The Buhari fox trot By Hakeem Baba Ahmed

“You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.” G.K. Chesterton, 1874 – 1936

General Muhammadu Buhari is being reported to have made two seemingly contradictory statements regarding his future. One version of the reported comments is that he will stay in active politics until the electoral system is sanitized, which is his shorthand for a genuine reflection of popular will though the ballot box. The other version says he is repeating his earlier promise not to run for elective office again, but will stay in politics to help improve the electoral process.

Predictably, both comments are being followed by an entire legion of interested politicians and millions of citizens who still see him as symbol of the hope for real change. There are major interests at stake in the manner these contradictory positions are resolved, and it is impossible not to see some serious jockeying for positions with regards to 2015 in both positions. 

Visions of General Muhammadu Buhari shedding tears at a public function in Abuja with a few weeks to the 2011 general elections, and pledging that he win not run for another elective office after 2011 are still fresh in the minds of millions of people. But then so were his promises that he will not contest the outcome of the 2011 elections in court if he lost. His charge to his almost fanatical followers to guard their ballots every inch of the way with all the means at their disposal remained the most resonant message he delivered. He led his party into an election which promised much, and delivered very little. Bitter intra-party squabbles sapped his party’s energy, while creating damaging pockets of resentment which were duly capitalized upon by the PDP, a party which acted like a hoard of vultures following a wounded prey to its death.

So many ambitions depended on Buhari’s nod; so many disputes sought for his wise resolution; and so many people looked up to him to lead them away from a nation where corruption, poverty and impunity were progressively destroying the very foundations of their lives and their future.

The cumulative effects of massive, unresolved problems around a weak party structure centered essentially around the person and character of the General, and the limitations of his capacity as a leader who had a reputation for extending too much or too little trust in equal measure showed very clearly in the manner the CPC approached the 2011 elections.

The bitter recriminations which followed President Jonathan’s decision to run as PDP’s candidate created the impression that the North was there for the taking by the General and the CPC. But the prospects for electoral alliance with the ACN were disastrously bungled, thus limiting Buhari’s huge following essentially to the far north. Massive disputes were left unresolved in areas where the PDP would not have dreamt of a whiff of victory; and they cost the CPC unbelievable losses, or created opportunities for the elections to be extensively rigged. 

Damaging ethno-religious campaigns were orchestrated to deprive the General support of Christian voters across the country, but particularly in the north. Northern PDP governors rolled out untold amounts to shore up Jonathan’s showing in the north, and everything was done in the south to show that voters there did not even know that Buhari contested for the Presidency.

So 2011 was an unmitigated disaster for the CPC. For millions of people who were convinced that the elections were rigged, rioting became the popular means of expression. From Sokoto to Maiduguri, mostly young people rose up in anger at the announced result of the Presidential elections, and the Jonathan administration was shaken to its marrow by the extent of anger and destruction. But the international community thought it was better to endorse the elections quickly and move on, so it instructed its observers to say so and leave the smoldering nation. INEC was both vilified and commended, depending on who was supported, and the gains made by the appointment of a seemingly fair electoral umpire were lost in the smoke and bitterness which followed the election. General Buhari scored over 12million votes, virtually all of them from northerners, and President Jonathan got his desperately desired second term. General Buhari’s party performed, on the whole, worse than anyone could ever have imagined, and his party went to court to challenge the elections, and lost there again.

The post election trauma in the party was profound. It nonetheless set in a motion the search for a renewal strategy, starting with a committee under Malam Nasir el-Rafai, which is yet to submit a blueprint for regeneration. The role of Buhari himself and his immediate advisers came under very critical scrutiny, and the party performed poorly in many subsequent elections. The icing on the cake were the events which preceded the re-run of the Kebbi State Gubernatorial elections, when the CPC’s leaders, including its own candidate in the election, defected to the PDP.

Nothing is certain in politics, but the General is likely to attempt to resist pressure on him to run for the Presidency again in 2015. If he does that, he will be required to say so and show it in everything he does. It is particularly important that his supporters and members of the CPC understand the critical difference between being in politics for life, and contesting for office until your last breadth.

If Buhari opts to allow the emergence of people from within his party who will substantially run it, establish firm structures, and encourage the emergence of a national democratic party, then the party will be well place to even replace the PDP as the ruling party.  Yet this is where the problem lies. The slightest hint that the General will leave some space for others sets in motion tremendous activity among ambitious people to take up positions of leadership.

There are many interested and suspected contenders, and they range from Malam Nasir el-Rufai, to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as well as others who believe they have labored enough for the party to get Buhari’s nod for leadership. There yet others who are keeping their heads down and waiting for an opportunity, including many big name PDP members who have been chased or squeezed out by the formula which has shifted the source of power of the PDP to the south south and south east.

Certainly, if the General can engineer the emergence of genuine intra-party democratic practices well before the next elections, then his party stands a much better chance of making a major impact in forthcoming elections. This will involve a transparent reduction in his profile and, quite honestly, influence in the manner the party is run. In simple terms, if the CPC cannot function well without the towering presence and influence of General Buhari, then he and all those who worked hard with him in the past have wasted their time. On the other hand, the routinization of his charisma in a party which has the potential to provide national leadership, provided it also engages in strategic alliance – building, will be the best legacy General Buhari will leave.

The scramble for General Buhari’s endorsement or the fight to establish a foothold with or without his blessing will challenge the party as much as the pre-election quarrels did last year. This is why the General himself should be personally involved in pushing through key reforms in this party so that a new leadership emerges which enjoys popular, rather than the General’s support. For a man who has elevated the demand for credible elections to a step below the worship of God, General Buhari needs to be reminded that intra-party democracy is a fundamental requirement for a working and credible electoral process.

The dominance of the PDP in the national political landscape may be a function of its ability to manipulate the electoral process better than the opposition, but the unhealthy presence of Tinubu in the ACN and Buhari in CPC does not give much comfort that they will differ much from the PDP in terms of manner they are run. The only way the opposition can take on the PDP is to organize and release the energies of millions of Nigerians to feel that they have roles and stakes in overhauling the Nigerian political and electoral system, and that they do not exist only to put people into political offices. General Buhari can show Nigerians that there is a lot more to politics than running for office.

 


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