Presidential Election Gives Nigerians No Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President M. Buhari (Getty Images/P. Ekpei)

If President Muhammadu Buhari figuratively rode on a horseback to assume office in 2015, as at today, he barely rides a three-legged donkey. A wobbling government has frittered away the goodwill of the expectant millions who brought him to office.

However, his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, does not have a donkey to ride on. His questionable past and close embrace of proven and perceived corrupt political actors and ruinous leaders do not make him attractive. Despite the weakness of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP is not the shining star.

Yet one of the two is most likely to emerge as president come the election of February 16, in a few days.

The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Its three successive presidents, and with control over most of the states, reinforced a faulty political system where massive looting of government coffers became the norm. Provision of services and improvement of peoples’ well-being receded and disappeared in most of the 36 states and at the federal government level.  Politics was the quickest gateway to wealth, riches and power.

Under PDP rule, when political leaders have taken their large share of the official budget, the little that was left could not maintain Nigeria’s elaborate political and administrative systems. Infrastructures became dilapidated. Salaries remained little and unpaid in many states. Social tension heightened.

Nigeria’s political system is problematic too. The “investment” needed to win votes or buy oneself an elected position has kept rising. The demand presses elected persons, in turn, to hustle to recover their wealth, equip themselves and their acolytes for future political positions. Many elected officials aggressively privatize official funds to their pockets for use as future powerful political kingmakers.

Amongst the citizenry, high and low, a culture of primitive self-preservation and material aggrandizement developed. Reliance on system and order gave way to brazen self-reliance, hopelessness in hard work, and spiritual solutions to routine life issues.

People scramble for “money by all means”, especially through political favours, in a situation where material well-being is a primary determinant of people’s self-worth. Absent the government, all basic needs are met by each person according to whatever access is possible to any resources, state or privately-owned.

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Nigeria Votes (guardian.ng)

On February 16, 2019, Nigeria will pick either Atiku or Buhari to rule the country for another four years. It is not because there are no qualified, capable and exemplary candidates among the more than 40 other presidential aspirants. It is mainly because the political system is cast in stone, and only the candidates of a few major political parties can have the resources and means to meet the demands stipulated by the constitution, political tradition, and corrupt processes that produce candidates for political offices.

Several of the other aspirants have qualifications, experience and drive that will make any country proud of its possible leaders.

The political system is dominated by political parties that can afford enormous resources to set up structures, reach out to a sprawling, federated country of 36 states and one federal territory, use mass and social media that communicate with some 180 million population, and provide reliable security for themselves and supporters.

Candidates for elections must dole out monies to members of their own parties and voters who have given up on what elected leaders do when they are in office. Rather, party officials and voters want immediate gratification – whatever materials, food and money that they can get from candidates during the election campaign. Elections are costly, not only for the official organizers but also for candidates who must deploy huge amounts of money for every step of the election process, from seeking the nomination of political parties to seeking votes of the electorate.

For the coming election, Nigeria faces yet again the sad choice of having to choose between two leading politicians neither of whom can take the country to its level of development and realization of its potentials.

The gargantuan victory of President Buhari in 2015 over then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan gave Buhari a powerful entry. But his three-pronged campaign on corruption, a stronger economy, and security with special focus on ending Boko Haram insurgency are nowhere near being successfully prosecuted.

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Atiku (image via News24; File, AFP)

At the same time, Atiku will only be Atiku – focusing on further enriching himself, his cronies and beloved others.

Those who strongly support Atiku claim that he is different from Buhari and will perform better given the weaknesses of the current government. They say that Atiku will make the expected noise to discourage the rampage by herdsmen and organised attacks on certain people and religious groups. He will choose his lieutenants from various parts of the country. He will enable the South-eastern part of the country mainly the Igbo ethnic group to contest strongly for the presidency. He will make public money spread around through his customary largesse. He will unite the country that appears to be fragmenting. Yet, the claimants have only weak arguments to explain how the expectations will be met.

The strongest criticism of Atiku is that the popular demand to combat and at least reduce corruption will suffer greatly if he becomes president. But his supporters maintain that if corruption is the price to pay to have a more united country, a stronger economy and less structured federalism, it is time to let corruption continue under Atiku’s rule. It is a sad bargain to accept.

