Fifteen years after Nigeria’s return to democracy, the leadership challenges, which were the demerits of the regimes of the soldiers before it, have only become worse. Contrary to the excuse that ours is still “nascent democracy”, a self-deception promoted by the optimists infatuated with the country despite its bad political mannerisms, fifteen years are long enough for the transformation of a nation. But, instead of allying to form a powerful army of reasons against the ruling elite, we allow ourselves to be turned into an uncritical majority still lounging to understand what democracy, a system that has been exhaustively developed by our mentors in the West, really is!
When General Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired soldier and former military president already in his sixties, was elected in 1999, Nigerians were not impressed. And they had their reasons. They were tired of the old faces, especially from the same establishment that had turned the fortunes of the nation upside down. The President of their choice had to be of this specification: civilian with no record of involvements in the affairs of the soldiers, young in the biology of Nigerian politics and, very importantly, educated! – and they were specifically interested in a citizen not educated at the Nigerian Defence Academy, the laboratory of the monstrous leaders who had disabled the vital organs of the country.
On losing his fight to stay beyond constitutionally approved terms – old habits hardly die, you know – General Obasanjo heeded the citizens’ demands for a Nigerian who was educated, a proper graduate, and young. The result was 55-year-old graduate of Chemistry/Education, with a master’s in Analytical Chemistry: Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua. No, he didn’t turn the State House into a science laboratory, and it was not his will that the State House only became his hospital and the Seat of Power his passage way unto the world beyond. But that was not what really disturbed the sentimental Nigerians. They said, though Yar’adua was truly young and educated, he was an aje-bota (sadly there’s a certain stigma in being from a wealthy family, privileged), and he’s from the Hausa-Fulani ruling class (the theory has always been that the Hausa-Fulani, a misnomer for the northern elite, exhibits a despicable born-to-rule mentality in their yearnings for political powers).
The sentiments against Yar’adua, quite unsurprisingly, favoured his deputy, a southerner from the hypothetically marginalised minority and oil-producing region, who, during his campaign for the Office of the President after the passing of his principal, told the electorate who had also celebrated his credentials as a Ph.D. that he had no shoes growing up. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the product of our accumulated sentiments over these years of mis-governance: non-soldier, non-ajebota, non-northerner, non-Hausa-Fulani, non-aristocrat, non-privileged… Goodluck Jonathan.
Under this “ajepako graduate from the minority”, awaiting the promised Transformation Agenda, which he promised to deliver as part of his fabled Fresh Air of change, we all graduated into worse level of predicaments in which we’ve realised, the hard way, that he’s no doubt a certified scholar of cluelessness, one unfit to serve, even in his area of expertise, as a zoo keeper. Sure, I’m a witness to his failing. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that while his predecessor, a chemist, turned the State House into drug-consuming chamber, he, a zoologist, has turned the country into an animal kingdom where a certain Abubakar Shekau had declared a “fringe” of the country independent of the government of the federal republic of Nigeria – and even proved this psychobabble as a fact by chasing 480(!) armed soldiers out of the territory of Nigeria, into Cameroon!
When individual merits are played down by sentimental voters, prepare for such depressing realities. But the sad thing is, our political education is so poor that President Jonathan is only seen as a variable of the “federal character” by the sentimental bunch, not as the testifiably failed leader he is. We have clearly completed a 360-degree turn in this experiment in choice of leaders from the lens of ethno-religious and regional sentiments, but that lessons have been learnt is not quite confirmed yet.
I understand that some Nigerians, including close friends, who voted for this President based on the sentiments that a man from the minority ethnic group, and from a region that is “our breadwinner” needed to be in power, have regretted the very act. What they haven’t really understood is that Nigeria has never, at any time and occasion, functioned without the participation of members of all ethnic groups and religions and regions in the ruins. What they haven’t acknowledged is the complexity of this country, and that Goodluck Jonathan was not the first representative of the minority ethnic groups in government. Yes, because even the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, was from the minority ethnic group in Bauchi State. General Yakubu Gowon, a Christian, who was head of state for nine years, in the years the young Goodluck Jonathan had no shoes, is also from the minority. The last time I checked even General Sani Abacha was Kanuri. The identities of Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar, both of Niger State, have always been elusive, never really approved as members of the “actual” Hausa-Fulani!
Our obsessions with sentiments have dispossessed us of ordinary ability to realise that the underdevelopment of Nigeria is a collective sin of a socio-political class in which privileged members of every religion, ethnicity and region are represented, and thus the rant that the maladministration of a particular government was the fault of a specific ethnic group should actually be aimed at all members of the ruling elite involved.
We must regain our application of reasons in the time of moral conflict if indeed we’re interested in ending this 15-year-old experiment in flawed democratic choices. In a sane country, a government that couldn’t rescue over 200 of its citizens in captivity won’t even have the moral courage to face its citizens, let along make an attempt to seek re-election. It would only complete its tenure with sincere apology to the actually and conditionally bereaved parents of the forsaken citizens it took an oath to protect!
So, as 2015 approaches, the question still remains: what and who do Nigerians really want? A Muslim, Christian, Hausa, Igbo, Nupe or a politically awakened Nigerian? Whoever aspires to change this country has to be really courageous, and let him come prepared that he may not be re-elected, for this country doesn’t “deserve” good men. May God save us from us!
Mr. Gimba Kakanda is an essayist and public policy commentator. He writes from Abuja and can be reached via @gimbakakanda on Twitter