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CRITICAL ISSUES IN NEXT WEEK'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

By NBF News
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Failure to discharge those responsibilities properly usually has corresponding negative effect on the democratic chain. Yet, despite this knowledge, democrats still agree that of them all, matters concerning the presidency tower above others in importance. Not many Nigerians know this, yet it is true that some countries that today, pride themselves as bastions of democracy, once in the process of nation building left out such structures as the legislature and governorships. In Britain, for instance, sometime between 1629 and 1640, Prince Charles, son of James the 1st, who ruled Britain at the time, was so embittered about the supposed 'meddlesomeness' of the parliament that he did not only feel an inner urge to do away with them, but actually went ahead to sack them, close the place and ruled for many years before popular revolt led to the chopping off of his head, thus he died a miserable death in the manner of most dictators. Oliver Crownwell, an army general who succeeded him, did not do anything to reverse the situation he met. In recent times, we also have records of presidents, who unilaterally dissolved their nation's Parliaments and went ahead to rule without them.

Back home, the brief years between 1999 and 2007 showed it is possible to have the legislature all but in name. We saw within the period that the National Assembly was virtually held hostage. It could hardly bark, let alone bite. The same for most state Houses of Assembly. Their case was even worse, for we know that nearly all of them were rubber stamp of the executive in the states. There is also the governorship example. In this nation, we saw state of emergency declared in some states, whether deserved or not; and we can attest that despite the development, governance still went ahead. But, take the case of Yar'Adua's omission of sending a letter to the National Assembly to enable the Vice President take charge in his absence, and then recollect the cloud of instability that hovered over the nation.

This was so because the presidency in most nations is a very powerful institution.

And because it is so, the man who occupies it is like a 'god'. He has so much power to do and undo. Americans, for instance, realized a little late how the institution could transform a sane ordinary man of yesterday into a monster today, which was essentially the reason they opted for a strong parliament called Congress and a bold judiciary. Whether these institutions have succeeded in taming American presidents thereby meeting the objective for setting them up is a story for another day. But from our own short experience, we do know that the presidency and the president here is the 'alpha and omega'. It should be of concern that in an undeveloped economy, he has been given power to define, even to originate and determine nearly everything. It is this angle that makes the beautiful features of democracy difficult to take root here. It is this defect in our democratic structure that explains the people's overwhelming support at all times for all manner of executive incumbents, whether they did well or not.

These and more are some of the reasons why next Saturday's presidential poll would be keen and interesting. By now, critical observers should know that the conclusion of the poll and its outcome would naturally throw up new variables and even factors that would have wider implications for democratic practice and other issues in our nation building efforts. Already, the rise of candidates like President Jonathan, Ribadu, Shekarau, Utomi and other new breeds opens up the way for the retirement of some class of the political leadership.

Some of them before now may not have wanted to beat a retreat, but they would have to tactically do so because the emergence of these young faces has thrown up a momentum, which in my view, can never be reversed. What is more? A section of the conservative bloc that had always managed to find their way to power even when the tide is against them, this time decided to show some smartness. They know that their inglorious activities have attracted resentment; to beat it, they decided to reinvent themselves. To do this, they opted to play the Jonathan card. By producing Jonathan, a young unassuming personality from the former minority zone, they threw in a joker, which in the nature of all jokers is bound to produce effects.

If Jonathan wins, as predicted by many analysts, the face of the nation will obviously be rewritten. Not many know that a nation or state has face, and that face is the portrait of those who call the shots. Once Jonathan wins, there will be serious but deliberate effort to re-jig this aspect of our national life. Some of those so visible today would be pushed to beat a retreat into the political wilderness. Even with where the political battle is at present, the famed political invincibility that surrounded the old North for decades has been broken. Even when they gain power again, things would not be the same again for sure. Whether this development is healthy for national growth would be an issue for another essay in the coming weeks.

The same changes would happen if Buhari wins. The face of power will change drastically. As some writers have already observed, Buhari is an elite, at least, going by his achievements. But we all know he is one elite that does not enjoy the companionship of others. These are some of the unseen variables propelling the coming presidential election and they are part of the invincible forces that would determine who wins. I have, before doing this piece, read a lot of early commentaries on the possible outcome of the presidential poll. As I said earlier, a lot of the predictions point to a Jonathan victory. Those analysts may not be entirely wrong, except that sometimes in politics the indices that fly around have similarities with football games. In football, it is not over until it is over. The same in practical politics, we say that one minute is such a long time.

