The year of eloquence


As Nigeria enters 2023, political campaigns, particularly among the presidential candidates but also in the departure campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari, have stepped up.

Mr Buhari’s campaign is that he is departing in May, for certain, when his tenure ends.   And that he will not influence the election (although he will campaign for the candidate of his All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr Bola Ahmed Tinubu).  And that he will put considerable distance between Abuja and himself by retiring to his farm.

First, the president.  Mr Buhari may retire to his farm, but I am sure that it is clear to him that his politics will not retire there with him.  Whether or not APC retains the presidency, the sheer weight of the failure of his eight years will guarantee that he will never distance himself from his tenure.

To begin with, Buhari will not simply be departing with a limp claim to leadership on any subject: there is a lot of evidence that his tenure has been a spectacular collapse and thrown Nigeria into deep economic and political distress.

As a result, the farm will be no respite from the kind of virulent criticism than the one to which he subjected his predecessors in his eight years,predecessors who did not have the kind of popular acceptance Buhari enjoyed when he took office.

Despite Buhari’s loud, decades-long advertising of character and throughout the 2015 campaign, as attested to by the Centre for Democracy and Development, there has been no evidence of Buhari’s example or willingness to deploy Nigeria’s best resources to elevate the country.   He never declared his assets publicly; even his limited declaration in 2015 raised a lot of questions about him.  Subsequent developments about his government, policies and officials in his eight years offer no proof of fidelity to the constitution or the people.

Among others, Buhari swore that his APC would end corruption and insecurity.  Instead, both problems have deepened scandalously, with key officials of his government routinely entangled in probes, and Buhari himself ignoring the court of law.

This is why it is impossible to see how Buhari can positively impact the deeply-flawed Tinubu campaign, which has unwisely declared that it will follow in his footsteps.

The Tinubu campaign is handicapped by the presidential candidate’s identity, health and character questions, a problem it has emphasized by trying to avoid it.  He has chosen to avoid open interviews and debates, focusing instead on his manifesto as well as speeches in the friendly confines of APC events.

The problem here is that not only is Tinubu’s manifesto extremely weak, but he also lacks the personal presence in front of a microphone to sell it or to make his campaign his own.  It is difficult to see Tinubu benefiting from these weaknesses in addition to those of Buhari.

A similar problem confronts the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who has the same challenge of character at home and abroad following his performance in the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency in which he was vice-president.  Atiku was famously investigated in the United States, and a damning congressional report painted him as a face of foreign corruption.

These embarrassing track records and unexplained wealth have not prevented either gentleman from seeking the presidency of Nigeria even though they mock each other for them as if it were merely a game.  Last November, Atiku declared Tinubu to be unfit for the presidency as he has no integrity.  The party affirmed that Buhari was avoiding Tinubu because of the APC candidate’s links to hard drugs.

Tinubu used the same playbook, dismissing Atiku as bereft of integrity.

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This is a pathetic picture, but if each man can identify the other as lacking in integrity, that is consistent with what every adult Nigerian knows about them despite party and government officials trying to paper over those deficiencies for political gain.

That, then, is the story of 2023: the year that Nigerians define themselves for the world.

Up until now, Nigeria has remained something of a mystery.  People are mystified that a nation that often produces extremely brilliant people is at the same time so convoluted and complicated.

Yes: around the world, crooks with Nigerian passports make far more news than an army of their hardworking, law-abiding compatriots that is to be found in every country.

Prior to COVID-19, that army of Nigerians was remitting over $25 billion annually, comparable to the annual federal budget.They enjoy recognition in many fields internationally, and at home, support a wide variety of institutions, organisations, and causes.

Back in the homeland, powerful Nigerians send their families abroad to advance themselves while they ignore those that are poor.

But in a campaign video in 2015, Buhari asked Nigerians, “Is the naira in your bank account of greater value today than it was four years ago? How can we allow the cowards of Boko Haram to take over any part of this country, a sovereign state?  How can young people die looking for jobs in Abuja and justice is not met?  What is going on here?  Is this our country?  Allow me prove to you that in our lifetime you and your country can be proud of this country.”

In the eight years that followed, as we all know, the naira has lost its value several times over.  Nigerians have continued to die looking for jobs and food and meaning.  Cowards of all hues have overrun the land.  The corrupt have remained on the ascendancy.  And yet Buhari is asking voters to support a candidate who has vowed to continue with this journey to hell.

This is why 2023 is the year that, Nigerians, with their own voices and their votes, announce to the world who they really are by clearly affirming what values matter to them.  Does education matter, for instance?  If so, is it right for a candidate in an examination to pay someone to sit it for him?

Should someone purchase a university degree?  For that matter, should he purchase a medical degree to practice as a doctor or a surgeon?  If so, would you patronise such a charlatan?  Would you send your child to him for surgery?

Would you get on a flight knowing that the pilot purchased the credentials with which he obtained the job? Speaking of aviation, should someone whose experience with locomotives is as a vulcaniser or painter steal the certificates of an aeronautical engineer, and then take a job in the presidential fleet to fly the president?

This is why the 2023 presidential election is an easy one.  Anyone can proclaim that he will accomplish a million and one things, and that may be so.  But the first question must be: what have you accomplished, and how?

It is simple: when you know that a surgeon is a fraud, you hand him over to the police, not patronise him.  Which is why, this year, Nigerians tell themselves and the world clearly whom they really are through whom they choose as their new leader. 2023, Nigeria, is your year of eloquence.


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