The past few weeks have seen Nigeria seething with rumours and plots of interim government, many of them quite fanciful and far-fetched, and a few somewhat plausible. The plots proceeded from the palpable fear that President Goodluck Jonathan would have lost the presidential poll had it held on February 14. Fearing that he would lose, and determined not to hand over power to successors he was believed to have described as unworthy, the president was alleged to have concocted a series of plots to enthrone an Interim National Government (ING) supposedly backed by many eminent Nigerians. Among those who lent credence to the rumours of ING plots was former president Olusegun Obasanjo who colourfully denounced the suggestion and castigated the Jonathan presidency for even contemplating it at all.
Though the Jonathan presidency quickly dissociated itself from the ING plots but left strong hints it was not averse to the idea, there was enough amperage in the rumours to link former military president, Ibrahim Babangida to the plot. It is curious that in the heat of the plots and rumours Gen Babangida ignored the controversy. However, late last week, in a lengthy and circumlocutious refutation, the Minna-based general swore he had nothing to do with the suggestion, adding that there was no similarity between the ING he set up in 1993 and the political conditions of today. There was no need for the truncation of democracy now, he said gravely, for he could neither see nor envisage a stalemate. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt.
But just as the ING idea was being buried, especially with President Jonathan’s upbeat feeling that the postponement of the polls had given his flagging campaign fresh impetus, and he was now in pole position to win, a new heresy called Government of National Unity (GNU) seems suddenly to be taking root. The heresy is, however, in fact an old one. Flamboyantly bandied about in 2007 after the late President Umaru Yar’Adua won a notoriously flawed presidential election, the GNU was believed to be a bait to entrap, neutralise or even destroy the then Action Congress (AC) party, the political precursor of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and latterly a constituent part of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The idea collapsed under the weight of the Yar’Adua government’s many contradictions.
The new GNU is poignantly suggested by the otherwise eminent Project Nigeria Movement (PNM), a coalition of civil society groups led by Ben Nwabueze, a respected constitutional lawyer and activist. The idea, which appears poised to gain ground, is anchored on the fear that the tight race between the incumbent and his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state and cult figure to his supporters, could explode into a conflagration either during or after the election. This anxiety is not without foundation, though the GNU suggestion is both impracticable and indefensible. Just as the idea of interim government is silly, the suggestion of unity government is even worse. They are both based on false and unsustainable premises.
Professor Nwabueze’s group has offered reasons, including the fear of electoral stalemate, that could precipitate a political explosion, and they all appear sensible. However, they assume that both the APC and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have common grounds upon which to anchor a unity government. The fact is that apart from the viperous campaigns that have sundered friendship and fouled the well of trust between the two major contestants, there are absolutely no philosophical, political or personality reasons for the two parties and challengers to come together. Both are located in the two extremes of Nigeria’s political continuum, with the PDP a smorgasbord of arcane and conflicting developmental agenda amateurishly encapsulated in the so-called transformation agenda, and the APC representing an alloy of rigid, ideological and formulaic approach to development and politics.
Not only will GNU smother the concept of opposition from which the presidential system, and indeed any democratic system, draws sustenance, it will also create an unhealthy political environment that will see whichever party is the junior partner engulfed and strangulated. In the final analysis, as Zimbabwe recently illustrated with the improbable cohabitation of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the political environment will be further poisoned, and positions hardened and rendered irreconcilable. Rather than run away from the ghosts that haunt the body politic, it is perhaps time to confront them. There are no common grounds between the two parties, for one represents the distant anachronisms of our sordid and disreputable past, and another a sense of hope and progress, no matter how faint or brittle. Both cannot cohabit in the same space, for one must necessarily yield ground to the other if the country is to make progress and achieve stability and peace.
The country is aware that one of the reasons for the Buhari resurgence is the increasing appreciation that Dr Jonathan has fallen dangerously short of the standard of leadership required to heal Nigeria’s fractiousness, whether ethnic or religious, manage the economy innovatively, tackle the country’s security nightmares, restore confidence in Nigeria’s regional leadership and continental standing, and harness Nigeria’s potential and rally the people behind great causes. The APC has indicated it has no confidence in Dr Jonathan’s ability to innovate, and has even lesser confidence in his appreciation of the major issues affecting and afflicting the country. To ask the APC to jump into bed with a leader that exhibits no leadership traits, someone they have long concluded could never rise to the level needed to renew the country, is to ask the opposition to commit political suicide.
But the resentment between the two candidates and their parties is mutual. To hear Dr Jonathan declaim on critical national issues is to get a robust sense of his antipathy towards the opposition, his almost total ignorance of modern systems of government, and the blame game he has mastered. In his opinion, his opponents sponsored the 2012 fuel subsidy removal protests because the protesters received refreshments, the media was too critical, making him the most abused president ever, and Boko Haram or any other social or economic revolt was always the manifestation of one conspiracy or the other. With such an unyielding mindset, with such boyish obsession, and with the continuous fulminations of his high-strung wife, Dame Patience, it is impossible to expect that the moderation, restraint, depth, compromise and consensus needed to drive and sustain a coalition government can be engineered by Dr Jonathan to enthrone the needed national peace and stability the Prof Nwabueze group hankers after so desperately.
As long as Dr Jonathan heads the GNU, the conflict that would assail the coalition government would be unmanageable and even insuperable. Resentment would grow apace, and the inspiration and innovation that had been lacking in the president for more than five years, and which are necessary to remake and energise Nigeria, cannot obviously be produced simply because a GNU was emplaced. The interim national government was an obnoxious, despicable idea; a government of national unity is an even more unrealistic proposition. It will not work. More, it undoubtedly cannot work.