How Buhari won the battle but lost the war, by SKC Ogbonnia

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

I am very happy that President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the February 23 presidential election, but I am equally finding it difficult to celebrate the victory. While accurately predicting the outcome two weeks before the election, I remarked that many Nigerians were not in a hurry to bring the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) back to power so soon, having squandered our overflowing oil wealth during its 16-year reign. I also noted that its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was fundamentally flawed and had no game-changing message to crack the wall of Buhari’s fervent cult-like following in vote-rich Northern Nigeria. However, unlike in the 2015 exercise when both the loser, President Goodluck Jonathan, and the winner, Buhari, emerged from the election as heroes, Buhari’s victory in 2019 was plainly pyrrhic — and with sweeping consequences.

Any objective history on the ills of the 2019 election ought, to begin with how President Muhammadu Buhari backpedaled the wheel of Nigeria’s democratic journey by refusing to sign into law the reforms to Nigeria’s Electoral Act. Every electoral season since the Fourth Republic commenced, has seen a review of the nation’s electoral law with a view to improving the electoral process. Buhari stalled this basic trajectory of progress with audacity. The failure quickly gave rise to a perception of executive subterfuge, which tainted the 2019 electoral process from the get-go.

The embers of impunity grew into wildfire within the ruling party. Led by Buhari’s self-appointed national party chairman, an active gaga figure in the person of Adams Oshiomhole, the APC rubbished the concept of internal party democracy within its ranks. The party imposed exorbitant nomination fees on aspirants, thereby further entrenching Nigerian democracy as the sole province of the highest bidders. But that was not even all. Aspirants who managed to cough out the nomination fees were either excluded or arbitrarily disqualified. In the words of Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, “It is disheartening to note that some aspirants used their hard-earned money to purchase nomination forms, got screened, cleared and campaigned vigorously yet found their names omitted on Election Day…” This fiasco on the part of the ruling party prompted the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, to lament that the primaries ahead of the 2019 elections were “some of the most acrimonious party primaries in our recent history.” He regretted that the apparent lack of internal party democracy dealt a big blow “to our electoral progress.”

The ichor of the growing infamy spiraled down to Buhari’s sole claim to power, his war against corruption, where the president himself appeared to be aiding and abetting corruption. Nigerians would gape as Buhari accepted an N45 million nomination form purchased for him by a shadowy group, a clear mockery of S91(9) of the Electoral Act. As if such act lacks in folly, he embraced a phantom presidential primary, through which he was allocated about 15 million votes. But his storied integrity finally hit an old seabed at the point the president penetrated the inner circle of Nigeria’s corrupt canton to enlist the worst of its examples into his presidential campaign council. Public trust in Nigeria may never recover from the conflicting optics of Muhammadu Buhari, of all people, campaigning across the country while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most notorious kingpins of corruption in the land.
Nothing exposed the hypocrisy in Buhari’s re-election campaign more than his brazen assault on public institutions. For instance, alleged to have been worried that the election could end up in the courts, Buhari removed a sitting chief justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, on account of corruption — a few weeks to the election and without due process — while at the same time providing safe haven to some principal members of his party who had similar corruption charges or worse. This move prompted a unified rebuke by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

Buhari finally threw caution to the wind with his tacit support for hostility against the international community. Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, a pestilent personality, and close ally of the president had responded to the concerns of the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union by charging that foreign bodies who “intervene” in Nigeria’s election “would go back in body bags.” To the chagrin of the human society, General Buhari backed the governor. Recall that I was impugned when I had hinted in the course of my presidential campaign that the international community views Buhari as a bellicose dictator, only for the ruling party to come to that realisation later in the electoral season. Instead of any sign of penitence, Buhari’s militant body language took a turn for the worse throughout the campaigns. The immediate effect was military brutality during the election, resulting in the loss of many lives, a situation that is bound to echo as Nigeria continues to seek the much-needed foreign investment into its economy and foreign ‘intervention’ in her national security challenges.

Leadership is contingent upon the environment, quite alright, but prudence remains a universal virtue of good leadership. Thus, while it can be reasoned that Buhari deserves commendation for his victory, because the alternative was definitively worse, which is sadly true, his do-or-die tactics were as unpatriotic as they were needless. Like the situations in 2003, 2007, and 2011, even if the umpires were saints, the opposition in 2019 had no path to victory. The palpable anger trailing Buhari’s victory, including the outright rejection of the results of the poll by the opposition, has more to do with the fact that the president ran a campaign charged with naked despotism, crass impunity, and stark arrogance. Yet, political retribution is an antithesis to progress. At any rate, Nigeria has found itself at crossroads. The way forward is for Muhammadu Buhari undergo true change.

SKC Ogbonnia, a former 2019 APC presidential aspirant, is the author of the Effective Leadership Formula.