By Godwin Onyeacholem
In a few months’ time Nigeria will once again arrive at what historians would refer to as a critical juncture – that point in the life of nations when either as a result of programmed actions or unanticipated circumstances, events unfold and choices are made that will alter the trajectories of these nations for good or for bad. The adjustments created by these decisions could be short-lived or permanent, depending on the value of the resolve invested by the people.
By the beginning of 2015, Nigerians will step into the doorway of a critical juncture occasioned by the general elections holding in February, where, other things being equal, the people are expected to use their votes to redefine the country’s political and economic directions. The occasion will demand no less. Having been duped and oppressed for too long by a band of depraved post-colonial inheritors in civilian and military uniforms, Nigerians’ desire for a true saviour cannot be more urgent than this moment.
At independence in 1960 it all looked promising until a few years later when events began to portray the local power wielders as more of picnickers than a clique out to fully grasp the essence of governance. The eventual incursion of the military into governance, instead of improving the situation by restoring the people’s hope, intensified the unjust and inefficient rule of the civilians, so much so that the soldiers even went as far as working towards a perpetual occupation. Between these two groups since 1966, the reins of governance have gone back and forth until 1999 when full democratic governance was returned.
Even at that, what has been the experience since then? Sickening. You would easily be forgiven to call for the immediate return of the colonial masters, for successive leaders in whatever attire have run Nigeria like a private estate, dishing out favours and patronage, treating holders of alternative views as enemies, rewarding dubious loyalty and choosing which law or court judgment to obey and which not to.
The pattern of misrule has not changed. The lawlessness, abuse of power and corruption currently on display is absolute. Without mincing words, the remedy for these grave ills is nothing short of a political revolution. Not in the sense of a violent uprising that will upturn the existing order, but by a resounding vote in favour of change in the upcoming elections. And voting for change cannot in any way be equated with a renewal of the mandate of the current occupier of the Aso rock villa or anyone else via the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. It means a vote for the candidate of All Progressives Congress, which remains the major opposition party despite all the observed shortcomings.
Of the four contestants standing on the platform of APC, fingers are already pointing at Muhammadu Buhari, a retired infantry General, as more favoured to pick the ticket, thanks to his gigantic pedigree defined largely by his open rejection of corrupt practices – seen as the main hinderer of the country’s development – as well as the messianic following he enjoys in practically all corners of the north where his supporters famously refer to him as Mai Gaskia, literally translated in Hausa to mean “the custodian of truth.”
However, much as his credentials speak loudly of a man of integrity and the people see in him someone they can trust to deploy his vast experience to rein in the disturbing excesses in the polity, it is important to warn that there are also fears, though latent but nonetheless strong, that Buhari may not have fully shed the toga of a diehard autocrat which blighted his 20 months reign as Head of State in the mid 80s.
These fears still exist among some of those who witnessed his regime, and they became more evident among members of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the lead-up to and after the merger talks with three other opposition parties that led to the birth of APC. For instance, as the story went, Buhari ignored top CPC members and relevant party organs in his selection of the party’s negotiation team. And to worsen the case, some of the faces in the team could not even be identified as members of the party at the time.
It is unfortunate that whenever Buhari is discussed even as a politician, snippets of his characterisation as an unrepentant despot still creep in. Hopefully the General will read this. Indeed, there is need for him to adjust himself. There is no way he can command respect as a politician without being a democrat. Though it will be heart-warming to see him emerge as the president in 2015, he should be well-advised that democracy and autocracy are two completely different concepts. Buhari must be careful to avoid behaving in a manner that will further arm his critics with the impression that he is still more comfortable with the latter than the former.
Surely he is not unaware of the fact that the party on whose platform he hopes to be president relates with the people through a message anchored on CHANGE. That much touted change, as laid out, would be nothing short of total. Yet, there is need to be apprehensive. History is full of political parties that came with promises of change, but once they got the power they began to reproduce and intensify the exploitation and cruelty of their predecessors.
It will be more catastrophic than a catastrophe if, for instance, Buhari wins and assumes office and what the people see is widespread impunity, abuse of power, corruption and more of the vicious circle unleashed by past administrations. The change that the APC is promising Nigerians must borrow a leaf from the French revolution. Only then will it be of significant value not just for Nigerians, but also for citizens across the African continent.
Godwin Onyeacholem a journalist based in Abuja can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org