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.

What Is Next for Yahya Jammeh – Even a billion years will end.

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junjung Jammeh

Had he accepted defeat in the election of December 2016, Gambia’s President Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, 51, would have been one of the few African presidents or heads of state who, having been in power for more than ten years or have had more than two terms of office, decided voluntarily to have a peaceful transition of power.

Notable presidents who stayed in power for a long time, yet organized or supported peaceful transition are Senegal’s Leopold Sedar Senghor who left office in 1980 after 20 years, Cameroon’s Ahmadou Ahidjo who left office in 1982 after 22 years due to ill health, and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere who quit voluntarily in 1985 after 21 years. Others are Zambia’s  Kenneth Kaunda who left in 1991 after 27 years when he lost election, and Benin’s Mathieu Kerekou who also left in 1991 when he was defeated as military leader after 19 years. They were all the first presidents of the countries after independence.

In several African countries, the governments suspend the constitutional limits to presidential terms of office, and enable the leaders to stay in power perpetually or for a long time. From such strong positions, the incumbent presidents generally win elections using any means.

Jammeh, as a 29 year old army lieutenant took over power in a coup d’etat in 1994 and was elected president in 1996. Subsequently, he has been re-elected four times. Under Jammeh, Gambia changed its constitution and removed term limits for the president.

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A young Yahya Jammeh

ECOWAS dropped its plan for mandatory two terms for heads of state in West African countries when Gambia and Togo refused. Jammeh is reported to have said in 2011:  “I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.” It was clear that he did not see himself leaving office at any time in the foreseeable future. It was not an unusual scenario among his peers.

In 2015, the outcomes of presidential elections were predictably “favorable” to all long-term leaders in Africa.  In April that year President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan won by 94 percent in a poll that was largely boycotted by opposition parties. He had ruled Sudan for 26 years. In Togo in the same month, President Faure Eyadema, 50, won a hotly contested election for a third term after being in power for 10 years, a successor to his father’s 38 years as president. Togo has no term limit for the president.

During 2016, all presidents who have been in office for at least ten years or more than two terms won the elections or were declared winners of contested elections.  The list includes leaders of Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Uganda.

The scheduled elections for the Democratic Republic of Congo in November 2016 could not hold due to serious civil disturbances as opposition parties and protesters demanded that President Joseph Kabila could not be a candidate. He was pressured to abide by the constitution adopted in 2006 and leave office as required after his second mandate expired in December 2016. Kabila, who came to office in 2001 following the assassination of President Laurent Kabila, his father, was first elected in 2006 as president. In a compromise on 23 December, an agreement, yet to be formally adopted, was proposed by the main opposition group and government under which the president would not alter the constitution and he must leave office before the end of 2017. 

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Congolese voters queue outside a polling station during presidential elections in Brazzaville, on March 20, 2016. (IBT)

Despite the numerous sit-tight leaders, there have been smooth transitions, and changes of ruling political parties and presidents in many African countries. In 2015, election results were accepted by all parties involved in Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.  In 2016, Benin and Ghana witnessed superbly smooth transition of power.

Whilst Gambia’s Jammeh has acted true to character by rejecting the results of the election that he had accepted initially, the mood within Gambia and internationally suggests low tolerance of his stalling tactics. Whether Jammeh’s swagger and belligerence can outshine the resolve of internal critics and combined pressure of regional leaders and the international community will be clearer in the near future.

In 2014, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore tried to force through a constitutional amendment to have a fifth term in office, but his 27-year regime was forced out by a combination of popular mass actions and military disenchantment with the government.

He had won elections four times previously under circumstances that were often similar to those of Jammeh.

The Gambia, as it is known, is the smallest country on mainland Africa. It has a population of about 1.8 million and economy largely dependent on tourism. Fishing and farming are also important.  The country is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, and its western part opens to the Atlantic Ocean. Its military strength is generally characterized as small with no major exposure to combat. The president is minister of defence and head of the military forces.

There is no documented information of any former African president who accepted unfavourable election results only to reject them later. The question is whether Jammeh can willfully discredit the electoral system which his government had established and which results he had used in three previous elections to confirm his re-election. If he gets away with it, he will become the first African leader to say “yes” and “no” to the same election result.

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

African Presidents Do Not Take Their Own Medicine

Ask the person standing next to you if she or he would prefer to be treated at home or flown abroad for treatment, heavens forbid, in case of serious illness. What answer do you get?

In almost all African countries, if one asks the number one citizen the same question the response is obvious. Take me overseas immediately, the President or Prime Minister says. And do not tell anyone where I am or why I am there.

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