Having made that point, which I consider very important, the safest angle to start the analysis concerning the coming presidential election is to admit that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and by extension President Goodluck Jonathan stand on a firmer ground of winning the polls. For a start, the party has the widest spread and in the campaigns that we saw, the party certainly had a better head start. Jonathan may not exactly resemble his role model, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in gift of the garb and charisma, but he tried successfully to make them up with enchanting humility, openness and calm, which is what the times require. Short of swearing, he has promised that as a young man, he could lead a rancorous conservative group to bring positive change in the manner things have been done in this nation since Independence. This posture, I must admit, has rekindled some interest and a lot of Nigerians now believe that Jonathan could turn out to be the Daniel the nation had been waiting for.

Next is Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Buhari, we must admit, has done well for this nation. In the minds of a lot of Nigerians, his 20 months administration was above average. During those months he put on display plenty of patriotic fervour. And since leaving office, he appears to me the most nationalistic of all those who had the opportunity to lead this nation. As a politician, we must admit that his transmutation has been with some difficulties. I would not go into detail, except to say that some-how persistence and mother luck had combined to make him a political colossus of the season. Yet, I must disclose that the Buhari's mystery has left me more confused than I ought to ordinarily have been. Like most Nigerians, including those we call ordinary, have said, we want a no-nonsense leader who will stand on deep principles to bring changes.

In many of our conversations, we agree that Buhari is one of such. But just as we make the recommendation, we quickly cancel it out on the grounds that he would kill everybody in the process of realizing the Nigeria of our dreams. This has been the odyssey associated with this great man. I am one of those who believe and strongly too that his presidency would be well for this nation. But in politics, wishing and even accepting that something is good and necessary for the nation is one thing, then having the political savvy to produce a winning strategy to get the character acting either by himself or in a group to gain power is a different thing all together.

Those who know about the concept of power know that power is not given. You resolve either as individual or group to take power (democratically, though); then you decide the other details associated with acquiring power. Some of these include:

What group(s) to go with, the message that must be relevant to the time, the strategy, and very importantly, the logistics needed to bring the ambition to a successful end. Again, you must understand that when the political fight is against the conservatives, the challenging group must be at their very best, because conservatives all over the world are the moneyed class, who sometimes, especially when the issue is a decisive one, like to play a little rough and to give all they have.

Buhari and others with him in the opposing camp, from what I see, don't seem to understand this elementary logic or is it that they do but refuse to appreciate the imports? The same minus on Buhari goes for most of other candidates.

Nearly all of them declared interest for the top seat too late. Many of them are intelligent quite all right, but their positions are not resounding with the electorate because they came out late and are talking at a time there are Babel of voices on the political stage. Their voices are coming at a time politics has so filled the air, that the people can hardly distinguish who is saying what. Beyond his anti-corruption thing, for instance, not many Nigerian voters know what exactly Ribadu stands for. Shekarau, an obviously brilliant mind, wanted to run for such a top office, but holed up himself in Kano all these while. This is the tragedy of the Nigerian opposition.

As I looked through their campaigns, fine outings, no doubt, with good intensions for this nation, the question that came to my mind was, would these great Nigerians not have made more sense and impact if they were all standing on one platform? What were the things that made their coming together impossible? Whatever made their coming together impossible would be the same reason that would see them kissing goodbye to a throne that was there for the asking. For me, everything they failed to do is what Jonathan's camp has got in abundance.

Jonathan's camp has relentlessly attacked the opposition's core value. He knew he had an advantage of spread and yet did not relent in opening new alliances. He won over the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and found a way to bring in the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) thereby closing in on the South-East. He also got many other parties to his side, including the Labour Party. He went to the South-West and ensured that PDP structure was firmly in the hands of those he trusted to work for him. And up North, in spite of prevailing anger over zoning, he is talking and placating them. To bring in more support base for a conservative bloc that is receiving bashing left and right, he opened up new vistas with the entertainment sector and various youth movements, without losing track of the clergy and traditional institutions.

This, for me, is real politics. If he wins on Saturday, this writer will not be surprised, because in my estimation, he has defied odds to do enough right things to win outright. And this is what practical politics is all about. Politics is not about talking, criticizing and wishing, it's about taking the right steps to make you a true vanguard to be followed. Who ever wins, running an inclusive government should be an option. Setting up a high non-partisan cabinet to include some of the presidential candidates could be a good joker to provide this nation some alternatives that could be lost if the rules of winner-takes-all is applied.