Whether 76-year old Buhari or 72-year old Atiku wins in the soon to be held election for the next president, Nigeria loses because neither of the two persons has the disposition, experience, appropriate mindset, nor determination to make Nigeria a better place for its people. The current political system presents only the rich and mighty, not the best that the country can offer.

Asked about February 16 election for the president, someone retorted: “Some people will vote for Atiku. Some will vote for Buhari. One of the two will win despite a large number of frustrated people who will spread their votes among the numerous other candidates. The status quo will remain because Atiku and Buhari are from PDP and APC which are two sides of the same coin.”

To buttress his point, the person explained that Atiku was in PDP before he joined APC, and then returned to PDP a few months ago to buy the political platform to aim for the presidency. The leadership of both parties boasts of the same persons who have led Nigeria’s politics for the past 30 plus inglorious years.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

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CJN Case – Buhari a Dove or a Hawk?

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President Buhari and former CJN Onnoghen (image via pulse.ng)

In his initial actions on assuming office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was painstakingly slow. The list is long. He took six months to appoint a cabinet. Many important organizations and parastatals continued to be led by nominees of the previous government. Management boards of key governmental organizations and ambassadors for important foreign offices were not appointed or confirmed.

For a considerable time after becoming president, Buhari was not known to have articulated any clear policy statements on the three key areas of his campaign- security, economy, and corruption. 

As time went on, he accepted the label of “Baba go slow” and explained that it would not stop him from reaching his goal on retrieving stolen monies. Perhaps the slow posture helped to demonstrate his change of image from that of a past military dictator to that of a democratic president.  Maybe his ill-health explained the slow pace too, but the disappointment was real.

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‘Go slow’ in Lagos, Nigeria (image via cmgsite.com)

Meanwhile, the high profile cases of corruption that his government made loud noises about went nowhere or stalled due to court processes, also known as legal technicalities. Yet, many cases went to court, and large amounts of monies and assets were confiscated. But extremely few of the major allegedly corrupt persons got convicted.

Very quickly, the more than 15 million voters who brought Buhari into office settled into the new reality. The new leader and his government appeared to succeed reasonably in limiting the effectiveness of Boko Haram, which was a good thing. But the government would not be able to find an effective way to reduce corruption. Not in court, not in the mobilization of people, not in policy clarity. At best it would scare some corrupt politicians within its ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and in the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) party.

The system, thoroughly soaked in corrupt ways from top to bottom, has won. Despite his experience as former head of state, holder of several political offices, and his hunger to rule Nigeria, the new Buhari was a dove who would play the political game and not hurt. After all, the dove is a symbol of peace.

Many people were disappointed because they wanted a hawk – an aggressive and war-like leader who would find ways to correct the ills. But the political realities emasculated the government.

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Acting CJN Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed (image via BBC)

Like a thunderbolt, the allegation against the Chief Justice emerged. Buhari acted rapidly. His unusually quick and decisive step caused a massive uproar. The opposition and other critics found a rallying point.

It is probably the most controversial decision of Buhari’s government – the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and appointment of acting Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed to replace him. The CJN was allegedly found to have misrepresented his financial standing in the sworn declaration of assets.

The whirlwind of opinions, protests, and statements on the decision continues within and outside Nigeria. Legal analysts and professionals voiced strong but opposing views on the situation There can only be finality when courts pronounce.

Buhari’s APC and the main opposition PDP hold diametrically opposing positions on the CJN issue. For APC, it is right that a CJN who “forgot” to state in his official papers that he had millions of dollars in bank accounts was guilty of misconduct. But the PDP differs.

Public opinion is an aggregate of the views and thoughts of the general public. The coming elections will reflect where supporters of APC and PDP and other parties stand on several issues, and perhaps, more importantly, the decision on the CJN, taking three weeks before the crucial election.

Many people and organizations have spoken and demonstrated against the decision. And as many have spoken and manifested their support for it. The supporters find the decision bold, correct and necessary.  Can it be the kind of decision that many people expected when they voted massively in 2015 to support APC and made sure that Buhari clinched the presidency?

