Nigeria: Remember This Before You Cast Your Vote

Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari
10 February 2019

In 2011, a young man, now eight years older asked me point blank for which candidate I would advise that he and his mother should vote. Until then, I had written nothing less than twelve articles about the coming election without announcing support for a candidate. I felt honour-bound to answer the question. Reproduced below are parts of that 2011 article titled MY CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT.

"My last born is now 19 years old. He has just told me he will vote, but wants to know who to vote for. I said I thought Jonathan is a wimp or a fraud. Buhari is arrogant, aloof and ignorant of his rigid wicked selectivity. Ribadu is a deluded megalomaniac. He basks in the power and privilege of his lineage and former office. Okotie is as pretentious now in his pronouncement as he was as a singer! So, brother, how do we help our son pick a candidate to give his vote? Give him a name please, not a guideline. He needs a voice to follow at this age. You are it! He believes in you!"

Again in 2015, when Buhari returned as candidate, there was fierce media warfare. I was in the minority among the Lagos-Ibadan columnists, as we are called by others - despite the fact that some of the columnists don't even live in Lagos or Nigeria for that matter. I confronted the majority of opinion leaders in the way that only a card-carrying Area Father could by writing as follows.

"Generally, you can assess the quality of a man, especially a politician by observing those who rise up against him. General Buhari (rtd) is a shinning example of such a person. Expectedly, his declaration for the Presidency, more than that of any other possible opponent of President Jonathan, had thrown a lot of people into a manic frenzy. Some of them are my co-columnists in the Lagos/Ibadan axis - as papers like PUNCH, THISDAY, GUARDIAN and VANGUARD are called. For the purpose of this series of articles, I want to single out the Professors writing for PUNCH and VANGUARD, who, are usually erudite, futuristic, well-informed and reasonably objective; but who have joined the illogical, and the ill-informed in the pack attack on Buhari.

When an Area Boy finds himself confronting several adversaries, at once, he steels himself for battle by announcing to his opponents, "Ee po to [you are too few for me]". So, to Professors Abidde, Adelakun, Akinnaso, Olukotun, of the PUNCH, and our own Femi Aribisala, I declare "you are too few" for this battle. Comparing Buhari with Jonathan is like comparing solid "Iroko" with rotten wood. For starters, every carver knows that nobody can make a masterpiece out of rotten wood. And Jonathan's government is rotten from the head down. So anybody canvassing for a continuation of this government should be regarded as an accessory to the grand larceny going on now in the name of governance."

It was brutal battle fought on behalf of Buhari. Let me at this point ask where were Tinubu, Osinbajo, Lai Mohammed, Amosun, Ajimobi, Amaechi, Rochas, Ngige etc in 2011? They were worshipping other "gods". Most of those pretending to love Buhari passionately only jumped on the bandwagon in 2015 when it appeared that he might win the election. Columnists writing for NATION would be embarrassed if I publish what they wrote about Buhari in 2011. They argued that the man was too old. Today, the man who was too old in 2011 is apparently young enough to continue to govern until 2023. The difference between "food is ready" commentators and those who write on principle is clear. I worked for Buhari when he had nothing to give; I walked away when it was clear that the man cannot live up to his exalted image. There were only two people I would regard as more fanatical about Buhari until 2015 - Prince Tony Momoh and Engineer Buba Galadima. Momoh is still with Buhari; Galadima has parted ways. That leads naturally to the question: why did you leave?

Several reasons can be adduced but three critical ones will be addressed because there is still the PDP candidate to discuss. Buhari's first twenty appointments, out of which only Femi Adesina, was the most senior revealed nepotism on a scale never before attempted by a Nigerian Head of State except Buhari himself in 1984-5. I will one day publish the list of top appointees in 1984-5. Apart from the fact that a Daura featured then, as now, it was as if nobody else was fit for office unless from Daura or related by blood or marriage to the place. The pattern of appointments changed very little despite the outcry. Today, Daura town, alone, probably has more top government appointments than Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Ebonyi States. The situation can only get worse with a second term.

Failure to appoint Ministers and heads of Departments and Agencies, for almost six months, was not a sign of caution as his two spokesmen would have us believe. It signalled lack of preparedness. There are several witnesses to the fact that in 2011, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, under the leadership of Galadima was already developing a blue print for economic governance - complete with suggestions for appointments - if Buhari had won. He would not have waited a month. By 2015, Buhari had forgotten everything. The recession of 2016 was made worse because we have a man not versed in economic issues as President who unfortunately has no good economists among his closest advisers. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world and will continue to lead the planet as long as we have a President who does not understand that we must grow our economy by at least four per cent annually to check the slide into abject poverty. There is no plan to reverse our slide into poverty.

