Nigeria’s consequential moment at the crossroads
AS the controversy provoked by the six-week postponement of the country’s general elections by the electoral body INEC simmers down, Nigerians have returned to their preparations for Election 2015. Concerning the country’s long awaited but often elusive national development, this will be one of the most consequential elections yet in Nigeria’s democratic experience. The realistic choice facing the Nigerian electorate this time around appears to be rather stark: The one option is to re-elect Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and have him continue with his policies for the next four years. The other option is for Nigeria to pass the baton to the APC’s Muhammadu Buhari and have him implement a different set of policies.
In its proper perspective, the interest of the people of Nigeria, and hence their better choice among the competing alternatives for the presidency, may best be ascertained from an objectively based cost-benefit analysis of the scenario, which must be devoid of unnecessary sentiments and rooted in the national experience of the people of Nigeria over the past 50 odd years. Such an analysis, it turns out, would suggest the re-election of the incumbent president.
Now, let’s begin with a look at Jonathan’s record. To be sure, he already has a modest record of accomplishments under his belt. For instance, his administration is building new international airports of impressive standards and is refurbishing existing ones; Nigeria’s railway lines are coming back on stream and the network is poised to expand across the country; on Jonathan’s watch, about a dozen new universities have been built in the country; his team has made serious innovations and a credible investment in the agricultural sector of the economy; aside from new road constructions, there are transformative projects like the massive River Niger Bridge under construction as well as a few others. Modest they may be, yet from a developmental point of view, these are not accomplishments that any reasonable person can ignore.
Furthermore, thanks to its efforts on such crises as Ebola and Boko Haram, the Jonathan government, albeit still at a quite rudimentary stage of the process, seems to be the first Nigerian government to finally begin the critical task of building basic governmental capacity and the institutional knowledge needed for the management of unforeseen problems. This kind of knowledge and capacity are necessary ingredients in the proper running of mass societies in today’s era of the nation-state. And there is something else: Of the two major candidates running for Nigeria’s top job, Jonathan is the one more likely to faithfully implement the recommendations of the recent National Conference, which offers Nigeria its best chance to date of surviving as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with deep fault lines.
But there is a flip side to Jonathan’s administration that is rather unflattering. For starters, it must be acknowledged with much regret that for all the claims to the contrary by his re-election campaign organisation, there is little doubt that his administration has ranked among the more corrupt administrations in the country since the return to democracy in 1999. Nigerians know this all too well and they find it all deeply frustrating and disappointing. Plus, though his government lately seems to be turning the corner in its fight against Boko Haram, most people rightly believe that the situation was mismanaged in the early going. Even Jonathan himself now concedes that he underestimated the Boko Haram menace.
So, as he seeks re-election, Jonathan’s record in office is certainly a mixed bag. Yet, since elections are about the future rather than the past, the most logical argument for Jonathan’s re-election can hardly be his job performance so far but rather his prospects for improved performance. Fortunately for him, there are entirely reasonable grounds to suppose that in the years ahead the prevailing circumstances in the country do provide ample opportunities for him to vastly improve the performance of his administration and thereby upgrade the said performance from modest to good, if not better, during his second term.
But what exactly are those prevailing circumstances? Well, they can best be described as a combination of factors that make up the new political environment in the country under which any new administration in Nigeria must now operate, namely, the triumvirate of a genuine opposition party, the media and civil society. Clearly, the latest and most decisive factor in this new environment is the emergence of a new national political party that is capable of winning a national vote and displacing the PDP from power. For all its current shortcomings, the advent of the APC since the past year is a huge blessing to Nigeria and the cause of its national development. Gone now are the days when the PDP had a solid lock on power at both Aso Rock and the National Assembly. With the opposition APC breathing down the PDP’s neck, together with the intense pressure from Nigeria’s active media and vibrant civil society groups, Jonathan’s government will have no choice but to step on the gas pedal and accelerate the country’s development. The synergy of these triumvirate forces will generate such a critical mass of pressure on the government that the practice of “business as usual” will become a thing of the past. In this upcoming scenario, Jonathan’s days as a weak and soft leader of a corrupt government will come to an end and Nigeria will be better off for it. Indeed, given Jonathan’s actions since the APC has been on the national scene, it seems fair to suggest here that if these conditions had existed four years ago when Jonathan was elected, his leadership report card today would certainly have been better than what it is presently available. Herein lies the hope for a brighter future for Nigeria if he is re-elected.
Now how about the opposition? Some might ask, why not turn Nigeria over to Buhari at this time? Well, not so fast! Aside from lots of incoherent noisemaking about corruption and national security, it is obvious that the APC has not given Nigerians any specific details about just what policy measures or initiatives they intend to pursue in government; nor have they said in what concrete ways they will do things differently from Jonathan. In any event, the political background and moral character of the APC’s membership is the same as that of the PDP. Indeed, many of their members are recent and former crossovers from the PDP who jumped ship for various dishonourable reasons, including losing their re-nomination bids or not securing expected political patronage from the ruling PDP. More accurately, the APC can be described as a hodgepodge of strange bedfellows who are not held together by any identifiable set of shared political beliefs. The only apparent glue to their whole enterprise is a desire to grab power at the polls.
Truth be told, most Nigerians know from bitter past experience that their current crop of politicians are cut from the same cloth and therefore Nigerians do not tend to believe in their guts that the APC team will serve the national interest with any more integrity than the PDP. Besides, let’s face it, the APC nominee is an old man who is visibly unfamiliar with the mechanics of modern governance in the digital age of the Internet and social media. Already, despite his promise of far-reaching reforms, he has refused to appear in any forum to debate his opponent on the issues in the campaign. From all indications, his presidential bid in 2015 is hardly a campaign that thinks much of accountability and transparency.
All things considered, it is fair to conclude that the APC will serve Nigeria best in the next four years as a dutiful opposition party working with the media and civil society to push the party in government to do a better job for Nigeria. During its years in opposition, Nigerians would hope that the APC stays together as a united front, develops a legitimate electoral platform for the next election and works toward the nomination of a credible candidate for president in 2019. For now, though, based on a cost-benefit calculus of the available options, the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 seems like the better option for Nigeria’s national interest in the years ahead.
• Unegbu is a Nigerian-born American lawyer and journalist. He lives in New York City.