Last week, someone forwarded to me the text of a letter the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, wrote to the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) – President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) respectively, expressing fears about post-election violence that may result from the 2015 general elections. “The violence of 2015 is going to be horrendous and worse than the one of 2011 for the simple reason that the illegal massive importation of weapons into the country has reached such alarming proportions that I really wonder which is better armed, the militias on one hand or the official armed forces on the other hand”, he warned. For two weeks and counting, I have been patiently waiting to read either or both of the candidates’ responses to the grave concerns flagged in the letter.

Lately, the media has been awash with rumours of post-election war preparations in Ijawland, including acquisition of warships by certain individuals of Ijaw origin. Silence has greeted these rumours. The silence from official quarters is not unusual, particularly because Nigerians have in the last six years been conditioned to have zero expectations of public safety from the Goodluck Jonathan-led government. Because Buhari has promised to bring about “change” in the governance architecture, it is his silence that is profoundly unsettling.

Truth is that Buhari cannot pretend to be unaware of the fanaticism, belligerence and overzealousness that characterize the activities and modus operandi of his many faithful followers. In the eyes of Buhari’s teeming followers, we must UNCRITICALLY accept everything Buhari says as messianic epistle that should never be interrogated nor questioned. “His feet must not be put to fire. To ask him hard questions is to commit mortal sin”. Any questioning of Buhari’s candidacy, no matter how legitimate, attracts far-flung missiles, unlimited curses and volcanic eruption of threats and insults. It doesn’t get more intolerant than this. The worst part is intellectuals and the seemingly enlightened electorate have joined the bandwagon, unashamedly exhibiting such regretful, undemocratic behaviour.

What Buhari’s silence – in the face of this growing intolerance to opposing views – shows is that he learned no useful lessons from the 2011 post-election violence that claimed no less than 800 lives, including young citizens cut down in their prime while serving their fatherland under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. In fact, it’s either he learnt no lessons from  that tragic incident or that he doesn’t regret that it happened. It was his discomforting silence that emboldened his opponents to attribute the 2011 post-election violence to him, and twist his pre-election statements out of context. Consequently, a smear campaign against him flourished and falsehood embellished as truth was engraved in the minds of many till this day.  It took several years of protracted litigation and counter-claims before an apology could be extracted from Reuben Abati, the author of the April 22, 2011 Guardian newspaper article entitled “For the attention of General Buhari,” which claimed that Buhari‘s unguarded statement stirred the 2011 post-election violence.

Barack Obama Campaign Organization’s response to Ndi Okereke Onyiuke-led surreptitious fundraising campaign for Obama, tagged, “Africans for Obama ’08”,   is an example of what leaders should do when overzealous followers overstep their bounds. Mrs. Okereke’s fundraising activities violate U.S. electoral regulations which prohibit foreign donations to domestic electoral campaigns. Obama’s campaign organization immediately dissociated itself and Barack Obama from the scam, adding that “no money from the group would be accepted”. Distancing themselves from dubious and irrational activities of devout followers does not mean that the Obama campaign team had no need for such funds at that time; it simply means that adherence to the rule of law trumps all other personal and political gains. It also means that beating one’s chest as Mr. Integrity is not enough; instead integrity must be accompanied by overt acts that align with such self-proclamation, even when it is to your own political detriment. Buhari has not yet done this.

There are ample reasons to be worried about this escalating trend of bullying and harassing holders of opposing views. It is an open secret that some presidential spokespersons of Goodluck Jonathan recruit young Nigerians that I nicknamed, cyber rodents, to stalk and abuse critics of the government. These miserably-paid cyber rodents hover all over social media sites on daily basis, monitoring, attacking and blackmailing ‘marked individuals’ on their benefactors’ lists. As a vocal critic of Goodluck Jonathan’s awful leadership, I have been so terrorised, blackmailed, attacked, and recurrently issued with death threats to the extent that I had to submit a formal petition to relevant government departments. I have been emotionally scarred to the extent that I would do anything to avert a repeat of those ugly episodes. Buhari has not even won the elections yet, but there are grave signs that what was experienced under Goodluck Jonathan would be child’s play should Buhari become president. This is so scary.

Two days ago, I peeped into a discussion forum on Facebook where predominantly northern youth were discussing Ijaw’s threat of war should Jonathan lose the 2015 elections. “Residents of just one local government in Kano are enough to crush every living thing in the whole of Ijaw land. What happened in Odi will be child’s play”, one of the commentators boasted and tons of fellow discussants clicked on the “Like” button in a show of solidarity with such a distasteful comment. If toothless citizens could be filled with so much bile, you can imagine what would happen if they were in positions of authority. Beyond the social media, Buhari’s followers in enclosed elitist discussion forums are constantly on the attack mode, defending the person of Buhari as opposed to articulating Buhari’s proposed initiatives that would deliver the over-promised “change”. Attempts to get them to discuss the real issues usually meet a brickwall and are repelled with perambulatory ripostes.  It is true that Buhari may have neither employed nor directly incited people to act irrationally on his behalf; but his silence amid the growing intolerance is a grave indictment on his principled stand against corruption. Such silence is a grave form of moral corruption.

Having hordes of intolerant characters among his teeming followership base should be of serious concern to Buhari. It does not only spell doom, but reinforces former minister Bolaji Akinyemi’s fears that 2015 post-election violence would be more horrendous than that of 2011. Buhari, as a change agent, has both a moral and legal duty to prevent this, by either calling his followers to order or distancing himself from them.  It would amount to double standards to accuse the Jonathan-led present government of incompetence and corruption, and at the same time lower expectations from prospective presidential aspirants. If Buhari will indeed perform, then citizens shall retain the right to ask him the same hard questions we have asked Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan’s sorry leadership has made a change of government inevitable, but citizens shall always, I mean, ALWAYS, reserve the right to interrogate the content of that ‘change”. Anything short of this paints Buhari as “same of the same”. Buhari’s followers should not  fall into that trap…

Happy New Year!

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Victoria Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change (www.spacesforchange.org), a youth-development and policy advocacy organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is currently a post-graduate student of Harvard University in the United States of America. She can be reached on spacesforchange.s4c@gmail.com