I have been dismayed by three recent developments, which I believe pose very serious threat to the prevailing ‘fragile’ peace in the country. I use the word ‘fragile peace’ deliberately because even though the Armageddon predicted to follow the presidential elections of March 28 failed to happen and everyone is relieved, the prevailing peace is still only skin deep. Beneath the peace façade are bottled up frustrations, garrulous triumphalism and a certain longing for revenge.
The three developments are reports that Jonathan questioned APC’s victory, the banning and unbanning of AIT from covering the president-elect General Buhari’s events and reports that Buhari would probe the alleged missing $20 billion oil money. Let me elaborate.
Jonathan questioning APC’s victory
Several media outlets reported that Jonathan picked holes in the results of the March 28 presidential election, which Buhari won. The president was said to have made the remarks after receiving the report of the Senator Ahmadu Ali-led PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday, April 30.
The Punch of May 1 2015 quoted the President as saying that “the People’s Democratic Party couldn’t have got those kinds of scores” the INEC announced for it.
I have consistently maintained that the last elections were marred by widespread irregularities and that the President’s concession of defeat was what legitimated them. Having said this, there is a world of difference between the opinion of an ordinary columnist like me and the opinion of the President uttered in public. One, is that by that statement the President could embolden the hardliners in his party who blame the President for the PDP’s loss of power because he failed to do the ‘needful’ (read: use state machinery more forcefully to obtain the desired result) and by ‘hastily’ conceding defeat.
Two, once the PDP’s hardliners are emboldened, it could concomitantly equally awake in APC’s hardliners a certain raw triumphalism that was only restrained by the President elect’s restraints in victory. Here, Ekiti state under Fayose is a good template. When Dr Kayode Fayemi, one of the true gentlemen politicians of our time, conceded defeat in the last Ekiti state gubernatorial elections, the normally ebullient Fayose was restrained for a while. However when certain elements in APC began questioning his victory, he took his gloves off and subsequently mismanaged the whole concession. One of the consequences is that the peace dividend that should have arisen from that concession in Ekiti was lost.
Three, by publicly questioning the outcome of the presidential elections, the President unwittingly set in motion processes that could dilute the huge goodwill and political mileage he gained by his decision to concede defeat. Every political leader usually gets a defining moment. That concession speech was Jonathan’s defining moment in public life and he has to ensure that he manages it well – in and out of office. Four, though I strongly believe that the elections were seriously marred by irregularities and that both the APC and the PDP rigged the elections in their strongholds while playing the ostrich by accusing the other of rigging, I do not believe the outcome of the presidential elections would have been different even without those irregularities. In several articles and broadcast interviews in the run up to the election (including interviews with such international media as Reuters, Bloomberg, CNBCA Africa), I hypothesized that Buhari would do better in the north and south than he had ever done since 2003 while Jonathan would do worse in both north and south than he did in 2011. The imponderables, I speculated, was the role the incumbency factor, money and the ability to play up the fear factor – areas the PDP clearly enjoyed advantage – would play in the elections. In this sense, Buhari’s emergence as the APC presidential candidate, (which offered him a much broader platform than he had ever had and more money to fund his campaign), Jonathan’s extreme unpopularity in the highly populated Northwest and Northeast and feelings of alienation in the equally populous southwest coupled with Buhari’s highly successful re-branding (which in my opinion was probably the most important reason for his victory) meant the odds were already stacked against the PDP.
The banning and unbanning of AIT
Several media outlets reported that the Buhari Campaign Organisation on April 27 barred the AIT from covering his activities “until certain issues on ethics and standards were sorted out.” It should be recalled that in the run-up to the March 28 presidential election, the AIT had aired a series of sponsored documentaries, considered to be anti-Buhari and the national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu. Though the AIT ban was later ‘unbanned’ by the APC, that the ban happened at all was a serious error of judgment that stokes the apprehensions of those concerned about the President elect’s authoritarian past, including the muzzling of the press via Decree number 4 during his First Coming.
Buhari’s handlers had assured Nigerians that he was a born again democrat and his successful rebranding helped to allay those fears. Now the blunder with the banning and unbanning of AIT from the president elect’s events means his subsequent actions, no matter how well intentioned, could be viewed through the mirror of his military past.
Related to the error of judgment in the banning and unbanning of AIT, is also the manner of the damage control. The President elect said he read about the purported ban on AIT in the newspapers like others and warned his aides to confine themselves to their designated areas of responsibility. While the President elect should be congratulated for the humility that informed that public renunciation of that ill-advised ban (or ‘stepping aside’), however telling us he read about it in the newspapers – like the rest of us – gave the wrong impression that he was not in full control of his aides. One of the criticisms of President Jonathan was that he was not fully in charge of his government or that he outsourced its running to others. I also believe the President-elect should have sent a stronger signal to his aides by at least re-assigning the aides responsible for the AIT ban – rather than telling them that going forward everyone should operate in their defined areas of responsibility. There is a big lesson to learn from those who overzealously tried to appropriate President Jonathan or appointed themselves his guardian angels or attack dogs but unwittingly contributed in making several groups feel alienated from his government.
Probing the NNPC
I was disappointed when I read the following in the Vanguard of April 27 2015: “Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged $20 billion missing from the coffers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), will be a priority for the incoming administration, the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), said yesterday”.
I am by no means against probing any government agency or even the entire administration of Goodluck Jonathan or any other administration. But I am not sure it is a wise move to announce such a measure before the new government is inaugurated on May 29. I am also not sure it is a wise move to announce that probing just one parastatal will be a priority of the government – even though the NNPC has long been suspected of being a cesspool of corruption. My fear is that announcing beforehand plans for such a probe could open the President elect up to charges of selectivity and perhaps awake the ethnic entrepreneurs who would begin competitive calls for other government bodies or even previous regimes to be probed. In the end managing the politics of the probe could be so time-consuming that it could derail the regime from achieving its set objectives in the crucial first 100 days in office.
No one needs to remind the President elect that though he won the election, more than 40 per cent of those who voted in the presidential election did not vote for him. That is a huge constituency that he needs to cultivate because their alienation from his regime could mean legitimacy crisis. The retired general should know this from his First Coming. His coup was so popular that one columnist said it could have been anyone’s coup. But the goodwill that heralded the regime to office was not well managed and the subsequent legitimacy crisis paved the way for the Babangida coup.
Additionally, in Nigeria, the word ‘probe’ conjures vendetta. I would love to see the President elect prioritize uniting a fractious nation over any other issue. This means being especially mindful of the politics of any action he intends to take in a highly polarized environment like ours. The President elect should also bear in mind that the way the Jonathan regime is treated will not only have implications for the whole effort to prevent the return of militancy in the Niger Delta but also on whether future governments that lose elections will be willing to concede defeat. Research has shown that many African leaders sit tight in office because they fear they will be ‘victimized’ for their actions or inactions out of office.
Rather than indicate that NNPC or any other government agency would be probed, I would have preferred that the President elect should, after settling down in office, find an opportune time to set up technical committees that will review the operations of some government bodies with a view to punishing any offender and repositioning such bodies for better performance.
*The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org