A Message for General Buhari

Photo credit: New Nigerian Newspapers

A concerned reader of this blog recently sent me an article which he requested that I reproduce with an urgent message for three-time Nigerian presidential aspirant and former head of state Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). This message was meant to coincide with the General’s 70th birthday in December 2012. The person pleaded anonymity emphasising he only wants his important message to reach the General.

Although the importance of his message is immediately discernible, I was initially reluctant to reproduce it for two reasons. One, I am wary of Nigerian PARTY politics which many have good reason to regard as truly decadent and ruthless — get involved and drag your name into the depths of its treacherous murkiness. Second, being quite skeptical of the emphasis of many progressive Nigerians on the next round of elections cycle, the 2015 elections, as the magical elixir to present ills, I wasn’t sure if this write up fell into that category. This is because I always wonder what we are supposed to do according to this line of reasoning, in the interim: are we to hibernate until the 2015 elections two years from now and then proceed to “elect” new leaders who will automatically resolve all ills? Or should we be engaging with the present (s)elected leaders and the institutions they represent, scrutinsing their activities and demanding efficient service delivery, transparency and accountability in governance, as democracy entails?

Clearly the foundations of the political process through which leaders emerge in Nigeria is still weak and the process of democratic consolidation is still in a nascent and turbulent stage. A situation where votes of large swathes of the electorate can be bought for as little as N1000 ($6.3) per head, as was the case in many rural parts of Nigeria during the 2011 elections, is utterly absurd! There is a lot of work that needs to be done to (re)build that foundation and this is what in my understanding, this person’s message aims to capture: working to build the foundation of the political process not just with the aim of replacing the ruling party, the PDP, but at the very least, to make the ruling party “sit up”. Let me add a caveat though, the views here do not necessarily reflect my own views. Otherwise, here it is, enjoy:

Along with so many other Nigerians, I would like to wish General Buhari happy 70th birthday. No doubt the General has left a legacy as one of the few incorruptible individuals who have ever walked our corridors of power. Upon attaining the biblical age of three score and ten, my wish is for him to temporarily set aside his presidential ambition, and instead focus on leaving an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system in the form of a credible political party.

Like a lot of other African countries, we are currently stuck with a one party system in an ostensibly multi-party system, and that is never good for democracy. Party platforms that the General had adopted in the past, struggled to transform into credible national political parties – both ANPP and CPC – grappled with an image of being either regional parties or parties marred by internal wrangling.

Nigerians yearn for a viable alternative in the form of a political party with clear principles, formed by credible people who are capable of winning elections and providing some semblance of good governance. At the very least, they would want an opposition party that is credible enough to make the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) sit up. One way to setup such a party is to focus on getting three things right: core leadership, solid manifesto/constitution, and committed membership.

For the core leadership, the General should try and convene a group of like-minded individuals from each geo-political zone to constitute the trustees of a new party. These individuals should be clean enough but most importantly influential enough to attract followership from their constituencies. The General should identify potential candidates across the country and personally woo them into joining his cause. To do this successfully, he must develop a more accommodating attitude and be ready to work with different types of people.

Once the core leadership of the party has been successfully formed, they should work with a group of advisers to develop an exciting manifesto and a robust constitution for the party. The manifesto should clearly explain to the public what the party stands for and what policies and programs they intend to bring once they’re in power and how they’ll go about executing them. The constitution should be robust enough to withstand potential challenges that the party will face in the future, e.g. resolution of conflicts in candidate selection, disciplinary measures for those who flout party principles, checks against saboteurs etc. The schisms that ripped the CPC should never be allowed to occur in this party.

After finalising the manifesto and constitution, the leadership should initiate a membership drive to build a solid national support base for the party. This should be done one state at a time to ensure that proper structures are in place at every state and committed membership is secured.

In all the steps above, the goal should be to build a party for the long term, not just for the 2015 elections. This should be a party capable of providing a credible opposition to the PDP and stemming the steady slide to the bottom. To achieve this, it might be necessary for the General to sacrifice his presidential ambition, and be resolute on building a party that will outlive him. I sincerely hope the General will take up this challenge to use his massive goodwill, towering incorrigible image and appeal with masses to leave an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system.

