For President Goodluck Jonathan, there remains only one last opportunity to graduate from office incumbent to statesman. The hour of opportunity is only a couple of days away. It now comes down to one thing: how he decides to handle defeat or victory in the imminent presidential election. Going by the content and form of the disgraceful campaign by both parties, Jonathan’s chance of self retrieval from the tragic abyss of history is severely threatened by the desperate rhetoric of his PDP and the hawkish bravado of an over excited APC leadership.
Having exercised his right to ask Nigerians for a second term in office, Mr. Jonathan now has an obligation to abide by one of two consequences. He either defeats Gen. Buhari convincingly in a free and fair contest and quickly moves to re-unite a country he has badly fragmented or prepares to concede victory to Buhari in a statesmanlike manner. Any attempt to deviate from either of these paths would be unfortunate for the president and his key opponent but apocalyptic for the nation.
Perhaps no other national election in Nigeria’s recent history has held out such immense promise for the survival of democratic order and none has been so replete with dire implications for our national survival.
If Jonathan wins, it may because he presides over a strange but familiar polity in which electoral outcomes do not always reflect the perceived and expressed aspirations and expectations of the electorate. In that eventuality, he will have to contend with a landscape in which popular opposition to his record in office happens to coincide with the agenda of a vibrant opposition party.
Not surprisingly, the political opposition has come to openly embody most of the popular reservations against the Jonathan presidency. But the APC in the process of the campaigns may have, however, unwittingly lost its identity as just another opposition party.
The real opposition is now everybody who feels that the business of Nigeria has not been well managed in the past five years under Mr. Jonathan: the unemployed, the displaced, those without power to light their homes or power their livelihood, the bereaved, the orphaned, those widowed as a result of the raging insecurity, those whose businesses have failed and all those whose hopes for a better life have been smashed etc. etc. Unfortunately, the PDP cannot, by the arrogant tone of its campaign, lay claims to championing the causes of these categories of Nigerians. It is politically convenient for the APC to claim to be speaking for all these people. But it now has to struggle to become their party, which it is not currently.
If on the contrary Mr. Jonathan loses the election, an outcome that is looking increasingly imminent, it may be because the groups whose cause the APC has appropriated far outnumber those who will dare say openly that Jonathan has made their lives better.
However, the time to prepare for either outcome is now. Such preparation is a matter of national interest and an imperative of national security. Strategic political behavior demands that by now, the president should have in place a covert machinery of dialogue with the opposition to explore possibilities in either eventuality. I also expect that the APC leadership ought by now have the same mechanism in place. While the campaign of mutual abuse and unbridled gutter sniping may go on, common sense dictates that both parties activate a more patriotic platform of actions that situate national survival above partisan shenanigan.
We need a nation to realize our disparate ambitions and aspirations whatever they may be. To this end, our elder statesmen ought to be busy by now trying to pre-emptively manage the foreseeable outcome of the imminent elections. There is a wisdom shared by most Nigerian societies that the homestead cannot go up in flames when wise elders are at home.
Given the centrality of the political industry in our national life, it is imperative that our democratic transitions should be carefully managed outcomes. Intense negotiation is now called for both by those who win and those who stand to lose the next elections especially the presidential elections. These negotiations ought to be moderated and mediated by those citizens whose standing in our society transcends partisanship.
Let us make no mistake about it; the forthcoming election is no moral contest. Both sides represent the ugliness of contemporary Nigeria. We can argue endlessly about which side has the greater number of over grown miscreants at its core. The hour for that apportionment is past. We know what we know. The clear and present danger is that an election is imminent and there is going to be a winner and losing parties. Winners cannot take all and losers cannot lose it all.
Victory or defeat by either party is almost equally loaded with dynamites that could unsettle the faulty tower of national existence. Those of us who feel compelled to view reality beyond the present prism of venal and frantic partisanship should feel a responsibility to counsel caution and magnanimity. The winner in this election must be the Nigerian people, the multitude if ordinary folk who desire no more than a roof over their heads, one and half meals if possible, affordable schools for their wards and a safe land they can call home. Above all, our people just want to be. That is really not asking for too much.
