16 January 2013

Nigeria: Opposition Then and Now

Photo: Vanguard
The former military leader, General Muhammadu Buhari.


The first leader of opposition in Nigeria was Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory. He did not join the government of national unity set up Prime Minister AbubakarTafawaBalewa at independence in 1960. Awolowo decided to remain in opposition.

Due to the fact that he belonged to the mainstream Yoruba establishment, opposition defined the Yoruba politics for a long time even though there has never been any government at the centre that has excluded the Yoruba, whether civil or military, except of recent.

In the Second Republic, Chief Awolowo also came second in the presidential election which Shagari won. Although it was no more a parliamentary system, his Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) became the main opposition party in that era. Chief Awolowo was one of the most prepared people for the leadership of this country. How to govern Nigeria well was his main preoccupation as long as he was awake. I'm sure even in his sleep he was dreaming about that.

Awolowo's type of opposition was highly principled. As a person, he was very disciplined. Awolowo had no time for any frivolities.

He was very meticulous with his time, energy and resources. He had a strong team of good experts in various fields to articulate position papers for him on any national or even international issue of the time. When Awolowo criticised any government, he proffered his own solution. Being one of the founding fathers of the nation, he was very patriotic and a strong believer in a united Nigeria where no one is oppressed.

That Awolowo did not realise his ambition to rule Nigeria was not due to lack of adequate planning or very strong attempts. Awo's main problem was that he did not venture out of Yoruba land to create a strong pan-Nigeria platform and generate enough confidence outside his immediate constituency to ensure the same fanatical followership that he had in the west elsewhere across the nation. In trying to assuage the feelings of the Igbo against him after the civil war, he chose his running mate from Igbo land, Chief Phillip Umeadi, in 1979, thus completely ignoring the geopolitical realities of the country.

As a person and as a leader, Awolowo had succeeded beyond any human imagination even if he had not realised his lifetime ambition to rule Nigeria. This is because the Yoruba today are, perhaps, the most educated single group in the whole of Africa.

They have the highest number of professionals in any field of human endeavor. It is one area that is so enlightened that it is very difficult to trample on people's rights and get away with it. They know their rights and know how to protect those rights against any local oppressors. That is why they can afford to be in opposition and yet have all their dues from the central government.

The main leader of opposition in this dispensation is General Muhammad Buhari. He has consistently contested for the presidential election three times now: against Obasanjo in 2003; against 'YarAdua in 2007; and against Jonathan in 2011. Like Awolowo he is disciplined, but unlike Awolowo he was once head of state during the military era. Like Awolowo he is a good manager of resources, but unlike Awolowo he does not have a good team around him.

It came as a huge shock when the papers recently came out with reports that said Buhari predicted that Nigeria would break in 2015 if there was "rigging" again, Blueprint newspaper made it a lead story on Monday, January 7, 2013. It seems those handling Buhari are not doing the right thing and if indeed Buhari actually said that, then, it is regrettable.

For someone who fought for the unity of this country during the civil war, who had occupied every known position of influence at a relatively young age: governor of the defunct Northeastern State, minister of petroleum for over three years, commander of almost all the army divisions at various times, and finally head of state, it is indeed unfortunate.

If that statement credited to Buhari was true -- that he predicted Nigeria would break in 2015 if there is rigging in the coming presidential election -- who will do the breaking? Was that statement made out of desperation or frustration? But Buhari has no reason to be desperate or frustrated. Is he already a candidate for 2015 and already envisaging defeat by his being rigged out?

And is this threat really what will make people like and trust him across Nigeria or achieve the opposite by further alienating him from the people? This is really counter-productive and even destructive of any ambition.

I have the utmost respect for Buhari and I am speaking as someone who means well. But many like me are really disappointed in some of his unguarded statements such as his recent interview with the Sun newspaper. It is unbecoming of his stature and status. This recent statement of Buhari is capable of giving him away as someone who is only interested in being president.

And no one can be the president of Nigeria by threats or insults like he earlier did in that interview with the Sun newspaper to mark his 70 years of age recently. Buhari has greater dignity and decency than this and his handlers should know and tell him that.

Anyone who is aspiring to be the president of Nigeria must come to terms with the fact that sectional and sensational schemes will not fly. Every aspirant must come out of his or her cocoon and reach out to create a national platform, generate confidence in every section of Nigeria, offer realistic solutions to the nation's problems and assemble the right team to succeed. In short, one has to be very scientific in this age of science to succeed. Shouting for a northern or southern "turn" won't fly anymore just like threats, intimidation, insults and blackmail.

For 10 years now, since Buhari joined politics, there has never been any single individual with Buhari's appeal among the common people. But he has not been able to translate this enormous goodwill into electoral asset.

There is a huge crowd wherever he goes in the north but these people have not been efficiently mobilised to register as voters and adequately sensitised on how to vote. And, for someone who is aspiring to be president, Buhari has not reached out to other sections of Nigeria, restricting himself mainly to the Hausa/Fulani Muslim areas. And even there the elite have not been carried along.

Even before one can rig an elecion, one has to have the consensus of the elite. And there is a limit to how some people can play the same card over and over again. What objective factors and subjective reasons have changed to get a different result, if I may ask? Nigeria go survive. God save Nigeria.

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