Here is the summary: before the 28th of March 2015, Nigerians could be classified as an unhappy and distressed group of people. This was not just a passing wave of depression; the national mood had been continually dampened by wave after wave of Boko Haram attack in the north and the growing suspicion that the deadly group could strike somewhere else in the country. Nigeria was equally tense because of the failure of the federal government and military to re-capture the over 200 kidnapped girls from Chibok in April 2014, the recent sharp decline in the value of the national currency, the evident ineptitude of the Goodluck Jonathan led-government, and the sudden postponement of national elections by six weeks apparently to ‘fight Boko Haram’.
However, since the 28th of March, life has returned to Nigeria; everyone seems optimistic about the country’s future and the national mood can be best described as boisterous. The obvious reason for the quick turnaround is the crumble of the much-talked-about power of incumbency and the emergence of an opposition party candidate as president. Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat in the presidential elections and the ascendance to power of Muhammadu Buhari has been vaunted on every global medium as previously unthinkable in Nigeria, and indeed it is; but there is an undertone to Nigeria’s transformation that has not been trumpeted as much as it could be – the importance of catalytic leadership. Nigeria is not a changed country because a new president was sworn-in on the 29th of May, it is a new country because catalysts in positions of authority demonstrated exceptional leadership in the days leading up to and succeeding the 28th of March, 2015.
The first of the catalysts is the incoming president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari. A self-confessed converted democrat whose reputation for discipline and integrity were insufficient to earn him national recognition and success at the ballot at three previous attempts suddenly ascended to the level of messiah. Much can be said about the political machinations that resulted in his emergence, but there is much more to be said about the man. Unlike his opposite number, he exuded calm and tact throughout the campaign process, always looked assured and presidential, campaigned solely on ideas, employed a youthful team of media experts, and chose a class act (Professor Yemi Osinbajo) as his running mate. Unlike Namadi Sambo (Jonathan’s running mate), Osinbajo hit the ground running and connected easily with the common man. His credentials stood him out, but his demeanour elevated him even further; it was as though the people by themselves had chosen him. Even more dignified was the fact that the Buhari campaign team hardly ever engaged in any form of negative campaign, which was the trademark of the Jonathan campaign team championed by Messrs Femi Fani-Kayode, Ayo Fayose and Doyin Okupe; they seized every opportunity to rubbish the personality of General Buhari and to predict all manners of mishap if he ever became president. On the flip side, there was no hint of desperation from the Buhari camp, and this singular trait endeared him even more to the people; from interviews on Al Jazeera and CNN to a world class speech delivered at Chatham House, London, he looked and spoke like the incoming Nigerian president, and now he is.
Another Nigerian whose serene character calmed a tense nation is the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega. His task was never an easy one and it was made much more difficult by the endless allegations of electoral fraud all over the country. Nearly everyone expected that the will of the people will be subverted, especially when the long-confirmed election dates were shifted. Many assumed that this was a ploy by the ruling government to adjust conditions in its favour, while others guessed that it was an opportunity to force Jega to proceed on extended leave. In the end, Jega successfully marshalled a team of over 170,000 people across the nation to implement the use of electronic card readers for the first time in Nigeria’s history which went a long way in easing the fears of citizens about the outcome of the elections. Even when complaints begun to filter in from all over the country about under-age voting and electoral violence, Jega never appeared flustered or overwhelmed by the job; rather he took responsibility for the onerous process of data collation. He was extremely meticulous in verifying numbers and cross-checking results, and even took the time to school an unruly party chieftain about the intricacies of decorum in public settings. If he wasn’t already a national hero, Jega was crowned on the 31st of March, 2015. He was the definition of calm under pressure.
