Change? From Where?

It is the season for change! Passions boil over in Nigeria particularly regarding the upcoming presidential elections. It is the season for promises; candidates dust off their worn-out manifesto books and recant the same assurances as before – jobs for youth, unending power supply, boost for the agricultural sector, reduced reliance on oil, improved road infrastructure and bla bla. One could almost recite a politician’s words before they are said. In this age of enlightenment, the ‘smarter’ politicians have taken their strategies much further than posters and radio jingles; they have begun to speak the language of the people – distributing loaves of bread, bags of rice, and gallons of kerosene. A country which promises so much always finds a mysterious way to deliver so little.

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Every four years since 1999, Nigerians have been blessed with the privilege of anticipation; there is almost a certain assurance that the coming four years will be more blissful than the past, and with this hope, citizens trudge to polling booths, form (often) orderly queues, banter endlessly with strangers in line, and then perform their civic duty, finally beaming with pride. They do this in the hope that their votes have some value, or in spite of the awareness that they are simply public evidence for the electoral machinations that take place behind closed doors. “It is better to do something than nothing”, they say. If there’s anything Nigerians have in abundance, it is a combination of endurance and hope.

As Nigerians prepare to cast their ballots in less than a week, there appear to be two weird options – a vote for an undesirable past, or an unfortunate present. Nigeria’s present is shameful and distasteful, to say the least. I believe that President Goodluck Jonathan was an accidental president and six years have done very little to help him get to grips with the task, or to step up to it. I am not foolhardy enough to assume that it is a smooth job and that all parameters of governance are within his control, but as a citizen, I am far from impressed with the results of his government. His media voltrons may trumpet his achievements in agriculture as loud as they please, but it is really difficult to bandage a stinky wound. One is forced to believe that the few successes of his administration have occurred in spite of his leadership, rather than because of it. Even if he were a really smart president with the right vision for the country, he perpetually fails to inspire any confidence in the citizenry, and history has often proven that perception is reality. Not many honest Nigerians are proud to mention Goodluck Jonathan as the best man to lead Nigeria through the series of crises that currently cripple the nation; worse still, the entire world can’t get enough jokes out of our president.

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With our unfortunate present being sub-optimal, the alternative doesn’t immediately look desirable. General Muhammadu Buhari has strangely become the messiah of the country at the fourth time of asking for a democratic mandate, 32 years after he scuttled a democratic government through a military coup. Oh yes, he was a relatively young high-ranking soldier who ‘rescued’ the country from the throes of an ineffective civilian, and ruled with a tough disciplined hand. Oh yes, he should not be held solely accountable for what happened 30 years ago; he has changed!

Oh yes, he has the reputation of an incorruptible straightforward man, but is he really messiah? What happened in 2003, 2007 and 2011? Why was Buhari’s candidature the subject of derision even four years ago, when everyone told him to give up on his inordinate ambition and enjoy retirement? How come at the age of 74, he has suddenly emerged as the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria since mobile phones? It is often said by his campaigners that he will bring his military experience to bear in the fight against Boko Haram, but I cringe at the thought that there is not much evidence of the role he has played in the past eight years as an ex-military leader from northern Nigeria to quell this insurgency. If truly he understands their language, what help has he offered to the current administration to fight these brutish animals?

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Inevitably, these elections will be a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. It is most unfortunate that in elections such as this, citizens do not choose their candidates; they are constrained to choose among the decided candidates. Neither Buhari nor Jonathan readily appeals to my senses, but one must emerge. I believe that several million Nigerians will vote for Buhari, not because they are fully convinced of his credentials, but because they can’t imagine voting for Jonathan. I also believe that several million Nigerians will vote for Jonathan, not because they believe in his capacity to govern with wisdom, but out of sentiments and fear of returning to the past.

And so, in all these, from where cometh the change which we so desperately desire?

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