Buhari, Atiku and the burden of choice, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

In life, every normal individual can be faced with the quandary of having to choose from options. We are always forced to confront array of options in our everyday struggles to eke out a living. Most of the religious scriptures we patronize have upheld the primacy of choice. As a matter of fact, they see the totality of existence as a set of trials, choices and consequences of our actions in the process. At the core of the scriptural texts we read is the notion of moral choices. However, in the eschatological framings of religious texts is the idea of the ultimate sealing the fate of each one of us here or in the hereafter. That is to say, what we do in this world has always a direct bearing on what we have chosen to be on that dreadful Day of Judgment. This is even an article of faith amongst Muslims. Therefore, the question of political choice would not strike anyone as something odd.

The democratic culture in Nigeria is fraught with not so palatable forms of choices. This is how I see the political options we are about to confront in Nigeria. Reducing our options to only Buhari and Atiku is going to be a choice between a rock and a hard place. In any case, the choice open to Nigerians is between two Muslim candidates of northern Nigerian extraction. They are the main contenders of the February 2019 presidential elections. To be more explicit, out of the two candidates one is from the so-called cattle rustling and banditry as well as kidnapping infested Northwest geopolitical zone, and the other candidate is from Boko Haram terrorists ridden Northeast. I am bringing this issue to your notice graphically because of perennial threats of identity politics threatening to tear down our nation.

Against all odds, such as the odds ranged against opposition candidate by incumbency factor, President Muhammadu Buhari has been enjoying enormous goodwill from ordinary folks in the country. Nigerians thought Buhari has what it takes to turn things around. But all they are getting from him are policies that are not friendly. In office, especially from his administrative mien, President Buhari is taking those teeming Nigerians for granted. It was expected that ordinary Nigerians should have been the main beneficiaries of the APC President when designing policies and programs of his government.

Most ordinary folks were disillusioned because of two key anti-people policies of the President. One was the removal of the dubious fuel subsidies and the unholy act of Naira devaluation of the Naira and left it to precariously float in the currency markets. This is the worst thing that can happen to an economy that is solely dependent on the importation of goods and services. If Nigerian economy were to be export-oriented that action would have tremendously benefited the country in any genuine drive for industrial production, wealth creation and labour generation. Folks, you and I know that Nigeria is not doing well in the export sector of the economy. Apart from crude oil, we are only exporting other unprocessed primary commodities. Our export of industrially produced goods is however relatively minimal.

Nigerians have expected President Buhari not just to be obsessed with his single-minded fight against corruption, which is hampering the development of Nigeria, but to simultaneously steer the Nigerian ship in the direction of economic nationalism, which would have restored the country to the path of robust economic growth, development, and which will also accelerate the processes of industrialization, national cohesion and rebirth. So far, the President has failed to deliver on all those modest expectations that were nurtured by the suffering Nigerians. Their expectations, hopes and aspirations were all dashed as the problems faced by Nigeria became more acute.

Mr. President himself appeared to have been overwhelmed, unprepared and even seemingly indifferent to the mammoth problems threatening to destroy the country. Nigerians are really not happy with the way the President surrounded himself with the narrow circle of his kinsmen and closet associates at the expense of competent Nigerians who would have competently handled the change agenda he promised them. Nobody expects raw deals from a President that was widely associated with personal integrity. His other name is Mr. Integrity. The Spartan character seen in the President is obviously the sterling quality that has swayed most people to blindly cast their votes for him in 2015.

At the political level, Mr. President has also performed woefully. He is seen as a leader that expressed so much contempt for politicians whom he sees as corrupt elements in the society. Unfortunately, even his supporters have applauded his disdain for politics in general. At the slightest opportunity, he does not hesitate to take swipe at politicians whether in or out of office, as if in his reckoning politics can only be played with military dispatch. As the leader of the ruling party, he did not demonstrate any zeal to provide leadership to his political party, the APC. Under normal circumstances he should have gone out of his way to provide that leadership, instead, he cringes whenever the need to just do that arises.

He surrenders such important tasks to all sorts of political opportunists as if Nigerians should only hold them responsible when something goes wrong. The indifference of Mr. President to party politics has created a situation in which APC was turned into a no man’s land where its principles and positions are respected only when appropriated for selfish ends. At state and local government levels, state governors have effectively pocketed the party. Governors have simply turned APC into a mere tool for the perpetuation of their selfish political interests. This defective structuring of the party calls for urgent internal democratization if Buhari government is to actualize its ambition of changing business as usual in Nigeria.

We should now crossover to the other party to look at Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate. This is a politician that clearly knows his onions. Without doubt, he is a dogged fighter on the slippery slopes of Nigerian politics. More than so many gladiators of Nigerian politics, Atiku is well schooled in the art and craft of political dexterity. What’s more, he is spunky and adroit as well in the pursuit of his political ambitions. We expect nothing less from someone mentored by the late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua. But he is coming with lots of baggage as the candidate of PDP. In the first instance, not few Nigerians are willing to forget the raw deal they had under the 16 years of PDP rule.

Objectively, PDP, once touted the largest political party (I don’t know the ranking of the party now) existing in Africa South of the Sahara, has no compunction in the manner it allowed corruption to permeate social life. PDP is one hell of a party that could be defined based on its impunity, pure and undiluted impunity, in its style of governance, and in the way its political appointees manned government institutions and departments. Atiku cannot, therefore, exonerate himself from blame for the high-tech corruption that became normative in Nigeria under the overlordship of President Olusegun Obasanjo. If the presidential candidate of PDP wants to hear the home truth, not many Nigerians would be enthusiastic about the return of PDP to power immediately after the mess they have created, even with the bungling of opportunities by APC government in the last four years.

Atiku Abubakar may be deft in politics, but he does not strike anybody as empathic to the plight of ordinary Nigerians, in their day-to-day struggles, and in their yearnings and aspirations. A lot of Nigerians are apprehensive of the stewardship of an Atiku Abubakar. In his campaign trail, in his business engagements, and in his policy pronouncements, the presidential candidate of PDP is thoroughly laissez-faire in his disposition to governance. I can bet my last kobo that Atiku’s presidency would not hesitate to create a conducive atmosphere for private enterprise and the burgeoning business community in Nigeria.

But Atiku appears to be unsympathetic to social spending on education, healthcare and infrastructure, except of course in instances where such spending is done to facilitate business environment. His presidency will definitely be characterized by massive privatization of public assets and liabilities. Going by the role played by Mr. Abubakar in the privatization of public assets under his boss President Obasanjo, one wonders if his own stewardship would not be just for members of the business community. It will be hard for Atiku to double down on tackling the existential difficulties of toiling masses that are groaning under the leadership of heartless politicians. This is the reason why so many Nigerians are wary of the prospect of an Atiku presidency.

Are we then faced with Hobson’s choice in the 2019 presidential election, as Nigerians are not even looking at the merit of candidates presented by other political parties?