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Naija On My Mind…

Source: http://www.groups.yahoo.com

I am simply at a loss of words or the appropriate adjectives to describe my state of my mind over the past few days, or to be more candid since the Nigerian Presidential elections on the 16th of April. I was massively disappointed at the outcome and its aftermath that for the whole of last week I was in a near state of depression. It was even difficult to focus on my course work or essays, I was just thinking of Nigeria. At a point I started wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I was over-reacting or if I should simply stop following the news coverage about Nigeria – which of course is not possible. Being the typical female, I thought of getting in touch with my feminine side and doing something that lifts the spirits of most women – going on a therapeutic shopping trip to Birmingham city center, but not even that made me feel better. Then I spoke with several friends here in the UK and back home and I found out that indeed I wasn’t the only one feeling that overwhelming sense of frustration and helplessness which I can sufficiently summarize as an admixture of gross disappointment; shock and anger; despair and hopelessness as I shall explain briefly.

It should be pretty obvious where my disappointment stems from. As a supporter of the main opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), his loss shattered the dreams and vision many of us envisaged for a new Nigeria. For in General Buhari who had a fervent, populous and massive grassroots support probably comparable to that of Brazil’s former President Lula Da Silva of Brazil; some of us saw in him a man who would combat the cankerworm of corruption, an obstacle to any meaningful development; would free Nigeria from the shackles of the few elite/cabal that have held it to ransom for the past few decades; would restore discipline, law and order to a very disorganized and increasingly undisciplined Nigerian society and would provide the critically needed infrastructure but alas that is not the case. Notwithstanding the allegations of vote rigging, result manipulation, money inducement to vote for the ruling party, it is absolutely incredulous that some people actually voted not for change that Nigerians are in desperate need of, but voted to maintain and perpetuate the status-quo. While it is almost a generally accepted fact that the ruling PDP-led government in the last 12 years of democratic rule has recorded abysmal performance at virtually all tiers of governance such that the Nigerian state is now bedeviled by decaying infrastructure – electricity supply has actually worsened in the past 12 years; rising insecurity – prior to 1999, many Nigerians save those who watch blockbuster American movies were not familiar with the terms kidnapping or bomb attacks but these are now almost regular features of Nigerian life; soaring unemployment levels – any recruitment exercise attracts hundreds of thousands of applicants – in this case, I can vividly recall sometime last year, 68 vacancies were posted for the Federal Capital Territory Administration, yet more than one million people applied for these 68 vacancies!!! It is simply incredible that people decided to forfeit this momentous opportunity for change from the status-quo based on the naïve assumption that they “voted for individuals and not parties”. Ha! Pray, did any of the candidates run as an independent or on the platform of a political party? As the latter is the case, how do you divorce an individual from the people and whatever his party stands for?

From this, the feeling of shock and anger took over – I still cannot distinguish one from the other at this point because they seem intertwined. As the results of the Presidential elections were announced state by state, it became increasingly clear that where people voted and the votes actually counted, people did so for the most part based on religious, regional and ethnic sentiments. The incumbent President Jonathan was overwhelmingly voted in the mainly Christian-South while his main rival Buhari was overwhelmingly voted in the mainly Muslim-North. Once more, all allegations of rigging and manipulation set aside, in the end Jonathan polled in more votes. However the shock/anger stems from not just the realization that people had retreated into their ethno-religious cum regional enclaves but that the elections had decisively split Nigerians into a North/South divide, what many had feared for years. The elections just laid bare the deep-seated cleavages and divisions between Nigerians and this is everywhere – from cyberspace – online news and social media – Facebook and Twitter to normal face to face interactions; the print media and even government offices. All of a sudden it has become an Us vs. Them scenario with one side jubilating over and celebrating its “triumph” over the other and so many cyber warriors on both sides attacking one another. Infact, in various online Nigerian forums, you have to take a side and to be very candid, the Goodluck Jonathan army is more vociferous, vocal and aggressive because– if you criticize or express any form of displeasure against President Goodluck, you are regarded as an enemy, forgetting that we CONSTITUTIONALLY operate a MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY where such dissent whether from individuals, groups or media is actually healthy for the whole system otherwise the steady descent towards fascism becomes inevitable.

