BY ABIMBOLA OJENIKE
Sunny Ikhioya’s piece titled ‘2015 Election: The devil’s alternative’ and published in the Vanguard of Tuesday, February 3, 2015 revisits the somewhat stale story line that puts religion and ethnicity as front burner issues in the choice of the president of Nigeria on March 28, 2015. Many discerning minds may have completely dismissed Sunny’s divisive sentiments as unworthy of a response but on a second thought the article adds a new unsavoury flavour to an already-sour issue and this must be roundly deprecated by all peace-loving people.
The central thesis of Sunny Ikhioya’s piece is that (a) Buhari is “stubborn, pragmatic and fundamentalist” and the example to buttress this is that he was rumoured to have nominated another Muslim, Bola Tinubu, as his running mate, (b) that the choice of Buhari would mean that “we have, indirectly, succumbed to the Islamic militants intentions”, (c) “If you look at the appointments profile, the north against the south, the north has been highly favoured” and “why must somebody say power must shift to the north“ (d.) “Jonathan has not done well but Buhari is not the alternative”, (e) Jonathan has not performed because he has been sabotaged (f) “the opportunity of a second term should be extended to Jonathan” (g) the APC has run its campaigns “as if it is a war” preventing Jonathan from campaigning freely in the North and “They do not mind if the whole country is brought down in the process”.
What is the end goal of Sunny’s article? To cause us to hate those of our countrymen that are not of our faith and tribe, to resent the person of General Muhammadu Buhari based on the same bland suspicion held by the writer, and to put a badge of criminality on the APC without proof that it is perpetrating the bouts of political violence across the country. Curiously, Sunny avowed that he did this “as a duty to God” and his “good conscience”. On these two, one cannot probe him but leave him to the same God who searches deeper within and judges the heart of all men.
After all said, Sunny’s commentary has no bearing whatsoever on the issues that many Nigerians have come to accept as the most significant issues of this election-the question of leadership competence, a credible roadmap for lifting the poorest of the poor from demeaning poverty, overcoming terrorism, curbing corruption and providing employment for Nigeria’s over 64 million unemployed and disillusioned youths. The All Progressives Congress, which Sunny says has run its campaign as a war, has been up and about disseminating a message that change is possible now. The criticism against the APC campaign is not that it is instigating violence against the opposition because many objective commentators would admit that the APC has led a more decorous debate unlike the rival PDP with Fayose publishing death wish against opponents and mocking deceased past leaders from the north and even Jimi Agbaje threatening another outbreak of Niger Delta insurgency if President Jonathan is not re-elected.
In a manner that is unprecedented in Nigeria, we have seen a Vice Presidential Candidate interacting with citizens at the grassroot and indefatigably canvassing for votes on the streets, in slums, in buses and from one local market to another. I wonder if this is what amounts to APC running its campaign as a war.
The APC is selling the integrity of its Muhammadu Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) to the electorates and addressing issues that have real impact on the lives of the people. Nigerians may be dissatisfied with the government but the annoyance can only be shown in the way they vote not by violence. Those who pelt our president with stones are enemies of democracy, of the APC and PDP. We should not justify violence under the guise of political sympathy for any party.
I have not heard a single campaign statement by Muhammadu Buhari or Yemi Osinbajo that Nigerians should pelt their President with stones. His name hardly comes up in their conversation except for reference to a Nigeria that is not working under a corrupt and inept leadership. The message of the APC campaign is hope for the common man through a comprehensive social welfare plan that provides free education and free daily meals to our children, direct cash transfer to Nigeria’s poorest 25million citizens, immediate creation of 20,000 jobs in each state of the federation, stimulating the growth of non-oil revenue, encouraging Nigerians to engage in farming while the government buys at a guaranteed minimum price, plugging the waste of our commonwealth by curbing corruption and rebuilding the Army to ensure protection of lives of Nigerians.
The critical questions at this time is how the APC will implement and sustain this beautiful plan in the face of global economic shock and the long years of emptying of our treasury under the PDP-led government.
