparing a candidate who in terms of age, health, character, and vision is far better than Buhari. In other words, what such people should be preoccupied with is ensuring that there is a pool of credible presidential candidates from whom the citizens can choose. Like the governors, this column holds the view that Buhari should recontest.
But the reason for this position is different from those of the governors. It is to really measure the progress of our democratic experience which may not be possible if Buhari does not recontest. His recontesting would serve a purpose that the participation of Goodluck Jonathan served in 2015. Jonathan’s participation showed that even an incumbent, despite all the advantages he leveraged, could be defeated if he failed to perform while in office. If Jonathan had quietly declared that he would be in office for only one term and another person should fly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flag for the 2015 presidential election, he would have escaped his current villainization. Perhaps, this PDP candidate would have won and Jonathan’s so-much excoriated fecklessness allegedly underscored by the profligacy of his administration would have been ignored. By that singular action of not re-contesting, Jonathan would have securely ensconced himself in a pantheon of democracy exemplars illumined by the likes of Nelson Mandela. But we must be alert to the need to discount the notion that these governors are setting up Buhari to be disgraced. For, it is obvious that for the reasons earlier mentioned, they really want Buhari to return to Aso Rock.
So, Buhari does not need to waste time before declaring his interest to recontest. The Nigerian voters are waiting for him at the poll. They are waiting to express their outrage at his inept management of the economy that has led to their unemployment. The millions of youths are ready to let him know how his policies have not given them jobs after leaving the universities. The citizens would show him how his bad economic policies have made existence so brutish for their loved ones that they found the option of suicide irresistible. The survivors of Fulani herdsmen-inflicted carnage – orphans, widows, widowers etc – are waiting to tell him how his conspiracy with these blood-thirsty enemies of peace have imbued them with the audacity to destroy their farms, kidnap, rape, maim and kill them in their thousands.
The governors were enamored of the integrity of Buhari. To them, there is nobody who is as credible as Buhari. Again, the governors should not expect the citizens to accept their testimony. The people would tell Buhari at the poll that he has failed to live by high standards of transparency and justice. And this is why corruption has been rife in his administration. They would let him know how much their moral sensibilities have been assaulted by Buhari and his loyalists avowing his moral credentials while he is deliberately encouraging corruption. The citizens would recall during the election that it was Buhari who the Head of Service warned at a Federal Executive Council meeting of the calamitous consequences of the return of the former Chairman of the Presidential Pension Reform Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina, to the civil service and the president was not riled at the betrayal of all the noble principles of integrity he embodies and has espoused. They would remember that it was Buhari who gave Babachir Lawal a soft landing after so much outcry by the citizens and asked him to bring his cousin, according to Junaid Mohammed, to protect his interest as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
How do we know whether the nation’s politics has grown beyond the ethno-religious fixation that threw up Buhari as president in 2015 and it is now being driven by great ideas that place the wellbeing of the citizen at the core of governance? We can only know this if Buhari recontests and the citizens dump him for a candidate who can actualize their aspirations to live like their counterparts in the developed parts of the world.
Let the citizens decide in 2019 whether they want Buhari to return and quicken the dissolution of the Nigerian union through his treating a section of the country as a master while the other parts are its vassals. During Buhari’s second coming, the citizens were made to support him by what they thought he stood for during his first coming. Now, it is what he has stood for during his second coming that would determine whether the citizens would support his third coming. So, like the governors, the NEC of the APC would only do our democratic experience a lot of good by giving Buhari an automatic ticket for 2019. After that, the citizens he has served very well would decide his fate. Neither on the grounds of ill health nor age should he be discouraged from recontesting. After all, the nation has enough funds to take care of his health. If the nation could take care of his health when its economic crisis was at its nadir, with oil selling below $50 there is no reason he cannot be kept alive in a London hospital even for a year now with the much-celebrated recovery from recession and with the price of oil on its way to $70.
Buhari could look around and snigger at those who want to render him ineligible on account of his age. He could ask them to tell him the age of Robert Mugabe who would be recontesting his country’s presidential election next year. No, Buhari must not be dissuaded; he must be encouraged by all to participate in the 2019 presidential election. Those who are opposed to Buhari recontesting should not deny us the opportunity of seeing him returning to Daura not unhaunted by his past. Once he is rejected at a fair poll by the citizens whom he claims to have served very well, he, his wife and aides should be made to account for their misdeeds in office as Jonathan, his wife, and aides.