Never before in the history of the country has a general election generated such feverish excitement among Nigerians – at home and in the diaspora - like the 2011 April polls. It almost feels like waiting to watch super-fast humans prove their athletic prowess in an Olympic 100 metres dash, the most alpha male of track and field events.
However, unlike the latter, there are no alpha males in this event. President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Nuhu Ribadu, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); Muhammadu Buhari, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); Ibrahim Shekarau, All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP), and others are not exactly super humans and don’t have the total qualities to make an ‘ideal’ president. Still, their frailties can be forgiven as Nigerians go to the polls this Saturday to choose who among these men would become their president. All things being equal, the votes should count this time.
Jonathan’s emergence as a prominent figure in Nigeria’s equation was helped by the demise of late President Umaru Yar Adua and widely held sentiments that he hails from the minority, oil-rich, but painfully impoverished and volatile Niger Delta region. A vote for him, some pro-Jonathan analysts argue, would go a long way to bring stability to the region, as well as help forge a united Nigeria. Then Jonathan has the power of incumbency working for him and seems to enjoy more nationwide acceptance than any of the other presidential candidates. But, can he actually become Nigeria’s Barack Obama, like his technologically savvy and brilliant campaign strategists try to package him and would have us believe? With due respect, he presently doesn’t look like he possesses the sort of charisma, carriage - if you like swagger, or eloquence of the first US Black President.
But credit to him his delivered promise of electoral reforms and free and fair elections. This has increased his popularity with the electorate. Although his ascension to political prominence could be likened to one foisted by unexpected circumstances; the moment he accepted to become Bayelsa State governor, acting president, president, and then decided to run for presidency, it was clear that Jonathan had finally come the full circle to accept the thrust of leadership and so may be ready for the challenges ahead. The more reasons why he can be trusted for competence, assert some of his followers. Whether Nigerians agree too that he has fully understood twelve years of leadership lessons remain to be seen. That he belongs to the ruling party PDP - which has lost the goodwill of many more Nigerians - may also prove to be one of his strengths or major weakness at the polls.
Can he be trusted with elected leadership?
Muhammadu Buhari? Hmmn, tough one. The former Army General has a reputation as an avowed champion of discipline. Yet he has been dogged by past records of high-handedness and other dictatorial tendencies during his stint as military Head of State (1983-1985). Also Buhari has been accused in some quarters of being more pro-North than pro-Nigeria. But his integrity, strength of personality and spartan lifestyle are qualities that may be needed in the country’s continued fight against systemic corruption and other societal vices. He should also be given credit for trying to build bridges across age, ethnic and religious divides through his campaign efforts in recent times, so as to win the support of more Nigerians. The more reason why his third try at the presidency would be a clear test of his national acceptance. While Buhari’s critics have warned that integrity does not equal competence, his supporters trump his ‘stellar’ work during his tenure as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under the late General Sani Abacha. Unfortunately for Buhari, a man’s past, either fairly or unfairly, would sometimes be used as a yardstick to judge him in the present; especially when it still looms like a shadow that refuses go away - on newspaper pages and online opinion platforms.
There may not be much in the present either to ‘balance’ his books. However, his decision to choose populist pastor and activist - Tunde Bakare - as his running mate may have wittingly given him a fat chance of upsetting Jonathan’s applecart. Can he swim against the tide of this generation which doesn’t give any chance to a man stuck in the old ways of doing things, and will the North not feel betrayed that he chose a pastor as running mate? Would Nigerians be willing to forgive the past and embrace a ‘newly packaged’ Buhari as civilian president?
As for Nuhu Ribadu, some political analysts are of the opinion that he may be running four years too early, arguing that he should have used this time to improve on his political resume. But, every Nigerian of age can aspire for the highest office in the land, after all. On that premise, Ribadu is well within his rights to contest for the presidency. He is also well respected at home and abroad for his track record as former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). However, his critics argue that any well trained enforcement agent/policeman should be able to apprehend those who flout the financial and economic laws of the land - if properly equipped with the right tools and intelligence (although it is not often the case).
Simply put, effectively fighting crime may not be the same thing as guaranteeing functional leadership in a country of 150 million people. But competence should count for something. For those who are pro-Ribadu, he cuts the figure of a new Nigerian intelligent, technologically savvy, purpose-driven, passionate advocate for change, youthful, full of promise and connects more with this generation than the other candidates. Maybe, Ribadu might have a better qualification to be labelled as Nigeria’s Obama. Yet, the question that comes to mind is whether this likable Nigerian can lead the charge when he is eventually handed the baton. Still, a Ribadu Presidency looks promising and possible, while seeming political inexperience might just be his greatest strength. However, if he gets there, he may need the wise counsel of the ‘elders’. With the wind of political change sweeping across the nation like forest fires in the harmattan who knows, the former EFCC boss could still cause an upset at the polls. But, can he be trusted with the huge responsibility of leading the path to a new Nigeria, especially at this stage of our fragile nationhood?
Ibrahim Shekarau, presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), may seem to be the dark horse among the top contenders. But, after his impressive performance at the NN24-organized presidential debate last month, the views of many Nigerians towards him have changed, despite his religious belief and its strong influence on his style of governance as Kano State governor. Pat Utomi’s withdrawal and subsequent endorsement of Shekarau has further lent credence to the fact that he has significantly increased his political base and followership. Whether this would count at the polls remains to be seen.
Without sounding disrespectful, Dele Momodu Ovation publisher and candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), and the other presidential candidates are merely going to play the roles of spoilers in this likely three-horse presidential race: Jonathan, Buhari and Ribadu. Theses men look more likely to get the chunk of the votes, come April 16. Despite the strong political undercurrents and intensive lobbying among the opposition and government in the jostle for power, there would be only one clear winner.
Although the various campaigns of the presidential candidates have been suspect, as it lacks a well laid out blueprint/agenda on how to tackle the many issues that bedevil the nation – unemployment, revival of the education and health sectors, etc; Nigerians have a renewed sense of hope at least, and so are keeping faith that whoever among these candidates is entrusted with the presidency at this time would be under a national radar to ensure that he works only for the good of the country. As it stands, the votes would be divided along party lines, political, public and private sentiments. But one thing is clear; Nigerians are no more ignorant of their rights to demand for quality leadership across all tiers of government and are more determined than ever to ensure it happens. Nigerians simply want change. And with the general conduct of the National Assembly polls last weekend, there is renewed sense of hope that the country can indeed get to the Promised Land.
God bless Nigeria!