“The Nigerian opposition party ANPP has elected another Military General as its presidential candidate. General Buhari, a Northern Muslim will confront General Obasanjo, a Southern Christian in the next presidential election in a country divided by religious and ethnic conflicts.”
-CNN International News January 8, 2003
That was the breaking news from the world news leader, CNN International immediately after the confirmation of Buhari candidature as the flag-bearer of the All Nigerian People Party, a day after General Obasanjo received his own ticket to run with Abubakar Atiku for the presidency on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party. To any person used to foreign media coverage of third world countries, the CNN breaking news is not unusual considering the way and manner African countries are reported. They distort positive reports and make mockery of our advancement and pass uncomplimentary commentaries on our economic prosperity and expansive developmental infrastructure. War, disaster, poverty and disease are their major preoccupation while covering the continent. Meanwhile, a very flimsy and inconsequential engagements of their glorified leaders are beamed to the world repeatedly. At least we have seen, on several occasions, President Bush kissing his pet dogs, Tony Blair hugging his wife and sometimes their personalities shown swaggering in the farm as newsworthy events.
While the West and their media are pessimistic about the ongoing electoral process in the country, the emergence of flag-bearers for the forthcoming April’s election has made it necessary for all those interested in the development, peace and unity of the country to ignore the antics and ignoble activities of the political class who may play the dirty politics of the past just to be relevant and which may confirm the unfortunate fears being branded by the foreign media.
Already, the campaigns of some of the supporters have taken new dimensions by the way they shameful elevate religion, ethnicity and sectionalism to intimidate opponents. There are insinuations already that some candidates are sponsored by Sharia proponents, CAN Secretariat, and Sectional leaders. Some sections of the media and columnists too, known at defending regional interest, though a legitimate exercise, are not left out in aggressive articles and highly sensational and volatile headlines that cast doubt on the possibility of a fruitful and peaceful election.
Apart from diverse sentiments, monetary incentive is another factor being deployed by politicians as was the case at some of the party conventions where money changed hands, and security personnel were assigned to escort GMGs (Ghana Must Go). The Dollar was in high demand and consequently became a scarce commodity in Abuja. At some of the party conventions at the state level, puppet Local Governments’ Chairmen, who had been handpicked and appointed by governors were asked to decide the fates of their benefactors for renomination through voice vote or queuing up behind their oga.
Another gory tale is the way the politicians encamp, decamp and then redecamp from political parties. Unlike other countries where politicians proudly spend decades in one party and take years of contribution before one becomes an aspirant, in Nigeria, one could join a party a day before the convention and win an election. But if he fails and loses in a contest, he mobilizes his supporters out of the party and prays for its downfall. If at this stage of primaries, we are witnessing this amazing degree of unwholesome behavior by politicians, what should we expect in the April 2003 Presidential Election?
Though there are many political parties registered by INEC, probably to minimize criticisms from activists, the national parties to beat are at present touted on the line of ethnicity, religion and radicalism. For instance, President Obasanjo a devoted Christian who built the first Church (Chapel) in the Villa was publicly congratulated by Governors of Alliance for Democracy for winning PDP’s ticket even before the governors of the ruling party, thus sending a signal of likely secret alliance where the Yoruba Governors would not fill in a Presidential candidate in the next election. General Obasanjo’s legacies during the military regime were numerous to be mentioned and he is the first military officer to hand over to civilian administration. But his successes as a military junta is not comparable to what we have witnessed in the current democratic dispensation as a result of the frequent clashes with legislators which have overshadowed some of his unique and laudable achievements.
General Buhari who was once alleged and credited to have asked particular faithfuls to only cast their vote to those who will protect their religion, and having supporters from Sharia advocates, is branded in some quarters as an extremist. However, General Mohammed Buhari is a leader reputed to be brutal on corruption and has no mercy on perpetrators of ills in the society during his military regime, where the non-smiling late General Idiagbon served as the deputy. As the most dictatorial though, disciplined regime in the country, some big shots including present crops of politician and public officers were mercilessly incarcerated for allegation bordering on misappropriation of fund and endemic corruption.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a detribalized and non-fanatical on religious issues, who recently threatened to make the nation ungovernable if his party is not registered, is a presidential candidate mobilizing the downtrodden, activists and radical youth to National Conscience Party for electoral revolution. If the electorates would consider his struggle for the emancipation of the downtrodden, his defence of the less privilege and his award of scholarship for students cutting across tribes and religion, then he is surely to win. But Nigerian politics is a different ball game as he cannot afford the cost of mobilizing funds for his campaign from the downtrodden masses who are largely poverty stricken. Though a non-military apologist and never participated in governance, Chief Gani has this dictatorial tendencies which could be seen from his emergence as the financier, founder, Chairman and Presidential candidate of NCP all at the same time. In fact he was a sole aspirant during the primaries he chaired at his enclave-Lagos where Okada riders, agberos and area-boys were the unscreen delegates.
With regards to other Presidential candidates, one can determine from their antecedents and pronouncements where they are heading to. There are other clownish politicians who have never made positive impact in our national politics or economy but are jostling for the presidency. At the last count, the presidential race has seen the emergence of various odd candidates including a female activist, a tribal warlord, a youngster, and few ex-prisoners/convicts. But unfortunately, the array of successful presidential candidates was not complete, when a religious man who claimed to have received inspiration from God could not get a ticket to move further.
Though personalities of the contestants varied, the fear of the gloomy future is perpetual in our mind as the stratagems usually used by the selfish politicians are to raise the ember of tribalism to its peak, instigate religious sentiments to its height and play the sectional cards to our collective detriment. We should be careful once these politicians start the game of hypocrisy. Even though religion, tribes and section should not be the determinants of the best presidential material for a nation, the Nigerian factor, has injected this consideration into our psyche, But it is gratifying to note that the presidential flag-bearers have running mates that come from other religions, regions and tribes.
As we cautiously march towards the April election, it is necessary to admonish the electorate, most especially the youth not to allow themselves to be used for selfish reasons. It seems from what we read, hear and view so far, the country is going for the final trial of its oneness and coexistence. They should understand the antics of the political class, their wicked derisive strategies to hoodwink the gullible public. The electorate should be cautious of monetary inducement which mortgages voters’ conscience and promote thuggery, intimidation and harassment which propel savagery. We should examine the past records of the contestants and determine their dedication, patriotism and honesty in choosing the person who will address the problems of deplorable roads, poverty level, unemployment rates, insecurity of life and properties and true fiscal federalism. God Save Nigeria.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in New Nigeria Jan17, Daily Times Jan20, Post Express Jan20, Tribune Jan22, Daily Trust Thursday Feb13, Monitor January 21, 2003