• Monday, June 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

The contest for Abuja (3)

Nigeria’s diversity is a source of strength, innovation – Odjenima

I hinted last week about the four “Cs” – continuity, change, coalition and crisis – the four scenarios that could emerge post-February 14, 2015 (or any date thereafter as INEC and the federal government may decide!) when Nigeria’s much-awaited presidential election will be held. Even if the election is eventually held on the originally scheduled date, Valentine’s Day, there will be very little love displayed between the contestants! Continuity refers to the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan, the PDP incumbent; change refers to an upset victory by opposition APC candidate General Muhammadu Buhari; a de jure coalition may result if Jonathan decides, consequent on victory, to invite APC and other opposition elements into a government of “national unity” to heal a divided nation, or a de facto one if upon a Buhari win, large segments of the PDP move into the new ruling party; and crisis could easily result from continuing
brinkmanship by desperate contenders for power in a contest with religious, ethnic and regional undertones and a context already tainted with a violent Islamist terrorist insurgency in Nigeria’s North-East and a “suspended” one in the Niger-Delta!

The choices before Nigeria are not pretty – one option is a former military dictator with a well-earned reputation as a brutal despot who abused human rights; killed young men (and reportedly even a female cripple) under retroactive laws; suppressed media freedoms through draconian decrees; jailed numerous people without trial while sentencing many others to excessive jail terms using military tribunals. That is General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari’s record is worse than that! He has very little, if any, understanding of policy, economy and administration and is on record advocating positions that qualify him as an ethnic, religious and regional bigot – I have personally verified all the controversial statements Buhari is credited with as factual. In spite of his inclination to act the tough guy and disciplinarian, there is compelling evidence of inconsistency and parochialism in Buhari’s stern disposition – his relative’s and cronies’ pillaging of the PTF right under Buhari’s nose; the “53 suitcases” that he allowed his ADC’s father, an Emir, take through the airport unchecked at a time other Nigerians were barred from bringing in currency; release of ex-President Shagari and many of the Northern/Fulani political elite while jailing their Southern (opposition even!) colleagues to long prison sentences; his deputy Idiagbon took a teenage son on the pilgrimage to Mecca while Buhari’s government explicitly banned such practices, etc.

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The sole justification of a Buhari candidacy offered by its promoters, anti-corruption, cannot survive little scrutiny – in multiple public offices including state governor, petroleum minister or head of state, Buhari never made a dent in corruption; as military ruler, the counter-trade deal (trade by barter of crude oil for commodities) was one of the biggest scams in Nigeria’s economic history); and PTF which Buhari chaired was the most corrupt government agency of its time! Buhari also has an undeniable record of abdicating offices to a subordinate – Idiagbon, Salihijo, Dr Sule Hamma/Buba Galadinma, etc. – which today ironically lures several Nigerian politicians into wanting him as president as long as they expect to be the beneficiaries of his lack of administrative capacity! I find no merit in the projection of Buhari as a candidate of “change” and I regard his appeal to some Nigerians as a pure mystery!

Pitched against this unsavoury option is President Jonathan, incumbent since 2000, who has managed to frustrate many Nigerians, including this columnist, with his naivety and indecision! I voted Jonathan in 2011. He has annoyed and disappointed me, as I know he has done many Nigerians too many times since then, and has been a very exasperating phenomenon. While his government has a fair record of policy achievements – successful agricultural reforms that are increasing local food production, reducing Nigeria’s import bill as well as removed the country’s chronic and endemic fertilizer corruption; investments in critical infrastructure that are modernizing road, rail and aviation infrastructure; successful power sector privatization which has laid the foundation for future investments and growth; sensible policy frameworks for industrial and enterprise development; signing a freedom of information bill; setting up a sovereign wealth fund; major investments in education including twelve new federal universities and numerous “Almajiri” schools in Northern Nigeria, amongst many others – Jonathan is vulnerable on real and perceived corruption and insecurity. His major failing, however, has been a naïve ceding of the space for strategic communication to the opposition which has resulted in the savaging of his personality and record and led many voters into an “anything but Jonathan” posture. I personally feel some disillusion with Jonathan, but I believe his record is significantly better than the propaganda suggests!

My firm, RTC Advisory Services, has run recent numbers based on conservative assumptions which re-confirm a close contest. Only a very gullible partisan or inept analyst will proclaim anything wider than a narrow margin of victory either way – while hardcore regional constituencies in parts of the North-West and South-South/South-East and some passionate voters in Lagos may have made their choices, movements may yet happen elsewhere and at the margins that make the election too close to call at the point in time. Consequently, I will hold my numbers for a final revision seven days before the vote and publish my projections next week in this column and on social media. There remain some contingencies however – could the polls be shifted? Could lawsuits challenging candidate eligibilities throw spanners in the works?