The Flipside - Eric Osagie
The aftermath of presidential campaign, especially the kind we had before March 28, 2015 poll, is like the morning after a rancorous party: Broken bottles and plates, messed up dancehall and garbage-filled kitchen and sinks full of leftover rubbish. An eyesore that testifies to the rowdy evening that heralds the reality of the morning after, the aftermath.
The campaigns were more than the riotous evening described above: All kinds of hate messages, calumnious adverts, poisonous words and acidic punches. War drums and threats of Armageddon. Pockets of violence here and there. The possibility of the doomsday prophecies coming to fruition was high. Everyone held his breath. Some with livers of lily held swift dialogue with their feet and bundled their families to their hometowns and villages, far removed from volatile cities and combustible enclaves, which had been theatres of war in times past.
You couldn’t blame them. Anyone who had witnessed the mass slaughter of the civil war or seen the macabre dance of blood occasioned by political violence would not wait to be told that everything would be okay this time around. Discretion is the better part of valour, as the old saying goes.
Then, it happened. An anti-climax. No disputation of presidential election results. No bonfires. No blood flowing on the streets. No citizens chanting: ‘We no go gree o. We no go gree.’ No mass killings. It was as if a dove had descended on the nation, enveloping us with the cover of peace and tranquillity. Those you expected to denounce the poll results lost their voice or rather, got the tongue of peace and conciliation: No trouble. ‘Let the General have his day in the sun, and swim in the tide of victory.’ First, President Jonathan, then, governors of the ruling party and the bruised party; then, the international community, diaspora Nigerians. The world spoke in one language: Language of peace and brotherhood. Language of one nation, one people, though votes and preferences may differ. It was one moment to be proud of Nigeria, the black man and humanity. Because it was unexpected, the moment would remain memorable and frozen in eternity.
Many people have been eulogising the duo of President Jonathan and Professor Jega, the nation’s chief electoral umpire for what happened in our country on March 28; the latter for conducting a free, fair and credible election, and the former for having the grace to accept his defeat. The argument is that, if President Jonathan had failed to congratulate the winner, General Buhari, the stage would have been set for the festival of blood, which was bound to ensue from the disputations. The other leg of the argument is that, Jega, through the ingenuity of the card reader and PVCs (Permanent Voters Card) set the ground platform for a credible process, which made violent reactions to the electoral outcome improbable. I agree only partially to the above postulations.
And here are my reasons: In my view, it is God’s, not man’s doing. God intervened at the nation’s breaking point, which forestalled violence and bloodletting. God only used Jonathan to forestall the cataclysm that would have engulfed us if violence had taken over. When God uses a man, he really has no choice in the matter. He becomes a mere instrument in the hands of the Almighty. Look at David in the Bible, the shepherd boy who slew Goliath; Samson, the man of war; Solomon, the wise king. It is God who gives strength and wisdom. We commend him all the same for allowing God to use him…
As for Jega, we give him credit but not full credit. The erratic card readers, muddled up voting process and glaring electoral malpractices in many parts of the country, are not what should make us dress the electoral umpire in superlative adjectives. The real credit for March 28 goes to God and ordinary Nigerians. As I noted last week in this column, March 28 was the triumph of the Nigerian spirit, triumph of the human will to make the impossible, possible. To make the change they desire happen, in spite of all odds. In all my write-ups pre-election, I had canvassed for the voter to simply let his conscience be his guide. Let him ponder within if he wanted change or preferred the status quo? If his life was better the old way or he sought change? It was the voter’s right, I argued, to decide if he preferred a retired General, Ph.D or professor to be his president? It was not anyone’s duty to dictate to the electorate. What we saw on March 28 was largely the will of the people, even if we agree that it was not a flawless process. In the future, hopefully, things could get better. No personal animosity or ill-feelings Prof!
Now, the rowdy party is over. We are faced with the aftermath. When the party is over, it becomes the duty of the host or owner of the facility to clean up the mess of the night. Buhari has emerged president-elect. In the next four years, it will be his unenviable duty to clean up the mess in our country. At this time, it doesn’t matter whether you voted for or against him; supported him or not. What would matter for him and our nation is what he does with his mandate. What do we expect of and from him? What should be his agenda? Can he deliver on his promises? I can’t tell you I have answers to some of the posers raised above. The answer to some of the questions lies in the bowels of time.
But, here are my agenda for the General, which he should tackle if he will leave his name engraved in the sands of time. First, he must be president of the whole Nigeria, not president of APC, or president of Daura or Katsina. Even if some parts of the country didn’t vote overwhelmingly for him, he must resist the temptation to ‘extract his pound of flesh’ from any part of the country for their preference in the polls. Fortunately, his acceptance speech has allayed such fears, as he has promised to do justice to all Nigerians irrespective of region, religion and gender. As an officer and gentleman, we expect no less of him. I believe we know the evil vengeful actions or pandering to parochial interests can do to a government and a country. We saw what it did to Obasanjo’s government and how it contributed to the fall of Jonathan’s administration. Once I wrote against the ‘Ijaw-nisation’ of Jonathan’s government and all hell was let loose on me. If Buhari must succeed, he must resist from day one, the many ethnic or tribal jingoists in our country who are ever ready to derail every government. I trust he will rise above this fray.
