The first hundred days in office for President Muhammadu Buhari has since passed. The next landmark in the horizon will be one year in office. By the end of this week, the potential ministers must have been named. The argument about who deserves to be there and who should not have been named will last for the next few weeks. Once the ministers are sworn in, the new government should settle down to deliver on election promises.
In an ideal world, that is where we should be now. But the buzz out there is totally different. Something happened to Nigeria on its way to transitioning from Jonathan to Buhari. It is something that has never happened before- at least not up to this degree. To be able to understand what happened, we need to look at a similar story in another country.
When the U. S. Supreme Court decided on the Florida contested election results in 2000 and awarded the Presidential election to George W. Bush, even though Al Gore won the popular vote, it created distrust in the minds of a large segment of Americans, especially those on the left. Many of the dissatisfied Americans considered the George W. Bush’s presidency illegitimate until September 11, 2001 terrorist attack brought all Americans together.
But the bad blood did not go away. When Bush decided to attack Iraq as part of his global war on terror, it widened the gap between him and those who felt his presidency was illegitimate. His opponents mounted greater campaign against his war, his policies and, to some extent, his whole presidency even when he won reelection in 2004. Towards the end of his term, when the whole world economy collapsed under his watch, his opponents were quick to gloat, “We told you so.”
Then enters Barack Obama. The primary reason he won was because America wanted to move as far away from George W. Bush as they could. And nobody in the 2008 contest represented that distance from Bush the way Obama did. If Bush was a C- student, Obama was an A-student. If Bush was inarticulate, Obama was eloquent. The change took place but a new set of bad blood was unleashed as some adherents of the old order put up resistance. They also borrowed a book from the anti-Bush group by trying to delegitimize the Obama presidency. It was in vogue until Obama won reelection in 2012. That sucked up the energy of the opposition.
When the then Vice President Jonathan inherited the presidency following the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, bad blood developed within some sectors in Nigeria, especially in the north where some felt that Yar’Adua did not have the chance to complete his term and so would have preferred another of their own to complete Yar’Adua’s term. They constituted an opposing force to Jonathan’s presidency. Faced with such opposition, President Jonathan failed to rise up to the occasion. He allowed the opposition to define him. As if that was not bad enough, he molded himself according to the definition of his opponents.
Fast forward to today. The only reason why Buhari defeated Jonathan was because in the most important things that mattered to Nigerians on election eve, he was the candidate furthest away from Jonathan. Buhari’s defeat of Jonathan in the 2015 election has created an animosity with the astute supporters of Jonathan now in stern opposition to Buhari’s presidency. They have vowed to subject Buhari to the same kind of opposition and criticism they felt Jonathan received from the Buhari supporters. They have defined the Buhari presidency even before he appointed his ministers. The only thing left is to see if Buhari will fulfill the prophesies of those who have defined him, just like Jonathan did, or whether he will rise above it, just like Obama did and present his own narrative. The choice is Buhari’s.
All these may look messy, but in the final analysis, they are all good for the growth of our democracy. When the citizenry, no matter the motivation, holds their elected representatives accountable, the nation benefits. All cries by those in power that these facets of a vibrant democracy are distractions should be ignored. They are usually complaints of politicians who are not prepared for governance. The noise of the opposition should not stop a determined government with concrete ideas and plans on how to build a nation. For both the government and the opposition, propaganda stops when confronted with performance.
The silver lining in all of these is that, if sustained, they can crystal into a way that Nigeria can develop politics that goes beyond personalities to one that deals with philosophical and ideological issues and differences. It may have started with the deafening enquiry into where appointees hail from, what religion they subscribe to and how tall they are. But over time, it has the potential to focus on more substantial issues. But this will not happen if unprepared and over-pampered political actors stunt the present line of inquiry.
With Nigeria’s long history as a dysfunctional nation, it isn’t realistic to expect a Kenyan kind of transformation from Kenyatta to Moi to Kibaki and back to a Kenyatta. In the last 50 years, Nigeria has been all over the place, picking up worms and germs along the way. There is no doubt that Nigeria needed a return to some form of fundamentals to be able to take any kind of linear jump.
And the fundamentals in question are not brain surgery, nanotechnology or rocket science. They are simple things like: the commonwealth belongs to all Nigerians and not just the privileged few; that government service is not another word for self enrichment; that instituting merit ultimately lifts everybody up while mediocrity does the exact opposite; that there are consequences for bad behaviors irrespective of who is in the wrong; and that every life matters in that country of ours.
A transition from Obasanjo to Yar’Adua failed to advance the nation primarily because Yar’Adua was not healthy enough to show what he could do. The transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan on the superficial level was a big leap. But when it came to what really matters in core indexes of good governance, Jonathan did not try, and he did not pretend to try, and worst of it all, he did not give a damn that he did not try. His term in office was a series of retrogressive steps. Once back, there was no possible way of jumping forward without efforts to fix what was wrong from the onset.
Buhari’s administration is not going to give Nigeria the 21st century government that some young ones wish- not that Jonathan’s government was on the verge of pushing Nigeria into that glorious era. The only hope there is for anyone who wants to be hopeful is that Buhari’s government may create the environment where that 21st century government can emerge. If it does come, it will not come easy- not by command, not by prayer, and not by blaming those who have left the scene. If it comes, it will come from the sweat of those who are deeply committed to making sacrifices so that Nigeria will finally find its way into the league of nations where the future for the young ones are assured.
That is a tall order but one that is now squarely on the feet of President Muhammadu Buhari to realize or to bungle. And he must be prepared to do it irrespective of what the opposition is saying, doing or thinking.