NIGERIA: Stuck Between Hard Choices

Cartoon via Vanguard


Democracy, as a form of organised chaos, is good for Nigeria.But the nagging question is:Is Nigeria good for democracy?

Generally described as government of the people for the people and by the people, democratic governance allows for a form of a set of structural processes that allows for the majority to always have their way while the minority would have had their say. With that, it naturally should then follow that whatever is good for the majority should be accepted by the minority, in so far as the set of rules guiding such a people, that is the Constitution, is not flouted. Once you begin to flout the rules, you create chaos, no matter the justification.

The chaos inherent in democratic governance couldn’t have been better captured by Francis Fukuyama in his book THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL ORDER (From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution). In the book, Fukuyama explores the interrelationship between the state, rule of law and accountable government. He explains the not so apparent conflict between the three and asserts: “A successful modern liberal democracy combines all three sets of institutions in a stable balance. The fact that there are countries capable of achieving this balance constitutes the miracle of modern politics, since it is not obvious that they can be combined. The state, after all, concentrates and uses power, to bring about compliance with its law on the part of its citizens and to defend itself against other states and threats. The rule of law and accountable government, on the other hand, limits the state’s power first by forcing it to use its powers according to certain public and transparent rules and then by ensuring that it is subordinate to the will of the people.

“These institutions come into being in the first place because people find that they can protect their interest and the interests of their families through them. But what people regard as self interest and how they are willing to collaborate with others depends critically on ideas that are legitimate. Self interest and legitimacy thus form the cornerstone of political order. The fact that one of these three types of institutions exists does not imply that the others do so as well”. These arguments have led people to attempt to justify the need for an absolutist leader, believing that only an individual in that mould can truly forge a robust, yet meaningful alliance of the three for the good of citizens. But you can never get it all together perfectly. And that was why there was sufficient angst against former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, a President who was seen as lacking in depth and stamina to effectively confront Nigeria’s problems. Muhammadu Buhari, on the other hand, who was largely seen as a firm, resolute and determined individual, was brought in to pave way for change. On the eve of the 2015 election, the argument was put forward that “Nigerians are not in tune with the spiritual, emotional and intellectual ways of Buhari who is too tilted and set along a rigid path.Worse, the hawks around Buhari would bay for blood and in the event of a Buhari presidency, whatever Nigerians may have considered inequities of the North against the South in times past would be child’s play compared to what such a presidency would bring – not minding Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s entertainment of fantasies of running a collegiate presidency with Buhari. That would never work”. How prophetic! Indeed, Fukuyama noted in his book that processes “created to meet one set of conditions often survive even when those conditions change or disappear, and the failure to adapt appropriately entails political decay”. When Buhari took over, he met a nation in decay. He set out to clean the Augean stable of corruption. It is to Buhari’s credit that many Nigerians now think twice before engaging in corrupt practices. But the downside to Buhari’s action in this fight is the manifestly selective approach as well as the near-megalomaniacal pursuit of those in the opposition, employing methods that embarrass due process. Whereas Buhari cannot be said not to have achieved a number of milestones, the challenge is how come a man that rode on a populist platform is today struggling for re-election? That was the same question asked of Jonathan in 2015.

Simple: The life-long challenge of leadership in Nigeria, including Buhari’s – is that inability to strike the needed balance between the state, rule of law and accountable government. No individual becomes the state because it is never sustainable; rule of law is meant to guide and preserve the state; and there can be no accountability if there is no rule of law. Had Buhari struck the needed balance, his re-election would have been a walkover. Unfortunately, he is now locked in a battle with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, once vilified as allegedly very corrupt, but now seen by many as a manageable alternative. That Nigerians are stuck with these two individuals speaks volume about the type of people that we are. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka did not say it directly but what he meant when he said he would endorse neither men was simply to ask how a Buhari and an Atiku became frontrunners? Yet, there are 72 presidential candidates.

The fates of Buhari and Atiku had been sealed long ago by their actions and inactions. While the former as incumbent appears to have allowed a few fat cats take over governance in his name, the latter did not do much early enough to de-robe himself of that apparel of corruption designed for him by his former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, and made ugly by perception.

Were Buhari to lose the presidential election, his method of appointments which is manifestly lopsided, for lack of a better adjective, the concentration of power and appointments in a section of the country, his seeming condonation of the excesses of killer herdsmen, the buckling of the economy under his watch and a plethora of discounts, would blight whatever achievements his administration may claim to have. Then there is the inexplicable issue of Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl, still in captivity. Her case would not have been any different from the Chibok abductees but she was held back because of her Christian faith while the other Muslim girls with whom she was abducted were freed. This is bad optics for President Buhari whatever anybody may wish to say to the contrary. In Atiku’s case, without prejudice to his seeming clear-headed presentation on how to solve Nigeria’s problems, his proposal to grant amnesty to looters has only served to further reinforce a perception that has refused to go away. In terms of alertness, Atiku bodes well. In terms of democratic credentials, Atiku has helped Nigeria’s jurisprudence on account of his many battles with Obasanjo between 2006 and 2007.

Nigeria may have been spared this stupefying embarrassment had simple agreements been adhered to. Had good sense prevailed in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to allow for a Northerner to take over in 2011, the argument today would have been different because the constitutionality of that individual’s right to seek re-election, against an agreement by the PDP to rotate power between North and South would have been an issue in 2015.

The potentially sanguine outcome of a Buhari victory and an Atiku defeat may magnify the spectre of state capture as pronounced by Madam Aisha Buhari that only two or three individuals are running Nigeria.

The verdict: Does Buhari deserve a second term? Of course he does, and, quoting him, his “party has asked him to seek re-election”.

Can Atiku do better? Of course, too, based on human evolution, Atiku is expected to do better and that is why he also commands sizeable support.

Do Nigerians want change? Yes, even with Buhari, Nigerians want him to change – that would be a desirable change. Can Buhari change? Yes, he says he can and he’s taking Nigerians to the next level.

Yes, Nigerians want change! But the consequences of the type of change Nigerians want (next level or Atiku change) may be worse in outcome than the change that brought Yanukovich, a kleptocrat, to power in Ukraine with unfulfilled promises; or the type that brought Mohammed Morsi of Islamic Brotherhood to power in Egypt who again had to be removed from power by another call for change. So, between Buhari and Atiku, Nigerians are stuck.