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2018, a year of reluctant optimism in Nigeria

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
31 December 2018   |   4:16 am
It was a year that was too slow in going away and one that began on a contentious note politically speaking. As the year 2018 runs full course today, it would be apt to state that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s special press statement of January 23....

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari.Photo: Twitter/mbuhari

It was a year that was too slow in going away and one that began on a contentious note politically speaking. As the year 2018 runs full course today, it would be apt to state that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s special press statement of January 23, 2018 effectively signposted the commencement of the pre-election year’s politics.

Entitled, ‘The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement,’ Obasanjo’s statement sent the polity abuzz, not only on account of its lofty political agenda and pathway for national reconstruction in the buildup to the expected 2019 general election, but also its verdict on the incumbent administration.

Perhaps, as a result of its weighty conclusions and attendant shock, the Presidency seemed flummoxed as to how best to respond to the contents of the former President’s message to countrymen and women. One thing that became clear and public knowledge was the parting of ways between the former President and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigerians recalled how Obasanjo was invited at the peak of the buildup to the 2015 general election by the opposition coalition under the All Progressives Congress (APC) to serve as the navigator for the grouping to upstage the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Having earlier caused his Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) membership card to be torn and declared his retirement from active partisan politics, Obasanjo was seen as a free agent, whose public image could help drive home the opposition’s conclusion that the Jonathan administration had fallen below average in public estimation of its performance.

By getting Obasanjo to their side, the budding APC succeeded in floating the idea of a national consensus against PDP and President Jonathan. The gang up climaxed in the surprising defeat of the incumbent in the 2015 poll. But having dethroned PDP as the ruling party, APC and Buhari, found it hard to set up a harmonious team for mandate delivery.

And so, after enduring the tardiness and aloofness of the Presidency for three years, Obasanjo came out of his retirement to sound a beagle against the Buhari administration and thereby began the ongoing move to shove Buhari and APC aside. In his statement Obasanjo stated: “I am constrained to issue this special statement at this time considering the situation of the country.”He employed proverbs to drive home his point that the Buhari administration has failed on all crucial points, stressing that the lice of poor performance in government, including poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condoning of misdeed, lack of progress and national cohesion, have left bloody marks on the fingers of all citizens.

Obasanjo also employed imagery in his statement, explaining that although he maintains a cordial relation with Jonathan, whom he said would not be a horse rider in Nigeria again; “the situation that made Nigerians to vote massively to get my brother Jonathan off the horse is playing itself out again.”

Recalling a similar letter he wrote to Jonathan, “Before it is too late,” Obasanjo regretted that praise singers goaded him into ignoring the voice of caution. He therefore noted that similar reaction might trail his call on the incumbent to dismount from the horse and join the club of statesmen to render suggestions and advice from the sideline.

While he delivered his verdict that Buhari cannot give what he does not have by way of sound management of the economy, Obasanjo pointedly accused the President of having failed in his cardinal programme of fighting corruption. He stated: “There were serious allegations of round-tripping against some inner caucus of the Presidency, which would seem to have been condoned. I wonder if such actions do not amount to corruption and financial crime, then what is it? Culture of condonation and turning blind eye will cover up rather than clean up. And going to justice must be with clean hands.”

Despite the exchange of partisan words for and against the former President’s public statement, his depositions helped in shaping the politics of the pre-election year, even as it opened up new ideas about leadership selection in the country.The former President while insisting that Buhari’s health does not recommend him for another four-year term in office noted that without impaired health and strain of age, “running the affairs of Nigeria is a 25/7 affair, not 24/7.”

Consequently, against the background of his advice that “Buhari should not over-push his luck or over-tax the patience and tolerance of Nigerians for him,” Obasanjo called for the formation of a new coalition of young people in a bid to reposition leadership in the country. He premised his suggestion on the fact that “neither APC nor PDP is a worthy horse to ride to lead Nigeria at this crucial and critical time.”

The former President recommended, “The Movement must work out the path of development and the trajectory of development in speed, quality and equality in the short- medium- and long-term for Nigeria on the basis of sustainability, stability, predictability, credibility, security, cooperation and prosperity with diminishing inequality.”

Movement in failed motion
When he made the recommendation it sounded so fanciful and alluring: “We need a Coalition for Nigeria (CN). Such a movement at this juncture needs not be a political party, but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong.”

But as the pre-election year 2018 unfolded, it became evident that such a belated attempt at mobilizing the people for leadership review could prove fatal to the cause, especially against the background of determined effort by the incumbent to foist a state of helplessness on the polity.

