BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, today’s epistle was inspired last minute by an encounter I had last night with a Buharideen. I had been contemplating what to write about this week when I ran into a staff of Indomie Noodles, the most popular noodle-processing company possibly in Africa, at a restaurant in Ikeja, Lagos. The gentleman had walked up to me for a quick chat, which was perfectly in order, as far as I was concerned. Indeed, this is a regular occurrence most places I go. It is always likely that I run into those who usually walk up to me to request selfies or general discussion. And so, this young man announced himself as my fan. He did not stop there, he said he follows me on Twitter and enjoys my tweets but added matter-of-factly, so to say, that he does not always agree with me. I responded that I was grateful for his appreciation of me and his following, but I added that two people can never agree on everything, all the time.
Out of curiosity, I asked what his points of disagreements were. Before, he could answer, I already smelt a rat and so volunteered a guess. “Is it anything to do with Buhari?” I asked calmly. He replied in the affirmative, “yes it is…” Here we go again, I soliloquised. These days, I hate going into unnecessary and unproductive conversations with those who have been given the nomenclature “Buharideens” on social media. A Buharist is a mild and reasonable supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari. I belonged in that category between 2014-15. Not anymore. I like the President as a person, but his politics and economics leave much to be desired. I can write a PhD thesis on this subject. Back to definitions. On the other hand, a Buharideen is a blind and rabid supporter of Buhari. He does not, and will never see, anything wrong in Buhari, even if you supply all the evidence in the world. It is always a waste of time to engage such political fundamentalists in argument or dialogue. In the course of this election process, I expect that Atiku will probably also sprout such rabid followership. Such is the fervent, unfortunate passion that elections can engender in this country.
‘Why do you disagree with my position on Buhari?” I probed. “Buhari is still the best Nigeria can offer in the present circumstance…” Hmmm, I sighed. “What are your reasons for saying so?” I had pricked him at that moment and he wasted no time in launching a diatribe of sorts. “Only thieves and looters won’t appreciate this government. Things have improved even if not perfect under Buhari.” I laughed raucously. I was used to those lines whenever I encounter the Buharideens. Everyone is a thief and looter, or friends of corrupt people, except members of their group. Not to worry.
I decided to take him on, even if I didn’t have the luxury of time at hand. “Do you know your party APC and your Presidential candidate would find it hard to campaign with his strongest weapon, anti-corruption, when tomorrow comes, because APC is heavily populated by the same so-called looters who migrated from PDP. I have not read it anywhere that they were screened out or rejected by your party, rather they have been promptly and amply protected by your party…” He nodded in agreement, but still argued that APC was a much better party despite the obvious hiccups and conflicts of interests.
It won’t be hyperbolic to describe APC as being seriously hypocritical, I told my new friend. I reeled out names of the certified and certificated kingpins of corruption in Nigeria who have ensconced and embedded within the APC without as much as a whimper from the leadership of the party. My friend kept mute, as if thinking hard on how to tackle me. But I kept punching him with facts and my wide knowledge of Nigerian politics.
He tried to wriggle out by going totally banal. “We should just let Buhari complete his second term so that power can return to the South West after that.” Almost spontaneously, I exploded: “who told you power would shift to the South West in 2023?” My friend said “it will, if we support Buhari now…” but I disagreed most vehemently and tried to educate him a bit.
“If you are talking of zoning, then you are wrong to assume that it is a binding agreement. When Buhari contested in 2003, who was in power? Obasanjo, a Yoruba man. When Buhari contested in 2007, who was in power? Yar’Adua, his kinsman from Katsina State. When Buhari contested in 2011, who was in power? Jonathan, from the oil rich Bayelsa State in the South South, and he was merely completing the term given to him divinely after his boss died in power. When Buhari contested in 2015, who was in power? Jonathan, who was serving his own first term as President and was seeking a second term, the first time a President from the region that lays the golden eggs was in that position. Did anyone, including Buhari, give any consideration to those facts? Did Buhari not contest against Obasanjo? Why did he not say that it was the turn of the South West and so he would abstain and wait for the time when it was the North’s turn. This is the charade and chicanery on display by the promoters of zoning, which does not even exist in our Constitution.” I concluded.
My friend said no one can stop power coming back to the South. I asked if the South West was the only zone in the South and why he feels the South East or South South cannot have it. “Are the Igbos not Nigerians or why do you think they can’t contest and win the Presidency?” I wondered. My friend said the Igbos have not aligned with a realistic power base which is currently controlled by Buhari. So, I noticed and noted that the strategy of APC in the South West is to brainwash the people of the region into deluding themselves that power is coming back to them very soon as compensation for supporting Buhari. This is so naïve and simplistic. I warned my friend that as we speak, those who are already warming up for the 2023 Presidential election are not limited, or restricted, to any particular zone.
