EVEN before President Muhammadu Buhari is through with his first term, and before he finds his footing or regains his composure in the middle of a debilitating illness, some politicians, opinion moulders and ethnic sycophants have suggested that he should run for a second term and they would back him.
Few politicians inside and outside the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have summoned the courage and boldness to indicate their readiness to contest against him for the leadership of Nigeria. Their reluctance is not based on the president’s performance, which even some of his most ardent supporters have agreed is not stellar, nor is it based on their low self-esteem as politicians, mobilisers and thinkers, nor whether he can be beaten in the race or not, especially given his mounting vulnerabilities. They simply don’t want to draw his ire.
There are of course the hardy perennials like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who would run for the presidency even if Aso Villa were locked in iron cage and the whole country declared with one voice that a vacancy did not exist. And there are the ambitious former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and the theatrical but eloquent Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, who both cast wary eyes on the presidency, obsessed with their desire to lead the country some day.
There are many more like Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi Lamido, and former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, fidgeting on the sidelines, standing on needle pricks, an emptiness gnawing at their inside in their eagerness to throw their hats in the presidential ring.
But on the whole, not many politicians will openly and recklessly announce their interest in the presidency for reasons ranging from Nigeria’s stifling political culture and ethnic struggles to a curious understanding of the zoning arrangement existing within and across ethnic and political lines. Indeed, for some politicians, except victory can be assured and they are promised there would be no recriminations for their hastiness, they would nurse their ambitions privately and brood over their chances in their closets.
In the coming months, therefore — and no one is sure just how many months those coming months are — President Buhari can rest assured no topnotcher in his party would do anything rash. But that is only until the dam bursts. For he will inevitably have opposition within his party, and many top class politicians will finally dare his rage to throw their hats in the ring. The reasons for such brashness are not far-fetched.
President Buhari was the man needed to confront the Boko Haram menace with some vigour and purposefulness. He was also the ascetic needed to curb the mad disrespect contractors and politicians had for the country’s treasury. And he was the man needed to give some oomph to an economy that had been laid waste by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
He has had qualified success in the three objectives, but it was not because he attacked them with anything properly describable as a scientific or philosophical approach. The ‘national diseases’ were in any case already nearing the end of their tethers, like all pathogens in an epidemic, given the shameless and avaricious manner they attacked the country’s dignity. Anyone with modest skills and resolve could have had a fair chance against the ‘diseases’. President Buhari was that man, and the country must respect him for the role he has played.
Even if his illness had not hobbled him — and he will get increasingly languid in the months ahead principally on account of his age — his idea of leadership, economics, justice, religion and politics, among other things, has become so antiquated that it is not possible for him to prepare a nation of one million people for the 21st or 22nd century, not to talk of a complex, competing and distrustful nation of 180 million people. If zoning and grassroots support prove incapable of restricting him to a one-term presidency, his lack of vigour and the weakness and premature expiration of his ideas appear set to limit his 2019 ambitions.
His supporters and those who see him as a steadying pair of hands in the affairs of Nigeria would want him for a second term, but he will be unable to campaign round one geopolitical zone, let alone round the whole country. Despite his supporters’ best sentiments, the reality is brutally and mercilessly circumscribing.
By next year, President Buhari will be forced to determine whether he wants to brave the odds or not. He will procrastinate as much as he can, but eventually he will have to grapple with the unsavoury decision of going ahead to contest for a second term despite the strain on him, or calling it quits. He will probably want to anoint a successor, as most of his predecessors had done to the country’s dismay and injury.
But more and more, given the damage the constricting nature of his presidency has engendered, even that luxury of anointing someone may elude him. Indeed, if he does not now seize the initiative to make amends for the unfairness and parochialism his government has instituted, if he does not immediately begin to assemble a pan-Nigerian and technocratic group whose ideas and world view transcend the country’s ethnic and religious divides, circumstances and agile politicians may seize the initiative from him. The succession war would as a result be brutal, intense and fratricidal, if not in the final analysis even regicidal.
Nature designed the Buhari presidency for a one-term reign. In fact since 1999, in order for the country to regain its balance and bearing, nature had designed every presidency thus far as a one-term presidency. Ex-president Olusegun forced the hands of nature and abused its providential gift by seeking a second term. The consequences are still evident. Former president Umaru Yar’Adua was a decent man by every yardstick, but he was no match for the complexities and rigour the modern era demanded.
He would also have forced nature’s hands had nature itself not anticipated and thwarted him. Dr Jonathan’s presidency gave the country assurance that political calculations and nature itself offer guarantees and universal access to the presidency. Beyond that, the Jonathan presidency was of little use. There is nothing in the Buhari presidency to indicate its tenure can be lengthened. And just in case anyone, whether cabal or not, should think otherwise, nature itself has fortuitously introduced its own irrepressible guarantees through the president’s age and physiological challenges.
