With the opening of the window for political activities by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) late last year, our nation has become largely divided along partisan lines, with two gigantic political parties belligerently charging at each other as in the legendary battle between the Behemoth and the Leviathan and with the nation split over party allegiance as the people queue behind either of the ferocious beasts and echo the war cries of their preferred titan.
The political winds striking forcefully at the Nigerian state have further widened the cracks in the myriad spheres of our corporate existence, leaving us more fragmented as a nation. Hence, ethnic, religious and regional differences are being emphasized as political interest groups pit one religion against the other, one ethnic group against another, and one geopolitical zone against another all in a bid to secure their grip on or seize political power.
Against the backdrop of the economic woes currently plaguing our nation, the divisions are increasingly taking a class dimension as we approach the fulfilment of the prediction on a placard I saw in January 2012 when I led the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) to protest the corruption in the fuel subsidy regime and the oppression of the Nigerian people by the handlers of the Nigerian economy; the placard read: “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich”.
The foreboding state of our nation attests to my earlier insistence that partisan politics and its preoccupation with electioneering, sloganeering and “manifesto engineering” without a proper foundation is only a recipe for national disaster, and is tantamount to forcing birth pangs which can only breed miscarriage or, at best, premature birth – a position understood by few yet ignorantly and vehemently resisted by many. Cheered on by the international community, including the United States of America and the European Union, our nation has instead chosen to embark on a cart-before-the-horse journey that can only lead backwards.
Some people have asked why I did not call for this alternative pathway in 2011 when I was General Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Truth be told, this has been my position since 2010 when I began to directly engage the Nigerian political space.
This position was contained in the Save Nigeria Group manifesto titled “A Contract to Save and Transform Nigeria” publicly launched on May 5, 2010 in Abuja; a document which subsequently became instrumental in our engagement with then newly sworn-in President Goodluck Jonathan as we sought to lend him capacity on the way forward for Nigeria until we were convinced that the president was not committed to those ideals.
It was my position in 2011 as General Buhari’s running mate as restructuring, devolution of powers, amendment towards a true people’s constitution and the strengthening of INEC became the foremost agendas in the CPC manifesto. In essence, the propositional alternative for postponement of elections and the creation of a transitional government in order to address the fundamental flaws in our polity highlighted in my speech titled “The Gathering Storm and Avoidable Shipwreck: How to Avoid Catastrophic Euroclydon” (delivered on January 4, 2015 at The Latter Rain Assembly), are stages of reconstruction which we ought to have embarked upon as a nation since 2011. With those fundamentals neglected in the past four years, national cohesive forces have become so fragile that electioneering at this stage would have severe repercussions. Had the situation been this critical in 2011, I would have opted out and called for an alternative that would have seen the suspension of elections until the fundamentals are fixed.
It is interesting to note that some of the strongest democracies in the world today had transition periods during which foundations were laid before partisan politics was introduced at the national level. For instance, for 11 years after the colonies that became the United States of America declared independence from Britain, the United States did not run partisan politics at the national level.
It was not until the elections of 1796, upon the foundation of a new constitution and the pillars of national integration, that national party politics was introduced to the United States. Centuries before the United States, the nation of Israel, brought out of bondage in Egypt, went through this process of constitutionalism, the fostering of national integration, and the creation and strengthening of institutions under the guidance of transitional leaders before the era of kings.
The purpose of this era of fixing the fundamentals is to ensure that the framework of state facilitates, not hinders, the development of true nationhood and that the expression of the identities of the nation’s constituents are not fettered or forced to become antagonistic to national integration. Nations like the Soviet Union that failed to guarantee this have been swallowed by history, no matter how great they once seemed. It is to forestall the negative consequences of building on weak foundations and to preserve the Nigerian essence that I proposed alternatives to premature electioneering.
