By Orji Uzor Kalu
Despite the prophecies, predictions, social media permutations and other forms of dialectics, there are some hard facts that must be considered in determining who carries the day when Nigerians choose their President on February 14. And there are compelling reasons to do so.
Let me quickly state, however, that those factors that influenced the choice of candidates in the past elections will be expectedly quite different this time around. Nonetheless, the economy will still dominate discussions in consideration of happenings on the international scene, especially the global recession. Take for instance in 2011 the state of the economy was not as precarious as it is today.
The international oil market did not experience the kind of volatility it is undergoing at this time. Indeed at this period in 2011 the price of oil hovered around $100 per barrel, while Nigeria’s foreign reserve stood at $45 billion. Even insecurity did not pose too much trouble then. Insurgency was also minimal, and Boko Haram had not bared its fangs as audaciously as it has done. So, riding on his rising popularity President Jonathan stomped into Aso Rock with massive support coming from voters all over the country. He was well-received and seen as the 21st Century Messiah Nigeria had been waiting for.
Those that contested against him in 2011 knew from the outset that they were going to lose, because the tide flowed in his favour. The only person that came closest to giving President Jonathan a good run for his money was the same General Muhammadu Buhari, who ran on the ticket of a rag-tag party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and poled over 12 million votes. But today all that has changed.
The battle this time is going to be fierce as Nigerians decide who between President Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari would lead them. The consciousness of Nigerians has been awakened by the compelling realities of our times.
In fact, there is no Nigerian of age who has not joined the fray in rooting for either of the two. While some people say (or is it sai!) Jonathan, others say it is Buhari. Whichever way one chooses to look at both candidates the hard fact is that we have a huge battle ahead of us. Apart from sheer sentiments that some people show by their vociferous support for each of the candidates they have not taken a dispassionate look at other serious factors that will swing the pendulum to the side of the eventual winner.
These factors have often been underestimated by the chanting ‘mob’ which seems to be carried away by undue sentimentalism. It is painful that in our contemporary world some people still think irrationally and pander to myopia. It is only a blind man that will not be able to see the real situation on the ground.
I regret to state here that President Jonathan, in my estimation, has become the most vilified Nigerian leader ever to preside over the affairs of this country. Unfortunately, the vilification is done without any rational basis other than meretricious considerations. Deep inside the hearts and minds of these rabid critics they know President has worked to merit a re-election without much ado. It is sad that the critics of Jonathan have failed to situate events at the global level with what is obtainable back home.
Fall in oil prices is not the making of Jonathan; rather it is a factor of recession that hit the global market. The same situation was experienced in 2007/8 when recession almost crippled the economy of many countries of the world. Nigeria felt the adverse impact of the recession then. But it took the ingenuity of our economic planners to take us through the crucibles. Many investors in the stock market will not forget too soon how the crash in prices almost sent many of them to their early graves. Those involved in marginal trading were the most hit. Nigeria managed to weather the storm and continued to trudge along the mine-laden terrains that the economy has become.
Those angling for a change of baton have failed to consider the stupendous achievements of President Jonathan in the areas of health, education, youth empowerment, power and, even, security. Forget the noise about somebody having an edge over Jonathan in security. That argument, as far as I am concerned, lacks any empirical basis. Security is something one cannot ever predict accurately.
The emergence of the Boko Haram sect came like a thunderbolt from the blue. It just started gathering steam as many wished it away as a bad dream. Nobody ever anticipated that the scourge would grow into a terrific monster – threatening Nigeria and its neighbours. Cameroun has become a hotbed for the group’s activities. This was something nobody envisaged. So, when Jonathan is criticised for his seeming inability to contain terror it will be proper to give him the benefit of the doubt. His administration has been working tirelessly to deal with Boko Haram without compromising the security of innocent Nigerians within the vicinity of every insurgency. Those not versed in military strategy think it is an easy task to wedge war against terror. Terror war is the worst war any nation can spearhead. The United States and its allies, despite their sophistication, have not been able to deal with terror as successfully as many had expected. The 9/11 attacks on the United States were never anticipated. But it happened. And the lessons of that sordid event have not been lost on Americans. Is France not fighting a battle of its life in the hands of terrorists? That the activities of Boko Haram have not spread beyond the Northeast is an indication that the administration of Jonathan is working. It has never been argued that security remains a very critical aspect of the development of any nation – Nigeria inclusive. But the unconventional approach and brutality of Boko Haram are two factors that have prolonged the war against terror by the Nigerian Military. Between 2013 and now the federal government has committed enormous resources in dealing with the menace. The impact of the government’s investment in security is like a drop of water in the ocean, because of the complex nature of the operations. It is nonsensical to read some critics write off Jonathan as clueless and weak. There is no way he would have been able to hold the nation together for close to 60 months if he had cut a picture of any of the derogatory things said and written about him.
