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Bolaji Abdullahi: Muhammadu Buhari’s Candidacy And Continuity Vs Change



No matter what happens next year, 2015 promises to be another defining moment in our history. It would either be the year when all the citizens of this nation, united in our diversity by common fate, decide to change the course of history, or the year that we miss a critical opportunity to recover the soul of our country. It is times like this, a time of great social disequilibrium, when the nation appears to have lost its moral compass and, like the Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz said, “everything is acceptable and no one is accountable”, that also provides a great opportunity for real change.

We are locked in an unrelenting war against a mindless insurgency group that has actively subverted our sovereignty and threatened our very existence. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many more have been turned to refugees in their own country. Our economy, despite the triumphalism of a rosy GDP, has not eased the struggles of many households to make ends meet as fewer citizens can afford even the very basic necessities of life. Our educational system, which in the past has helped so many children from poor homes to climb up the economic ladder, has collapsed. Only the elite can afford the right quality of basic education that gives children a chance in life or a higher education that is of any use to the market, thereby consolidating inter-generational poverty for the have-nots. As if to further compound our woes, falling oil price has caught us unprepared, signaling a future where the main source of our national revenue is less and less relevant. Despite the best intentions of government, the future that we face is grim indeed.

When a nation is caught up in this kind of strait, apart from God’s infinite mercy, what she needs is a particular kind of leader. A leader whose brilliance of character would illuminate our paths to self-rediscovery and remind us that we have not always been like this; therefore, we can be better.

In socio-political terms, 2015 is for Nigeria like 1993 or 1999. Unfortunately, even though the political elite recognized the utter significance of those moments, we missed the opportunities to bring about the enduring change that was necessary. And maybe this is partly why we are in this mess today. The South Africans found themselves in a similar defining moment with the elections of 1994, the first post-apartheid election in that country. When they elected Nelson Mandela as President, it was easy to wonder what a 76-year-old man who had been locked away for 27 years could do to change the living conditions of the majority who have suffered a lifetime of extreme deprivation. But what the South Africans realized was that there was no better man to lead the country’s journey out of the historic trauma of apartheid than a man who, even though weaker in body, is much stronger than most in character. A leader that embodied the collective desire of the people for change. A leader whose force of character could pervade the consciousness of every citizen and make everyone believe that they can be better than they are.

The Presidential Primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos last week promised this kind of South African consciousness. With the transparency, efficiency and harmony of that process, the APC has not only redefined party politics in Nigeria, it has also ennobled our democracy in the eyes of the world. But more importantly, by allowing a Muhammadu Buhari to emerge as their Presidential candidate, the APC leadership demonstrated a self-preserving awareness that the situation in our country today ultimately imperils everyone, the rich and the poor alike. By choosing Buhari, the candidate who best exemplifies the kind of radical change that we need for this moment, the APC delegates have also shown that they understand that the soul of our country is at stake and that in the face of temptations, Nigerians still have the courage to take their destiny into their hands.

True, three decades have gone by since Buhari was our military head of state and he is not going to be the same 41-year-old soldier who authorized 200 years jail sentences for corruption. Yet, there are no questions around the standards of integrity and trustworthiness that he has consistently set for himself over the past decades. Buhari’s persistent willingness to submit himself to the democratic process and team up with more traditional politicians is also evidence of his own personal metamorphosis. However, nobody supporting him to be president has any doubt that this is a man still capable of drawing the line in the sand and daring anyone to cross it.

In his previous outings, Buhari’s opponents had vehemently invoked his background of military dictatorship. They liked to recount especially his Decree 4 that led to the imprisonment of journalists without trial and other drastic actions of his regime. These are historical realities that can neither be denied nor excused. However, we must not ignore also the fact that all that happened in those years were in the context of the even more fundamental aberration that military rule was. So much has happened in Nigerian history that shouldn’t have happened. And military rule, with its various consequences, was not the only one. We must not forget every single one of them and the difficult struggle that brought us this democracy. It is in keeping memory alive that we can fuel our eternal vigilance and resolve to say “never again”!

However, we must also not allow ourselves to be held hostage by our history. This is one important lessons that we can learn from Germany, a nation that has reconciled itself with its past and moved on, building its unity and progress on the very fabrics of its turbulent history.

A child that was born 30 years ago, in 1984, has more reasons to be afraid for her future than for Nigeria’s past. In fact, what young Nigerians are most afraid of today is the promise of “continuity”. This is why the strategy to build President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid on the theme of “continuity” is obviously wrong-headed in the context of current condition. The heartbroken parents of the Chibok girls would not want continuity. The grieving parents of Buni Yadi boys would not want continuity either. The thousands of bright and enthusiastic young Nigerians who crammed the National Stadium in Abuja in search of jobs but left with the dead bodies of their colleagues would reject any notion of continuity. Those who live in mortal terror of bomb explosion every single day of their lives would not want continuity. Continuity that devalues currency and devalues lives certainly would hold no appeal to anyone aside those who are currently connected to the gravy train.

In the past, we have rightly adored those who have achieved success through hard work. They were celebrated as models of what was possible if one worked hard. These days, young Nigerians have grown cynical and suspicious of any story of success around them. Their social condition has led them to conclude that rich people do not deserve their wealth, just as they do not deserve their grinding existence. While wealthy people thank God for their riches and life of luxury, poor people blame rich people for their poverty and life of misery. They know that it cannot be an act of God that so few would be so rich while so many would be so poor. They know that such inequality is unnatural and can only be consequences of bad decisions: the choices that government has made and what it has allowed some people to get away with.

On the clear evidence of our bleak future, what majority of Nigerians want is change. And if government is not able to bring about that change, then the time has come to change that government. 2015 provides a great opportunity for this change to happen. Anyone who has studied the Arab Spring would know that it is in the enlightened self interest of the political elite in this country to make the peaceful change possible. Things are bad. But we don’t have to wait until they get out of control. This opportunity for real change is what the Buhari candidacy presents to us all in 2015. It has come to remind us of the ideals that have propelled this country in the past and in which our history is grounded: courage, tolerance and patriotism.We must dare to give that change a chance.


Bolaji Abdullahi is former minister of youth development and minister of sports.


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