The Nigerian regime postponed presidential elections scheduled for February 14 because the challenger Muhammad Buhari was set to win. It revived memories of a similar disruption in June 1993 when Moshood Abiola was deprived of his victory. In the earlier case, voting had taken place but the result was not announced.
Nowadays, an election can be annulled even before the vote is cast, signalling the fact that in Nigeria the fear of Muhammad Buhari is the beginning of political wisdom; but the antidote they are preparing against that fear may well prove for them the beginning of political foolishness. It will also conclusively prove that of the lessons of contemporary history, Nigerian politicians have learnt nothing and forgotten everything, and are, therefore, condemned to repeat the tragedy. June 12 is about to be repeated at far greater cost (the June 12, 1993 presidential elections were believed to have been won by Moshood K. Abiola but the military strongman General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the results plunging the country into chaos).
It was easy for Moshood K. O. Abiola to be accepted everywhere in the country, but especially in the North; and, not to detract anything from his glorious, epoch-making victory, it was mainly on account of religion. Muslims in the North had reason to like him; Christians in the North saw no reason to fear him; Muslims in the South West saw him as their own; Christians in the East did not care either way. He was proud of it as an identity and was moderate enough about it to extend a hand of friendship across the bridge. He was just a large-hearted, generous patriot, accepted wherever he was in the country.
If Abiola beat the madding crowd with moderation, they decided to stop Buhari with the false charge of extremism. While it worked before, it couldn’t work this time. The Buhari phenomenon, especially going by what they are currently desperately trying to do to it, is not too dissimilar from Abiola’s June 12 debacle. Just consider the following parallels.
In 1993, Abiola was coasting to an undeclared victory in the presidential election on June 12 when the election was annulled before the result could be announced. However, the point was that the result of the election was going contrary to the plans and expectations of its organisers, whose hope was that the winner would be Abiola’s running mate, with whom they could work and whose victory they could annul without problem — and perhaps to national applause. When that didn’t happen, the election was annulled.
And the North was forced to inherit the sins of the Babangida administration, especially its annulling of the June 12 election. The region was turned into a pariah as a consequence. But today, it is not inheriting the sins of one of its sons; it is being disfigured and torn apart by it, and, together with it, the very fate of the country. All for selfish reasons.
Today, Buhari is the undisputed lord and master of the popular vote; but, popular as he is, those opposed to his presidency reckoned that if in the primaries election, the vote is not direct but by delegates, money, which he didn’t have, would be the deciding factor and a popular candidate could be left out in the cold.
A tendency within the All Progressive Congress (APC), perhaps in early cahoots with Buhari’s opponents, changed the rules of the game from the popular to delegate votes. However, by the end of the primary election, it became obvious that even if money played any role, it couldn’t stop delegates from giving Buhari such a resounding victory that he polled more votes than all the remaining four candidates put together.
And by February 8, 2015, it was clear even to the blind that Buhari was coasting to an unprecedented, landslide victory, which, had it not been disallowed, would have given him an electoral victory larger in scope, wider in spread and with greater potential for uniting Nigerians than that seen on June 12, 1993. Since they saw no way of winning it, they annulled the election as the nation prepared for it. But where did they miscalculate; and why is the charge of extremism ineffective now? The answer lies in what happened between 2011 and today.
The merger that produced the All Progressive Congress held the promise of extending Buhari’s acceptance in the South, especially the South West; and, on this, it did deliver. But factors other than the merger were at work and helping. And as the days wore on, it became clear that President Goodluck Jonathan was the best selling point for the Buhari campaign. As his administration stumbled from one blunder to the next, Buhari’s popularity rose higher in the South, even in Jonathan territory.
And his victory in the primaries upset the calculations of the ruling party that had expected and planned for the victory of any of the other candidates whom the party believed it could more easily defeat. As it is, Buhari’s popularity and showing have given the lie to the African electro-political archetype, which in our local context, regards a candidate for election as someone who asks for money from the wealthy and votes from the poor, in order to protect each from the other. But he asks for money from the poor and already has their votes; and Buhari has also broken Walton’s first law of politics, which says that a fool and his money are soon elected; a law which, by his grand showing, proves that it can work only when he is not around.
