Can we vouch for the sincerity of Mr President, should he lose? It’s assuring that the Presidency has said that Buhari will rather lose than rig the 2019 presidential election.
Over three and a half years have passed since the last general elections in Nigeria, and the famous concession phone call by the then incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to Muhammadu Buhari, the then Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Looking back, it’s hard to blame Jonathan for that early concession. How often in our history has a sitting President been defeated by an opposition candidate and the loser didn’t whine and come off as a bad loser? “If you would not be forgotten”, Benjamin Franklin wrote many years ago, before “you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing”. Former President Jonathan has done exactly that by writing a compelling memoir, “My Transition Hours”.
You needed to have been at the fancy Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, venue of the book launch last Tuesday to witness the political atmosphere. The mood was high-spirited and extremely festive. Everyone from all sides of the political aisle tried to crack jokes and laugh. The overflowing audience exuded warmth. It was not for nothing. ‘My Transition Hours’ is perhaps the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of what happened prior to, and after the March 2015 Presidential election which Jonathan lost decisively(?). That was an unexpected occurrence, hitherto, in Nigeria. So, Jonathan’s phone call was gracious. We must continue to thank him for what he did to calm tension and heal our land.
And those who have been around politics for a long time will tell us with assurance that what Jonathan did even before the counting of votes were tallied was unlike anything they had seen, or even heard of in our political history. Those who have perused the book and are honest enough to admit without partisan bias, say it is a strikingly candid portrait of an uncommon politician with an unfaltering commitment to democracy, an unselfish and exceptional man with an understanding of the practicalities of political life, that one’s ambition does not, in Jonathan’s own words, ‘worth the blood of any Nigerian’. This is despite the pressures of, and patina in the awesome power of presidential office which many a politician would want to cling to at any cost. But not Jonathan.
Reactions have continued like claps of thunder since Jonathan conceded defeat in the manner that he did almost four years ago. But let’s face it: What if Jonathan hadn’t made that timely phone call? What if he had succumbed to our dirty, hardball politics and listened to the urgings of some sycophantic friends not to concede defeat and congratulate Muhammadu Buhari? What if he had given pocketbook excuses like the glaring overage voting in a place like Kano and elsewhere, and decided to go to court? There were other “what ifs”, but Jonathan, I believe, realised early on that dwelling on them would be a pointless exercise. There is life after politics. That’s a life we must all learn in the contest for political power.
The point here really is, in a few months time, Nigeria will perhaps be in that edgy moment again, and President Buhari could be in similar situation that his predecessor was four years ago. Should that happen, will he (Buhari) do same as Jonathan did? Can Buhari resist those ‘invisible forces’ that have often blinded some politicians not to see the practicalities of political life and move on after electoral defeat? Will the President want to win at any cost in February 2019?
That moment of great decision is beckoning, pretty fast. Can we vouch for the sincerity of Mr President, should he lose? It’s interesting and assuring that the Presidency has said that Buhari will rather lose than rig 2019 presidential election. That was what the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina said last week during a programme on ARISE TV. This is what Femi said as reported by Daily Sun of November 21: “I am surprised that this President has been with you for three and a half years and yet you do not seem to know him. If anybody would rig election or anything, it will not be President Muhammadu Buhari. He would rather even prefer to lose fair and square”.
Femi also reminded us that the President has said it before that “if the only thing he (Buhari) would leave as a legacy for Nigeria is free and fair election, he would do it. Forget that the election would be rigged, that will not happen”. I believe Femi. But that is his words, not the President’s. Believing is not enough. Corresponding action under pressure is the ultimate test of a man’s integrity. It’s like faith without works. And Femi knows much more about faith without works…
Truth is that, in a moment of tremendous pressure, when the stakes are high, as Jonathan can attest in 2015, a president needs all the help he can get and the counsel of his most valued friends. In the end, the decision is that of the President, not that of his closest advisers. That’s why we should not ignore the powerful voices of these two prominent men – the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, and that of former military Head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar – who last week spoke on next year’s elections and the sincerity of the President.
Speaking at the 2018 second General Meeting of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, Youth wing summit, last Saturday, the Sultan of Sokoto urged Nigerians to hold President Buhari to his words on the conduct of a free and credible general elections in 2019 and a violence-free campaign which the President has also assured. On his part, Abdulsalami Abubakar who has done much to support the present democratic process and reportedly played key role in Jonathan’s Transition Hours, has warned that militarisation of the 2019 polls would dent the integrity of the exercise. He also urged the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) not tocompromisetheoutcomeoftheelections, while urging security agencies to be professionally neutral in their duties during the elections.
These concerns are legitimate. They are at the root of success or failure of our elections. As Gen. Abubakar rightly observed, “the responsibility of security agencies must be defined as their roles are very critical to the outcome of the election”. We need no reminding that heavy policing and militarisation that we all saw in Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections in July and September this year are enough to scare voters from coming out to exercise their franchise. Vote-buying is another present danger that political parties are using to influence the outcome of elections.
Former INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega had also during his Democracy Day lecture, May 29, 2018, raised the same concerns, especially the role of security agencies during elections, saying they are yet to show neutrality during elections.
One of the reasons why alarm bells are going off ahead of 2019 elections is really not about the sincerity or lack of it, on the part of the President, it is because, when the chips are down, moral strength is not enough. Looking back Jonathan’s Transition Hours, whether his early concession may have been a mistake or not, he has set a record in presidential election history that every leader, every incumbent President can only ignore at his own peril.