The irony of the 2023 presidential race is that the clearer the coast, the cloudier the sky. Nigerians have never been so confused and disunited as they are under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, so much that mutual fears and misunderstanding rule the polity. The nation itself, if it still exists, is a shadow of itself. The people are so preoccupied with existential realities bordering on the Nigerian question that matters of social progress are relegated, if ever discussed.
Considering the fact that ‘O lule’ in his earlier three attempts, Buhari’s CPC, hitherto consigned to the North West as a local jihadist political organisation, was yanked off him and his personality rebranded as an acceptable national leader with a fragranced garment to stave off the stench of parochial ethnic and religious sentiments.
An array of aligned groups, including ACN, an ingeniously crafted N-PDP as a powerful breakaway group from the then ruling PDP and some chips of the APGA block were hurriedly but painstakingly packaged to oust President Goodluck Jonathan whose government was deliberately undermined, sabotaged and tagged clueless on the very important matter of national survival.
As it turned out, our President could not wean himself from a mind inexorably consigned to ensuring the dominance of one of the ethnic nationalities. The initial bravado of relocating the Military High Command to the theatre of war in Maiduguri, which was hailed by the people, turned out a mirage as Boko Haram terrorists later seized control. The Commander-in-Chief, against genuine advice, hue and cry of all, romanticised the Fulani terrorists who descended on defenceless farmers, destroying their farms, killing them and in several places taking over their homes and lands.
The terrorists, emboldened by official complicity or at least, complacency, soon extended their operations to kidnapping for ransom, taking over the roads, railways, schools, prisons, hallowed security institutions that no one would be surprised hearing that the seat of power is breached.
No part of the country is spared the effect of terrorism but the response of government has been so undisguisedly sectional. In the face of ethnic cleansing in the Middle Belt, the President urged them without sympathy to seek peace with their assailants.
The war, ironically, is more severe even in the North West, between the permissive armed terror gangs of the itinerant Fulani against the indigenous majority Hausa and other tribes, either in Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Zuru in Kebbi or Southern Kaduna. The President lives in denial of this reality and instead wondered, on Arise Television, why people he pretentiously described as of the same ethnic nationality would take up arms against one another.
While the state covers the terrorists, it opens its fangs on armless Igboho and his Yoruba youths civil rights campaigners and deliberately launched a war of decimation against the Igbo youths in the name of fighting resurgent Biafran nationalism, but obviously to decapitate their capacity to defend their homeland.
The Buhari administration has so much squandered its enormous goodwill and traumatised the people such that the indelible picture in the minds of Nigerians today of their President is that of an ethnic chauvinist, a leader they would not have wished even for an enemy nation. Nigerians have never been this disillusioned about their country, so much that the closest thing to its disintegration is the ethnic and faith identity of the faces adorning the Aso Rock Villa.
It is in this state of suspicion among the various groups that the next President is being discussed. While the agitation for power-shift from the North to the South is in tandem with the need for national equity, the underlying concern is the need for a breather from the reign of terror with which the administration of this nation has been associated in the past seven years.
Unfortunately, the security breach also wears religious faces that it is scary that the seat of power would portray absolute dominance by the same religion. This feeling is so strong, notwithstanding that the killings, particularly in the North-West, have a large number of Muslims as targets and victims.
The final list of the presidential and vice presidential candidates is here eventually. The faces thrown up reflect a combination of tribes and religion that it is difficult for anyone to beat the chest that his or her interest is fully satisfied. For the advocates of power-shift or Southern president, the PDP is out of the equation.
The agitation for religious balance is not borne out in the APC; the combination in the Labour Party which appears to meet both power-shift and faith balance suffers apparent delivery capability if winability is absolutely a measure of structure anchored on the players. The choice even by the various ethnic nationalities is not an easy one. The several groups in the Middle Belt region which, pulled together, is a formidable majority group, need a lot of deep thinking about the dangerous notion that none of them is electable.
They must look at the parties and make a loud statement with their votes otherwise when it is the turn of Northern President, they are not reckoned with and when a Southern Presidential candidate seeks Northern partnership they are seen as not worthy of consideration.
The choice for all Nigerians is between the devil and the deep blue sea. The Yoruba call it having honey in the mouth in an atmosphere where the air is fouled. In the final analysis, two considerations will be dominant: the region, personality and worldview of the president (not the vice president); the second is the love for power by the political actors.
Nigeria! We hail thee.
Ebiseni is Secretary General, Afenifere.