Finally, perhaps the most significant catalytic leader in Nigeria these past few weeks is the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. Suffice to say that he was way in over his head with the job of a lifetime, he was verbally assaulted and insulted for the better part of six years by an insatiable population demanding good governance. He was often deficient in tact throughout his presidency, but it can be argued that his greatest act as president was performed the night of March 31, 2015 when he placed a congratulatory call to his opponent before the last votes were counted. Such statesmanly actions have been so rare in Nigerian politics that even members of his political party criticized him for conceding so cheaply. By requesting a meeting to begin discussing transition plans before his opponent had been officially declared winner, Jonathan singlehandedly forestalled the shedding of innocent blood, endless court cases and utter chaos in his country. He has been deified in several sections of the country, and while that might be a stretch too far, he definitely should be commended for preserving the best of Nigeria’s democracy and laying the standard for his peers across the continent.
Nigeria has come a very long way as a democratic entity in 16 short years, and the promise of democracy is only just beginning to yield its first bud. It is very imperative to congratulate the entire nation for an uncommon outcome, but also to specifically congratulate the youth for their invaluable role in the process through social media mobilization and their full involvement. Lastly, the de facto leader of the opposition party, Bola Tinubu must be applauded for defining a credible opposition party and strategizing endlessly to break the chokehold of the Peoples’ Democratic Party on the national life of Nigerians. This is a new season of catalytic change, and may the ripple effects of these elections long live in Nigeria and help in transforming the African continent.
This article was first published on Applause Africa
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.
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.
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?
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?
Seven days ago, Nigerians awoke from their laboured slumbers on the cusp of that was supposed to be a celebration of 13 years of substandard democratic progress, but which turned out to be the commencement of seven horrific days of avoidable mishaps. Not since the beginning of the year when we were slapped in the face by the double onslaughts of the reality of Boko Haram’s unending presence and the unexpected skyrocketing of fuel prices, have Nigerians protested so vehemently for the reversal of a government decision; howbeit without luck. Goodluck Jonathan has not exactly been a very popular president over the past 12 months so Nigerians were not really excited about his Democracy Day speech, but we were obviously caught in the jugular by one particular pronouncement in the 5,978-word speech; the last set of words which the president uttered:
“After very careful consideration, and in honour of Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s accomplishments and heroism, on this Democracy Day, the University of Lagos, is renamed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Moshood Abiola University, Lagos”.
President Jonathan had barely finished speaking the words when the daggers came out for him from all quarters; the arbitrariness of the announcement, the perceived lack of sincerity in the otherwise overdue gesture, the unknown underlying motivation behind the rushed decision, and more importantly to the young, the unattractiveness of the new acronym (MAUL) constitute the major arguments against the renaming of the University of Lagos. Those who defended the President cited the noiseless renaming of the University of Ife to Obafemi Awolowo University in 1987 and the selfless struggle of MKO for a better Nigeria. However, both parties miss the point; this really is not about MKO and his struggles for Nigeria, this is about Goodluck Jonathan and the decisions he is making today. MKO has served his time and would be remembered for as long as June 12 remains a valid calendar date; renaming a university in his honour will not deify him any more than renaming the University of Ife reminded Yorubas of the role Chief Obafemi Awolowo played in their history. We revere the great Awo, and not even the persistent rumours of the death of his ‘jewel of inestimable value’ will shake our belief that he was ‘the best president Nigeria never had’.
The question is “Why did Goodluck Jonathan make the hurried pronouncement by executive order, and in such a distasteful manner?” My instant conclusion was that this was an expert ploy right out of any politician’s playbook to distract Nigerians from the other aspects of his message or lack of message. Having scanned the full text of the speech, there was very little to hold on to as substantive achievements beyond the continuous outsourcing of Nigeria’s military personnel to Niger, Mali and Guinea Bissau while our home front burned to pieces; the appointment of the first female Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (a really novel feat); the setting up of ineffective committees to probe the fraudulent activities of members of his self-appointed cabinet and the strengthening of the leadership of the EFCC and the ICPC, which needless to say have recorded zero convictions during his tenure. Jonathan must have perceived, on some ill-conceived advice that humouring the Yorubas with the glorification of their late ‘Messiah’ will distract them from the ineptitude of his administration, but he torpedoed on his own strategy and dragged himself into further disrepute. For those who have criticized the antagonists of this unintelligent pronouncement, they need to be reminded that this was never about MKO; this was a face-saving ploy by the administration which only served to further rile up the already tense polity and sadly drag the country off message.
