Four years ago when President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated, 2019 seemed like a very long time. But here, we are in 2019, the year of another election which will determine whether Buhari will continue in office or not. Soon people will stop saying that Buhari has spent three years in office and start saying that he has spent four years in office.
The arrival of 2019 reminds one of how the administration of Gen Ibrahim Babangida spoke about year 2000 in the 1980s and 1990s as if it was light years away. There were catch phrases like, “Health for all by the year 2000;” “Education for all by the year 2000;” “Food for all by the year 2000.” The year 2000 seemed like a magic year when so much would have been achieved. By the dawn of 2000, none of those lofty dreams was achieved. Then, Vision 20:2020 was launched in after the return of democracy. It was meant to make Nigeria one of the first 20 economies of the world by 2020. 2020 is just one year away.
The administration of Buhari came in with many promises and high hopes. It promised to crush Boko Haram and solve the insecurity problem in Nigeria. On the contrary, while government spokespersons are claiming to have “technically defeated” Boko Haram, the insurgents have been attacking military bases, killing soldiers en masse and sacking villages. In addition, the herdsmen have become emboldened and dangerous, sacking communities and killing people in the dozens.
Also, Buhari promised to fight corruption to a standstill. However, corruption has continued unabated, with Nigeria dropping on the Corruption Perceptions Index from 136th in 2016 to 148th position in 2017 among 180 countries. There have been allegations that the fight against corruption is targeted at the opposition. Senator Shehu Sani captured it metaphorically when he said: “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”
Recent examples were in the cases of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, who was shown on various video clips allegedly receiving bribes from contractors. But while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission feigned ignorance of that, the same agency was celebrating how it would arrest Mr Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, a member of the opposition party, upon his exit from office. Similarly, since June 2018 when the West African Examination Council had confirmed that the secondary school certificate of Mr Okoi Obono-Obla, who is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, was doctored, the President has kept quiet about it, pretending that he is not aware of it, as his aides are wont to say. In contrast, the opposition candidate in the governorship election in Osun State, Senator Ademola Adeleke, has been facing prosecution over his secondary school credentials.
The consequence is that even those who are genuinely involved in corrupt practices are being seen as being victimised because of their political leaning. That has placed a question mark on the entire fight against corruption.
Before the 2015 elections, Buhari and his party complained about the economy and the exchange rate of the naira. They complained about the high pump price of petrol at N87 per litre as well as the petrol subsidy, which they described as fake and fraudulent. Four years into governance, the Nigerian economy has experienced a big blow. The economy went into recession in August 2016 and has been struggling since then. About 10 million jobs have been lost. Trillions of naira have been lost at the stock market. Poverty rate has risen, with 90 million Nigerians said to be in extreme poverty by the end of 2018. The Nigerian currency rose from an exchange rate of about N200 to an American dollar to about N500 in early 2017 before falling to about N360 per dollar. Inflation also rose to over 18 per cent before dropping to above 11 per cent.
One year into his administration, Buhari surprised Nigerians with an increase in the pump price of petrol. Rather than the promised reduction to N40 per litre, the price of petrol was increased from N87 to N145 per litre, with the excuse that such a move would eliminate any subsidy. There was also a surprise package on the fuel subsidy issue. Rather than being completely removed, the amount given out in fuel subsidy has continued to increase. Similarly, Nigeria’s debt profile has continued to rise.
The experience of Buhari in power has justified the statement of Mario Cuomo that one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose. The difference between promise and reality has been too wide in his administration.
However, the biggest challenge facing the Buhari administration is organising the 2019 elections. The standard of that election will determine where Buhari will be placed in the Nigerian history of elections. In 2003, 2007 and 2011, Buhari was a contestant in the elections. He complained bitterly on all those three occasions that the elections were not transparent and credible. In the company with some opposition politicians, he demonstrated on the streets of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, against the quality of election conducted under the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
In 2015, he defeated the incumbent, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP, to become the President of Nigeria, which was the first time such had happened in the country. The challenge now is whether Buhari will superintend over a free and fair election and also allow a result that does not favour him to be announced. Also, will Buhari concede defeat if the result does not favour him?
The hallmark of the advanced democracies in the world is the fact that the incumbent has no influence over the elections as well as no advantage over other contestants. That points to the true independence of the electoral body. Even though Nigeria’s electoral body has a name that starts with “Independent,” it is not independent. The incumbent President appoints the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission and all its commissioners. He also appoints the heads of all the security agencies that provide security on the day of the election. Incumbent presidents have influenced the decisions of INEC in the past on federal elections and state elections. The recent elections conducted in Ekiti and Osun states were adjudged to be below standard.
Therefore, there is no high hope that the 2019 elections that will determine the fate of Buhari as Nigeria’s president will be of sterling standard. It is only Buhari that can determine the quality of the 2019 elections. But it is dangerous for a nation to hang its electoral hope on the whims and caprices of a leader. It is better to have a system that protects everybody than to hope on the good-heartedness of a leader.
The speed with which 2019 has arrived has reminded us again that time does not just fly; it waits for nobody.
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