About two years ago, I wrote an essay on how and why my faith in Nigeria was shaken. Today, that pride has been slightly restored. Just as David defeated Goliath and Harry Kane became one of the finest strikers in the world, General Muhammadu Buhari won the Presidential election. For the first time in our history, the incumbent was dethroned. That act speaks a thousand words. It highlights that when it comes down to it, Nigerians have expectations and know the route through which that message can be reinforced. It tells us that no matter how much propaganda and dirt is thrown, the people are smart enough to see through it. Finally, it captures the disillusion and underwhelming nature of President Jonathan’s years in office. I shall highlight how and why the race was won and lost.
This election saw the opposition functioning at an unprecedented level. The All Progressives Congress, which saw the marriage of some formidable political blocs, gave the Nigerian democracy the strongest opposition it has ever had. One of the key moves to bring this to life was the agreement by its presidential candidates to support the winner. This meant that the likes of Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso were kept on side and they delivered on this promise. Atiku delivered his home state, Adamawa, ensuring Buhari won a state he’d never won in his other presidential bids. Kwankwaso also delivered more than a million votes from his Kano stronghold. Rochas Okorocha’s Imo delivered the most votes for Buhari in the South East and South South. The likes of Bukola Saraki and Bola Tinubu were also able to assist in the North Central and South West. The coalescing of all these movements meant that for the first time General Buhari stood a reasonable chance as there was an important swing effect in those areas.
An adage goes that when the opposition wins, it’s because the incumbent lost and this applies to President Jonathan whose incompetence and lack of suitability for the job would be suppressed by the gracious acceptance of his loss and his decision to support Professor Jega’s Independent National Electoral Commission in its impressive election refereeing. Key to Buhari’s win was the diminished turnout in Goodluck’s strongholds, attributable to the use of PVC’s and the card readers meant that there was next to no room for mago mago. President Jonathan created the conducive environment for a Jega to bloom and for that history ought to be kind on him. That is where the good ends.
One of the key reasons why the man from Otuoke lost was the manner in which he surrendered all the goodwill earned from the last elections. Going back in time to 2011, a year after Jonathan had become President in wake of President Yar’ Adua’s death, the people were largely on his side as they saw how he had been denied his rightful place by associates of the ailing Yar’ Adua. The rags to riches rhetoric resonated with the masses, as did the portrayal of the underdog fighting the Northern establishment who felt that his rise was a violation of the unwritten zoning covenant. Pitched against the likes of Nuhu Ribadu, Ibrahim Shekarau and Buhari, he was always going to win as the votes would have been split. The mistake he made upon being elected was to forget how he had gotten there. He ostracized the political machinery that got him there (The clash with ex President Obasanjo a case in point) and narrowed his base of consultation, choosing to listen only to a small caucus. This resulted in the loss of influential figures in the Senate and House of Representatives like Bukola Saraki and Aminu Tambuwal. His failure to grasp the complexity of the task of the job at hand reached its head with his misjudged decision to view Boko Haram as a tool employed by the Northern region to embarrass him and his government, his lack of conviction and indecisiveness in dealing with them meant that by the time the kidnap of the Chibok girls came, he was well and truly exposed to the entire world. He was rightly vilified and that was a factor in his poor performance in the Northern region. In one last act of poetic justice, Borno, the state most decimated by Boko Haram, was the last to be declared.
President Jonathan is a weak man. He ran on a ticket of transformation and failed woefully. Every time his government was faced with a major problem, his weaknesses were accentuated. His attempt to arbitrarily rename the University of Lagos after MKO Abiola was a grave error. His decision to grant pardon to a convict like his ex boss, DSP Alamyieseigha was another big mistake. A lot of claims followed his Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke which he opted to ignore. The same thing happened with Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah who he backed for a long time and then chucked out. By that time, it was obvious she had been a stain to the government for too long. More damage limitation than genuine punishment. The manner in which he heckled ex Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi after his whistle blowing act also alienated people. It didn’t help that in the midst of all this, Sanusi’s stock was so high that soon after, he found himself in the vaunted position of Emir of Kano. That was the kiss of death for Jonathan: bullying such gilded royalty without justified reason ensured he was persona non grata in a state with one of the largest number of votes. The free for all scale of corruption in a climate of economic difficulty countered by Buhari’s modest background and anti corruption stance surely preyed on the mind of voters. There’s also his wife, Patience whose political savvy was outweighed by her functionality as a loose cannon. The most visible First Lady since Maryam Babangida, Mrs Jonathan’s attempt to politicize the unrecognized role of First Lady and his failure to stand up to her theatrics also served as fodder for their characterization as a callous, uncaring and irresponsible couple.
All these factors and the recent diplomatic faux pas with Morocco committed just before the elections meant that his flaws were more glaring to the people and they had no problem expressing their displeasure through their votes. For General Buhari, succeeding at his fourth attempt tells an important story: like the metaphorical donkey whose owner not knowing what to do with it tried to throw it through mud into a ditch, he was able to overcome the propaganda machinery proving that sometimes, reason can win. Reason does win. The hope is that this seal of approval is met with a conviction to see through the promises made. It’s also imperative that inroads are made to the South East and South South to appease them for a truly united Nigeria is the greatest legacy he could leave. In the words of Tai Solarin “May the road be rough” for there is no ” paean without pain”.