2015 electoral verdict and Nigeria’s destiny 1 By Ropo Sekoni

buhariIf APC had not functioned as an opposition party, it would not have been possible for citizens to choose it to govern them when citizens became dissatisfied with the PDP that had ruled for the past sixteen years

This column observed last week that if the 2015 presidential election turned out to be free, fair, and credible, Nigeria would have moved  noticeably close to its destiny. After the verdict of the presidential and federal legislative elections have been released and accepted by the two leading candidates in the presidential election: President Goodluck Jonathan and General Mohammed Buhari, it is safer this week, than it was last week, to say that Nigeria is finally at the door to the room in which the country’s destiny has been imprisoned for decades. However, the elections left some areas of concern that all stakeholders: electoral candidates, political partisans, the citizenry, and our international friends need to pay urgent attention to as they all prepare to enter a new era in the history of the country.

The pattern of voting in the various regions indicate that the country is a divided one. Votes from the Southeast and the South-south, the two regions of origin associated with President Jonathan, voted almost 95% for him while the president-elect also got about 89% of the votes from the Northwest and the Northeast, the two regions that he can also claim as ancestral homes. It is only in the Southwest and the Northcentral that both candidates actually split votes in a manner that suggests that the voters give considerations to the campaign messages of the two leading presidential candidates: change or continuity.

As many commentators in the social media and the traditional one have already acknowledged, the division existed before the election and is traceable to the rhetoric of antagonism among believers in the principle that federal power should be determined solely on the basis of geopolitical considerations, especially by many political and cultural leaders in the Northwest/Northeast and in the Southeast/South-south who did not have the courage to contest elections on the basis of  allocation of national political power to specific regions but had the capacity to serve as leaders of thought for their people. It is thus not surprising that ethnic or regional ideology has left its mark on the ways people voted in the ‘far north and the far east’ of the country. However, this gulf cannot be left unclosed if the Ideology of Change, which is not an ideology based or derived from ethnic bias, is to spread evenly across the nation.

One challenge for the new president is setting in motion processes for healing of the nation, particularly after the intense campaign of calumny that prevailed in the last three months. It is re-assuring that the healing process has been kick-started by outgoing President Jonathan and incoming President Buhari. In addition, many of the gladiators of the last six weeks, from Afenifere, members of the two factions of Odua People’s Congress (OPC), leaders of Niger Delta militia, to governors and party spokesmen who provided leadership for propagation of dirty  and hate campaigns (capable of bringing disunity to the country) have also started to pledge support for the president-elect. Although no word has come from traditional rulers who joined the fray of partisan politics openly a few days before the election, it is likely that sooner than later such traditional rulers would use their Praying Rods or Walking Sticks to pray for Buhari and unity of the country.

More specifically, the job of healing the nation rests on the new party in power. While General Buhari focuses on governing the country properly as from May 29, his political party needs to redouble its intellectual and political energy to post-election selling or the ideology of change or progress to every nook and corner of the country, especially now that political and cultural leaders from across ethnic and regional divides have declared unequivocal support for the new president. Messages regarding the imperative of change in a country that has been in the wilderness of progress for decades are more likely to sink into citizens, now than a few months ago, when the political price was high enough for many politicians and their supporters to want to kill or maim others for it.

In trying to heal the nation, messengers of peace and inter-regional cooperation must avoid the escapist measures that almost drove the country into crisis a few weeks ago. Before the election, several pundits overreacted to the tension in the air. Some of such opinion leaders called for an Interim government and a government of national unity or stability, contraptions that are essentially alien to our current constitution. The dare-devil ones even asked for a military government as one of the ways to avoid crisis in the polity. But the citizens had finally spoken with patience and clarity; the INEC that was identified by many for axing had also done a better job than it did in 2011 nationally or in Ekiti and Osun states in 2014; and the country’s international friends had stood solidly for free and fair election as the best option for peace and stability.

It is, therefore, distracting for anyone to start calling for a government of national unity after citizens had chosen the candidates and political party they want to govern them for the next four years. The constitution already requires the president to pick his cabinet from every state of the nation. Furthermore, the constitution does not forbid the president to invite persons from other parties or even non-believers in partisan politics to his cabinet if he believes such persons have value to add. But nothing in the country’s Basic Laws requires any president or party to form a government of national unity. It was the fear on the part of some people to face the challenges of electoral democratic elections that led them to call for Interim government or government of national unity before the election. Now that the election is over, the constitution must be given a chance to work until it is changed or amended.

Apparently, most of the masses who voted last week were more concerned about who to govern them in a way that is beneficial for them and their dependents, rather than in the appointment of ministers and board chairmen and women. It is the fixation of the ruling elite on distribution of largesse as the end of electoral politics that made the election campaign in the last few months life-threatening to individuals and even to the nation. This is the time to move away from reducing matters pertaining to rule of law and good governance to personalistic and patrimonial politics.

Government of national unity may harbour more danger for the polity than we can immediately apprehend. The joy of multiparty politics is in the possibility of changing from one ruling party to another. This aspect of electoral and representative democracy puts all political parties in check, as it reminds both the electorate and politicians of the importance of doing what is likely to make citizens choose their own parties at elections. Nobody should have morbid fear about political opposition. Government of national unity has the tendency to stimulate one-party rule and thus suffocate oppositional politics. The new ruling party should exercise caution with respect to welcoming professional ‘decampers’ or addicted ‘carpet crossers’ into their fold. The Buhari APC government should remind all citizens that it is in the interest of the country for opposition parties to grow and thrive. That is part of the checking and balancing process in functioning democracies. If APC had not functioned as an opposition party, it would not have been possible for citizens to choose it to govern them when citizens became dissatisfied with the PDP that had ruled for the past sixteen years. Our political culture must always leave space for opposition parties that can challenge the ruling party every time there is an election. Removing the door to the recruiting room of APC in order to welcome those that the electorate rejected after ruling them for sixteen years, in the name of government of national unity or politics of inclusion may be another ploy to destroy the gain of last week’s election: a political culture that provides options for voters.

The world has become more complex than when Buhari first ruled Nigeria. The impact of global political ethics on so-called third-world countries now grows by the day and has now become evident in Nigeria. If there is anything that has become obvious from the election of last week, it is that it is citizens that can protect Buhari and his government, not power and positon-seeking men and women who would not want to be outside the corridor of power for any period of time, and for that reason, are already clamouring subtly for ‘government of national unity.’