For now, a palpable climate of fear and mutual suspicion defines the attitudes of the leading political parties to each other. The PDP leadership looks in the horizon of possible electoral loss and sees the unsettling images of APC hawks ready to pounce on the major occupants of the Jonathan wagon. Similarly, the APC leadership and its support elite fear that Mr. Jonathan and his support brigade will decimate them and throw most of them into jail. So, what we have is a national atmosphere pervaded by the fear of fear. But we cannot build a nation or advance the cause of democracy with the instrument of fear.
Of course, there is cause for fear, but from a different direction. It is not the fear engendered by the mutual antagonism and reciprocal reprisals of political gladiators. On the contrary, what should frighten us all are the images of our injured multitudes on the streets. The crowds that we see at the rallies are beautiful because in spite of their varied costumes, they have one uniting colour: green, the colour of hope. They hope that these rallies will end with an outcome that can at least begin to address their pains. If we mismanage this outcome, I am afraid of the wrath this time around.
Through the hopes that have been repeatedly dashed and the promises that have never been kept, politicians have united the hopes and fears of Nigerian youth in a dangerous way. We have produced a generation that is no longer afraid of guns, tear gas or tanks. Not even death has meaning to those who have to pass through youth devoid of hope.
Yes indeed there is anger in the land. So much time has past and there is hardly any sweetness here. Too much waste has occurred. Too many opportunities for national greatness have been squandered. Disastrous governance and, sometimes, authorized criminality have given politics a bad name. On the basic obligations of government to the governed, our governments, especially the current one, have failed abysmally. The Nigerian state has failed itself and failed the international community. Above all, on most scores, the Nigerian state has serially failed its people.
But Nigeria is not beyond redemption. The one thing that makes Nigeria indestructible has not totally emptied out: our capacity to forego, to forget and collectively self-repair and move on remains in tact. At the core of this priceless exceptionalism is our incredible ability to forgive each other and forgive our leaders.
In the run up to the elections, therefore, I suggest that whichever way the election goes, our democratic continuity as a nation should be ‘a negotiated continuity’. I call on President Jonathan to immediately set in motion a mechanism either to negotiate his imminent exit or his possible continuation into a second term. If the former is the case, let him dialogue directly with General Buhari on a broad range of issues including policy modifications, immunity for self and significant adherents on punishable transgressions and, most importantly, areas of bipartisan co-operation.
Most importantly, there needs to be a new commitment by both sides not to invoke sectarian and sectional loyalties to advance their political causes before, during and after the elections. This should be a follow up to the non-violence agreement earlier signed in Abuja. In the latter eventuality, Jonathan must commit himself to a more responsible, more accountable, more enlightened, inclusive and open administration in the event that he wins.
Because President Jonathan still holds the reins of national power up to 29th May 2015, my ultimate counsel would be to him. Mr. President, you may be surrounded by many people but these are your loneliest days. In anticipation of the outcome of the oncoming elections, I suggest you emulate late President Richard Nixon when he sent man to the moon. He caused two equal speeches to be drafted in anticipation. One praised the uniqueness of the human spirit of adventure and conquest of the unknown as exemplified in the success of the mission; the other paid eternal tribute to the souls of the departed astronauts as immortal ambassadors of our collective human quest for exploration and mastery of our universe.
I suggest you have two speeches ready for possible delivery on the night the election results are announced: the first should be a statesmanlike concession speech congratulating General Buhari on his deserved victory. The second possible one should be an acceptance speech that dedicates your victory to the Nigerian people and invites us all to work for the great nation we talk so much about.
Horrendous and despicable as the verbal blood letting of the campaign season has been, it has established something terribly beautiful. Both the PDP and the APC have unconsciously struck a bipartisan accord on three areas: the imperative of national security, good accountable governance and the urgency of a real onslaught on corruption. It is perhaps safe to say that whoever wins the presidential election, politics and governance in Nigeria will no longer be the same; it will now be driven by the expectations of the people. Nor can either candidate re-enact his past record in public office.