One would be forgiven if on reading Chude Jideonwo’s attempt at justifying his and others’ 2015 electoral choice one thought he was saying that the sail of the ship of the Nigerian state is on a steady and smooth trajectory towards nationhood.
That of course is exactly what he was saying and from the beginning of the piece, one was almost taken in – but he didn’t cut to the plot from the beginning. His frankness in emphasising the dire economic straits that Nigeria has found itself courtesy Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership is a positive which is unfortunately overshadowed by his passing the buck not only to the former government – but also through an obscure GAIN poll and the respondents whom he quotes to back his assertion.
If nothing, the recently epic failure of polls in Brexit and the US elections should have taught us to subject polls and phenomenon such as the ecstatic celebration of Buhari’s return in the North and mosques to further analysis at least – but that is a task or quest for another day.
All these would still not have stirred my muse – which has for some months now been engaged in efforts to balance our political history and the military incursions of it with recently present events, particularly of 2015 and from both propose a documented way out of the quagmire that our generation faces – but Chude’s last lines infuriated my muse – not me directly, as I feel able to describe he and I as somewhere above friendly acquaintances but not so much as friends.
Those last lines were: “In the long term, and if we consolidate on those gains in 2019, we will be fine. We will be just fine”.
Strangely, I agree we will.
But not by the flippancy or the casualness of a coach whose team is taking a beating on the pitch and is sitting cold with arms folded and an occasional whisper to his assistant – even Wenger doesn’t do that anymore. Now is the time to stand and wail loudly in the ears of any who would listen – even if it is the referee’s assistant and regardless of whether the penalty would be a couple of games watched from the stands – or the insides of a cell – like Audu Maikori.
The arguments Chude makes in his article are obfuscating: in describing the choices of 2015, Chude deliberately ignores a few things which I would rather first ignore and make a counter-case but there is one he ignored which cannot however be ignored.
The argument has sometimes been brought up that 2015 was about “Change for Change’s sake” – to change the government and make the point that change of government was possible. Chude borrows that logic (and I use the word “borrows” deliberately here) but ignores what should have been a foreseen reality: that Goodluck Jonathan was a positive political aberration in a country where once you hold power, you do not relinquish it for any – thing or body. And I should know: my party’s vow to rule Nigeria for the next 60 years was predicated on a clear template of ‘winning’ elections by hook or crook as handed down by Obasanjo – the grandmaster of electoral manipulation himself. Under him, electoral predictions were as easy as simply writing ‘PDP’ in the winners’ slot.
Predicting elections under Jonathan though was quite straightforward if you studied the political trend of the electorate in the area of contest and as a pundit, I predicted five gubernatorial elections out of five accurately – the most enjoyable of which I delivered at a programme organised by Y!Politico – one of Chude’s successful engagement platforms. There in company with Chioma Agwuegbo, Ayokunle Odekunle, Tolu Ogunlesi, Joachim Mac-Ebong and Kazeem Sanusi, I said Aregbesola would win the Osun 2014 elections with a majority of no more than 57% – as he did. I’d been on ground in Osun for a bit and unable to work with my party’s candidate, I supported a lesser known candidate. The predictability of elections under Jonathan was based on absolute democracy – whoever was popularly voted won.
I was again in Edo late last year, deeply involved with Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s campaign and I can only conclude along with majority of the election observers that INEC has reverted to the days of Obasanjo. This clearly nullifies the borrowed logic that assumed the institution of free and fair elections would not depart with Goodluck Jonathan – and therefore voted him out.
But that logic is even borrowed and not original to those who wanted Jonathan out. 2015 was not about Change for Change’s Sake (let’s change Jonathan so that we can henceforth change any non-performing government). It was about two things: the APC Promise of Change and the Person of GEJ.
APC promised heaven on earth if voted into power in 2015 – and it was on the basis of this promise that many Nigerians voted for the party, not because they just wanted change for the sake of change but because they wanted the better life that APC promised. To dismiss their aspirations as easily as Chude does is to legitimise the transition from Promise of Change to Change of Promise that APC has become and to inadvertently (or deliberately?) deligitimise the task of those voters (and the rest of us) holding this government accountable to the promises they made: an attempt which is here rejected and must subsequently be resisted.
The bigger issue of 2015 though is one that only few of my friends who supported APC/Buhari have been able to admit, which I however remember quite well and which I am waiting for them to consciously realise – 2015 was made about the person of GEJ.
Akin Oyebode in a pre-election debate hosted by Rubbin’ Minds (another of Chude’s successful engagement platforms which I emphasise again to commend his contribution to youth growth) asserted powerfully (and I paraphrase as I am not sure to remember the accurate phraseology) “This 2015 election is a referendum on Goodluck Jonathan’s performance” and “Goodluck Jonathan must run on his own record”.
