Buhari and the Disadvantage of Incumbency, By Majeed Dahiru
Nowhere is Buhari’s disadvantage of incumbency more discernible than within his most secure base in the Muslim North, as seen in the pattern of defections from the APC to the PDP. From the Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, to the most populous North-Western State of Kano and the important North-East State of Bauchi, the torrent of defections is a protest…
Until the defeat of then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election by opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians often held the incumbency factor in awe as an electoral advantage. This was reinforced in the political culture of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, when the Olusegun Obasanjo led administration deployed state power to “capture” opposition strongholds in the 2003 and 2007 general elections, in manner that was described as a “do or die” electoral affair. This bad example of how not to use state power by politically interfering in security operations, dictating to an otherwise independent electoral commission, and generously using state funds to coercively secure victory for candidates of the ruling party, left many Nigerians with a loss of faith in the electoral process. As far as Nigerians were concerned, their votes did not count in terms of who eventually got elected.
However, the defeat of President Jonathan and decimation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from a ruling majority to an opposition minority in all tiers and arms of government, have brought a new dimension to the concept of the power of incumbency as a factor associated with electoral advantages. Whereas the advantageous potency of the power of incumbency in electoral matters cannot be discountenanced in a liberal democracy such as Nigeria’s, there is the more important determinant factor of the disadvantage of incumbency as arising from poor performance in governance and general leadership failure. When an elected leadership in a liberal democracy fails to meet its basic responsibility of security and welfare to citizens, it is susceptible to the disadvantage of incumbency. For failing to meet up to his promise of securing a better life for the majority of Nigerians, a failure that was made worse by undisguised corruption and heightened insecurity, Goodluck Jonathan’s incumbency became a disadvantage to his electoral fortunes. And when the PDP took Nigerians for granted and fielded Jonathan again, the party went down in defeat with him. Obasanjo got away with impunity for his devious electoral acts largely because Nigeria’s democracy was considered nascent at the time and the opposition was moderated not to attract military interference in the nation’s fledging democratic experiment.
Jonathan and Buhari have so much in come. Like isotopes of the same element, they are alike in different ways. The same way Jonathan went into the 2015 presidential election is how Buhari is going into the 2019 presidential election, with an overload of the disadvantage of incumbency. Jonathan, who was the darling of the poor masses of Nigeria as a man from a very poor background, with the added advantage of being perceived as meek, unambitious, and a perfect gentleman with prospects for a people-oriented government in 2011, had by 2015 become public enemy number one for his failure to meet the people’s expectation. Jonathan failed to substantially alleviate the conditions of Nigeria’s suffering masses, who saw him as one of their own in whom they had vested the legitimacy of democratic power to improve their security and welfare. Jonathan allowed himself to be hijacked by a clique of Nigeria’s corrupt political elite and their business partners – chips of the same old block of state buccaneers who were largely responsible for his own impoverished childhood. He ended up turning Nigeria into a country of the richest man in Africa and also the poorest people in the same continent.
Buhari’s selective war on corruption has not only heightened corruption but has also brought ridicule on the anti-corruption institutions. As one with an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari estimates himself as being equal to the Nigerian state. He equates loyalty to his personae with patriotism to the Nigerian state.
Similarly, Buhari who was high in the perception of integrity and was widely accepted as a credible alternative to the corruption riddled Jonathan, has failed to live up to his reputation. Buhari, whom the masses equally saw as one of their own and believed that his untiring quest to lead Nigeria was borne out of a genuine concerning for their pitiable plight, like Jonathan has surrendered himself to Nigeria’s corrupt clique of state buccaneers. Buhari has failed in clear terms to fulfil his three core electoral campaign promises of fighting corruption, fixing the economy and improving the security of lives and property, which earned him the democratic mandate to govern. To compound Buhari’s failure has been his elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy; a factor which has not only undermined economic recovery, national security and the war on corruption but has left Nigeria more divided than at any other time in its 58 years as an independent nation. Buhari’s sectionalism has elevated mediocrity over meritocracy and enthroned incompetence. The concomitant effect of these is that the best hands to help in economic recovery, tackling insecurity and fighting corruption are not engaged. Consequently, Nigeria’s economy slipped into a debilitating recession and has only recovered at a less than impressive growth rate of 1.95 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, in comparison to the 2.7 per cent growth rate in May 2015. The Buhari administration inherited a single digit inflation rate of 9.01 per cent but bequeathed to Nigeria a double digit rate of above 17 per cent at the peak of the recession, which has only just eased to 11.05 per cent in the first quarter of 2018. Rather than create new jobs as promised, millions of Nigerians have lost their jobs in the last three years of the Buhari administration.