Seeing the instant back-lash that MAULAG had generated, President Jonathan and his caucus of advisers sought to steer the country back on course but couldn’t have made a worse gaffe after 24 hours. The ‘presidential’ launch of LED bulbs to reduce the country’s energy consumption on May 30, 2012 couldn’t have been more ludicrous. A president now launches electricity bulbs? Is there nothing else to do? If the president is really concerned about reducing energy consumption, shouldn’t he be thinking about reducing the country’s disastrous 77% daily gas flaring rate in the Niger-Delta? Shouldn’t he be thinking about generating enough solar and hydro-electric power so that the mass distribution of generating sets in the country can be reduced? Shouldn’t he be thinking about introducing improved means of transportation so that dead-beat buses and trucks do not emit excess carbon-monoxide into the atmosphere? Do we now generate so much energy through bulbs that rarely function because of poor power supply that purchasing LED bulbs will reduce our energy consumption? How much more confused does a person need to be in order to become the chief occupant of Aso Rock?
Within another 24 hours, an arm of Nigeria’s alternate rulers struck in Kano on Thursday, May 31st, killing Edgar Fritz Rapauch, a German national. For the first known time, Boko Haram denied any involvement in the killing, which rather than give comfort, raises grave concerns about the possibility of an unholy competition arising among Nigeria’s fast growing terrorist networks. If we have faltered so far in our efforts to curb Boko Haram (assuming there are actually efforts), how would we be capable of dealing with their competitors?
Sadly, Mr. Rapauch’s death didn’t generate so many headlines because Nigerians were either still vituperating on MAULAG or the LED bulbs, but activities on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway would jolt us back into reasoning. Somewhere around Danko village, a petrol tanker fell on its side, spilled its content and the resulting inferno burned down 10 vehicles. With ‘only’ five lives lost, and the blood-sucking demons unsatisfied, another tanker spilled its content the following day, Friday, and burned down 24 vehicles, leaving people to scamper away as fast as they could. One is forced to wonder how long we would cry out for reinforcements on the same road that seems to be dissatisfied with its annual death toll. A total of 176 casualties were reported by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) from the two accidents, but couldn’t those have been averted if the eggheads in Abuja got their act together and rebuilt the road once and for all? How long shall we cry out for change on Nigeria’s major highway?
As if we needed any further reminders that our transport system was in a state of complete disarray, an Allied Air cargo plane departed Lagos for Accra, Ghana on Saturday night and somehow missed the runway, headed instead for the highway and rammed itself into a capacity-filled passenger bus killing 10 people on the spot. Weren’t we content with butchering our own citizens already? Did we have to go all the way to our peaceful neighbours, Ghana to inflict them with some of our bad luck? 10 innocent people failed to make it home that night for some reason, and who should they blame? Ghana has not recorded an air accident in recent history, but somehow our idiocy always finds a way to shoot beyond our borders and affect the rest of the world, and we proved it again on Saturday night.
If anyone was unsure by Sunday morning that we had experienced enough bad luck since Democracy Day, they were reminded on Sunday morning. Apparently feeling upstaged by the killing of Mr. Rapauch in Kano, Boko Haram struck in true fashion in Bauchi State as innocent worshippers sang praises to their God at Living Faith church, Yelwa, Bauchi. The 21 people who were killed and the 45 who were injured were clearly defenceless people; living their lives as they saw fit, but utterly let down by the country that swore to protect them. How long, how long shall we bear with Boko Haram? How come we have become so comfortable with Boko Haram among us that we are no longer surprised when sacred buildings are attacked in broad day light on holy days? If only they burned the buildings and spared the lives…if only they were reasonable human beings. How soon until our Commander-in-Chief redeploys his forces from Guinea Bissau and directs them to his own backyard? Who on earth is Abu Qaqa to threaten the stability of our nation? Am I the only one who is incensed by the cockiness of this beast who stares us in the face and threatens to bomb newspaper agencies for under-reporting their activities? This is absolutely insane!
