Updated: February 25, 2021
Just like yesterday on March 10, 2010, Nigerians bent the capricious hand of kismet and rose against the pirating of the presidency. Nigerian libertarians, in their hundreds, converged on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and marched to the residence of authority, demanding the actualization of the ‘’doctrine of necessity’’. The ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had just been snaked into the country from Saudi Arabia while a coterie of scavengers held power by the jugular and were unwilling to relax their grip. Nigerians of all religion, tongues and tribes rose and defied impunity.
It did not matter that the beneficiary (Goodluck Jonathan) of the collective struggle of citizens was a Christian or from a section of the country that is considered as a minority group. Nigerians fought a battle of conviction and of good over evil. Though the 2010 struggle was not about Jonathan per se, fate deposited a lot of goodwill and hope in the former president’s repository.
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Nigerians reposed so much hope in Jonathan believing that by becoming acting president out of a unique situation, he will not disappoint them. So, when he ran for office as president in 2011, it was with so much promise. I recall that a certain governor and some pastors said he was a god-send and labeled him the Moses who will lead ‘’Nigerians to the promise land’’. Jonathan was put in a messianic bubble and was expected to float like a fairy with the wand, turning every aspect of governance to gold.
But just a year into his administration, the cookie crumbled. The government became flatulent with corruption, obese by incompetence and inebriated by abuse of power. To conceal its incompetence veiled as weakness, the Jonathan administration took deeper gulps from the chalice of impunity. That government is the pictogram of vanished expectations.
The goodwill the former president once enjoyed evaporated and Nigerians hankered for another ‘’messiah’’ in 2015. It was anyone and ‘’anything’’ but Jonathan. President Muhammadu Buhari an unmutating conservative and hardliner was vended as a reformer and repentant dictator. He was said to be incorruptible and disciplined. He got the mantle because Nigerians were disillusioned with the Jonathan administration. It was a Hobson’s choice; an experiment. There was no other way. I believe even if Jonathan was re-elected, Nigeria would still have plunged deeper into economic and security crisis.
Really, power demystified whatever mystique Buhari held. His incompetence became glaring like the blue sky; corruption hijacked his government and surrendered it to impunity. He was not more or less than the one before him. He was just another quotidian Nigerian leader.
A few years after having a taste of the Buhari government, Nigerians are seeking another messiah — anyone or anything, but Buhari. But there are no messiahs anywhere, at least not in Nigeria.
Why do our ‘’messiahs’’ fail? Simple, because they are not ‘’sent’’. I will explain. Our leadership selection process throws up severely flawed political species. Rising on the political ladder in Nigeria is not dependent on competence, integrity and character, but on insular benchmarks – like loyalty, capacity for noise, industry for violence and Machiavellian inclinations. The selection process is compromised, particularly in political parties with a national spread and with more formidable chances for electoral victory.
So, when candidates emerge, they emerge as the products of some interest groups (ethnic, religious or political) and not as subjects of Nigerians. In other words, they are not sent by Nigerians; therefore, they will only yield to group interest. Let me explain further. Jonathan becoming vice-president in 2007 was by the design of Olusegun Obasanjo, former president, who handed the position to an Ijaw, the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta, as a token to pacify the region at a time militants were blowing up oil pipelines. So, it was not that there was any implicit leadership merit in Jonathan’s selection.
Also, Jonathan rising through the political ladder was not that he had any strong leadership credentials but for his loyalty and ability to be stoic in the face of malfeasance. He remained loyal to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, former governor of Bayelsa state, his boss under whom he served as deputy governor, while the former governor battled corruption cases in 2005. In July 2007, Alamieyeseigha was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption and all his assets repossessed. Jonathan offered him presidential pardon in 2013.
In addition, Buhari emerged at the top of the political selection pool not because he had managed any business successfully; not that he had scored any leadership masterstroke in public service before or have any leadership laurels to boast of, but because he fits into the cast of certain ethnic and religious interests. So, naturally he yields to these interests as president. His appointments, actions and infamous body language ring ‘’nepotism and cronyism’’. Also, his selective anti-corruption war and picky enforcement of justice bellow group interest preservation.
The question would be, but Nigerians voted for them? Well, Nigerians voted for pre-selected interests. They had no choice in the matter. They were victims of a devious ‘’divide-and-rule’’ conquest as well as ethnic and religious manipulation.
If we want messiahs we must begin to create them right from the selection process. But I doubt if this is not a tall order. So, what is the best bet? To fight. An active citizenry will put any government to work. What we have control over is our voice. We must not seek escape from the system but compel it to obedience. This is where we have been remiss as citizens. Whoever the interest groups throw up, we must hold to account. The office of the citizen is the greatest office in the land.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.