The prompter for this editorial comment is what an aide of President Muhammadu Buhari has said about the future of democracy but which, in her mind, is a normal attack on Atiku Abubakar, the opponent of her boss in the 2019 elections in Nigeria. This editorial puts the said comment in context, starting with two prefatory paragraphs.
The less said about the dangers of a one-dimensional view of the world, the better. Reality is too diffuse and indeterminate for any project such as Intervention to be tied to any interests in a static sense of consistency. To that extent, Intervention does not have the baggage of being connected to any interests which it has to defend, come rain, come shine. That is why it can be read attacking one interest today but endorsing a different aspect of the same interest the next day, taking each case on its own merit.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, now the presidential flag bearer of the leading opposition party in Nigeria – the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) is one such interests. He has particularly enjoyed what he must, typically, consider negative framing in this newspaper. Although Intervention has always recognised his capacity for utilising vital local and global platforms to articulate his worldview, that he has no baggage of ethno-religious chauvinism and has a heritage of headhunting for enhanced resource persons, the paper has consistently clobbered him for what it considers his wrongheaded infatuation with restructuring and privatisation.
The paper has argued and still argues that there are no ways of implementing the two without finally wrecking Nigeria. Privatisation, in particular, is what has brought this country on its knees today and there is no wizardry anywhere that would take the country out of the embarrassing mess it is today without the next president doing what General Sani Abacha did: assigning the epistemic authority for thinking through and managing the Nigerian economy to someone like the late Prof. Sam Aluko. In fact, Intervention is in the mood to say that should Atiku win the next presidential election and become Mr. President, the honeymoon will not go beyond half a year if his economic team is not made up of thinkers who have liberated themselves from the silly economic logic of neoliberal globalisation. Intervention assumes that, should Atiku win the impending election, re-jigging his economic thinking must be part of his re-invention of himself if he is not to quickly pass into mediocrity and a subject of ridicule.
Notwithstanding Intervention’s reservations about the candidate’s economic logic and flirtations with transient populism in such matters as restructuring, it does not believe that there is any basis for intemperate and very suggestive pronouncements emanating from some quarters about Atiku’s presidential project being a dream that “won’t happen”. That is the widely circulated statement that has been credited to a presidential aide by name Lauretta Onochie. Although there has been no independent authentication of the statement, there are several similar ones preceding this particular one. all of which are NOT innocent statements because those who made them or on whose behalf they might have been made are most often time in a position to enforce it.
There should be no reasons why Atiku cannot be president if he should win convincingly. There are millions today who would not want President Buhari to get a second term in office just as there were millions who did not imagine him as president of Nigeria in 2015. But he has spent four years in power because, in 2015, the slogan was ‘anyone else but Goodluck Jonathan’. If the dynamics work out in such a way that Atiku is the choice of more voters than Buhari and every other candidates in 2019, then why would he not be president? Where is this dark mindset coming from with the suggestion that she or some other interests have a responsibility to edit electoral democracy in action if there has been an election and there has been a winner? How would the oversight be exercised without a repeat of the chaos that followed a similar gambit in 1993 in which people who had no voices in the making of that decision were those who suffered most, with the attendant loss of lives, limbs and livelihood across the country. No, not again please, intended or unintended!
All persons who make pronouncements with implications that they do not seem to understand or do not care should note that, in the event of consequences traceable to such pronouncements, they would spend the rest of their life in The Hague. But even more important is it for individuals, office holders, the media and security agencies to insist on zero tolerance for such statements from whichever quarters. Nigeria ought to be too big for the conduct of elections to be something that the whole world has to sit up for fear that it could spill into anarchy. There is simply no basis for this kind of desperate statements in an election that, from all indications, is going to be a tight contest from which the electoral management body, the security agencies, the media, donors and the international community must have very valuable lessons to learn.
Society must quickly come up with a way of restraining those tempted to protect their appointment or calculating to get new appointment from making problematic statements which they have either not contemplated the full import or which they lack the capacity to even comprehend in context. No one should be allowed to take peace for granted because even the position of a presidential aide would be endangered should the country fall into an impasse. If it was an assignment for Onochie to test the waters, Nigeria should make it very clear to her quickly that she will be held as an individual for consequences of such pronouncements if such consequences are declared as such by competent authorities.
A credible election is in the eye of the beholder but a credible distance in decision making about even one’s greatest desire is an absolute requirement for personal and collective survival. In a country such as Nigeria, democracy can throw up all manner of outcomes but once an outcome becomes a consensus, then it ought to prevail. There is a difference between attacking Atiku Abubakar on partisan grounds and attacking the soul of Nigeria and no one should be allowed to confuse one with the other.