Most unfortunately however, while Christians around the country mourned the loss of 21 blameless souls, the real news of the weekend was brewing in Abuja. Dana Airline’s MD 83 aircraft, abandoned by Alaska Airlines in 2006 on account of repeated mechanical failures and sold to Dana Airlines, representative of the world’s dumping ground in 2009, was preparing to undertake its fourth trip of the day. According to Dana Airline’s Director of Flight Operations, Captain Oscar Wilson, “On Sunday, 5N-RAM left Lagos to Abuja on flight 999 at 7.47 a.m, and Abuja back to Lagos on Flight 998. The aircraft went back to Abuja on flight 993 and was coming back to Lagos before the fatal flight 992”. Four flights in one day might not be a big deal for any ordinary 20-year old aircraft, however for a plane which had to make an emergency diversion on November 4, 2002 because of an overheated light ballast, one which was hurriedly evacuated on August 20, 2006 when a chafed wire bundle emitted smoke into the cabin area, and one which was finally abandoned from August 21, 2006 until September 11, 2008 when it was serviced in preparation for sale to Dana Airlines in February 2009, four flights in one day was a big deal.
According to reports, an unnamed manager of the airline had requested for the airline to be grounded for a check-up on May 3, but his request was denied, apparently because somebody was more concerned about money-making than safety of lives. The same aircraft made an emergency landing on May 11 at the Murtala Muhammed Airport and another on May 25 with reported engine faults, but was again cleared to undertake such a rigorous schedule barely a week after. With passengers hurriedly evacuated on both occasions and forced to seek alternative means of transport, how could Captain Wilson have confidently stated that “We don’t allow our aircraft to fly if not in perfect condition. We don’t take risks with people’s lives”? What alternate universe does he live in? With 153 lives avoidably lost, doesn’t Captain Wilson deserve at least some jail time, along with the entire management of Dana Airlines, the management of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority who approved the purchase of the flying coffin and the ground crew who declared it safe for the skies on Sunday June 3rd? That plane crash was clearly a disaster waiting to happen; if for some reason the pilot had steered it safely to the airport’s runway, the passengers on board would have thanked God for a safe trip and the plane would have picked up new passengers and headed for another dreaded destination. That crash was always going to happen! This is one disaster too many!
What irks me the most, of all the tragedies that have befallen Nigeria over the last seven days, including the collapse of a section of the ‘multi-billion naira ultramodern hospital’ being constructed in Benin City, Edo State on Monday, June 4th, is that quite sadly, we always move on. We always pray to God to grant the families of the victims “the fortitude to bear the loss”; we absolve the culprits and we get a move on with our lives. We’re such a docile and compliant set of people that the same evil things are done to us over and over again, yet we pray to God for grace to endure and we move on. We need to wake up! We need to stop condoning injustice; we need to call a spade a spade; call the culprits of the road accidents, the bomb attacks, the air crashes, the building collapse murderers, because that is who they are! It is a murderer who knows that his actions or inactions will potentially result in the loss of lives, yet plunge ahead confidently. We need to name and shame all those who were complicit in these avoidable disasters and bring them to justice as a deterrent to all those who think they can cut corners, cause death upon many, curry our favour and get pardoned within a week! Enough is enough, Nigeria!
Unfortunately, I know that in spite of the agony of the nation at this low moment, in spite of the fact that almost every one lost someone really close on that ill-fated air crash, in spite of the public outcry for a complete overhaul of the nation’s administrative system, we would still move on. We would forget about this disaster as soon as another one strikes and we would mourn again, and then sadly, we would move on. We would move on, just as we always do; like we have done with the fuel subsidy, like we have done with the repeated Boko Haram bombs, like we have done with the unending ASUU strikes, just like we always do. I desperately wish that this time will be different, but history teaches otherwise. It is in our national DNA; sadly, we always move on.
You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun