Let’s be clear, if Goodluck Ebele Jonathan were up to scratch, the voices of dissent would not be this deafening. Here is a man who had near universal appeal in 2010, and then in 2011. Many wanted him in. I wanted Ribadu in and before that, Utomi, but horses still cannot fly, except of course they are named Pegasus. In hindsight now, it seems people voted for the simple, “God-fearing” guy, the unassuming minority who had been unfairly treated by a cabal bent on power. People voted out of sympathy – yes, petty sympathy – not out of any conviction of Jonathan’s presidential credentials. While being unassuming can be a virtue, Jonathan takes it to the extreme, to the point of diffidence.
Therefore, there’s plenty legitimacy to the Anyone But GEJ movement. If we have put up with GEJ for this number of years, with this shambolic an outcome, perhaps we should not submerge any lower? Some people have said, jokingly, they’d vote for a lamppost if it got GEJ out of Aso Rock. There’s that much frustration about. And this frustration has turned more people now in the direction of Buhari.
My support lies with Buhari, as does the support of an ever-increasing number of Nigerians. And this is so for more reasons than Anyone But GEJ, as many commentators seem to very amusingly assume. Very importantly, as the APC primaries suggest, he seems to be the only one capable of mounting any significant challenge to the PDP’s hegemony. On the one hand you can understand the support for Atiku in this social media age – his style is hopefully what becomes universal in Nigeria’s political terrain moving on. But an Atiku candidacy, absent a moral backbone, would have meant an easy landslide for Jonathan. I have no doubts about that. Buhari has an emotional following primarily owing to his moral backbone. Buhari has a solid base of support to build on, unlike Atiku. Atiku can marry his media savvy with Buhari’s towering stature.
(While we clamour for candidates with plans, I must ask if we the electorate are equipped to discern between what plans are bullshit and what plans are legit. I have no problems with Atiku deploying crisp and clear Nigeria messaging. Problem is: the discussion seemed to end at his presentation of plans at all. Did we question the feasibility or workability of these plans with available data? Were these plans arrived at with Nigeria and the world’s shifting context in mind? I could sit here with a bunch of people and throw up plans like it’s raining confetti. It is the informed questions you ask of my plans that distinguish hollow plans from sound plans. But look, a Powerpoint Presentation!
I hate to hark back to America. But I always do. Tolu Ogunlesi’s Twitter analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of potential APC VPs is a clear statement of where we are in terms of political education. So while Joe Biden’s credentials are a good grasp of foreign policy and Paul Ryan – Mitt Romney’s running mate – is an economic nut, we are reduced here to primordial considerations. We don’t ask in what ways a VP complements his President for the good of the country. What we ask is: how can this VP help win an election? And we leave it there. There are clear problems: security, the economy, unemployment, corruption, foreign policy, education, the recklessness of capital, cynical selfishness etc. What combination of running mates, with the credentials to show for it, is equipped to solve the most important of these problems? Ogunlesi’s analysis is suited for the times because it is analysis, not fanciful permutation. And here I am bigging up a candidate on fewer indices than I would prefer. But hopefully, we get there.)
Fine, Buhari’s military dictatorship is some sort of an albatross about his neck. It is not an episode of Nigerian history we can simply imagine out of existence. For some it was the worst of times; for others, the best, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Some of his excesses were borne from an untempered, iconoclastic overzealousness, a characteristic a junta necessarily amplifies, and a democracy – or a semblance of it – necessarily curtails. And the man is no longer 40, and some three decades have passed. From his utterances in this burgeoning dispensation, you’ll find the calmness of thought that was previously absent.
In any case, dig below the mainstream venerations of African political “heroes” and you’ll find premium dirt. From your Nkrumahs to your Lumumbas to your Sankaras. Viewed through certain lenses, they could as well be seen in uncomplimentary lights, some more devoted to the self than the commonwealth, some subsuming dissent by sheer will and force of personality. This is not parallelism disguised as revisionism intended to excuse Buhari’s former excesses or blindspots. I merely supply context. But whatever accusations you level against the man, you cannot say his actions were borne out of a cynical regard of self and self alone. And you cannot say he hasn’t lived an exemplary life of selflessness.
Again, what you have to give the man is that – for good or for bad – he is steadfast to his convictions. He identifies problems to the best of his knowledge, and sets about tackling them with cold-blooded gusto. And if today he is convinced Nigeria is in a bad way, I am convinced that he will be steadfast enough to do something about it or die trying. This, above all, is why I support Buhari. Nigeria needs a moral backbone with a conviction for change. From 2019, we can build on Buhari’s back and move on from there.
I want a president who can demonstrate strength, who radiates strength, who is not subordinate to every whim and caprice of diabolically cynical minions and advisers. I want a president who has identifiable convictions, whose private life is testament to his public convictions. I want a president who demonstrates a good grasp of issues. I want a president who inspires confidence. I want a president whose body language does not condone gross and wanton indiscipline. I want a president who can reign in his or her (hello, gender people) supporting cast. I want a president whose election means that that odious epitome of vulgarity called Patience Jonathan can get the hell out of Aso Rock.
If Buhari’s time as Head of State tells you anything, it is to validate Chinua Achebe’s assertion that the trouble with Nigeria is one that starts with, and ends with, leadership. If the leadership tows the line of order, the effect trickles down and permeates Nigeria. The Nigerian citizenry does not often seem patriotic enough to do what is best for it. Take those blocked gutters for example. Or bus parks, never mind that the NURTW is a veritable diamondmine.
To the fear mongers, I invite you to entertain the differences between a be-all-end-all military junta and a democracy, where, tokenish as the democracy may be, trade-offs have to be made and compromises reached. There is the small matter of a legislature and a judiciary. It is in this same country that a third-term bid was foiled, against all odds. To peddle hare-brained suppositions like “Buhari will seize your freedoms today as he did thirty-odd years ago”, or “Buhari will foist Sharia on Nigeria”, is to counter your very own intuition. And that’s putting it very politely.
And a certain narrative seems to be emerging, a narrative of sameness, a narrative tailored, roundabout and cynically, to favour the incumbent and prolong his incumbency beyond his welcome. Well, the APC might be for the most part undistinguishable from the PDP, but the PDP does not have a Buhari, someone universally acclaimed as upright. A Buhari certainly cannot emerge from the PDP as is, except there’s some catastrophe of seismically cataclysmic proportions. Yes, that bad.
Come February, Buhari, coupled with a simple majority of a non-APC party (lol) or parties in the legislature, is very fine by me. I don’t expect that Nigeria will suddenly become Shangri La because of a Buhari presidency, but it sure as hell won’t be plumbing the depths of Hell.