It was the worst-kept secret in the land. I mean who did not know that President Muhammadu Buhari was going to contest next year’s presidential election? We all knew it was only a matter of time before he threw his hat into the ring. Political offices are alluring, perhaps not anywhere more than Nigeria where with a bevy of planes at someone’s beck and call enough to compete with an airline and other trappings of power. It is therefore not surprising that none in contemporary time walked away into the sunset serving only one term.
One of our tragedies is that repeatedly we keep having unwilling leaders who must be persuaded to lead the land. Or what do we make of Buhari’s statement that his decision to contest was a response to the yearnings of some Nigerians who kept asking him to contest? Nothing about his desire to serve or the need to complete whatever he initiated since May 2015, neither a compelling vision or inner force propelling him to offer himself to contest again. No, he must be begged and dragged like a child unwilling to go to school unless enticed with cookies. From former Presidents Shehu Shagari whose initial ambition was to be a senator, to Olusegun Obasanjo who asked how many presidents they wanted to make out of him, to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who wanted to go home and rest, to the Otuoke gentleman who was contented being deputy governor, we’ve always had reluctant leaders.
Thereafter, the president went abroad leaving us to digest his declaration. Let’s get some things straight here; first, it is the president’s inalienable right to contest, as long he is not breaching any law of the land and this right he has chosen to exercise. We must respect that right. It’s up to his party to present him as the flag-bearer and this where I’ve got issues with some Nigerians who kept persuading the president not to re-contest asking him to go home to Daura and rest. It is strange democratic ethos persuading a person not to present himself for office when he has not breached any law of the land just as it is high time we stopped abridging peoples’ rights to do whatever they wanted to do. Nigerians, however, reserved the right too to vote for him or not. What is worrisome though is that the president and a motley of aides are going about it the same way previous candidates went about theirs just as those opposed to his candidature are not doing anything differently too.
Some spurious groups have already sprung up in a bid to drum up support for Buhari’s candidacy and they’ve embarked on the usual pattern of ‘solidarity visits’ shouting themselves hoarse on why without Buhari, our country might collapse. Some aides appear to be in competition on who can insult our sensibilities the most telling us that whether we voted or not, their principal will be re-elected while talking down on us at the same time. The political atmosphere is fouled up on both sides of the divide that we cannot have decent conversations on how to move Nigeria to the next level. Since the days of Sani Abacha, that maximum ruler, the campaign style remains the same. Very soon, there will be ‘solidarity marches’ and ‘civil society consultations’ with the same actors over the years and a sprinkle of new faces. Most demonstrations and rallies are usually choreographed with money exchanging hands and the same crowd switch sides regularly depending on who can pay the most.
Why can’t we step up our game? Why can’t the president tell us more about what he had done in the past three years? Why can’t he tell us about why we should give him four more years? Where are the economic indices that can compel us to vote Buhari again? What about the plethora of aspirants who are interested too in leading the country? Why can’t they tell us about their vision and programme of action if elected? Why can’t they cut the chase and stop the merry-go-round? There has been little substance in the cacophony of voices littering the land on who becomes our president next year that candidates seemed to have forgotten why exactly they are contesting.
So, how do we ensure that we are not on the well-worn path that leads nowhere? Beyond tours and town hall meetings, which appear to be the latest fad in town, we need serious and deeper questions on what next for our country. The giant strides of countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia, as we do not seem to be competing with South Africa any longer, warns us that we might soon be left behind. Enough of the same old methods, we need something new and exciting. By the way, we need to remind Buhari that incumbents run on their records in office and at the appropriate time, he will know his scorecard.