Matters arising from President Buhari’s declaration of intent, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

In a normal democratic setting, a declaration of intent by any politician or an incumbent President, for that matter, to contest for election shouldn’t have generated uproar, the kind that was triggered on the heel of the debates over whether President Muhammadu Buhari should go for a second term or not. I don’t even see the value of such a debate. But, as usual, this is Nigeria where anything goes. Sentiments and emotions rather than reason and propriety have taken over the better side of a good number of Nigerians. Why should a mere declaration of intent of an incumbent President become an issue in a democracy? Again, why should anybody think an incumbent President should be denied the right to contest election for a second term? Are such expressions negating not just the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but codes and conventions of the political party that gave the President the platform upon which he contested and won the highest political office in the land? If no law or procedure is contravened by President’s Buhari’s declaration of intent, then those who are contesting such declaration are merely blowing hot air. I sincerely think Nigerians should have channeled their energy on something more constructive.

Our objection to Buhari should have been centered on his style of administration or the undemocratic posturing of those unelected elements he surrounded himself with to steer the ship of Nigerian state. These are people that ideally should have no business in the corridors of power because of their pedigree, and Mr. President knows it very well. Whatever, we must avoid partaking in any political subterfuge that can negatively affect our democratic processes. Nigerians should rather constitute themselves as watchdogs of our burgeoning democratic culture. As we defend democratic principles, we must collectively fight against the infractions of which are legions now as before. I would have thought the first thing to be bothered about is the motive behind the call by former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and his co-travellers on President Buhari not to contest 2019 elections. Is that the right thing to do? Should anybody interested in sustaining the principle or practice of democracy in Nigeria go in the direction that Obasanjo has chosen to go? Of all elder statesmen in the country, why should it be Obasanjo that is calling on Buhari to quit his second term ambition? I was however not in the least surprised to hear Obasanjo calling on President Buhari not run for another term in office, knowing how self-opinionated he is. Again, although I do not doubt Obasanjo’s nationalistic spirit, but I greatly doubt his democratic credentials. Have other Nigerians forgotten so easily their nasty experiences under President Obasanjo? By way of recollection, one particular issue that dented his image irreparably was his infamous attempt to truncate our nascent democracy when he attempted tenure elongation bid before he completed his second term in 2007.

You may wish to defend Obasanjo by also recollecting how Buhari himself truncated democracy in the second republic. General Muhammadu Buhari was the main beneficiary when some young Turks staged coup d’état against democratically elected President Shehu Shagari.  But I still maintain that there are better ways to challenge an incumbent President that wish to get elected for a second term, more so one that was democratically elected by Nigerians despite his dictatorial past. The two areas that could be used to challenge President Buhari are basically his performance scorecard, which of course leaves much to be desired, and the extent to which he observes, sustains and promotes democratic ethics principles in politics and in governance. These two items alone are enough to retain or sack him from the office he has suddenly begun to enjoy. It all depends on the vantage point upon which average Nigerians are looking at his candidature. Beyond objective assessment of the two criteria, any other ploy to get him out of office, as seen from those calling him not to contest for a second term, is definitely detrimental to democracy in a complex polity. Proper democratic procedure of electing or removing any candidate must be resolutely followed in all the cases of those occupying political offices in the different levels of governance in the country. But a situation in which somebody will just wake up and start clinging bell over who shall be allowed to contest elections and who shall not to be allowed will only destroy a system in which we are just beginning to learn the ropes. I am by all means not advocating that Nigerians should not freely express their grievances, wishes, interests or preferences on any individual politician or political party, nope!

However, our grievances or preferences should issue dispassionately and critically based on an objective assessment of failures or successes of politicians in office, no matter who they are, where they come from or what their identity affiliations are. Indeed, nobody has the right to ignore objective factors for some primordial reasons, especially insofar as Nigeria remains a single and indivisible entity. Yes, there is no denying the fact that Nigeria is heterogeneous, plural and diverse postcolonial African nation. Therefore, nothing to be done about that reality even if any restructuring is done as some people are vociferously pushing for it. In fact, even if Nigeria is culturally homogenous, its politics must be played on the plain of principles rather than base sentiments and emotions. Objective principles should have been the basis upon which we are now assessing Buhari’s tenure. Has the man met our expectations or not? If he hasn’t Nigerians should simply show him the way out through the ballot box. In this regard, nothing stops Nigerians from actively organizing to source better candidates, and better political platforms to ensure that President Buhari has not been re-elected for a possible second term. If we cannot do that, we should then forget the stupid sentiments we are expressing in the mainstream and social media. We should quietly sit back and allow President Buhari to have his second term as those that think he is performing wonderfully well would want to see it done. But on no account should we accept anybody calling on any candidate, not just Buhari, to withdraw from political contest. To say the least, that is very undemocratic.

If the ruling APC still thinks Buhari is the candidate to beat, they are free to field him. That is their cup of tea. But in doing so, however, they owe it to Nigerians, democracy and posterity to ensure that they follow due process. The party’s criteria of fielding a candidate must be followed. The party must transparently organize primaries to nominate and select its flag bearers. I am particularly concerned about the party’s internal democracy. I could not remember APC doing any big gathering since the Lagos convention that had produced President Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. I also don’t want to believe that there are no other candidates in APC that would want to contest the coveted position that Buhari is currently holding. The idea of sitting in some cozy mansions by some powerful party apparatchiks to arbitrarily endorse a candidate is not going to be good for democracy at all. Delegates from 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory must converge at some location in the country to do the ritual of producing candidates through open and transparent democratic procedures. No candidate should be endorsed without subjecting them to the processes of internal party democracy as the APC is trying to do through its dubious endorsement of its Presidential candidate. It speaks volumes of the democratic credentials of the APC to have thought that President Buhari should automatically be endorsed by bigwigs in the party without passing through the rituals of a party convention while denying the Chairman of the party or any other incumbent at State or local government levels similar privilege. 

In the same breath, other Nigerians have no business joining the bandwagon of those vested interests like Obasanjo and Babangida that are blatantly ignoring democratic procedures as they called on President Buhari to shelve the idea of a second term due to either what they see as his incompetence, nepotism or ill health. APC should be left with the burden to field President Buhari or not. Meanwhile, Nigerians reserve the rights to vote for him in or out of office. Nobody can take away that inalienable right away from us. This is the reason why I urged fellow Nigerians to channel their grievances productively. Democracy is the new political game in town. Democratic rule has indeed come to stay. So far, it is the best option of governance despite its apparent lapses. As much as possible, we should learn to imbibe democratic spirit. We should organize and not agonize to bring into power candidates that we think that can take the country forward. But playing the game any other way is not going to help us individually or collectively. If in our estimation the APC is not delivering on its promises nothing stops us from expressing our misgivings honestly and candidly through the ballot box. And then, nothing also stops us from searching for a better alternative elsewhere beyond the APC. Thus, nobody should insult our intelligence by telling us that in about 200 million Nigerians there is no alternative to any candidate in any party. Already, there are several other political parties registered by INEC. We have the right to shop for a candidate that we think can take us to where we want to be from any of those political parties.