Buhari’s Temper Tantrums
Once again, the political tension in Nigeria was unnecessarily raised by a few notches in the last two weeks following what President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, regarded as a “provocative” statement from General Muhammadu Buhari, former military head of state.
Buhari, candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in the April 14, 2011 presidenttial election won by Jonathan, was reported to have told members of his party who visited him in Kaduna on May 14, this year, that there would be a bloody revolution in the country, a situation in which the dog and the baboon would be soaked in blood should the 2015 general elections be rigged. That was not all. He went ahead to drop a bombshell by saying President Jonathan was the biggest Boko Haram in town.
Predictably, both the president and his party reacted angrily to Buhari’s statement which they regarded as a deliberate threat to overawe the federal government coming from a former head of state who ought to know its implication. An angry Jonathan reportedly hit back by saying Buhari, and not him, was the biggest Boko Haram . Such hot exchanges of invectives by the dramatis personae and their supporters brought undue heat on the polity.
It is very unfortunate that such a statement, which many critics tagged as ‘treasonable,’ came from a former head of state who would not have taken it lightly if anybody had made it when he was in power. Perhaps, the greatest disdain he exhibited after that statement was the challenge he threw to President Jonathan to arrest him and face the consequences of his action. Such arrogance has confirmed the negative public perception of Buhari as a man with a mindset that he is untouchable and above the law. His critics argue passionately that with such a mindset, it would be very dangerous to give him political power which he would surely abuse to turn himself into a dictator.
Buhari’s threat is not likely to change things in 2015 because election rigging and manipulation are not the stock-in-trade of only the PDP. Every political party in Nigeria knows the game and how to play it very well. Political parties, including the CPC, only cry foul when they are out-rigged by their opponents. It is, therefore, fraudulent for Buhari to give the impression that only the PDP rigged the 2011 general elections. What his party and,indeed, all the political parties must do to reduce election rigging and manipulation to a tolerable level in 2015, is to direct their members in the National Assembly to push for the amendment of the existing Electoral Act to provide stiffer punishments for electoral fraud as well as provide for the establishment of a special court for speedy trial of election offenders. This has been the position of Professor Attahiru Jega,chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and his team of electoral commissioners, who are determined to change the face of elections in Nigeria.
Buhari’s threat is, therefore, not helpful to INEC which has already shown its new resolve in the way it managed the 2011 general elections which were acclaimed to be generally free and fair by local and international election monitors. However, the public acclaim did not fit into Buhari’s definition of free and fair elections. This reminds me of what my lecturer used to tell us in the social relations class that “when men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. What he was telling us then was that in Buhari’s definition, elections are only free and fair when he and his party are the winners.If they lose, then the elections are rigged and therefore there must be a bloody revolution. This explains why his supporters took to the streets in violent protests because he openly claimed that he was robbed of his presidential victory. He accused the INEC and its staff of rigging the election in favour of Jonathan. He still claims that his electoral mandate was stolen by President Jonathan even after he went to the presidential election petitions tribunal and failed to establish his claim. He lost all the way to the Supreme Court.
But in all seriousness, can Buhari claim that he won the presidential election when he did not work hard enough for it? How many states in the South- South, South – East and South-West did he visit to campaign for votes? Did he expect to win the presidential election by confining his campaign to only the three geo-political zones in the north? These are the pertinent issues which he has refused to acknowledge. His critics insist that in view of these limitations which Buhari has deliberately tried to sweep under the carpet, it is now very clear that his threat of a bloody revolution in 2015 goes beyond the issue of free and fair elections.
According to them, it is all about who has the right to be president in 2015.There are those including Buhari, who still believe that the rulership of the country is the exclusive right of people from a particular section of Nigeria. As far as they are concerned, the emergence of Jonathan, a minority man as president in 2011, was an anathema. Even before the elections, they had vowed to make the country ungovernable if Jonathan became president. That was the actual reason behind the spontaneous violence which greeted the declaration of Jonathan as the winner of the April 14, presidential election in some states in the north. The violence, which started as political Boko Haram, has now assumed religious and criminal dimensions.
To Buhari and those who think like him, it would be unthinkable for Jonathan to continue as president beyond 2015. As far as they are concerned, it would be a bitter pill too difficult to swallow if Jonathan wins again even in a free and fair contest that is manifestly transparent. This was the same mentality that pushed Ibrahim Babangida, former military president, to annul the result of a free and fair presidential election in 1993 which Chief Moshood Abiola, a Yorubaman, won convincingly. The consequences of that mindless act are still fresh in our minds today. Worried by the portent of violence in 2015 , many Nigerians have continued to ask repeatedly: Is Nigeria our Nigeria or their Nigeria? The answer to that question, many argue, can only be provided at a national conference.