The first statement was a deadly lie and preparing to take my turn at debating Ikem Isiekwena, I wished from my seat that Mukhtar Dan’Iyan would lose his cool at that point (as he later did on the Nigerian territory under Jonathan has reduced” lie).
Deadly lies are lies that are half-true, of which the first half seemingly validates the second half. Elections are a referendum on the incumbent: true. But they are also a comparison of two choices especially where both choices have a verifiable record. Just as Jonathan was running on his own record, excuses were being made for Buhari’s record. 2015 was therefore not just about Goodluck Jonathan but about Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy which had failed three times with various permutations until the politically dominant section of the South-West section of the country, in conjunction with youths eager to make their mark on the polity but historically misguided, propped up the Buhari misadventure, reinvented his past, put words in his mouth and brought Nigeria into a repeat of 1984. That the irony of their Change being a return to the past did not strike them is curious.
2015 was made all about Goodluck Jonathan – and this point is important so that 2019 isn’t merely about getting Buhari out, even if Abubakar Shekau is his opponent – but it was not supposed to be. it was supposed to be a comparison of Jonathan and Buhari but while everything was done to make Jonathan look bad, even indications of Buhari needing a rest during campaigns were dismissed as not being indicative of his flailing health – upon which as a patriot I now wish him good health and a long life.
Politics is what it is and it is sometimes a matter of war without bloodshed – all is fair. But none should try and calim false ideals for what was clearly a matter of positional angling.
Chude in doubling-down further claims “…it is useful for Buhari to retain that political capital as cover for his deputy Yemi Osinbajo to continue the good work that we have seen since the latter became acting president.”
Don’t mind that this political capital evaporated long ago from many Buhari supporters and is now restricted mainly to some parts of the North. Do not mind that Osinbajo’s ‘good works’ are the customary and mediocre unifying visits an ethno-balanced President would have made since June 2015. Do mind however that this political ‘cover’ is more of an administrative burden of CBN’s strangling policy on the economy and a state security apparatus over which Osinbajo could not exercise control as it was configured deliberately by Buhari to protect his seat – that is why Babatunde Gbadamosi was arrested and detained by the DSS under Osinbajo who as then Ag. President feigned ignorance because he could do nothing.
Chude’s piece in trying to recast the 2015 choices rules one option out by saying it was “…one between the certainty of failure and the possibility of success (which also came with the possibility of failure)” – after enumerating somewhat the gains under Jonathan in paragraphs 8,9,10 and 11 of his piece, and conveniently ignoring the free and fair election factor that gave life to any hope of change in the first place. Bear in mind that Buhari’s was the ONLY military regime out of EIGHT in Nigeria that had NO transition plan and outrightly banned any talk of politics or return to civil rule throughout his tenure. In ignoring this crucial aspect of what Buhari represented at the 2015 polls, Chude is guilty of the ‘revisionist history’ he alludes to. In removing a valid option that guaranteed free and fair elections, the possibility of future Change was put in jeopardy.
Every election is about alternatives and when you deliberately rule one out by saying “XYZ is not an option”, you surrender the first thing that makes you human and makes democracy work – the power of free agency or the power of choice.
When you do that, you may win the battle but the war is one you will keep fighting two years after the elections – by writing articles in 2017 to justify why your 2015 electoral decision was the right one and why you have no regrets.
Thankfully, such doubling-down thoughts as this are sparse and scarce – and even when the mea culpa is not done publicly, the whispers are loud enough: 2015 was a right time for Change (of which there would have been more times if free and fair elections had been allowed to solidify under Jonathan) but Buhari was not Changed and was therefore never the candidate of Change, for Change or to bring Change.
What played out in 2015 was a knee-jerk and short-term reaction to the system not the long-term ideals his article posits. Any long-term plan would have seen the importance of letting the system of free and fair elections establish itself first before playing games with it. Any long-term opposition plan would have worked patiently to build a broad multi-ethnic base across the entire South before gunning for federal power. Any long-term plan would have seen the shortsightedness of denying the Niger-Delta a second term in power based on understanding the ethnic configuration of power in Nigeria.
I do agree with Chude though: Regret is not an option when there is work to be done. The mistakes of 2015 on all sides have been made – if there were none, we wouldn’t be discussing 2015 in 2017 with some on the defensive after the euphoria, and some of us determined to point out the lessons, after gloating. 2019 is the crucial one. In working towards that, we must not like Chude pretend that all is well and that this disaster that the APC government is turning out to be was all part of a 2015 plan.
But I understand where Chude is going with these recent articles, and I wish him well always.
Demola Olarewaju is a Lagos-based political analyst, creative writer, and political strategist with PDP. He tweets from @DemolaRewaju.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.