I watched General Muhammadu Buhari on TV read his acceptance speech after his victory at the APC primary election. He reeled off his plans for the country with the vigor of a man who, in his septuagenarian, is not ready to give up his political ambitions for the country. Millions of Nigerians must have watched that speech, too. And it might have only got many still thinking, who really is this man?
For the past few years now, each time Buhari pops-up on the TV screen, a lop-sided tale of love often comes to my mind. It is that of a man once betrayed in a relationship, long ago, but is willing to give love a try again. Unfortunately, however, he falls in love with a woman who has gone through several heartbreaks in previous relationships with past lovers, too. The few times the man is opportune to spend with the woman, he tells her he loves her. She looks at him askance. Prove it to me, she says. Prove you really love me. He is confused. For he doesn’t know how to prove it, when all she wants is that first, he proves the love before the relationship. He has always known love to be a mutually benefiting one, that which binds and builds in the middle of the relationship. She, in turn, has learned bitterly that love often ends with one leviathan snatching away everything from the other.
An older friend had briefly seen the acceptance speech with me. He’s unimpressed. As far as he is concerned, the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know. He walks out of the room, leaving me thinking of millions of Nigerians who might have whispered a similar aphorism under their breath as Buhari reads his promises for the country.
Honesty and Integrity. Most Nigerians either grew up hearing General Buhari profess this implicitly in his manifestos or witnessed him exhibit it as a former head of state. However sincere this may be, it doesn’t seem to work the magic anymore. Check the records from 1999 to date, and you’d find that the two leaders we’ve had, with the exception of late Yar’adua who was technically imposed on us, were voted for based on their past misfortunes or out of sheer sympathy. Our circumstances have “wired” us, by default, to match plight with plight. OBJ had gone and come out of jail. And so he had felt the pangs of pains and knows just how our own pains can be eased. GEJ grew up without shows. Who else could have understood poverty better than one who could connect with millions of Nigerians that walk barefoot on the corners and streets of the country, as well? What is Buhari’s story? We ask, perplexed.
We have an adjustable kind of lens fixed with which we view our politicians. We adjust it to Goodluck, and a man who has been with us for over four years, whom we know so well, but may not be necessarily pleased with, appears. It doesn’t matter if we’re being bombed back to the Stone Age. One with Goodluck is majority, we agree. It is adjusted again and Buhari is visible. The lens is quickly shifted. A stranger just surfaced. Chances are that his tenure will rain baptism of fire than Boko Haram is currently waging, we say. We leave ourselves torn. During elections, we take our torn minds to the polls and effortlessly fall for candidates who can easily connect our lacks and wants with the material comforts of one day (measured rice, counted cubes, tomato sachets). They win. We’re left groaning for another 4 or 8 years.
Our weak spots as Nigerians have always been our divides and poverty. But these weaknesses might have sprouted from our own unwillingness to accept change. And so when we become so comfortable with leaders, however disheartening it is with them, we warm up and form a close-knit. They become the prophets who, regardless of how horrific the journey is, will get us to the grace land. This is why a serving leader can confidently laugh at the opposition, assuring them that they have lost even before the election. They will amass votes, they are sure, either by the bond voters have built with them or otherwise.
It is only two months to election, and it won’t be unsurprising that so many Nigerians are still undecided who to vote for. Some have empathized with the serving leader, and can’t imagine Nigeria without him. Others are considering the opponent but seem confused about who he truly is. Nigerians are weary. They’re tired of hard hustling, of gory scenes with splintered bodies from bomb blast, of poverty. They’re tired of multiple faces that assure them with every audacity during elections of great promises but little or no delivery. They desire change, but are scared from scarred past of shifting their lenses to a new leader who might bring about that change. If this is not because of skepticism, then it has to be because of the conservatism we have never thought dwell in us.
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