Whatever the outcome of the 2019 general elections, it is safe to say that the elections have come and gone. And this is hoping too that the rest of us including those nursing the wounds of the battle for political supremacy can quickly bind their wounds and carry on with the rest of their jagged lives.
This simplistic acceptance of an intriguing phenomenon which, in other climes simply defies logic and common sense, may be our own peculiar reaction to a situation over which majority of the people have no control.
But the elections, no matter their perceived imperfections, have produced their results, confirming some in their positions of authority and uprooting others, bringing some political dynasties crashing down. Let’s get it right. This is not a review of the drama that played out in the name of democracy. Nor even the tales of blood shedding, ballot box snatching and ballot box stuffing, intimidation, vote buying and alteration of results, to say nothing about daylight disenfranchisement of voters – in many places, voters, not likely to do their bidding, were actually warned ahead of the polls not to come out and vote or to ignore the warning at their own peril. This is not about all that.
It is not even about how President Buhari won and how his main rival, PDP’s Atiku Abubalkar failed to win. It will only suffice to remember that President Buhari, the incurable optimist – he was cock sure nobody could unseat him; he was going to congratulate himself because he was going be the winner – had lived up to his own personal expectation. He won and he was declared winner.
Perhaps he congratulated himself privately and celebrated quietly. Perhaps he did not. Perhaps modesty, arising from his very well- known ascetic make-up might have dimmed his urge for an open display of unrestricted sense of triumphalism.
His victory may not have been a referendum on the performance of his government in the last four years – for that we may have to wait for the jury which is still out, and more crucially, the verdict of history – but certainly it was an endorsement of his popularity and his hold on the cult followers he had built over decades, especially in the North.
The question now is how does he reciprocate this unalloyed loyalty from followers who have sworn to swim or drown with him? Fighting corruption, the major pillar of the Buhari regime in and out of military uniform, is regarded as one sure way of dealing with the elite, the enemies of the downtrodden and the disenchanted who form the core of his loyalists in the North.
The poor and the uneducated who are fatalistically content with their lives the way it is, may not know what better life is. They may have been brain washed to believe that poverty is virtue. On the other hand, productive and well-earned wealth, they have come to believe is sin, and like boko (western education), is also haram, forbidden and irredeemably corruptive. Therefore, the urge to go off the streets and seek for education and empowerment is killed when the same elite that claims to be fighting in their interest has weaponised and idolised poverty and forced this strange ideology down their throat.
President Buhari, in the next level, will be forgiven if he chooses education of the poor and down-trodden as a sole agenda. If majority of his followers in the North are poor and deprived, it is difficult to imagine their lack of capacity to make educated choices; to spot the difference between democracy and autocracy and dictatorship and to appreciate the dynamics of power and politics.
Watching the interview of presidential candidates with Kadaria Ahmed on the NTA in which President Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo featured, convinced me that our president needs to be persuaded to accept the responsibility of salvaging his ardent followers, who through no fault of theirs, have become the Northern Nigerian version of Franz Fanon’s wretched of the earth. They need education very badly but President Buhari believes rightly and constitutionally that they are the responsibility of the local governments. This is rather unhelpful. He is in a better position to know that this third tier of government is dysfunctional and it is at the mercy of state governments which also seem averse to freeing these street urchins from the shackles of poverty and ignorance.
Grim statistics, year in year out, show the appalling response to education in the North. Writing recently in the Tribune newspaper, a columnist, Lasisi Olagunju, drew President Buhari’s attention to poor enrolment of school age children from this part of the country. Out of the 71,294 candidates that registered for 2018 National Common Entrance Examinations into 104 Federal Government Colleges (Unity Schools), Zamfara State contributed a paltry 28 candidates. And when NECO released results for the October/November 2017 examinations, only 24 students passed from the same Zamfara State. Latest figures show that Nigeria has 13.2 million out of school children. More than 70 per cent of this figure is from the North.
Education is not the only issue in the North that sorely cries out for President Buhari’s attention in the next four years. The state of insecurity has remained an intractable problem and it is compounded by lack of unity in the region. The North may not have ever been monolithic but sagacious political management and social engineering by leaders at all levels did a lot in the past to create a sense of belonging and fellow-feeling among the people. But the latter intrusion of divisive politics and religious intolerance have opened up numerous fault lines and today brothers are at war with brothers ostensibly in God’s name.
We seem to have forgotten that followers of the two main religions lived harmoniously together before and immediately after independence, one group supporting another group. Today, political and economic competition have drawn religion into the game and they have succeeded in giving Islam and Christianity a bad name. The North cannot develop the way it is going. I have argued in my various interventions that the fault lies within us and we are the ones who can solve the problems. Nobody else will come from outside to put the North’s house in the order.
But so long as people with abundant capacity deficit resort easily to religion as the alibi for their failure, so long will the North continue to bleed in poverty and underdevelopment while other regions are reaching to the moon. President Buhari cannot hope to build a solid, united and economically developed Nigeria with gaping wounds and utter chaos in his own backwoods. Charity begins at home but not in any negatively nepotic sense. But he must realise that he has a duty to reunite the North and not to encourage more divisiveness in the region.
At the national level, he cannot, in my view, hope to unite the country, if he pursues programmes that exclude others whether or not they voted for him, whether or not they belong to his ethnic group, whether or not they belong to his faith. While the programme of Next Level seeks to consolidate on the gains from the first term, a vigorous pursuit of clearly defined economic goal that seeks to take people out of poverty will re-energise the populace and make for productivity and co-operation.
President Buhari, a humble man of modest means, has indicated he would retire to his Daura home at the end of his tenure. Simple and modest ambition but not fit for a king. He should aspire to be more than an ordinary ex-president and aim instead to be an international statesman whose views are to be sought globally. But he must strive first to cultivate a pan-Nigerian image at home.