Abuja — It leaves much to be desired of Nigeria's political development to observe that the 2019 presidential contest, by realistic computations, shall once again, like in 2015, be between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); notwithstanding that there are about 70 registered political parties in the country. This is uninspiring; and the names of the two leading candidates make it even more so.
Nigerians have been reading about, and listening to each of these men since the 1980s. Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Abubakar Atiku of the PDP are household names in Nigeria; and both men share a number of things in common. They are both of the Fulani extraction. They are both Muslim. They are both septuagenarian. And they are both serial contenders for the highest political office in the land. However, one feature sharply contrasts the two illustrious descendants of herdsmen. The one is passionate about creating wealth, and is proud to be wealthy; while the other espouses the gospel of asceticism, after a fashion of a marabout. The one lists a sprawling multi-million U.S. dollars export/import processing facility, and a full-fledged university among his choice assets; while the other lists 200-odd herds of cattle among his premium assets.
Two individuals could hardly be more contrasting. Most commentators have suggested that the aforesaid contrast would determine the outcome of the 2019 presidential election. It is impossible to controvert that view in a country where wealth and poverty are very sensitive, and perhaps the most important topics. Only this year, an international study concluded that about 87% of Nigerians live in extreme poverty. So, as we are already gleaning on the campaign trails, suggestive phrases like, "corruptly rich", and "transparently indigent" have become recurring decimals. Fixated on the notion that indigent Nigerians generally perceive their wealthy compatriots as corrupt, the ascetic candidate would, even blindfolded, see many vulnerable targets on his opulent opponent, and consequently offload bullets with reckless abandon. On the other hand, the wealthy candidate seized of his perceived vulnerabilities, and having garnered the requisite agility in his long political walk, would focus on seeing the bullets well ahead of targets - he would become eagle-eyed, thus rendering his opponent as blind as a bat.
Hopefully, that projected scenario should inject a level of excitement into the 2019 presidential race. A race between an eagle and a bat is certainly novel, and we are beginning to see the effects of this novelty already. The PDP candidate's campaign has so far been remarkably issue-based; it is expected that other presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative candidates would follow that dignified lead. Nigerians could do with less murky electioneering campaigns of, "You be thief! I no be thief!" Come on, now! We can do much better than that. Being an art of the possible, politics affords candidates an infinite scope to make political contests a fine art of sorts, at once educating and entertaining the electorate. I have a hands-on experience of these possibilities from both my secondary school debating days and years of following political debates in advanced climes. Debates are necessary nutrients for human imagination; they open up hitherto latent worlds. For example, I had put the implicit question herein to some friends who saw the script of this piece. "Ah, come off it!" they retorted in unison; "the bat doesn't stand a ghost of a chance." "Really?" I calmly uttered, starring at each of them in turn. "Are we not underestimating the bat? " "How?", an indignant voice intoned. "What if the race were conducted in the pitch darkness of... ?" "Ah! we see your point - the race doesn't always go to the swiftest!" multiple voices chorused.
That chorus spontaneously minded me of one of the many tales about that cleverest of animals, tortoise. The dog had mockingly referred to tortoise as lazy and sluggish; but the latter surprisingly challenged the former to a long-distance race. The dog just as mockingly accepted the challenge. The race track; date; and trophy were subsequently determined. On the appointed day, the animal kingdom gathered. The contestants were set on the starting block. The dog exuding vigour, trotting on a spot and paying scant attention to the tortoise. But the tortoise was as cool as a field of cucumbers.
No sooner than the race declared open when the dog shot like a bullet ahead of the tortoise. Seconds after the dog disappeared from sight. Unperturbed, the tortoise waddled along. Two hours later, the tortoise caught up with the dog. The latter was completely engrossed, divesting a big bone of what fresh that was left on it. The tortoise waddled past. Thirty minutes later the dog came charging behind, and again shot past the tortoise and disappeared from sight. But the tortoise maintained its pace. And as before, again caught up with the dog, which was indulging in a group play with its kind. The tortoise again waddled past. That trend continued until few minutes before the sun disappeared from the western horizon. As the sun slowly sank, a moving silhouette appeared on the horizon, and headed for the finishing line. The descending darkness temporarily challenged the visual of the gathered animals as to the identity of the moving silhouette. But minutes later the conical hardback came into full view; "It's the tortoise!!!", the jungle reverberated.
Creative imagination and focus had won the race for the tortoise. Incidentally, my pre-2015 presidential election article, "Choosing between APC and PDP" was based on the same philosophy, though I had lamented then that Nigeria was fielding her Third Eleven. I would decline the offer to classify the 2019 array of candidates for the top job. That's now for Nigeria's increasingly critical voting public to determine. So, bring up the debates and let the candidates exhibit the stuff of which they are made. Nigerians want to hear the candidates creatively dissect the nation's lingering challenges in all spheres; and proffer cost-effective solutions to those challenges. Nigerians want to see deeply focused and imaginative minds and visions on display. And, crucially, Nigerians want to see zero-tolerance for both pedestrian electioneering and biased officiating by the electoral umpire. Nigeria needs to quickly move in the direction the rest of the world has long waited to see her go - the West African slumbering giant is the next big global event waiting to happen. So, fellow compatriots, let us in 2019 allow the logic of reason finally clear those clouds of emotions which often cause us as a people to make fatal choices.
Thanks to God we are once again able to say, "It's that time of the year!" Compliments !
Nkemdiche, an engineering consultant, wrote from Abuja.