Immunity and/or impunity enjoyed by killer herdsmen became a global concern only since 2015. It is difficult to be Life Patron of a group without sharing its beliefs. And, these people believe in relieving others of their farm produce and even lives if need be. A President conscious of the needs of the ninety five per cent of Nigerians who are not herdsmen will not allow that situation to develop and get out of hand. Four more years of Buhari can only mean so many more years of herdsmen intransigence. Buhari simply cannot change.

Let me summarise quickly. Nepotism/regionalism, relenting economic insecurity and increased personal insecurity which will follow the re-election of Buhari mean thumbs down. Left untouched are issues such as selective pursuit of the anti-corruption effort. It is clear that friends receive the hug; perceived opponents get the hammer. Where is the integrity? Also not mentioned is the famine this year. Nigerians will suffer great deprivations in 2019.

It is necessary at this stage to point out what my relationship with the two leading candidates have been. I worked for Buhari who is not my friend because he was, at the time, the better choice. I have never worked for the election of Atiku who is a friend. Even his Presidential bid under the Action Congress, AC, in 2007, was more pragmatic than principled. AC was the best and easily available platform and he jumped on it without sharing the party's principles - which were in any case undefined. His heart was still in the PDP which he helped to establish. Under Obasanjo, the PDP had committed numerous atrocities and I could not see Atiku tackling the monsters constituting the party.

So, in the 2011 article MY CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT, the following points were made.

I also added one personal, and therefore subjective, condition for myself when the time came for selection. I will not vote for any PDP candidate, irrespective of who or where he/she comes from. Twelve years and N30 trillion have gone down the drain in Nigeria under the PDP; it is time for a radical change. The party is totally corrupt. So those who have attempted to make mileage out of my "hatred" for Jonathan are deluding themselves. Alhaji Atiku is a friend; but even he would not have received my vote if he is the PDP candidate. I know the Turaki will understand. I was, and still am, willing to forgive any other short-coming, but not involvement in and association with a corrupt party. And the reason is simple. Out of the almost N30 trillion which passed through PDP hands in twelve years, close to N10 trillion cannot be accounted for and the remaining N20 trillion had been squandered.

Atiku was not the candidate of the PDP in 2011; Jonathan was. And, for the next four years, corruption became more entrenched. The number and value of assets so far forfeited by Mrs Patience Jonathan, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and Service Chiefs alone would leave any sane person wondering if the government did anything else other than plan how to steal money. To the best of my knowledge, none of the former PDP members who went to swell the ranks of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, to form the nucleus of the All Progressives Congress, APC, did so in protest against the barefaced and shameless corruption pervasive in the PDP.

Now, virtually all the gang which constituted the PDP - including Olusegun Obasanjo - is back. Even those who are now in APC will return if Atiku wins and be accepted with open arms. Nigeria would have spent twenty years just to return to where we were in 1999. A better definition of tragedy is difficult to imagine. Candidate Atiku's recent announcement regarding the measures he will take to curb corruption fell far short of what anyone would expect.

Late American writer, Henry Miller, who thrilled young undergraduates in the 1960s with books we bought at seedy stores in TIMES SQUARE, New York City, and hid in brown envelopes once wrote that "If I have a choice between betraying my country or my friend, I hope to have the courage to betray my country." I disagree. Betraying Nigeria is the last thing I will do. Despite being my friend, Atiku will enter Aso Rock with largely the same crowd of people who have made Nigeria to be running in circles for twenty years.

The APC and Buhari have actually made the work of campaigning much easier for the PDP. They voluntarily threw away their joker. Had Buhari been seen to be as tough on corruption by his friends as on his political opponents, the PDP would have had no chance this year. But, the open partisanship robbed APC of all the gains made in the fight against corruption of any value. Nepotism was too glaring to ignore.

That leaves us with the third parties. Ezekwesili's withdrawal and the support majority of her former members have given Buhari point to the problem these associations have - especially when they wait until less than a year to elections before becoming active. Then they fall prey to opportunists who are handed top party positions with which to trade. Still, if Nigeria will move a step forward, we need a third force which will perform well enough to perhaps make victory at first ballot impossible for the APC and PDP. But, that is not enough. They must stay together after the 2019 elections and continue to offer ideas as loyal opposition in the hope of expanding their bases of support. Without that, Nigeria is now doomed to a choice between APC and PDP for twenty more years.

LAST LINE. Even if APC had done everything right, I am still honour-bound to vote against Buhari if by Election Day Leah is not safely at home. No Leah; no vote. That is a promise because we might as well declare her dead after the election. Thereafter, Buhari will do nothing to rescue her.

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