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THE PRESIDENCY NIGERIA DESERVES

By NBF News
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Large democracies invariably have a silent majority, a mass of ordinary citizens more pre-occupied with attaining economic and emotional well-being than with being politically relevant. They may opine freely on what sort of government should lord it over them but they rarely get involved in bringing about such a vista. Their fantasized government is an ideal one that hardly ever becomes reality.

The politically active sub-population on the other hand is that segment that holds membership of political parties: seekers and occupants of electoral office and those canvassing for or against them. They ultimately, by their successes and failures, are responsible for the extant regime. The objective of their politics is to ensure the dis-consonance between what they offer and what the silent majority craves does not become untenable to the point of popular revolt. In other words, they give the nation the government it deserves and not necessarily the government it wants.

It was Joseph De Maistre, a staunch royalist in early nineteenth century France who first pointed out that every nation has the government it deserves. He spoke both historically, in terms of the kind of leadership the French people had endured in the past, and prophetically considering the steady rise of Napoleon Buonaparte to power in rudderless post- revolutionary France. Since then, there's been considerable debate about the origins of revolutionary leadership. Can a failing system still produce the right kind of transformational agents to uplift its fortunes? If it did, then would it still be apt to describe such as a failed system if such positive products could emerge from within it?

From an existentialist standpoint, the ultimate purpose of government is to create the best possible milieu for citizens' legitimate pursuit of happiness. When a long-suffering silent majority decides that it has had enough of bad leadership, they rarely effect change through regular polls. Eventually, they become so distrustful of the electoral process that they take matters into their hands and march onto the streets. Recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world have served as a timely lesson on the ultimate power of the ruled over their rulers. The North African example, when coupled with the rather very impressive nationwide turnout recorded during the just concluded voters' registration exercise has given fair warning that anything short of credible elections in April may precipitate widespread social unrest.

The most significant public demonstrations to have held in recent Nigerian history were those organized by the Save Nigeria Group in December 2009 during the heated crisis of a presidential vacuum created by the late Musa Yar-Adua's failure to transmit power to his Vice on departing the country for medical treatment abroad. Convened by social activist and Pentecostal Pastor Tunde Bakare and with the support of notable personalities like Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and a number of prominent artistes and musicians, several hundred Nigerians joined the celebrities in marching to the National Assembly to press for adherence to the constitutionally stipulated procedure on succession. For a nation the size of Nigeria and with such a critical issue at stake, the turnout may have been less than expected, but nevertheless it indicated the possible reawakening of people power in Nigerian politics. For not even at the height of the general angst surrounding the heavily criticized 2007 polls did any significant protesting occur – much to the disappointment of opposition politicians.

In the not too distant past, key members of the present ruling class were principal figures in the opposition movement. They criticized both the character and policies of the government in power, and many ordinary people agreed with them. Today, however, they have their chance. Needless to say the citizenry are as disillusioned as ever. It is widely agreed that crisis of leadership has been the bane of Nigeria's underdevelopment since independence. Despite the relatively high turnover of a dozen different heads of state over a 50-year period, successive Nigerian governments have hardly ever succeeded in kindling a collective sense of national progress amongst the populace. Nothing best illustrates the alarming level of disconnect between the Nigerian political class and public opinion than the enormous, mind-boggling wage bill commanded by the legislative arm of government.

It was a similar scenario of free-for-all squandermania that characterized the last days of the Second Republic, abolished with popular approval by the Army under Muhammadu Buhari. For once, the people seemed to have gotten the government they craved! But such a dispensation is inherently unfeasible, and Buhari's regime was duly overthrown less than two years after by an apparently more pragmatic Ibrahim Babangida. Ever since, Buhari has been portrayed as an overly strict and uncompromising disciplinarian and has struggled to attract more sympathy in a country weary of decades of military dictatorship. Some have even gone as far as suggesting he is an Islamic fundamentalist. But nothing could be further from the truth; and successfully co-opting a fiery Pentecostal pastor in the mould of Tunde Bakare as running mate for April's presidential elections should conclusively dispel all such notions. Buhari has been the victim of an entrenched regime of self-aggrandizing political jobbers who see him as simply 'bad for business.' Passing him off as a fundamentalist is their way of denying him vital support in the Christian South and Middle Belt.

As a soldier, he employed what tools that were immediately available to him i.e. whips and gun barrels to attempt to instill sanity back into the political class. Backed by a democratic mandate and this time utilizing civilian means, Buhari is the best bet to comprehensively reform the Nigerian political system. In concert with Tunde Bakare who has remained at the vanguard of social activism in Nigeria, the option espoused by Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is a strategic alignment of Northern and Southern reformist forces, which represents the most credible challenge yet to PDP's hegemony in Nigerian politics. These two politically correct thoroughbred conservatives may actually be Nigeria's best opportunity to introduce a semblance of ideology into her political firmament. Their ascent to power could spark a revolution of ethos, a revolution of ideals. Furthermore, a dubious victory for the ruling party at the polls will need a motivational activist like Bakare to serve as an arrowhead in mobilizing disaffected citizenry onto the streets. Unlike some other politically aspiring preachers whose modus operandi is to proclaim that 'God' has asked them to contest for elective office, this Man of God has specifically stated that it was his personal decision and not necessarily a divine mandate. His sincerity will no doubt appeal to many of the silent majority.

The voting pattern at January's PDP presidential primaries suggests that the so-called core north is yet to be won over by President Jonathan's good luck euphoria. The same 'core' north unsurprisingly has been the major voting bloc for Buhari in previous elections. Disaffection with Goodluck Jonathan's opportunism is likely to push even more of such voters to Buhari's side and coupled with Pastor Bakare's radical appeal in the more Christian south could result in an April stalemate and consequently Nigeria's first ever run-off elections. The competitive excitement of run-off elections will itself be a huge boost, a watershed moment of puberty which will be a positive prognosticator of a thriving democratic culture.

Dr Wachukwu, a political scientist, writes in from Lagos