There is a lot of anxiety about the presidential elections coming up in two days time. Many have worked themselves up to the point of hypertension as if elections are not a normal process of democratic renewal. I can of course understand why people are anxious. In fact, I have heard people predict that there will be civil war after the elections. There will be no such thing. I have said it in this column before that when we get to the edge of the precipice, we will temporise and somehow avoid falling over. I was in England last year when the Scots were voting whether to remain in the United Kingdom or not. Everybody was worked up and afraid of the consequences of that referendum but at the end, good sense prevailed and the Scots decided in favour of the union. I have a feeling that when the presidential elections are over, no matter who wins, Nigeria will settle down, and possibly begin again, the process of renewal.
The fact that this election is being hotly contested is a good augury for the future of democracy in Nigeria. We can ignore the excesses of some politicians who have been making incendiary statements full of hate against one presidential candidate or the other. These people in most cases are fighting for their own survival and they do not represent decent opinions of our people. Some are foaming in the mouth about Buhari’s age and medical condition as if they have not seen people older than General Buhari hold executive positions in other countries. Perhaps they need to be reminded that just two months ago, the people of Tunisia elected an 88-year-old man, Béji Caïd Essebsi as their president. Also, I want to re-echo what Cardinal Onaiyekan said about the nonsense of making an issue of the age of General Buhari and his need if necessary to seek medical attention as a non-issue. Anybody of his age and even those who are much younger who have the means should seek medical attention anywhere. It does not make sense to say that a 72 year old man has medical conditions, this is normal, it is of no intellectual consequence. This writer is 72 plus and I will be ready to debate any issue on governance with anybody in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. The point I am making is that people should face more fundamental issues about Nigeria than the age of a presidential candidate.
President Goodluck Jonathan has the constitutional right to want to serve a second term of four years and I am delighted that he is doing everything that is humanly possible to win the election. I am also excited about the fact that he himself and his supporters know that he is facing a formidable opponent and that the election can go either way. This is the first time in living memory in Nigeria that a head of government is being forced to fight for his survival. This is good for democracy. Suddenly, the president has realised his political mistake of totally marginalising the southwest in his appointments and budgetary allocations for infrastructural renewal in the southwest. His advisers, and intelligence chiefs have not been fair to the president. If they were, they would have told him about the physical neglect and the seething anger against him in the southwest. In the six years of being Head of State, bad roads have been the lot of our people, Ibadan-Ilorin, Ibadan-Lagos, Ibadan-Akure have remained death traps; electricity supply in the southwest has been fitful, inadequate and episodic. In Ibadan which remains the most important city in Yoruba land, the daily occurrence of blackout has been the experience of the people and this has retarded the growth of the city because all industrial and manufacturing plants have either been ruined by inadequate power or shut down completely.
The experience in other parts of the country has not been marginally better. Out of the ten largest cities in the whole country, six or more of them are in the South West and urbanisation here brings its own problems and this makes the neglect of the area politically sensitive and explosive because information travel rapidly and widely. On the eve of the election, the president is now forced to touch remote places and plead with traditional rulers in the southwest such as the Oni of Ife, Alake of Egbaland, the Alaafin of Oyo, and even minor traditional rulers like the Alara in Lagos State. This is good for democracy. As commander in chief of the armed forces, the president is now visiting troops fighting against Boko Haram. I commend him for this and this is the way it should have been but it is never too late.
General Muhammadu Buhari has also gone round wearing traditional accoutrement of various ethnic groups in order to ingratiate himself to them and their hearts. He himself knows that if he becomes president, he would while leading have to carry the people along. He would have to forget the WA1 Brigade of yesteryears and decrees with immediate effect. He has campaigned in all parts of Nigeria including the Delta, the home area of the present president. Both he and the president have also campaigned in the troubled and disturbed North East and in spite of the fear of untoward incidents, the campaigns there of the two of them have been largely free of incidents. This is the way it should be and Nigeria is winning. It is clear that our people can no longer be taken for granted and whoever wants to lead them would have to convince them that he is ready to offer exemplary leadership and be a moral avatar. In this respect, we must thank Professor Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission for attempting to conduct a rigging-free elections in 2015 through the use of the permanent voting card. This should presage electronic voting in years to come.
May I recall the 1959 pre-independence federal elections and especially Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s revolutionary campaign in the Northern Nigeria using aeroplanes and helicopters to cover all the nooks and crannies of Northern Nigeria? On seeing this, Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto and leader of NPC was forced out of his aristocratic cocoon to campaign in dusty villages in Northern Nigeria with his flowingbabariga sometimes covered with dust. We were told he never forgave Awolowo for this indignity. Whether this is a true story or not, our president by running helter-skelter all over the country is repeating history. Local and foreign pundits are suggesting that this election is going to be close but it seems the western powers and the media have written off the present president but whatever the outcome of this election, it is Nigeria that would win because from now on, no head of government; president, governors and local government chairmen would sit at home and write the outcome of elections without allowing the people to express their minds in a free, fair and transparent way.
We are hopefully turning the corner in our electoral politics and we can only hope that INEC will not be sabotaged and that the elections will result in the renewal of stability and democratic governance in our country.