I have interviewed Buhari thrice, in 2004, 2010 and 2012, and from what he says, I believe he will be broadminded. There really isn’t any alternative to that.
Then, he must tame the ugly but familiar monster, running riot over our country: Corruption. He says he will fight it to a standstill. This is where he needs the prayers and support of all Nigerians. Corruption, as we all know, is the deadliest monster ravaging our land, and it is a formidable foe. We also know that Nigerian politicians haven’t changed automatically since March 28, and Nigerians, many of whom are chanting change, haven’t changed much either. We know our Senators and House members. We know what they do in the red and green chambers. The incoming president would need all the strength and wisdom to navigate the fight and crush the deadly enemy of corruption. God help him. But, again it is not his battle alone. It is only when we support him that we can all win. As military head of state, it is easy to shove everybody into one straight line. But as civilian president, it is a different ball game. This is where he needs to completely overhaul the National Orientation Agency, to begin a reorientation of Nigerians to their civic duties and responsibilities. To live the decent life and shun corruption, and indiscipline. Fortunately, with a whistle-clean leader, who will lead by example, that shouldn’t be impossible to achieve. Still talking corruption, he must beam his searchlight on agencies of government that have been cesspool of sleaze over the years. We all know them. We must do something about them.
There are other areas we will need him to take a look at: Power, security, education, health, among others. I am sure he should know what to do, having run the race for the Number One job a record four times, with a plan of action.
Finally, and certainly most importantly, the General must as a matter of urgency heal the land of its sore in the aftermath of the most acrimonious and divisive campaigns and polls ever conducted in the history of our nation. As soon as he settles down, he must find a way to address the fears and apprehensions of Nigerians from different parts of the country, especially in the South. He must continue to reassure them that he will be president of all, irrespective of the way they voted. He should continue to show in words and deeds that he is no ethnic or religious bigot, as they had tried to foist on him in the past; that he would not rule with vengeance or allow his party men to rub their defeat in the face of their opponents. I believe that a peace and reconciliation committee preferably headed by General Abdusalami or General Gowon, would not be out of place at this point in time. A genuine and serious reconciliation team, not the circus we saw in the past. If that is not possible, he must have credible Nigerians in his team, whose mere presence in the administration, would be reassuring to all Nigerians that the new president means business. Best of luck, General. You will need tonnes of it…
Kalu and the progressive change in Nigeria
In the aftermath of the historic March 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections, some Nigerians have been hailed as apostles of change in Nigeria. Surely, the All Progressives Congress leaders and members, who fought the hard way to get their candidate elected would qualify for diadem of change agents. So should ordinary Nigerians who braved all odds to stand by the courage of their conviction in electing a candidate of their choice. It doesn’t matter if their choice was right or wrong; if they elected the right man or not. In a democracy, the decision of the electorate is supreme and final. I suppose that is what Americans call ‘the majesty of democracy.’
However, when elections are won and lost, it is sometimes convenient to forget some people who have played significant roles in democracy and democratisation process; who have in their own way contributed to the change Nigerians now talk about. One of such persons whose contributions are easily overlooked is Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State. Hate him or love him, no one can deny that he has made useful contribution to what is happening in our country today or rather, events leading to March 28.
Here is how: In 2007, when the then reigning ‘emperor’ Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, wanted to clip Kalu’s wings and locked him out of PDP through the so-called ‘party linkmen,’ he would not be cowed, he founded the Peoples Progressive Aliance, PPA, on which platform he ran for the nation’s presidency. He made an impressive showing in that race, coming third. The point he sought to make was that, no man, no matter how powerful, could conscript the political space. The PPA also wrested two states, National Assembly seats as well as House of Assembly seats in some states in the South-East.
After a while, he tried to return to the PDP, the party he co-founded with others. But the man he made governor, Chief Theodore Orji, would not let him. He again fought his way in, because of his belief that no man had the power to shut others out of a party. The battle for political space still rages in Abia State till today.
The point being made is simple: Democracy thrives when you stand firmly by the courage of your convictions. Kalu, in his numerous battles, often seeks to make the point that democracy thrives in popular participation and plurality of views.
It is in the pursuit of his plurality of views mantra that he would not attempt muscling dissenting or opposing voices in his media group. In his newspapers, every writer is entitled to his views. You do not have to agree or share Kalu’s view points. Comments are truly free here in the real sense of the word. Facts are what will not be compromised. You can ask my friend and colleague, Femi Adesina. I am sure he has told his story a couple of times: A publisher and his MD sharing divergent political points and leanings, and having a hearty laugh thereafter. If that is not progressive politics, I wonder what else is, as simple as you would think it is. In the years ahead, we want to see our country rise to the level of political tolerance and relationships devoid of acrimony, even when we disagree. That is the way our democracy can grow.