The second part of my shock/anger was that as if all these things were not bad, depressing or infuriating enough came the eruption of unrest in various parts of the North – Buhari’s “stronghold”. What started off as a “protest” quickly became violent and took a deadly religious dimension with innocent lives tragically wasted away particularly of Youth Corps members dutifully serving the Nigerian state. So far there are 3 schools of thought explaining the outbreak of violence: (i) the protests started off peacefully against perceived “betrayal” by the Northern elite and eventually became hijacked by miscreants who unleashed attacks on innocent people; (ii) The protesters were all along blood-thirsty criminals with no regard for human life who were just out to spill blood of the innocents, and (iii) The protests were neither religious nor ethnic but were purely political covertly instigated by the ruling PDP to cause mayhem and unrest in the North and provide a distraction. Well, you can choose which school of thought you want to believe but the loss of lives and property is most unfortunate. All these have together made people spew all sorts of unbelievably hateful, vile comments most unbefitting of nationales of a country that is supposedly the most “religious” nation on earth. As Nigeria increasingly becomes dangerously divided, so has the mudslinging with hateful ammo intensified with such vigour all over cyberspace. I know the number of people on my Facebook friends list that I have fought with or argued with because I told them to tone-down their offensive language.

With all this is a feeling of pure hopelessness and despair over the bleak future that lies ahead. I believe even the cyber warriors on both sides, if only they would take a step-back from all the mudslinging and ponder over the tumultuous and uncertain future that lies ahead would feel a sense of dread. The same set of people within the same party that has brought Nigeria practically to its knees has been recycled back in power, yet we somehow expect different results. To be very frank, I am scared –  in all of my 20something years on earth I have never been filled with so much dread such as I am at this point. As the elections have exposed the deep and possibly irreconcilable cleavages and fracture within the Nigerian populace, I have found myself pondering over the future of the Nigerian state with my mind recalling the US National Intelligence Council report in March 2005 that Nigeria could collapse in a few years. The  persistent call for division of Nigeria by the separatists and irredentists particularly on the internet is not helping matters either. The whole atmosphere is tense, charged and thick with flammable haze of anger, suspicion, fear, uncertainty and distrust that one spark will set of an explosion of such magnitude never seen before. John Campbell warned in his book Dancing on the Brink that these elections could make or mar Nigeria’s future as a nation-state or whether it would collapse but he was dismissed by the Media and policy-makers as a harbinger of bad news or even the grim-reaper of whatever fractious peace we have.

At this point, it has reached such a stage that practically everyone in Nigeria is waiting for a miracle – from the teeming, almost fanatic legion of President Goodluck’s most ardent supporters who expect him to miraculously divorce himself from the PDP cabal, capones and godfathers and perform well; the disillusioned opposition who with their lack of an organized party structure are still relying on a miracle to sweep the just concluded gubernatorial polls or the Nigerian masses having for long been disillusioned with the Nigerian state and despite selling their franchise in some cases for as little as N500 (about $3) are as always hoping and praying for a miracle out of misery and destitution. Well, coming from this “religiously” charged environment myself, at this point I will also assume the same fatalistic position, pray for a miracle and hope that President Goodluck Jonathan performs beyond expectations and by so doing, his good luck would spread around and heal this deep fracture within the Nigerian polity and society, otherwise it will be bad luck to Nigeria in all ramifications.

In the meantime, I hope Nigerians; particularly the cyber warriors will bear these wise and timeless words in mind:

“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth”

 – Baha’u’llah 1817 – 1892

“Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy”

– JohnTrapp 1601-1669