Since 1999, there has not been one presidency that gave hope of a presidential lodge filled with thinkers and nationalists. Chief Obasanjo was self-important and narcissistic; Mallam Yar’Adua was impressionable and lethargic; Dr Jonathan was hesitant and provincial; and now President Buhari is unmistakeably distracted and insular. The consequences were terrifyingly real: the instability and effete foundation that distorted and convulsed the parliament under Chief Obasanjo; the dithering, machinations and cabalistic tendencies that undermined the presidency under Mallam Yar’Adua; the sybaritic and directionless leadership that stupefied Dr Jonathan’s presidency and political party; and the slow, parochial and embarrassingly lopsided appointments that have virtually negated President Buhari’s otherwise fine attributes and interventionist presidency.
It is too early to determine who will or should contest for the presidency in 2019. Indeed, it is even unnecessary to entertain such speculations. What is more important is to determine who the next president will be and what he must do to restore the country to the path of sanity, stability, growth and inclusiveness. The next president will of course have to campaign vigorously round the country, not once, not twice.
He must be full of vigour and brimful with ideas. He must be exposed, well travelled and educated. If he wants to be deeply religious, whether Christian or Muslim, the electorate should compel him to opt for clerical duties and leave the presidency for someone with enough joie de vivre, someone whose love of life and the arts instantly transforms him into a philosopher of sorts, someone not averse to modernity, connoisseurship and their trappings of delicate soirees and occasional but subtly managed glances at one or more décolletage. No, of course, Chief Obasanjo’s presidency was gross and undisciplined, Dr Jonathan’s presidency was coarse and bohemian, and Malam Yar’Adua’s and Buhari’s presidencies were boring, pretentious and artificial.
More importantly, 2019 should produce a president who has something concrete to give, something deep, profound and fundamental, something the rest of the country can learn from and recount to future generations. Nobody in the mould of Nigeria’s presidents since 1999 fits that bill. The next president must be able to inspire the entirely ludicrous National Assembly whose buffooneries appear to get worse as the theatrical Bukola Saraki and his zany, Dino Melaye, target the country’s midriff rather than its cortex.
The next president must really and evidently have an original, discernible and scientific idea of how Nigeria should be restructured and ruled. If that aspiring president has not read Deng Xiaoping, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Shigeru Yoshida, Charles de Gaulle, Napoleon Bonaparte, Nelson Mandela, Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Gamel Abdel Nasser, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Julius and Augustus Caesar, he has no business offering himself for the presidency of Nigeria.
In addition, it would be shocking and distressing if that aspirant is unable to prove he has repeatedly immersed himself in the histories of the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism in Africa, Oyo/Benin/Kanem-Bornu Empires, Sokoto Caliphate, the many Kingdoms in the central and southern parts of Nigeria, and the biographies of first generation Nigerian leaders like Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, among others. If the aspirant has not read all the books mentioned above, what on earth would he know about leadership, where Nigeria got it wrong, and where the country should be headed? How could he form the right perspectives nationally and internationally? Indeed, what would he know about the role and importance of the legislature and judiciary beyond the reprehensible circus being enacted by lawmakers in Abuja and the states?
Chief Obasanjo was not prepared for civil leadership; nor were his successors, Mallam Yar’Adua, Dr Jonathan, and President Buhari. They undoubtedly made modest contributions to Nigeria, but they gave nothing visionary, substantial or futuristic. The next president must be put to the test to determine what he knows, what his thoughts are, how his mind works, what the country must do, and where it should go. For about 18 years, the country adopted the zoning nonsense and ethnic and religious considerations to elect their presidents. It is time to put a halt to a method that is ruining the country and destroying the future of its peoples.
Those nonsensical considerations have even reached such an offensive point that some people now insist President Buhari must complete eight years in office or the region he hails from must complete the remaining four years should he decline to run again.
Despite the best efforts of past leaders, most of whom were not even fit to rule local governments, Nigeria has become more disunited. Repeated ethnic clashes and religious conflicts offer proof. Rather than bury their heads in the sand, Nigerians should bravely and intelligently confront the maladies that afflict their awkward and ungainly federation. One of such maladies is electing thoughtless leaders simply because of their tribes or religions, and installing unserious and comical lawmakers in parliament because of what they stand for in their valueless communities. In 2019, the country must unite to put an end to the madness.
Nigeria needs a great legislature and a thinking and just president. No one should commit the mistake of campaigning for the destruction of the legislature, judiciary or executive. Instead, the right people who would ennoble these institutions should be voted into office.
In 2014, this columnist wrote effusively, perhaps more than most people, to support the candidacy of President Buhari. He won, and he has done a few commendable things. In 2019, this column will not in any circumstance lend support to President Buhari should he choose to run.
It is out of the question, regardless of whether he runs and wins or not. It is time to seek out a great, deep and thoughtful nationalist; someone not encumbered by tribe, religion or class; someone who knows what to do with the arts, sciences and education as a whole; someone who understands where the country feels the pain and what balm to apply; someone who understands how to repair the damage done to the legislature and the judiciary; someone who thinks high and lofty. Anything other than pursuing this noble enterprise is treason against the country.