USA’s president Donald Trump during his campaign did several things that were unorthodox. The more he showed Americans and the world that he was not a typical politician, the stronger his support base became. The more Trump angered mainstream America the more his followers cheered.

A large number of Americans were fed up with the political system. They were seeking a president unlike their politicians in the Senate, House of Representatives and Washington D.C., the political capital. The forgotten Americans wanted to turn the tables against politics as it was being played. They wanted a non-political leader.

In the USA, the media, opinionists, commentators, and experts did not get the message of the disgruntled, voiceless people in open and hidden corners of America.  Trump got the message. He acted the part and played ball with the coalition of immigrant haters, faith fundamentalists, blue-collar workers, and such-like others. He fitted the bill and he won.

In so-called democratic Nigeria today, the average person has no right at any place or institution. It is a well-known fact that who-you-are and what-you-have are the sole determinants of what you get. Yet, the elites and dominant office holders are quick to claim the rule of law as the answer to resolve the disagreement.

More than some of the controversial issues of Buhari’s presidency – the cattle herders’ rampage, the allegedly Northern-bias in the appointment of key federal officers, and general un-hurried attention to crucial national issues – the public perception on the CJN issue may be the decisive factor of Buhari’s re-election.

The president has shown he could find a way within the rotten political and legal system to take a vital blow on seeming corrupt behavior. The action may turn out to be the most populist decision by his government. Or it may be the most foolhardy. The decision of President Buhari will be validated or rejected by the result of the elections of February 16 when he squares up with his main rival, former Vice-President and candidate of the PDP, Abubakar Atiku.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. 

 

Ekitis and Fayemi: Moral Values and Integrity of Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are new lessons and confirmation of old ones that have emerged from the July 2018 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State.

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Ekiti State

The first time that I witnessed an election up close was in 1983 in Ibadan. No, I was not an observer or a politician. I was “inside” the political campaigns, sitting next to gubernatorial candidates of political parties. I saw political thugs of candidates in cars and trucks that drove recklessly on town roads. I observed thugs using dangerous weapons to attack other thugs and supporters of political opponents of their leaders. I saw men lying in their pool of blood and barely breathing whilst policemen watched them dying. I was a terrified, fairly new reporter covering the campaigns.

At the then capital of Oyo State, I also witnessed heavily armed policemen who guarded the offices of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) whilst vote counting went on inside. Only the returning officers of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that constituted the federal government were allowed inside. The NPN agents were fully protected by the frightfully armed policemen. The officials of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) the opposition party that governed Oyo State were prevented from entering FEDECO premises to witness or observe the vote counting.

As results were announced on radio stations, the city was locked down by security forces. The winning candidates circulated freely. The candidates of the opposition party were locked up in their homes or detained in police stations. According to the security forces, the security actions were necessary to “maintain law and order”.

When a political party constitutes the federal government in Nigeria, it has control of the security forces, and with it the power to manage and decide outcomes of elections is almost unlimited. The federal government uses this power when the stakes are high.

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Voting in Nigeria (via Techpoint)

In 2014 in Ekiti State, candidate Peter Fayose defeated sitting Governor Fayemi with a near 100 per cent vote count in the gubernatorial election. Fayose had the backing of the strong Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that formed the federal government. The party hence was in charge of the security forces and they backed candidate Fayose. During the election the state was locked down by security forces.

In the recent July 2018 elections in Ekiti State, sitting Governor Fayose’s hand-picked PDP candidate, Mr. Olusola Eleka, deputy governor, was defeated by former Governor Fayemi. The latter had the backing of the strong All Peoples Congress (APC) party that forms the federal government. The state was locked down by security forces.

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Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi

 Lesson one – the party at the centre with control of security forces can use the so-called “maintain law and order” in ways that are open to various interpretations . The security actions that were taken by the federal government during elections in Oyo State in 1983 do recur in several elections. They were similar to the security actions taken in Ekiti State in 2014, and again in Ekiti State in 2018.

