2019: Zeroing on President Buhari’s second term bid, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Daily Nigerian
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Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

Politics is not like mathematics in which equations are expected to yield straight answers. Looking at the drama that is unfolding in our political firmament, I am absolutely convinced that the conditions that saw to the victory of an opposition candidate in 2015 against an incumbent President in a country like Nigeria are likely to repeat themselves this time around because not much has changed in terms of public expectations of dividends of electing a thoroughly idealized candidate. President Muhammadu Buhari contested the election under precarious circumstances, almost a security situation in which a section of the country felt alienated by the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. To be precise, for the first time there was some appreciable level of political consensus between ethnically and religiously diverse communities in the North to ensure that President Jonathan was voted out of office.

Reasons for such unanimity were not farfetched. The failure of President Jonathan to retain his office was not unconnected with the perception that he had woefully failed to carry the entire country along throughout his tenure outside his usual pandering to the shenanigans of his immediate constituency, cohorts and inner circles in a complex polity like ours. Despite the mammoth corruption associated with his government, President Jonathan himself was widely perceived as the leader of a section of the country, his own section of Nigeria and of course identity affiliations, rather than the whole country. Weather such perceptions were correct or not, it did matter greatly because it had tremendously helped to galvanize a larger section of Nigerian voters against his second term bid, which politically did him in. The point here is that perception in politics is everything. And politicians that take public perception for granted will ultimately have themselves to blame.

If those were the reasons that sealed the fate of President Jonathan, it should be rightly expected that President Buhari would do things differently in the course of his own tenure. He should perforce do everything possible to guard against repeating the mistakes that destroyed the political ambition of his predecessor. Anyway, like his predecessor, Buhari’s style of governance too has generated its own forms of public perceptions, negative perceptions for that matter. President Buhari came to office on the promise of fighting corruption and the desire to straighten the structural distortions hampering the economic development of Nigeria. For three decades since the discovery of oil, Nigerian policymakers, military and civilian alike, have made the fatal mistake of abandoning the development of all other sectors of the economy, especially at the time the country became awash with petrodollars and did not know how to invest its fortune wisely for rainy days.

Worse still, Nigerian leaders did not utilize opportunities provided by the oil windfall realized roughly from the period of transition to democracy in 1999 under President Olusegun Obasanjo to the unexpected collapse of oil prices under President Jonathan, which coincided with 2015 general elections. At the point of hand over of power to the new President, Nigeria had already been in a deep economic recession, a recession that was acutely accentuated by reckless spending and mindless corruption. Nigeria did not even have enough in its treasury to pay workers salary. Despite such deplorable economic conditions, Nigerians still saw a messiah in President Buhari. Therefore, they did not hesitate to invest so much in him in terms of hopes, aspirations and expectations in his capacity to deliver. They believed he had what it takes to turn things around for the common good of all Nigerians. In fact, the over 15 million voters that cast their votes for President Buhari had really expected him to hit the ground running rather than walking briskly as it would turn out to be.

When he finally settled down to the business of steering the Nigerian ship, President Buhari had clearly made known his resolve to fight corruption and the Boko Haram insurgency as the cornerstone of his administration. However, his approach to tackling the problems weighing the country down had left much to be desired. Initially, he took undue time to appoint his cabinet. Next, there was the apparent disquiet over the caliber of people he so appointed after 5 months delay. This has clearly led to an atmosphere of mixed feelings even amongst his ardent supporters. Then there was the much dillydallying in the area of economic reforms. In sum, the harsh measures adopted have immensely inflicted so much suffering on ordinary folks. Indeed the decisions to devalue the Naira, which was then followed up by the jerking of fuel prices, have callously multiplied social pains.

Corruption is obviously one of the salient maladies in the country. However, to tackle the cankerworm of corruption fresh ideas and innovation were desired. This was in no way demanding anything beyond the reach of Mr. President. His pedigree, decisiveness and commitment to the fight against corruption have obligated him to experiment with new ideas, particularly when we consider the glaring failures of the cumbersome procedures and processes of the judiciary, security agencies, ICPC and EFCC in a context where corruption is doing everything possible to incapacitate his tenure. The other small matter threatening to corrode the integrity the fight against corruption pertains the perception, rightly or wrongly, of the way the corrupt practices of members of Mr. President’s inner circle have been overlooked while opponents were elsewhere hounded by anti-corruption agencies. Again, rightly or wrongly, this perception has however reinforced the notion that loyalty to the person of Mr. President rather than Nigeria is all that matters to get one shielded from the long hand of the law.

Though President Buhari has achieved remarkable feet in his counterinsurgency measures against Boko Haram, he seems to be failing in his engagement with other security challenges in the country. The spate of kidnappings for ransom and inexplicable killings associated with farmers/herders imbroglio in northern states of Taraba, Benue, Kaduna and Zamfara. Evidently, the patterns of wanton violence, which appears to be targeting the creation of a total state of insecurity in the country, could hardly exonerate the invisible hands of the opponents of the administration. This must be stressed. But that does not also exonerate the lacklustre approach of Buhari’s administration to the climate of insecurity that is gathering in the run up to 2019 general elections. One obvious flaw of his approach to insecurity is in the blatant lack of emphasis on intelligence. In Benue and Zamfara states especially, effective intelligence gathering and utilization would have preempted most of the deadly attacks on innocent lives. To exemplify this view, the current deployment of intelligence to complement tactical operations in Benue after the earlier rounds of pogrom have so far reduced violence in the state. Similar vigorous intelligence approach to insecurity in Taraba and Zamfara is urgently needed.

Although President Buhari is doing everything possible to showcase his newfangled democratic profile as his second term politicking unfolds, his response to the desperate calls on him by the so-called political kingmakers in the country to step down after completing his first term is giving confused signals with the way he is attempting to fight the trio of Presidents Obasanjo, Babangida and General T.Y. Danjuma through the official jostling of their business interests, most especially. I doubt if the three will just sit back and fold their arms without fighting back in their own damaging ways. Some analysts are of the opinion that these gladiators have already started fighting back through the different levels of their involvement with other veteran political forces and processes in the country ranged against the President. The ensuing political machinations may turn out to be a huge distraction if not costly for President Buhari. As he is well aware of the fact that the trio has lots of resources at their disposal, and they do exercise considerable influence on many politicians that matter in Nigeria. Treading cautiously in this fight is pertinent.

For now, the politics of getting back at Obasanjo and Babangida in particular through the exhumation of the ghosts of Bola Ige and Mashood Abiola, acts in themselves that appear to be politically rewarding to the campaign trail of the President in the Southwest zone, may potentially spiral out of control with serious consequences to the second term ambition of the President in some other zones of the country. For instance, the investiture on Abiola with the highest honor in the land is inadvertently having a ripple effect on the supporters of late Shehu Musa Yar’adua that are now calling for conferment of a similar honor on him, which President Buhari does not seem to be giving any consideration. With this development, the second term bid of President Buhari is not going to be a smooth sail. Worse still, he does not appear to enjoy an array of sagacious elements in his political camp now that the tremendous support he garnered in his first coming is waning.

To conclude my summation, President Buhari may be in control of the state machinery, but he is certainly not in charge of the political machinery looking at the mess that is APC as a political party under his tutelage. APC members are currently engaged in an internecine war without end in sight. Apart from this ominous problem, there is also no guarantee whatsoever that the President will prevail in the tug war with the formidable forces ranged against him, especially going by the enormous resources at the disposal of his powerful political opponents.