BY AYO AKINGBEMI
In a span of seven months, another presidential election will be upon us. All over the place, the electorates are gearing up for what they hope to be a new era and there are talks of a fresh beginning. Hope upon false hope that perhaps this time will be different. But there is nothing in the body politic to suggest that things will be different. The same actors are still on the political scene doing what they do best, masquerading as patriots, playing on the intelligence and desperation of a gullible electorate, promising to turn the tide and fortunes of the country around this time. As one popular American president once quipped, after listening to the hollow ideas of other contestants trying to unseat him, “here we go again”. How many fresh starts or new beginnings does Nigeria need?
In 2015, there was much excitement in the air with the election of Muhammadu Buhari as president of Nigeria. We warned then against false hopes and unrealistic expectations. We were accused then of nursing anti-Buhari sentiment. Some of us were very sceptical and accordingly warned Nigerians to go beyond the electoral euphoria of the enthronement of a new sheriff. Our scepticism was based on the reality that Buhari alone cannot turn Nigeria around since the problem is systemic and endemic. We were concerned that his limited understanding of how the economy works and his sectionalist tendencies made him unfit to lead Nigeria at this critical period. Nigerians voted not on the basis of demonstrated ability but on reputation. After all, Buhari has the reputation of having fought a war against indiscipline, albeit unsuccessfully, during his first stint as the military dictator of Nigeria. When forced to choose between two evils, the people chose to go with the lesser of two evils in light of the unparalleled dismal performance of the Jonathan administration. Unfortunately, our fear and concerns have been borne out by the prevailing conditions in Nigeria today by an administration that has no clue about where it wants to take Nigeria.
In case we need to be reminded, Buhari had been a perpetual contestant for the office of president since Nigeria’s return to electoral politics in 1999. He was finally elected in 2015 under the banner of “All Progressive Congress” (APC). One would expect that with many years of practice vying for the highest office in the land, he would have a shovel-ready plan in place for when his aspirations were realized. But upon assumption of office, we found out that the retired general, now president, had no plan for Nigeria than to revert back to the only thing he knew, another war, this time – against corruption. How is that war going by the way? As far as we can tell, there are no casualties, no forfeited assets to speak of, no jail terms for those who are supposed to be the target of this war, and corruption is still alive and well even in his own administration. What a farce.
The praise singers and sympathizers of the Buhari administration would want us to believe that the situation on the ground was much worse than he had anticipated coming in. Assuming that was the case, could this administration not have been able to offer a scaled down version of his plan for public consumption? Another son of Africa, Barak Obama, upon assumption of the presidency in the United States in 2009, inherited a tartar economy, but rather than looking back, embraced the reality on the ground and worked hard and strategically to extricate his country from an ominous economic collapse. Buhari, on the other hand, with no discernable plan, continues to blame his predecessor. I guess that’s what you do when you don’t have a plan. Now the general wants a second term as a reward for poor performance in his first term. The country has never been so divided along ethnic and religious lines and overburdened by internal security issues until Buhari came along. His administration appears to have specialized in painting a bright picture of a sick situation. Of course, he is within his constitutional right as a Nigerian to seek a second term, but it will be a colossal mistake of immeasurable magnitude should the Nigerian electorate acquiesce to his appeal. The potential for Nigeria to change for the better is within reach, but Buhari and his APC are not the answer. Let’s send to old general back to his local Daura with a note of thanks for his service to the nation. Nigeria deserves better.
There are those who are asking if not Buhari, who? If not APC, who, Atiku, or the new PDP? Heck no. Our answer is emphatically none of the above. Nigeria should not continue to don the same old garment under a different name regardless of new embroidery. The PDP is not worth any consideration because they are in large part responsible for where Nigeria is today. For all intent and purposes, the PDP is nothing but a collection of disingenuous and discredited bunch undeserving of honorable mention in any serious political discourse for the future of Nigeria. A thief is a thief, even when cloaked in a new garment. Enough said about them.
The proposed “Coalition for Nigeria” by former president Olusegun Obasanjo is not the answer either. The former president’s proposal could have received a more serious consideration but for those that were attracted to it. It has become a cesspool for those who found themselves on the periphery of power and wanting to lend relevance, now see the coalition as their opportunity to achieve regional or national prominence. Many of these people had occupied political leadership position in the past but have nothing to show for it. Their records of dismal performance speak volumes about their motivation this time around. Now they are seeking another avenue to have a second bite at the apple. Their old tired ideas did us no good in the past and will not do Nigeria any good in the future. Nigeria deserves better than a coalition of “have beens”.
What then is the answer? In the absence of restructuring the political economy of Nigeria and giving autonomy to the constituent units, a generational shift in the political power structure of Nigeria remains the only viable option. Truth be told, the generation that has held the mantle of leadership since the enthronement of democratic rule in 1999, has created so much devastation in every area of national life and to the Nigerian psyche that their continuation in the leadership of Nigeria portends ominous outcome. The old guards have run their course and unfortunately, their tenure has not been profitable but for a select few among their members while the country has been kept in a perpetual state of moribund and distress.
A closer look at the demographics of Nigeria suggests that 62.2 percent of the population is under the age of 24 years. Those under the age of 54 years old constitute 92.9 percent of the Nigerian population. From share numbers, taken together, this group has the voting block to determine not only the present but future course of electoral politics in Nigeria. Additionally, this population is more educated, more progressive in their outlook, more nationalistic and do not bear the same differentiating baggage of their parents. The challenge is how to harness and mobilize this latent potential for the task of nation-building and changing the socio-political paradigm for a better future of our country. It is time for the so-called “lazy generation” to wake up, realize their potential and take their rightful place, if Nigeria is to move forward. It is your future, do something now.
The next election should not be about who can spend the most money, or give out the largest denomination of the Naira to secure votes, but who can best reach out to the masses of the Nigerian youth to sensitize them to the simple fact the future is in their hands to make or mar. Their orientation and discipline if properly channeled can turn Nigeria around to an international powerhouse within the span of a decade. If the reverse is the case, Nigeria may be doomed forever.
The 2019 election is critical in more ways than one. As the saying goes, you will not have too many heroes, if you choose carefully. In choosing the next president, Nigerians must look to a younger person, preferably under 50 years of age, a nationalist, educated in the true sense of the word, has global experience, understands how the economy works, committed to revamping the extractive socio-economic system that currently obtains in Nigeria, and has unflinching determination to turn around the paralysed dearth of infrastructure, and willing to die for Nigeria, if need be. The stakes have never been higher. It’s time to put up or shut up. Your future depends on it.
Many of us above the age of 55 years cannot afford to see ourselves as irrelevant in this effort because we are not. Let us collectively join hands in this call for a generational shift and provide meaningful counsel where we can. Nigeria must move forward. Perhaps our children will succeed where we have failed.
This is my opinion. I welcome yours.
Ayo M. Akingbemi, PhD, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org