Buhari’s selective war on corruption has not only heightened corruption but has also brought ridicule on the anti-corruption institutions. As one with an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari estimates himself as being equal to the Nigerian state. He equates loyalty to his personae with patriotism to the Nigerian state. He brooks no criticism, no matter how reasonably patriotic. He turns a blind eye to blind loyalists that are looting Nigeria blind across all strata of government. He is deaf to loud voices that are trying to draw his attention to the corrupt excesses of his appointees. Unfortunately, some individuals with dubious intentions have hidden under the guise of being Buharists to keep the proceeds of their corrupt engagements in previous governments, while joining in the current rape of the country.
In addition to the raging Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria has been plagued by the additional security challenge of marauding killer herdsmen that are unleashing uncontrollable terror on farming communities across Nigeria. If Jonathan was criticised for not doing enough to stem the monster of Boko Haram insurgency, Buhari is being criticised for doing nothing at all to protect Nigerians against these killer herdsmen. Emboldened by Buhari’s complacency, Nigeria has become a thoroughfare for rampaging murderers from all over West and Central Africa.
In a liberal democracy such as Nigeria, the incumbency factor can only be an advantage if it is backed by a visibly convincing record of good governance… The problem with APC is Buhari with his second term aspiration and the solution to th APC problem is a Buhari without a second term aspiration.
The recent flurry of defections from the ruling APC back to the PDP in what can be described as a repeat of the history of exactly four years ago, is a clear indication that the fate of Jonathan in 2015 may be visited upon Buhari in 2019. Nigerians will not punish Jonathan for bad governance in 2015 and reward Buhari for a worse form of governance during the next presidential election. The attempt to make light of a serious situation by narrowing the reason for the recent defections to the selfish ambitions of some the decamping APC members is just self-consolation by Buhari’s supporters. Like Jonathan’s inability to abide by his PDP’s zoning arrangement, Buhari’s failure of leadership within his APC is the major reason for these defections. His failure to impartially uphold the leadership principles of fairness, justice and equity, without making a distinction between his personal loyalists and party loyalists, has greatly alienated some powerful members of the APC. Most importantly, his failure to fulfil his campaign promises in accordance with the APC manifesto has placed a moral burden on some patriotic Nigerians within his party who genuinely believed in Buhari’s ability to put Nigeria on the path of progress, to speak out against his poor performance in a similar manner they had earlier voiced out against PDP’s Jonathan. These powerful members are now emboldened to move out of the APC because of Buhari’s significant drop in popularity on account of the widespread discontent among Nigerians over the president’s poor performance in government.
Nowhere is Buhari’s disadvantage of incumbency more discernible than within his most secure base in the Muslim North, as seen in the pattern of defections from the APC to the PDP. From the Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, to the most populous North-Western State of Kano and the important North-East State of Bauchi, the torrent of defections is a protest against Buhari’s inability to meet the expectations of a people who staked all for his rise to power. In Buhari’s Nigeria, the socio-economic conditions of the Muslim north have declined to the bottom of all human development indices. In addition to widespread poverty, disease and illiteracy, Northern Nigeria has become the most dangerous part of Africa to live in today as a result of heightened insecurity. Buhari’s sectionalism has only succeeded in empowering a few families and friends within the elite, while leaving millions of ordinary people in despondent poverty. To believe that Buhari’s much talked about 12 million vote bank in the North is intact is some sort of grand delusion.
In a liberal democracy such as Nigeria, the incumbency factor can only be an advantage if it is backed by a visibly convincing record of good governance. Elected leaders are the servants of their electors. As masters, the electors will task their elected servants hard to deliver on the social contract they freely committed to. To continue to derive democratic legitimacy to lead is for the elected servants to continue to meet the expectations of their master electors. The problem with APC is Buhari with his second term aspiration and the solution to th APC problem is a Buhari without a second term aspiration.