By 2015, Nigeria would have had 16 uninterrupted years of democracy. In our 54 years of Independence, the Fourth Republic has turned out to be the longest period of civilian rule without military intervention. The First Republic, which ended in acrimony, triggered the first violent coup that almost wiped out an entire generation of Nigerian leaders. The Second Republic lasted only four years and three months.
The Second Republic, headed by former President Shehu Shagari, has been adjudged as one of the most profligate in Nigeria’s history. After the collapse of the two republics, the military regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and the late Sani Abacha began a transition process that was to usher in democracy. Both attempts almost pushed Nigeria to the brink of disintegration as the two leaders schemed to perpetuate themselves in power.
Both the Babangida and Abacha years are still regarded as the darkest periods in Nigerian history. The brutality of the military era was unprecedented. That the Fourth Republic has endured – good or bad – is a testimony that Nigerians are sworn never to return to the years when Nigeria became a Pariah state under military dictatorship. Today, our country is still living the consequences of military incursion into governance.
While the Fourth Republic has not brought the desired change, Nigerians still believe that the worst form of democracy is better than the best of military rule. In spite of our country’s many travails, every election cycle presents an opportunity to deepen democracy and vote in the right leaders that will bring change to a beleaguered people. In 2015, Nigerians are looking forward to electing leaders who will serve the interest of the common good. As the date draws nearer, it has become imperative to begin a critical assessment of those who aspire to lead us.
A look at the presidential field reveals no surprises. The prospective candidates for the Presidency are still the same serial candidates we have known in the Fourth Republic. Really, what will these individuals do differently? What transformational blueprint do they have for the present and future of our country? At the moment, apart from the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan who is being goaded into running for a second term, those who aspire to challenge him are those we have known like the palm of our hands. Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) is a former military head of state. That was 30 years ago. Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has switched parties on few occasions in order to realise his presidential ambition. Rabiu Kwankwaso is the governor of Kano State. A host of other candidates are not front runners. The dearth of candidates makes me really worried.
How come that in a country of 170 million people, we can only boast two major presidential candidates? Apart from these known contenders, are there no other capable Nigerians who can vie for the Presidency? Why are the political parties so lacking of quality candidates? Indeed, the current political climate that continues to produce the same candidates every election cycle is the root of leadership crisis in our country? Where are Nigerians that have proved themselves in their chosen fields? Why are they not throwing their hats into the ring? Why are the parties not looking beyond these men? This digression is necessary because it paints a sad picture of what is wrong with our brand of democracy. While it is within the rights of Buhari and others to seek elective positions as citizens, the democratic space needs to be more inclusive. There is no doubt that Buhari is a distinguished Nigerian as a former number one citizen. As a military ruler, he was known for his no-nonsense approach. He initiated a campaign against indiscipline known as the War Against Indiscipline. To his credit, Buhari is perhaps the only Nigerian ruler whose name has not been directly linked to any corruption scandal. Those who yearn for his return are fanatical about his famed incorruptibility. They look forward to a Spartan president who would cut down on the excesses of Nigerians who are given to ostentatious living. But Buhari has also been criticised for being an autocratic ruler who moved to silence critics of his administration by passing decrees curbing press freedom and allowing for opponents to be detained up to three months without formal charges
Those who support Buhari’s candidacy point to his Spartan lifestyle. He is said to live in a bungalow. But over the years, Buhari’s detractors have tried to paint him as a religious bigot. They claim he is a religious extremist who hates Christians. While these allegations have not been substantiated by anyone, they have rubbed off on some Nigerians’ perception of him. His supporters have explained away the allegations as the handiwork of those who are afraid of another Buhari rule. He is believed to be very angry about widespread corruption. The Nigerian elite are said to be uncomfortable with Buhari because he would ensure those found corrupt are jailed just as he did to Second Republic politicians. In recent years too, Buhari’s public statements in which he is alleged to have alluded to violence if the election of 2011 was rigged have been used against him by his opponents.
His critics alleged his statement “fuelled” the violence that erupted in the North after the 2011 elections. Only recently, an attempt was made on his life by yet to be identified terrorists. The attack prompted Nigerians to question who wants Buhari dead less than a year to an election in which he is a likely candidate. While Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials are not in doubt, I still have my reservations about his candidacy. For one, Buhari has been around for too long-both as head of state and as a presidential candidate.
Buhari last ruled the country 30 years ago. By 2015, he will be 73 years old. Is age still on his side? There comes a time when leaders have to call it quits with public life. I think Buhari’s generation should be taking a deserved rest by now. This, of course, is debatable. Remarkably, even with all the attempts to demonise him, he remains a true Nigerian committed to a better life for the masses. But I am not sure if he should be the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress in 2015. I will prefer a mentoring role for him.
However, let’s even moot the possibility of a Buhari presidency. What if he contests and wins? Will his presidency translate into a radical transformation of Nigeria? Indeed, his anti-corruption credentials as a president will be an asset. But, I see obstacles on his way. First, Nigeria has changed since he last governed the country as a military ruler by fiat. That will not happen in a democracy. As president, he will still inherit the same broken institutions that have made the Fourth Republic so far unproductive. He will need to deal with politicians and a National Assembly that is self-destructive. Does Buhari have the temperance to survive in a political climate where compromise and intrigues are the ingredients of governance? Can Buhari change Nigeria?