It was a reality that dawned on the proponents. Although the idea of Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CMN) put some spark in national politics, the incidence of vote buying and high handed display of electoral impunity in both Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections, returned the protagonists to the very Hobson’s choice they sought to evade.

Even in the area of citizen mobilization, it was like the novel electoral crime of vote buying dampened national enthusiasm to undertake civic responsibility with patriotic élan. Obasanjo’s words seemed to echo: “The nation needs moral re-armament alongside engaging togetherness of people of like-mind and good will to come solidly together to lift Nigeria.

“Wherever I go, I hear Nigerians complaining, murmuring in anguish and anger. But our anger should not be like the anger of the cripple. We can collectively save ourselves from the position we find ourselves. It will not come through self-pity, fruitless complaint or protest but through constructive and positive engagement and collective action for the good of our nation and ourselves and our children and their children.”

Yet, those who hearkened to Obasanjo’s clarion call seemed nonplussed as to how to make the national cohesion possible in the face of declining socio-economic well being in the country.

Bifurcation of coalition
AS is always the case in circumstances predicated more on emotion than concerted plans, the coalition could not strike the envisaged unity for durable action. While Obasanjo rushed to float the CNM, former President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba and his loyalists moved from Nigeria Political Stakeholders Forum to form the National Intervention Movement (NIM).

The motions without movement continued until the INEC released the timetable of activities leading to the 2019 election. In order for “ordinary citizens of Nigeria to do the extra-ordinary things of changing the course and direction of our lackluster performance and development,” those involved in the search for the elusive third force, found out that time did not permit further circumlocution and settled for the adoption of existing registered political platforms to actualize the Obasanjo dream.

All hopes that a third force was still feasible evaporated after Obasanjo’s CNM adopted the African Democratic Congress (ADC) as its platform of choice to prosecute the 2019 election. That was after a failed attempt to adopt the Social Democratic Party (SDP).On its part, NIM went into political understanding with other political parties, which culminated in the Peoples Trust (PT).

Just as NIM was searching for its electoral partners, the main opposition PDP experimented with the idea of a mega coalition, from which the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) was born.While the opposition political parties were engaged in search of collaboration, a major hiccup occurred within the ruling APC in the fashion of what befell PDP at the buildup to the 2015 election. The reformed APC, which became a splinter, criticized the ruling party, accusing it of endangering democracy and engendering impunity in party administration.

Led by a former ally of President Buhari, Alhaji Buba Galadima, the rAPC did not waste time in opening discussions with PDP. Although it was geared to cause a major upset, the rAPC could only achieve a political tremor with the defection of high profile politicians from the ruling party, including the President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; Governors Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Samuel Ortom and Ahmed Abdulfatah; as well as dozens of Senators and House of Representatives members, to the PDP. Frightened by the belated defection of those calibers of members, the ruling party fought back, using the coercive institutions of government to douse further embarrassment of APC.

Nomination process
Smarting from its contentious national convention, which trailed parallel state congresses, the ruling APC was later to be bogged with nomination processes that shook the foundation of the party.While the new APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, initiated the direct primary approach to instill party supremacy and internal democracy, the innovation was criticized by some members, who claimed it was a ploy by Oshiomhole and his godfather, Bola Tinubu, to get back at those who wanted tenure elongation for former national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.

Winning the Osun governorship election turned out as a kind of endorsement for Oshiomhole and a breather for the ruling party, even as internal complaints continued against the creeping instability in the party.The division in the ruling party came to a head when President Buhari came out to publicly overrule Oshiomhole that aggrieved members are free to test the legality of their grievances in court.

As a backcloth, the main opposition PDP held a successful presidential primary in Port Harcourt and returned former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who defected from the ruling party more than ten months earlier. The emergence of Atiku helped to usher in some semblance of renewed vitality in the polity and hope. It was speculated by the ruling party that PDP’s presidential primary would sound the death knell on the party.

Despite the nervous situation of the polity, especially the failure of President Buhari to sign the Electoral Act amendment bill into law and accusations of partisanship against the security agencies, the pre-lection year 2018 was slow in rolling over.Nigerians are however looking up to the next year with measured optimism that atleast there are options to choose from in the forthcoming general election, where a woman is among the five top contenders. 2018 would fade in few hours’ time as a year of tension and ambiguous direction. The year did not offer any useful clues as to how things would pan out in the days to come.