The nonsensical impression that this jejune assumption creates is that some people hold the levers of power as personal property which can be dashed out to anyone, or a group of people, at will, but this is a total fallacy. From the issue of zoning, my friend introduced another reason Buhari must continue as President. He claimed that this is because there is no viable alternative to him. I queried what the man was saying. How can anyone say there is no alternative in a country of nearly 200 million people? I told him that was virtually untrue. It would be pathetic of us as a nation if we believe such foolishness. Exceptional talents abound, in their multitude, that can take us to the promised land. He asked if I can support an Atiku as President of Nigeria and I answered, “why not?’. I felt his next line even before he regurgitated it. “But Atiku is a very corrupt man…” He started the usual vituperations against a man no one has ever tried in a court of Law since leaving office in 2007. No one has even invited Atiku to explain his source of wealth. I told my friend to perish the idea of thinking I, or indeed, any rational man, would ever join his ilk in maligning a soul just for the fun of it. When did allegation become conviction? I informed him clearly that if that is the only way APC hopes to tackle Atiku, it won’t hold much water.
He also exhibited a dangerous mind-set which is presently the fall-back position when Buharideens are cornered. “Where did Atiku get his wealth from?”. He felt he had delivered to me what he must have thought was a sucker punch, but I responded in kind. “Why is it that your members rejoice and gloat about poverty instead of celebrating achievement. If most of our leaders did what Atiku has done in retirement, our country won’t be in this mess. At least Atiku has invested heavily in Nigeria and profited in the process. He should be commended instead of being criminalised without proof. Not everyone possesses this type of business acumen” I added.
He could see he wouldn’t be able to browbeat me about the usual jargons of portraying APC as a party of angels, so he announced he had to go. He appeared sober and subdued. Before he left, I fired another shot. “How about your primaries? I’m reading all sorts? Would you say elections were held in many places? Where they held, would you say they were democratic? And what about the sordid allegations of bribery and corruption levelled by aggrieved members, including our adorable First Lady?” These were more of rhetorical questions and I did not expect him to have immediate answers. It was obvious he was not proud of the lack of internal democracy and lurid accusations of corruption that has blighted the conduct of the party primaries and almost set his party ablaze. He quickly thanked me and disappeared into the night.
At least he could not abuse me frontally like most Buharideens do whenever you confront them with hard facts. For me democracy is always a game of continuous experiment. Every four years, a President must undergo a serious examination about his performance so far, as well as subject his physical and mental state to public scrutiny. Nothing suggests that he must be promoted automatically to a second term in office if majority of the people do not think he has performed creditably. I’m of the firm opinion that whoever I support this time would be dropped if he still does not meet expectations. Being a Buharist does not mean I will become a Buharideen.
There is no doubt that APC is seriously struggling to convince Nigerians that it deserves a second chance. While I won’t join those who claim APC has failed totally, I will support those who feel it has not lived up to its grandstanding pre-2015 election. I say this because we had great expectations. Notwithstanding the rot that had set into our political, social and economic psyche Nigerians believed that true change was desirable and possible. We voted for APC and Buhari on this basis. That change has only happened in very few cases and objective members of APC agree they have fumbled disappointingly. Most of the areas that we wanted positive change in have turned out to be an embarrassing anti-climax for this government. I will applaud the President for some of the achievements of this government, but that is only because he is the titular head of government. Others, particularly the Vice-President and his economic team are to be commended for the fitful and irregular economic progress we are witnessing. The President himself has not personally shone brightly and is apparently surviving on a reputation that is at best jaded. The attitude of government to the rash of violence in the country is less than salutary. We were applauded for attacking President Jonathan over the shortcomings of his government but the Buharideens want Buhari to be treated like fresh eggs, or not to be touched at all.
Things must really change urgently and drastically in practically all facets for this government to have any realistic chance of winning the elections. It may not be too late. But the current trend and discourse is not going to help it. I believe people are tired of the same worn platitudes. There are many like me who feel our democratic rights to choose our preferred candidates are sacrosanct and must be respected. I will never abuse or stop anyone from campaigning or voting for Buhari and I don’t expect anyone to abuse me for my personal choice, like the Buharideens love to do.
I expect the battle of wits to start from next week. The first offensive is likely to be launched by former President Goodluck Jonathan when the book on his political life and stewardship is launched at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on November 20, 2018. It promises to be a blockbuster event. The Buhari government has blamed the Jonathan government endlessly for its inability to perform as expected. Former President Jonathan and his supporters would have the first major opportunity to launch a blistering attack on a government that rode to power on the crest of possessing the magic wand to cure the alleged cesspit of corruption and inefficiency they left behind. It is probably a time for Jonathan to compare and contrast. We may yet learn that it is not yet Uhuru, and the past three and a half years have been no more than running on the spot, if even that!
The only ace that the populace have is their democratic right to keep changing governments until we get it right. If we fail to make the right choice several times, that only improves our learning curve. Eventually, one day, our democratic education and experimentation will be complete, and we will throw up competent and capable candidates from whom we can make proper and informed choices. For now, the alternatives are stark. We can only make do with what we have and won’t keep a failed government just because we are afraid of the next. Who knows, where our salvation lies? God works, mysteriously.
There are interesting days and times ahead…