As you read this, we have just 62 days to the February 14 general election in Nigeria. Once again, the election will square up incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) against General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB). This much emerged last Wednesday and Thursday at the national conventions of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Both men were the top finishers in the 2011 elections, a contest which left in its aftermath, sorrow, death and blood, following days of post-election violence across the land. Should the planned rematch raise worries?
The worries stem from the post-2011 election incidents. This is because both men have been anything but friendly towards each other, post-2011. There have been overt and subtle allegations of either promoting violence or incompetence in handling incidents of violence. Even if both men do not openly deride each other, their followers and supporters tend to exacerbate the gulf between. The effect of this on the political space has been enormous.
Interestingly, the processes that threw both men up as candidates in 2011 seem to have played out again this year, but in a reverse manner. In 2011, President Jonathan fought for a presidential election ticket from his party against formidable oppositions and still got through. Buhari on the other hand got the ticket of his then party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), on a platter, even as he ‘owned’ that party.
Today, conversely, Jonathan got the PDP ticket with little stress, even as the party blatantly refused to allow other interested party members a fair chance to give it a shot. The signpost of what a party’s internal democracy should be was on Wednesday and Thursday when the APC held what could be described as the best party primary in recent times. Interestingly, the main legacy parties that formed APC – namely the ANPP, CPC and the ACN, including its progenitor, Alliance for Democracy (AD) – had reputations for non-democratic decision-making. They were in the habit of pressuring aspirants to abandon their ambitions and allow the preferred candidate of the ruling class to prevail. All that became history last week. All the five aspirants in the APC stood election and wooed about 7,000 delegates with Buhari emerging the clear winner.
As both men go into the race, one hopes they would focus on the real issues besetting the country such as corruption, the collapsing economy, insurgency, poor state of roads and other infrastructure and provision of social services such as health and education. Just as the country begins to groan under the effect of austerity, we want to know how the aspirants plan to get us out of this economic mess through sound policies which must necessarily include cutting down frivolous costs associated with governance.
And while they consider the above, we should remind them to cut off the sophistry and tell us their real blueprints for addressing those issues. We should remind both men and their managers not to further divide the country into the fragments of ethno-religious identities. Those identities, after all, do not define honesty, integrity, competence and commitments. They only appeal to our base instincts which are not sustainable. As the Chinese saying goes, ‘it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice’.
It is time for GEJ and GMB to commit to issues-based campaign and rein in their supporters from doing anything that could lead to violence before, during and after the elections. And for the blind supporters out there who see the elections as ‘do-or-die’, we should also remind them that we have a country to protect and defend. After all, if we lose our country after the general elections, it would not matter who won the elections.