Dreaming of a February surprise
By Minabere Ibelema
I had a dream that when the result of the February 16 presidential election was announced, the winner was neither incumbent Muhammadu Buhari nor contender Atiku Abubakar. Rather it was a presidential candidate who hardly anyone has heard about.
Okay, it was actually a daydream, a flight of fancy. Yet, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. Blame the daydream on the widespread dissatisfaction among Nigerian voters regarding the binary choice before them. To many of Buhari’s 2015 supporters, he has been a disappointment. For reasons within and beyond his control — mostly the latter — there has been no discernible improvement in the plight of the masses. Moreover, he has done much to vindicate critics who said in 2015 that he is too ethnocentric to lead Nigeria.
On the other hand, many voters see Atiku as another of the old brigade, another recycling of political leadership. That’s why Atiku has not been able to ignite the fuse of enthusiasm that Buhari did in 2015. Besides, Atiku comes with his own political baggage, dogged as he is by allegations of corruption. It is in this context that one’s imagination has to be excused for conjuring up a scenario for a February surprise.
Of the 91 registered political parties, most are parties only by name, having membership that might not fill up a small classroom. But numbers add up, and there is strength in numbers. Just ask Jonathan Swift — Ah!!! He bemusingly illustrated this in one of his tales in Gulliver’s Travels, the travel to Lilliput. Though the Lilliputians were so tiny that Gulliver could fit several in his palm, they nonetheless bound him and compelled him to do their will.
Nigeria’s Lilliputian parties can do something similar. I imagined them starting with a web-based joint convention facilitated with social media. In the course of the convention, they would fuse their various lofty platforms and form a Congress of Micro-Parties (CMP). The convention will then choose a presidential candidate from among the attendees, most likely the presidential candidate of one of the mini-parties.
CMP could then rev up enthusiasm through social media. Given that a most of the mini-parties were formed by young people and given their superior social media savvy, they could distance the APC and PDP in galvanising interest via digital media.
I also envision these young people lobbying their parents, uncles and aunts to give change a chance. They would lay out their plans for reform in concrete terms, not just rhetoric.
All this will happen so rapidly that it will catch the establishment parties and politicians unprepared for counter measures — not even rigging. And so, before we know it, there is a new political order in Nigeria, a concrete demonstration that the electoral process is a powerful means of change.
This will be a different kind of revolution. Unlike the Tunisia-inspired Arab Spring, for example, it would entail no upheaval. And rather than bringing about democratic rule, it will deepen an existing democracy. Above all, it will wrest political power from those who have long dominated it mostly because of their wealth and scheming. As daydreams go, this seems within reach.
Who’s afraid of the people’s will?
A major reason Nigeria’s democracy has been precarious over the years is that many politicians are unwilling to abide by the people’s will. And so — through vote-buying, rigging, intimidation and even assassinations — they subvert whatever process is put in place to ensure fair elections.
It is not surprising, therefore, that some schemers are now seeking to get around the safeguards of the Permanent Voter Cards and Voter Identification Numbers. INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu recently announced the agency’s discovery that partisans are buying the cards and numbers with the goal of skewing the ballot. The fraudsters also collect the sellers’ phone and bank account numbers.
Yakubu speculates that the goal could be to keep voters from voting at all. Or “they may be acting on the mistaken notion that our system can be hacked and the card readers somehow preloaded ahead of the election and compromised,” Yakubu said. “We want to reassure Nigerians that we are aware of the new tricks. It is a futile effort.”
One hopes so. It is difficult to stop desperate people. And desperate politicians do desperate things.
Talking of desperate people, some of them saw it fit to disrupt the All Progressives Congress’ inaugural campaign rally at Ikeja on Tuesday. The violence was apparently perpetrated by rival factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, some of whose leaders were participating in the rally.
As The PUNCH reported, “Confusion thereafter ensued as the hoodlums, suspected to be supporters of MC Oluomo and Mustapha Adekunle, aka Seigo, another union leader, invaded the arena with guns, daggers, cutlasses and other weapons, leading to a free-for-all.”
Question is why would rival union members use the occasion of a party rally to engage in warfare? Despite the sustained gunshots, no fatalities were indicated in the initial reports. That suggests that the goal of the sustained shooting wasn’t so much to kill, but to disrupt the campaign. It is evidence that the next five weeks may not merely be raucous, they will be tumultuous.
The question of who is afraid of the people’s will mustn’t be disposed of here without comment on the attempted coup in Gabon. Of particular interest is President Muhammadu Buhari’s reaction to it.
“The military officers in Gabon should understand that the era of military coups and governments in Africa and indeed worldwide, is long gone,” Buhari is quoted as saying on Tuesday through a media assistant. “Democracy is supreme and the constitutional stipulations on the peaceful change of administration must be respected. That is the only way we can ensure peace and stability not only within the country but also in the region.”
“Amen” — and the equivalent in Islam — I can hear people chorus. It has to be very assuring to hear that view from someone who, as an army officer, overthrow an elected government and installed himself the head of state. We can now see why Buhari pleaded and got the press to stop referring to him as a general.
Even more assuring with this extolment of democracy is Buhari’s implicit pledge to ensure fair electionsnext month. After all, democracy based on compromised elections is much like a house built on sinking sand. That couldn’t possibly be the democracy he has in mind.Do I hear some more “Amen” to that?