March 28: The price of winning and losing By Dan Onwukwe

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FOUR DAYS to what is obviously the bitterest, divisive,fierce, and in most part, lack of issue-based campaigns,everywhere you look across the country,there is tension.It is so because everything-the bad,the ugly,half-truths,lies,blackmail,mudslinging,high-profile defections,intimidation of opponents, are the hallmarks of the campaigns.And you begin to ask:Is this what politics is all about? Where are the policies and programmes that the candidates were supposed to emphasize,the realistic objectives for the next four years?

The issues are indeed deep and compellingly disheartening. Such are the concerns.Only  yesterday,the U.S.President,Barack Obama,took time off his busy schedule to remind all Nigerians that our strength as a nation is in our unity and our danger is in our discord.

He reminded us that nothing but a free and fair elections would be enough.He went further to remind us that by casting our votes for the candidates of our choice,we can secure our future,and together,keep our nation together.For me,the clincher in Obama’s address to Nigerians was when he urged us to “reject voices of those who may call for violence” during the elections or after the outcome.If we resist violence,Obama stressed,we will overcome the challenges that we face. Why has it taken a foreign leader to plead with our politicians and their supporters to keep the peace? It’s because few issues in Nigeria do touch such a raw nerve in our politics as election.For some,it’s a “do -or-die” affair,as if there will be no life after politics.Our history on this leaves no crumbs for comfort.

As I write,the main contenders in the Presidential race,the incumbent President,Dr.Goodluck Jonathan,and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress,Muhammadu Buhari,are making their “closing arguments” by way of grand rallies and Townhall meetings on why each deserves to be voted into power this Saturday.By this time next week,the entire nation will be on edge as it awaits the official result by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC).

The issue to contend with is what follows after INEC has declared the winner of the Presidential election.The real problem here is that we have a burdened political environment that is vulnerable to violence and dangerous ethnic cleavages that stoke the embers of violence.The post-election violence of 2007 and 2011 are too grim to relive.The truth we cannot run away from,regardless of who wins on Saturday,is that every election places Nigeria on the brink of upheaval.And the clear and present danger is that powerful political interests and their supporters can easily undermine the electoral process if their preferred candidate loses.

As the D-day draws feverishly close,this should provoke concern,how to tame the beast of electoral violence.It’s unfortunate that the main political parties,PDP, APC and INEC have paid little attention to the cost of winning and losing.I recall in 2010,a year to the 2011 elections,of a workshop organised by INEC under Prof.Maurice Iwu in the six geo-political zones of the country.The focus was on how to tame electoral violence.One of the speakers at the SouthEast workshop held at the Concord Hhotel,Owerri,Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah thoughtfully submitted that the “tendency to violence is inherent in the genes of our politicians and their supporters”.Kukah’s contention was that violence has persisted in our elections because “politics in Nigeria has become the means for the allocation of resources,for the improvement of the human condition”. In the absence of this,the temptation to resort to violence becomes so strong as way,rightly or wrongly,of “seeking justice and fairness”. Doesn’t this  sound controversial or outrightly insane? A year later,in 2011, Kukak was proved right.The outcome of the Presidential election which President Jonathan clearly won was marred by violence by miscreants believed to be Buhari supporters.Look back to that day,when hunhreds of people lost their lives.

Now, look ahead: those dangerous cleavages still exist, perhaps even more menacingly than four years ago.                                                                      Whoever wins on March 28,whether Jonathan or Buhari, this much is plain:it’s not going to be much fun.A huge dark clouds are in the horizon.The winner of the Presidential election will be under intense pressure to heal the wounds of a divided nation.This is the stark reality that dawns after March 28.

There are several critical moments of truth we cannot run away from.The fact is that the two leading candidates, Jonathan and  Buhari,offer real choices about real issues for the voters on election day.And that, for good measure, raises the stakes much more higher than at anytime in recent history.

As I wrote  two weeks ago,If you want change,(depending on your definition of change),Buhari is your man.But,bear in mind you,the change APC is offering is not renewal.It’s a change that comes like a bolt of lightning. Such a change could be like a fire that burns a forest to ash and forces immediate action. But,if you desires continuity that offers peace and prosperity,the odds favour President Jonathan to be re-elected on March 28.

If, in the event Buhari upstages the incumbent,he has a big challenge, perhaps more than he ever prepared for.First,he must reinvent himself,away from a label of a military dictator,turned- democrat who has been portrayed as one who thrives in  politics of division.If the incumbent is re-elected (as he’s confident he will),Jonathan must also need to reinvent himself as a centrist reformer, away from the far right.The centre is where the depraved Nigerians are.

To understand where Jonathan and Buhari stand on issues,consider their records, where they have been.It leads to two vital questions:will Buhari be a better Commander in Chief than Jonathan? Which man can heal the wounds of a divided nation? The  truth is that Buhari is already a polarising figure.Some see him as  a candidate of the North,a religious bigot, who, if elected President, according to a former U.S.envoy,Richard Grenell,”will be a disaster for Nigeria”. It’s however left for the Nigerian voters to decide. The fear of many is that, with such a hawkish politician in the saddle, investors might be scared.

I think one of the key questions in this election is not who,between Jonathan and Buhari has a better vision of Nigeria.The question is who will act to make that vision a reality.Nigerians should be ready for the truth,simply spoken.

There’s no doubt that Jonathan’s Presidency has faced a lot of challenges,the most hurting perhaps being the Boko Haram insurgency. That, of course, makes Jonathan a wartime President.In saner climes,the citizens should stand behind their President till the end.In our own case,sadly,not all.  However,it must be said that President Jonathan has shown in the last four years at least that he can govern from this office,when times and conditions are tough and still remain steady,without losing his focus.

The President Nigeria needs must be a fervent advocate of the rule of law and a committed democrat,not an iron-fisted leader. This is where the odds favour President Jonathan.I have said it before,and it bears repeating that the Presidency is not a prize to be won,it’s,in the words of former American President,Gerald R.Ford,a “duty to be done”.   If truth be told,the present insecurity predates Jonathan’s government and it needs the cooperation of all to defeat the insurgents.

The problem  however is that every time the opposition mischieviously chooses to see the President  as an Alchemist,someone who should have an extraordinary capacity to deal simultaneously with many complex situations at multiple levels. He is not, and no one is.

SUN