Commentary for Aljazeera English on 2 April 2015, on the tasks and challenges ahead of Nigeria’s President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari.
I have been invited by the Royal African Society to participate in a panel discussing the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria, and the underlying political, economic, social and global issues around it.
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.