On the contrary, Jonathan has shown unequalled leadership traits, maturity, humaneness and candour. For a civilian President Jonathan has conducted himself with civility and humility. This is what has consistently attracted many Nigerians to him and it is one factor that will swing the votes to him. What some of the armchair critics of Jonathan probably have also not factored in is the quality of a leader under a democratic setting. Jonathan’s archrival Muhammadu Buhari is perceived as a no-nonsense, uncompromising leader. Fine! But, regrettably, those superlative adjectives should be reserved for a despotic, autocratic and authoritarian leader of a junta. In a modern society the characteristics of leaders are quite different. They are urbane, tactful, honest, pragmatic and charismatic.
My grouse about Buhari’s candidacy has nothing to do with his age; after all there are many gerontocrats who currently preside over the affairs of their countries. Tunisians, for example, have just elected an 88-year-old man to govern them.
President Obasanjo was a military Head of State between 1976 and 1979. He aspired again in 1999 to the same office and won. One year into office he confessed that life as a military Head of State was a different kettle of fish from a civilian Head. Eight good years passed yet his administration could not solve the endemic power problem, which was one of the cardinal objectives of his electioneering.
The economy under Obasanjo did not perform as expected, because of the downturn in global economy at that time. Life was not all that rosy for Nigerians under his watch. Things were very difficult and rough. But we managed to survive, always hoping for the best. What is paramount to an average Nigerian is how to get food on his table!
And Jonathan is making steady progress in this sphere. Already the federal ministry of agriculture has designed many programmes and policies to boost agriculture and, by so doing, provide food and employment to millions of Nigerians. The progress made so far is unprecedented. The impact of the transformation taking place in the agricultural sector has not yet been felt because it takes time to manifest. Do not forget the mountainous rot that had taken place, which Jonathan is struggling to clean. These things take time to resolve.
The situation of security in Nigeria would have been worse if the government of Jonathan had not intervened in the Niger Delta insurgency. Through the presidential amnesty many of the militants had been rehabilitated, with thousands more undergoing rehabilitation. I wonder if the critics see all these things.
Nigeria’s voters have been known not to fall to cheap blackmails. In fact, many times in the past they had shunned such blackmails to vote for candidates of their choice. This is one thing that will shock those working against the re-election of Jonathan.
Nigerians know who among the contestants will give them focused and purposeful leadership. They know that for Nigeria to move forward the leader must show vision and character. And Jonathan possesses these qualities generously.
I liken the critics of Jonathan to the blind man who describes what he sees by what he feels. They have eyes but do not see. The economy they deride the president for is growing at geometric proportion, even to the point of being the largest in Africa. This feat was not achieved by sheer cluelessness. It was a product of hard work, resilience and forthrightness.
Fighting corruption is another factor that will attract the votes of the electorate. Jonathan will definitely carry the day here. He has constantly maintained zero tolerance for corruption. Do not mind the machinations of the evil ones. The EFCC and other agencies charged with the responsibility of fighting corruption are quietly doing their work. They may not be as loud as was the case in the past, but they are doing a wonderful job. Jailing, maiming and killing people are not the best way to fight corruption. Fighting corruption demands diligent planning, tact and ingenuity. Remember that an accessory to a crime is deemed innocent by law until proved guilty. Due process is what the present administration has followed in the prosecution of those implicated in corrupt practices. Anything in the contrary is simply an infringement on the fundamental rights of those involved. Let it be known that corruption is a global menace, so also is terrorism. And no nation is insulated from it. The United States and other European nations have had serious cases of corruption, but nobody has been brutalized. And to aspire to be like those countries requires we do things the way they ought to be done. Global best practices are always advocated in dealing with any matter that concerns human rights and dignity. That is exactly what Jonathan and his team, have done.
Education is another key factor that will determine the eventual winner. How far has Jonathan gone in this wise? From available statistics no administration before his has made as much impact on the educational sector as he has done. While it took past administrations close to 50 years to build 30 federal universities, it took Jonathan’s just less than 6 years to build 12. There is no zone in Nigeria that did not benefit from the universities. The highest beneficiary was the north where over 50 percent of these universities were sited to balance the perceived and lingering lopsidedness that had characterized the location of such universities in the past. I do not need to enumerate all the achievements of the Jonathan government in the educational sector since they are there for all to see.
But one point I would like to emphasise is that a vote for Jonathan is a vote for continuity in the transformation effort in the sector. Appallingly, no other candidate has any robust plan for the educational sector.
Fighting insecurity and corruption is not enough to get a person elected as the president of Nigeria. You need to show a broader knowledge about Nigeria’s intractable problems to be considered for the crown. That is where the major difference lies.
Ontological knowledge is also imperative. Modern-day leaders are lettered men and women. In fact many of them are intellectuals. The 21st Century leader should be able to flaunt his academic laurels and walk like a colossus among his contemporaries. Digitisation of leadership is now the norm the world over. Any leader that cannot boast of this pedigree is not worth his onion. Now the verdict: When Jonathan emerged President in 2009 the expectations were very high. Agreed! Has he succeeded in making any impact on the lives of Nigerians? Yes! Can Buhari perform any better? No! The final decision rests with the people of Nigeria. I rest my case