Nigerian politics : a small arrangement between friends

IBB-OBJ-and-GMB-150x150On the 28th of March, Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, will be having its presidential elections. This will have an determining impact on the uncertain future of a country also dealing with the issues of violence with Boko Haram. The election, the most inclusive in the history of the country, could lead to a new wave of violence. has dedicated a series of articles to the elections and this first article by Tity Agbahey, is focused on the ambiguous relationships in the country’s political class. 

On the 28th of March, Nigerian voters will go to the polls to elect their new president. In a country with a population of about 178 million (also the largest economy in Africa), this time is usually troubling because it is almost always accompanied by election violence. However this year, the stakes are even higher as it may lead to the first party change since 1999. That was the year of return to civilian rule. Since then, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) holds the power. The PDP candidate, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is facing Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate. APC is a coalition of opposition parties which was created in July 2013. If Buhari wins the elections, Nigeria will be led by a different party. This represents a small revolution, very small. As a matter of fact, in Nigeria, there are no coincidences. Politics is an arrangement between friends. The fate of more than 100 million lives rests in the hands of small portion of the society, who are always the same people.

Ironically, even if President Jonathan’s critics claim he is “the worst president Nigeria has ever known”, his election in 2011 raised the hopes of many. It represented a change in a country where the political class always remained the same. Four years ago, Jonathan was presented as a man of the people, without ties to the upper reaches of power, since he is a native of a minority ethnic group that had been under represented in politics.

In an immensely rich country with a mostly poor population, the people identified with this man who told the story of his modest upbringing ‘‘with no shoes nor school bag’’. He is not a soldier and has never led the country. He was a clean slate. In fact, his political ascension looks much like an accident. In 2005, during his term as the deputy governor of his home state, Bayelsa, he was appointed as governor and replaced Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was impeached. Two years later, he moved on to Abuja, where he became the vice-president to Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in 2010. He, thus, became the president of the immense country. With no attachments, he said. Not even to the highest reaches of power, his mandate was doomed for failure right from the beginning. This is because in Nigeria, politics has been a game of soldiers (who are still involved today) for a long time, before civilians got involved. Some of them actually. And the same ones. In Nigeria, there are no coincidences. Why should the decision be left to the citizens when you can always agree among friends?
In 2006, as President Obasanjo’s mandate was ending, he tried to modify the constitution, so as to run a third time in the elections. Unfortunately, this motion was rejected by the Nigerian senate. So, Obasanjo was left with no other choice than to leave at the end of his second mandate in 2007. He decided to play the role of an elder statesman, who by all means must express his opinion about the political leaders of the country.

Nevertheless, there are other ways to govern. According to the zoning rule in Nigeria, political power is meant to alternate between the north and the south. After Obasanjo (south-west), the power was to go to someone from the north. Therefore, the outgoing president decided to support, infact impose Umaru Yar’Adua’s candidacy in the elections. Umaru Yar’Adua was the former governor of Katsina state and the brother of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, vice-president to…Olusegun Obasanjo, while he was president under the military regime from 1976 to 1979. Nigerian politics is like a bad movie, always with the same characters that only change position and title. In that manner, Obasanjo was president from 1976 to 1979 under military rule and was president again under civilian rule from 1999 to 2007. At the end of his mandate, he was replaced by Umaru Yar’Adua, the brother of his vice president from 1976 to 1979.

On the other hand, Goodluck Jonathan’s supporters say that it is his lack of political bonds with the upper class of the political and military circles that is destroying the efforts of this Bayelsan native. They say that, some ill-intentioned politicians first sponsored Boko Haram. They did that to discredit Jonathan’s rule. Now, Boko Haram has become the monster that it is today. At one time, Boko Haram was sponsored by the Northern governors; however, the monster has grown wings of its own and is no more under their control. It is terrorizing both the north and south and makes no distinction between religion nor ethnic group. Nigeria has lost some of its territory to the terrorist group. The situation is alarming especially from a humanitarian perspective.

In 2011, we all thought that Jonathan would bring change. He, who had not yet known corruption, criminal indecency or ridicule. However, the American dream is not the Nigerian dream. In 2015, bruised, terrorised and desperate, Nigeria is trying to stop this enchanted interlude. Zoning can wait, truth can wait. For the time being, we want a saviour and as often as this happens, we do not have to search afar off. Muhammadu Buhari is an attractive choice for those who are looking for a radical response to the troubles of Nigeria.
In the soap opera of Nigerian politics since, Buhari has played quite a number of roles since 1960: Major General, Minister of Petroleum and natural resources under Obasanjo (from 1976 to 1979), and President from 1983 to 1985. Since then, he has been trying to return to power.
He lost three times (2003, 2007, 2011). Now, he runs for the fourth time and might just win. Nigeria needs fresh blood. Fresh blood at 72 years! Well no one cares, it is experience that matters and old friends like: Babangida, Yar’Adua and the undeterred Obasanjo.
Nigeria dey oh !

Translated by Onyinyechi Ananaba