Nigeria is on a precipice and there is no need denying that. The discourse about Nigeria should have left the point where Sunny Ikhioya is backpedaling us to with his commentary that is laden with the same romanticized sentiment that has been planted in the hearts of our barely-lettered citizens by the small cabal who profit from this objectionable status quo. How could anyone in good conscience equate the quest for principled and competent leadership in Nigeria with “Islamic militants intention”? Why are we playing politics with religion?
Quite contradictorily, the same writer who essentially wants us to believe that Buhari is the devil’s alternative and not fit to rule because he is Muslim and from the North asked rhetorically in the same article “Why should the north and south, Muslim versus Christian be an issue in the Nigerian election of 2015?” This is exactly the question that agitates my mind as I read Sunny’s article. Sadly, he lapsed into the same error.
Talking about competence: Sunny Ikhioya conceded that Jonathan’s administration has failed. In some of his articles that was published before transactional journalism began to mess up political discourse, the same writer had opined that:
“There is no doubt that the PDP has fumbled as a party, it can be likened to a monster, destined to destroy itself. Chiefly, their inability to institutionalise democratic practices is their major undoing…Everyone is doing what he or she wants and there is no clear line of accountability. They have not been able to convince the populace that they are serious in tackling corruption that has almost crippled the economy. Situations where raw foreign currencies are shipped out of the country outside the official channels, have aided the current drop in the value of the naira or how else does one explain it? The economy is in a state that defies logic…”
In another piece on the mismanagement of the economy under President Jonathan, this writer had expressed disappointment in the poster child of the President’s transformation team and stated as follows:
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala disappointed me on account of the wastefulness in fuel subsidy, the NNPC, pension fund, SEC, National Assembly, aviation, immigration, and many other government ministries and agencies. Unemployment rate presently hovers between 23 and 27 percent, and our foreign reserve is steadily depleting; we have gone back into borrowing. It is a shame.”
My question is: what has changed in the few days before the all-important election? Why is it so hard for men like Sunny to say the truth and stick with it? Why is his opinion about the President’s fitness to continue to rule Nigeria changing capriciously even within the same article? Now, he has made a volte-face by saying that “The country is very fortunate to have a man with Jonathan’s disposition at the helm of affairs at this point in time. His intentions are honest.” He stated that “no government has been sabotaged as much as that of Jonathan. Some have sworn to make the place ungovernable for Jonathan and have truly kept to their vows. It is like, the opposition wants him to fail at all cost”
This exposes the underbelly of Sunny’s commentary and raises many questions too. How has the opposition caused President Jonathan to fail? Is the opposition responsible for the depletion of the treasury and ferrying away of Nigeria’s defence allocation in dollar-laden private jets? Did the opposition prevent the Jonathan-led Federal Government from remitting over $20billion oil proceeds into the federation account? Is the opposition responsible for the corruption in the military leading to Nigerian soldiers buying their own uniform and paying their medical bills? Did the opposition appoint for President Jonathan the members of his own cabinet that he admitted are Boko Haram members? Did the opposition induce President Jonathan to deny the kidnapping of our Chibok Girls and go about the country dancing at political rallies?
In any event, a President, a Commander-in-Chief, is elected to advance national interest regardless of the odds. Because of the composition of the society, the inherent conflict of interests including the extremism of saboteurs cannot be unexpected. Indeed, the role of the government is to sabotage the contrarian forces against peace, order and prosperity of the nation. It lies foul in the mouth of a President or anyone pleading his case to whine that the President failed to perform his constitutional duties because he was sabotaged. This is like a Police Officer crying that he is unable to maintain peace and order in the society because there are criminals.
Sunny Ikhioya’s attempt to depict the President as a kindhearted ethnic minority that sabotaged by the Muslim-north is unfortunate and is an admission of failure of this government. Sunny airs the same shallow sentiment that brought Jonathan into office in the first instance. Nigerians should not give in to deceit again. Nigeria desperately needs principled leadership to re-direct the nation to the great future that we left behind. That change is possible and begins now, not in 2019 as Sunny Ikhioya erroneously suggested.