Buhari and Sowore – The Road to Change

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Image via Daily News Gh

One is lean, slow, deliberate and often distant as he stares into space. The other is compact, quick, agitated and often preoccupied with his mobile phones. I am describing, respectively, my impressions of President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Omoyele Sowore from watching them both up close physically.

They are two different people, as different as two people can be, including in their age and life experience. Yet, they are two very similar persons. In so many ways that this article will explain, their trajectories have been different, but their ways have been very similar.

In taking a stand against the establishment, Sowore has lived a life of protests. He was a relentless advocate for civil and political rights as a student union leader at the University of Lagos. Later on, he founded Sahara Reporters, one of the early online alternative media that champions agitation against all governments of Nigeria since 2006.

Buhari as a professional military officer might be perceived as conformist and obedient to military tradition. A closer look, however, reveals something different. His most visible form of protest has been that within and outside his military career, he has demonstrated a non-conformist mien. He has been described as austere, withdrawn and often aloof. In his political roles in military uniform, he has not been given to the physical and social excesses that characterized several of his contemporaries who assumed political roles.

Just as Buhari has held several political appointments and worked within the political structures, Sowore has been around and within politics, including engaging institutions of government to criticize them, and sometimes to collaborate with them as sources of his investigations. Buhari and Sowore came to the same conclusion. Neither was happy with the government and the regular politicians.

Both men sooner than later, in their typical day, are apt to show their angry demeanours in social and political discourse. President Buhari and Omoyele Sowore in many ways have led lives that reflected their dissatisfaction, even anger, about Nigeria’s political leadership and parties.

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Buhari as a military officer has been one of the leaders of several coups d’etat against military and civilian governments. For example, in December 1983, he was one of the military leaders that overthrew President Shehu Shagari. Buhari and his deputy Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon ruled Nigeria for some two years, a regime that was characterized by their “War Against Indiscipline”. They jailed many people,
punished many others and made draconian laws. Buhari has not led a quiet life of conforming to the established order.

Similarly, Sowore has never been short of negative words to describe what goes on in Nigeria. His lifelong pursuit of activism against the government has been loud. He has been intolerant of corruption, misrule, abuse of office and exploitative social norms.

President Buhari, after his military career, found his voice within a new political party, the All Nigeria People’s Party, and later in the Congress for Progressive Change. He ran three times unsuccessfully to become president. He won only at his fourth election campaign using the All Progressives Congress party platform. He has fulfilled his desire to rule Nigeria.

Sowore, who had established a powerful, successful media platform, Sahara Reporters, to destabilize the political space, also found a political party, the African Action Congress, in 2018. The party lost resoundingly at Sowore’s first attempt to use the electoral system to become president.

When President Buhari lost his earlier elections, he did not keep quiet. He spat fire. His frustration with the electoral process was heard loudly. For example, Buhari claimed that the 2011 elections were rigged. He angrily stated that “if what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”.

Sowore after his electoral loss did not keep quiet. Moreover, he concluded that open agitation to upend the system was perhaps more effective. He spoke angrily too.
In their characteristic ways, neither of the two men accepted their losses nor did they settle down to parley with the winners. They did not go quietly into the night.
Sowore, reacting against the electoral process of 2015, called out other instruments of persuasion. He brandished a new slogan of “Revolution Now” and led street campaigns.

Unfortunately, for seeking new avenues to change the political discourse, he became the enemy that must be stopped by the forces of law and order.

It is written and said by many people that Sowore was the nemesis of President Jonathan’s government and that Sahara Reporters was a most potent media that charted the way for the end of Jonathan’s government and the entry of President Buhari into office in 2015.

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Sowore, especially through Sahara Reporters, has campaigned in the public arena consistently against the ills of every government from 2006 to date. Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan were not spared, nor were their ministers, appointees and other political associates.

Some of these leaders have had their wives painted in undignified portraits in the online media, especially for corrupt activities.

How did Sowore who acted in support of, advocated for Buhari, and his political party’s “change” agenda, become the “enemy” of Buhari and his government?

Buhari was fed up with poor governance, he campaigned in support of a new order and fought hard to get into power. Both Buhari and Sowore swear that Nigeria must change.

Sowore’s impatience with slow or lack of change leads him to seek possible pressure points to accelerate change. What differentiates the two in the new sphere is that whilst Buhari is bound by the fences of government house and its dictates, Sowore chooses to try the paths not taken, using mostly words.

Nigeria is ripe for change. The road to change is already littered with promises not kept, accidents caused deliberately by agents of the status quo, and obstacles that hinder progress for the largest segment of the population. Sooner than later it may become a stark reality to decide which path can truly lead to change – within the existing order, or its overturn to give way to drastic shifts. Patience may have an expiration date.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

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. 

 

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)