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Nigeria on the rise

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Nigeria on the riseIF there ever was any doubt about Nigeria’s capacity for self-renewal and the people’s desire to stay united in the pursuit of justice in a prosperous nation, the election of March 28 was the answer.

Defying all predictions of Armageddon and prospects of the nation shattering to smithereens, the election held largely peacefully. Not without some hitches though, it still bore a semblance of fairness and a reflection of the people’s free will.

If there ever was any fear that only in vain would a certain sportsmanship grace, rooted in a deep love of country over and above mere pursuit of power, be sought in the Nigerian spirit, the result of that election as well as President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to his loss are the needed evidence of a nation blessed with true leaders.

By promptly conceding victory to Muhammadu Buhari and congratulating him, Jonathan with that singular act of grace, perhaps, did more to strengthen the nation’s democracy than all of his many other actions in about six years in office, made the best case for his presidency or legacy and revealed a side of him that is truly totally committed to Nigeria and for which history will judge him so kindly.

His best, it could be said, he saved for last. Election is a remarkable event, a civilized procedure of succession in power. While this process is somewhat routinised in advanced democracies, it is highly controversial, something of a warfare in such developing countries as Nigeria. Historical evidence indeed affirms the assertion that it is warfare, especially in Africa, where it has become the accepted norm that incumbents do not lose elections.

Therefore, elections are often rigged, arbitrarily postponed, annulled and tenures elongated in reinforcement of this odious notion. Nigeria, of course, has had its fair share of that.

Its 1993 presidential election, adjudged the freest and fairest, was annulled by the military government of the day, plunging the country into a crisis from which it is yet to fully recover till date and in 2006, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration made a futile bid for tenure elongation, with a destabilising effect on the polity.

Against the foregoing, the prospects were there that the 2015 general election could cause trouble and likely instigate disintegration of the country as feared in certain quarters. Pre-election campaigns were odiously bereft of serious ideas and acidic, full of character assassination, frivolities and vitriolic personal abuses.

Huge sums were expended on the campaigns and observers believe that they must have ranked among the most monetised in the electoral history of Nigeria. Besides, there were open threats about destabilization of the country if election did not go the way of one candidate or the other.

Foreign Direct Investment, ever sensitive to risk, fled the country while industrial capital was put on hold for fear of a civil uprising. Indeed, many expatriates returned to their home countries for fear of being caught in the predicted cross-fire.

However, the March 28 presidential election happily proved bookmakers wrong as Nigerians came out en masse and peacefully cast their votes.

The use of permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) and the deployment of card readers, despite some glitches, notched the integrity of the process. While there was delay in the collation of the results which took nearly three full days to release, the incumbent President Jonathan lost to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari.

However, in a manner unprecedented and hardly expected, even before the final vote tally, President Jonathan had called on the opposition candidate to congratulate him and pledge to work with him for a smooth transfer of power. This gesture may seem ordinary in other advanced democracies, but it was a remarkable act of statesmanship in a country that had been practically written off, its final entombment expected to be post-election violence resulting from intransigence on the part of the loser, especially an incumbent.

Jonathan’s few words: “Congratulations” (accompanied by laughter) and … “In a few days, find time to come so that we can sort out how to plan the transitional period” were the elixir the country needed to renew itself, avert all the doomsday prophesies and proceed in peace. Those words also transformed the president into an instant hero of his country, the continent and the democratic community. His statesmanship, no doubt, has been ennobling.

He has indeed proved that he is a man of character despite the hordes of sycophants parading the corridors of power and that what have always been perceived as the president’s weaknesses, his gentle mien, humility and unobtrusiveness are actually the reservoir of his strength. The president had consistently maintained that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian.

By the gracious act of admitting defeat in the election, he has given himself, Nigeria and the continent a great legacy and a new prism through which leadership in Africa would henceforth be viewed.

This fact has deservedly gained global affirmation. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has praised the Nigerian leader for his “leadership throughout the electoral process and his statesmanship in upholding the democratic process” while United States President Barack Obama commended the president and the president-elect for “their public commitments to non-violence throughout the campaign.” He added that the election has “shown the world the strength” of Nigeria’s commitment to democratic principles.

Indeed, Jonathan’s action is now a measure of how functional and well-entrenched Nigeria’s democracy may have become. The after-effect has also proven healthy for the economy as stock values have shot up and the national currency, the naira, has appreciated in value. The electoral outcome is, more importantly, a victory for Nigerians who trooped out in millions to exercise their franchise.

It must be emphasized that elections are not supposed to be matters of life and death. It is a noble exercise of leadership assessment, recruitment and dismissal based on nothing other than merit. And because the mandates are periodically given or withdrawn from leaders, losing it today means no end while winning it is no eternal coronation.

In due time, with lessons learnt and with a better case made to the people who freely give it, today’s loser could be tomorrow’s receiver of the same mandate. That is the majesty of democracy, a majesty which President Goodluck Jonathan’s conduct and Muhammadu Buhari’s generous spirit as captured in his acceptance speech have done so much to edify.

Of course, the type of vitriol in language and the corresponding infusion of primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion into the electioneering campaigns should never be allowed to happen again.

Nigerians should therefore improve on that presidential and national assembly elections’ good outing by doing even better in the gubernatorial and state assembly elections billed for this Saturday. A new template has been set. Good examples have been laid. Nigeria should now be on the rise.


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