Lesson two – money has become absolutely crucial to win elections among Ekiti people. And the amounts needed to influence voters and buy results of party primaries and elections has increased significantly. The use of money is more public than ever. The Ekitis were general perceived as tough, stubborn and fiercely loyal in their political beliefs. They would hold a position, support a candidate and protect their beliefs with their lives, if necessary. The Ekitis have changed. Money has become the dominant factor for the voters. They guard their stomachs with their lives. Governor Fayose used “stomach infrastructure” as official governing policy. His opponents adopted it for the elections. At every stage of the recent electioneering process, within their means, for all parties, including APC and PDP, money was the currency of engagement.

Lesson three – the more money is spent by candidates to win their elections, the more money the candidates have to recover once elected. In addition, the successful candidates have to look after their party, members and their personal future interest. What do people expect from their governments, governors, elected politicians? Having spent huge amounts of money to buy party delegates during primaries, and also to buy voters during elections, there must be a lot of holes to plug once in office.

Lesson four – Nigeria has become more homogeneous in expectations from political leaders, especially during elections. Ekiti people are no longer an exception. “What we get NOW from the candidates for political offices is the only benefit to us. Once they assume office, we get nothing”, say the voters. For various reasons, including poverty, loss of confidence in the political leadership, pressing needs and sharp “marketing” by politicians, people have given up on higher standards of politics as service to the people.

Lesson five – election results are almost invariably contested. Only in rare instances do candidates accept their losses and cheer the winners. Campaigns and elections are desperate, win-or-die times for politicians to attain power and wealth. The reports of observer groups on Ekiti elections vary. Whilst some say that it was reasonably free and fair, others say that it was unfairly conducted and over-militarised. Both APC and PDP are accused of carrying out activities that could undermine the proper conduct of voting and determination of results. Several cases are in court to ascertain whether party primaries and state-wide elections were done properly.

Can the in-coming government of Fayemi recover some of the lost moral values of Ekitis? Can he rally his people to bring back the personal integrity of Ekitis on choice of political leaders? Can he rekindle the high ground that he took when he lost gallantly to Fayose in 2014? Can he raise the “bar of excellence” as he stated while conceding defeat? Or faced with the realities of desperate politics of acquisition wealth and power, will he fall further into the “stomach infrastructure” miasma?

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Buhari And Roots of Corruption

FIFTY-FOUR per cent of the voters in the March presidential elections wanted “change” and they chose President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to bring it about.

For change maximalists, change was expected to start with a storm that left no stone unturned. Change was to be a clean sweep of all that they saw as wrong; a visible show of business unusual where politics is done differently and new policies and actions were to appear.

For change minimalists, the departure of PDP from power at the centre in Abuja and enthronement of APC was change already. The replacement of former President Goodluck Jonathan with President Muhammadu Buhari was a breather that signified progress. Sooner than later, other major changes integral to Buhari and APC would manifest, they reckon.
The new government is acting decisively and visibly and strongly on two major planks of the campaign promises – stopping Boko Haram insurgency and fighting corruption. Unless corruption is put at bay, even the efforts against Boko Haram will be inconsequential. President Buhari, with the best of intentions, cannot and should not fight a “lone” battle against corruption, nor should he aim only at short-term goals within his mandate period. Corruption has become endemic and both its roots and trunks must be removed. His ongoing actions at the trunks should go further to the roots.

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Elections 2015: The World Speaks (Part 1)

Africa is witnessing some 14 elections this year. Nigeria is one of the countries expected to have elections early in the year, after Zambia that voted in January to elect President Edgar Lungu to serve through two years only, being the unfinished mandate of President Michael Sata who died. Lesotho will vote on the last day of February to resolve its political turmoil that almost set the country on fire but for intervention by South Africa.

Of all African elections in 2015, a whole lot is at stake in Nigeria. USA Secretary of State John Kerry signaled this much with his visit and messages to President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari. When anything goes wrong in giant Nigeria, Africa rattles and the world quakes. Prevention of upheavals is best.

Nigeria attracts attention for many good and bad reasons. For the present, let us deal with the good reasons, many of them obvious – its enormous population, economic attraction including huge oil reserves, citizens who are present all over the world, many of whom are distinguished men and women, Nollywood, faith and religion tourism… In the past months, the well known Boko Haram insurgency and its seemingly unstoppable horrible acts, and elections have concentrated world’s attention on Nigeria.

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