And after a successful campaign tour with unprecedented multitudinous rally turnouts in virtually all states of the federation, the final nail on the coffin of electoral fortunes of the ruling party was hit on the head. It panicked.
Its next plan was to stop the elections by any means necessary and, in seeking to justify the postponement, the government gave contradictory reasons, ranging from lack of preparedness by INEC (unacknowledged military failure to tackle insurgency with expected effectiveness) to troop AWACR (absence with a contrived reason-meaning that on Election Day, officers and men of the Nigerian army would not be available to police the election, because on the dates chosen for the elections, they would be busy bombing Boko Haram insurgents’ positions in Sambisa Forest). The government has probably forgotten that policing the election is not the responsibility of soldiers; the Nigeria Police performs such functions.
In addition, it tabled the matter of postponing the election before the National Council of State, hoping to receive its endorsement. It failed because the real sponsors of the postponement feared exposure at this stage. Using the above excuses, the government forced INEC to postpone the election, thereby buying time — six weeks within which to perfect and implement its other fallback positions. In this, it received the support of all those who have reason to fear a Buhari presidency (Buhari was a general in the army and was in power in the 1980s but was toppled in a coup).
And there are many who fear the coming of his presidency; and they will do all in their power to block it. There are at least four groups busy at it. There is the military group, made up of the collective that toppled him in 1985, along with their extensive network of contacts. There is the elite group made up of traditional, business, and bureaucratic elite. Then there is the Jonathan group, made up of those who fear Buhari’s coming on account of what they have committed and on account of what they wish to continue doing. And finally there is an alien foreign presence that has captured Nigeria and will not want to let go; and it will prove indispensable to the government when it wants to create the chaos that can justify cancelling the election.
They are all united in their purpose and their goal is to stop Buhari by any means necessary — by outright disqualification through the legal processes, by disabling him through physical means, perhaps not excluding physical elimination, by another doctrine of necessity or by constitutional elongation of tenure that will be justified by a state of war that can also be created by the manipulation of the fight on terror on our soil.
The one group doesn’t want Buhari to succeed to the presidency; the other group doesn’t want to be succeeded by him. For the one, election postponement and probably a second postponement, are by a planned default supposed to lead to the constitutional elongation of tenure as revealed by Senator Babafemi Ojudu (APC-Ekiti Central); and, for the other, the postponement will hopefully lead to a brand new interim government that may have no constitutional basis; but there is a pliant National Assembly; and, after all, its leadership may not be all that disinterested in the issue of succession to the rule.
Suddenly, matters started to unravel. The justice minister came out on February 12 to dissociate government from any effort to put an interim government in place. Perhaps the president has just realised that while riding the tiger may feel nice and even pleasurable while it lasts, it is obvious that matters will eventually all end up in the tiger’s tummy — and what a place to be for the lord of the manor, who will soon enough be made to discover the lethal effect of this fearful symmetry too late in the day. This tiger will not just throw off its rider; it will maul and devour him.
While interim government may have suffered a setback, elongation looms large on the horizon. Unfortunately, our country is still living in a Third World fool’s paradise where the elitist bottom line trumps the public interest; and democratisation, along with all its promise, is made to take a back seat, always subordinate to the whims and plans and plots of the new privilegentsia in love with the business as usual, those who want more of the same and those who go after the worst of the different.
They will naturally resist the emergence and installation of a merit system in the public service in place of the spoils system that has been in operation to great national detriment. The prosperity of such a generation will remain directly proportional to popular powerlessness.
But as one commentator recently said, the elite in Nigeria have become blinded by primitive accumulation to realise the Buhari stands between them and a bloody revolution. Let them go ahead and take him out; and we shall see in which country they hope to live.