As partisans on both sides of the Nigerian political divide continue to yell fiercely at each other over the electoral prospects of the two candidates at the February election, as they claw at, and rain blows on, their opponents and threaten Armageddon on the rest of us based on how they perform at the polls, and as both sides appear determined that the entire landscape of our dear country must be soaked in rivers of blood, it’s time to pause to examine the roles of two very important men in the ensuing political fray, and they are not Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari as you might have expected. But Olusegun Obasanjo, the uncouth, brash but brave former leader who now tends chickens and goats at Otta and Ibrahim Babangida, the dangerously intelligent, chartered political manipulator in Minna.
But before addressing the problem which these two men constitute in the political process, let’s first examine the two standard-bearers here, two candidates thrown up by the unfortunate circumstances of our “democracy”. In a true democracy, both Buhari and Jonathan, by virtue of their past, would have thought twice before presenting themselves to the people as viable candidates. Buhari has negligibly few, if any, redeeming qualities in his past as a former head of state to recommend him for the same position he now seeks via the ballot box. His laws were a parchment of horror, a scroll of iniquity; and one of his worst crimes, as far as I’m concerned, was his failure to secure his own government against the insidious plot of a fifth-column within it even when he knew that his overthrow could be a distinct possibility. How can he convince us that he can protect Nigerians effectively by defeating Boko Haram? Arguably, Buhari was partly the architect of the misfortunes that are haunting us today since Babangida. Lately, questions about his school “certificates” have surfaced, yet he’s neither perturbed nor challenged enough to answer such questions thoroughly. The result is that a thick mass of cloud continues to hang over his head. I remain dubious of how he hopes to inspire trust and confidence in his leadership if he wins.
Jonathan’s problem is so wearisomely familiar, the least said about it the better. I have heard many of his dyed-in-the-wool supporters reel off some rather intangible achievements as justification for why he ought to be reelected. Really? But excuse me, sirs, what about the hundreds that are dying daily in hospitals and at home because doctors and nurses are on strike and have routinely been on strike every year because the government would not meet their simple demands? I happen to know about a gentleman who died recently only two days after coming down with pneumonia. A few days’ regimen of antibiotics and oxygen were all the man needed to stay alive. But none was available for him, and so for four hours solid he gasped helplessly for breath until his lungs collapsed. President Jonathan’s utter failure to step up to the plate in the case of Boko Haram is so shocking as to deserve to be called unprecedented in the history of the republic. Not that Jonathan didn’t know what to do when the monster was in his infancy. His total lack of political will and his breathtaking fecklessness combined to set his sights elsewhere as Boko Haram gradually strengthened into the seven-horned monster it has become today. Now he looks helpless. How does he convince Nigerians that another four years will make a difference? It is virtually impossible to make such a case. Maybe that is why many, including his former supporters, are today jumping onto the Buhari ship without even tarrying to think whether that vessel could be cast adrift soon enough.
As disturbing as the above facts may seem, the roles Babangida and Obasanjo are playing today should worry us even considerably more. Needless to say, I confess that both men have my admiration, even if grudgingly, for one or two things they have done in the past: Obasanjo, for being resolute and brave enough to reform the army, thus ensuring that no military coup has taken place since; and Babangida, for his uncanny ability to outsmart everyone around him. He did it to Yar’ Adua the Elder, and he did it to Buhari. In fact, when Buhari should have moved with all deliberate speed against him ahead of a chosen date, he decided instead to wait until Babangida’s hand was caught in the cookies jar. But never underestimate your adversary, especially if that adversary happened to be a charismatic man who inspired a blind followership among the rank and file of the military. By the time the Daura general realized his error, it was too late. The Minna general, staying a step ahead at a time, struck in double quick time and consigned his adversary’s government to the scrapheap of history. By doing that, Babangida saved not just his military career, but also the political one he’s playing today.
Which brings us neatly to the point. Having had their turns as president of Nigeria for at least eight years respectively, you would have thought that Babangida and Obasanjo would leave the rest of us to our own devices, no matter what our problems are. Alas, that is not the case. Unlike Yakubu Gowon, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Ernest Shonekan and Shehu Shagari – all ex-leaders who have had the goodness to maintain their distances from the political scene – these two mighty men are still around breathing down our necks, sowing discord amongst us and making our lives hell. And they do all that out of a selfish desire to be both the bridegroom at a wedding and the guest of honour at a funeral.
Right now, no candidate seeking elective office as governor or senate president, or president, does so without first going to Otta and Minna to fold in half like a cheap suit before these two godfathers. I find it truly exasperating. Buhari, who reportedly was on no speaking terms with Babangida after the latter toppled him in 1985, suddenly saw a need for a rapprochement with his old foe at his Minna mansion. It was time, at last, to lock hands at the campfire and chant Kumbaya.
Jonathan even sounded more craven and annoying when he said he had gone to the Minna mansion to “see my father.” As a sitting president, shouldn’t he have been more artful in phrasing his remark? I’m still wondering why no aide quickly moved to hold a handkerchief to his mouth as he was uttering those words. How cheap and low can you really go? But just when he thought he had secured Babangida’s endorsement, he soon found to his chagrin that it was all hat and no cattle. Maradona had done it again! He gave the real endorsement to his old adversary. So, as matters stand now, Buhari, Babangida and Obasanjo are triple-teaming Jonathan. The only thing Jonathan has left is the power of incumbency. And he is an African to boot.
But all that is beside the point. Jonathan and Buhari should be reminded that Nigerians, at the present time, desire to have a leader who has a sense of courage, dignity and moral vision, not a spineless jelly fish who tucks and runs from a challenge. They should be told, in case they don’t know, that the people hunger and thirst for a leader with a sense of independence, not a craven puppet at the hands of some capricious puppeteer who quickly eases into place to begin to cause trouble the day after elections.