My call for election postponement was hinged on seven signs that show that a ferocious storm is about to hit the nation. These signs include poor level of election preparedness by INEC (despite its honest efforts), safety and security risks, likely minority king-making due to disenfranchisement and low voter turn-out, looming constitutional and legal crises due to provisions that require that general elections are conducted on the same day in every part of the nation, impending post-election tension with regional undertones, looming economic collapse and potential religious confusion, betrayals and persecution.
The mounting pressure on INEC culminated in Professor Attahiru Jega announcing a shift in the election date on the February 7, 2015. Reports allege that this was a calculated attempt by the Jonathan-led PDP to avoid defeat and to gain time. Other reports allege that the case for an interim government has been perverted as a tenure elongation scheme by the Jonathan government. While the onus is on President Jonathan and the PDP to defend themselves against these allegations, I must state that there is a clear difference between the alternative pathway that I proposed, what INEC is currently doing, and the schemes that the Jonathan administration may be up to.
I did not call for the postponement of elections for the benefit of any political party, nor did I propose a mere shift in election date that fails to address the fundamental flaws in our polity. I do not care about the new date as much as I care about what is done to salvage our nation between now and the elections.
I would rather warn the nation that the steps currently being taken are serving to further divide, rather than unite, the nation. These political intrigues are only further widening the gulfs. Even more saddening is the immature and childish nature of the political campaigns as politicians take to petty bickering, character assassination and whipping up religious sentiments rather than addressing issues. This suspicious postponement of the elections has only further thickened the storms that would hit the nation if elections are held without addressing the fundamentals as results would be rejected if the opposition loses as might be the case going by the brazen display of the power of incumbency by the ruling party over INEC.
The way out of this quagmire remains as earlier proposed – that the elections be postponed until the fundamentals are addressed. To do this, interest groups, especially political parties, must sheathe their swords and come to the table of brotherhood to forge a new nation comprised of a new integrated Nigerian people, new geopolitical and governmental structures guaranteed in a new constitutional framework, and new institutions including an independent electoral body.
However, with its alleged insincerity and the alienation of the opposition through manipulative politics, the Jonathan administration has made this alternative more difficult to adopt. Also, with its recalcitrant refusal to examine the case objectively and logically, the opposition has treated this alternative pathway with disdain. Therefore, if the nation must set sail into elections despite the warning signs, as did the Alexandrian ship in the journey of Apostle Paul in the twenty-seventh chapter of the biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles, steps must be taken to mitigate the risks.
In this regard, political parties must act in fairness and conduct campaigns with candour and maturity while politicians must stay true to promises made for violence-free polls. Nigerians must realise that the burden of expectation upon either of the candidates is far-fetched as long as the system and structures in which they operate remain unchanged. The people must understand that, whereas our nation cannot survive four more years of the status-quo, leadership change without structural change will only produce national frustration. Failing to deal with foundational lapses will bring us back to ground zero in no time and we will find ourselves grappling with these same complications even more intensely. The people must therefore brace up for the times ahead.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the storms, however devastating they may become, we must keep hope alive. Nation builders must prepare for the opportunity that is presented to us as a nation for, even though the darkest of times may be hovering, this is the finest hour for the repairers of the breaches, those whose calling it is to stir the nation into her great destiny, assured that the plan and purpose of divinity will survive every machination of humanity.
Out of the storms will arise a New Nigeria, a nation built on the pillars of mercy and truth, righteousness and peace; a land of freedom and of justice and a home of equity and fair play, where no one is oppressed and no one is discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity or religion; where, though creed and tongue may differ, the people will unite in the pursuit of a common national destiny; where faith will be used as a catalyst for integration and nation-building and not as an instrument of division; a new nation with a new spirit in a new people, where differences are settled amicably at the table of brotherhood and whose economic recovery and growth will cause the world to stand in awe of the God who makes nations great.
•Pastor Bakare is the Serving Overseer, The Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, Nigeria and The Convener, Save Nigeria Group (SNG)