As the campaigns for the 2019 elections drew to a close, deep concerns could be observed, at least from media postures. Even as partisan enthusiasts seized platforms of popular culture to represent their candidate of choice as the best, there were those who entertained deep concerns. For quite a lot of people, President Buhari hadn’t just been what he was thought capable of doing if he became president after three decades in limbo. But the import of the economic framework Atiku Abubakar, the challenger, was spewing was no less frightening for many others. But, at that point, the most that was heard was, let democracy have its way.
Whether democracy had its way eventually in the conduct of the 2019 presidential election is now a matter of opinion. Certainly, democracy did not have its way in such a manner that left no one grumbling in the proportion they are doing, especially before the courts to which Nigeria has now practically handed over the conduct of elections. The Final Report of the EU Election Observer Mission (EOM) on the conduct and credibility of the 2019 elections is a further attestation on the problematic nature of the elections. This is with particular reference to election serving as a mechanism for disciplining politicians by allowing voters to write testimonials for them.
It helps but does not take an EU EOM Final Report for a country that wants representative democracy but cannot put its foot down in terms of credible elections to know that it is investing in imponderable consequences. More so that investment in electoral corruption has been steady since 1999. Many politicians have been in power since 1999 without ever winning any elections, their victory always a matter of ‘arrangement’. The idea that such would not happen under a Buhari Presidency has been shattered, given the number of election petitions across the country.
The observable fear is how this electoral profile is coinciding with a period of deep elite fragmentation, a highly charged inter-discursive space in terms of the degree of mobilization of difference as well as glaring decline in quality of governance across the country irrespective of party in power or the religion of the leaders.
These features are manifesting against another reality: only one of the five possible futures of Nigeria was and is positive in terms of the possibility of prosperity since as early as between 2005 and 2007. Three out of the remaining four talked of doomsday, crisis and collapse. Whoever, whatever and whichever is the mischief in those scenarios, they contain nuggets of truth about the very nature or character and direction of the Nigerian state. The doomsday direction suggested by the scenarios shows strongly that the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), the most established political force in Nigeria up to that period, had failed the test of a strategic vision for Nigeria. The question now is whether four years of the alternative party – the APC – has identified and filled that gap beyond the alienating politics of the charismatic imaginary.
By 2010, it was already such that a Festus Iyayi, for example, warned at an occasion chaired by Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, that the Nigerian elite as a collective was driving the nation to a cul de sac. But he said so in anticipation of the emergence of the interests, forces and groups that could exercise oversight on ruling class politics. Almost a decade after that supplication, has Nigeria got that sort of critical oversight culture? Certainly, not in the sufficiently robust manner needed.
The media, the Left and the civil society ought to be those interests, groups and forces, given the middle class location of those who drive them and that class’s eternal drive for change. While it must be granted that the media, more than any other institution, is keeping democracy alive, the paradox there must be recognized. Substantially still dominated in ownership by members of the elite, assigning or expecting them to deliver on oversight on the same elite seems to be a joke. What the media is able to achieve this far must, therefore, be only because, as an intellectual arena, there is a measure of autonomy in journalistic practices that ownership cannot eliminate.
That the Left has been left behind is not such an uncommon statement in Nigeria anymore. Whether it has been left behind is debatable but there appears to be a left battle with itself at the levels of ideology, programmes and strategy.
The less said on the civil society, the better because, even Gramsci, the most original theorist of the phenomenon, never credited the civil society with capacity for unidirectional politics. What the civil society does at any one point depends on who gets it or who gets a particular section of it. The radical flank is usually more progressive and forwardly so. Does such a distinct flank exist in Nigeria today?
It is no surprise that the pastoral dimension of governance or government has been missing and is still missing in Nigeria. That leaves President Buhari’s idea of unleashing on Nigeria a strong team the only possibility of a leap forward. Yes, great leadership is about assembling a strong team but just as it is about superintending it. How great the coming team would be is what the country is waiting for. In the Nigerian context, however, there could be a problem with that because Nigeria is where a word such as ‘great’ can be highly contestable. Two, what might be greatness in a country without a clear business model. Three, Nigeria is where innovation in office can quickly become an albatross for any genuine innovator because Nigeria has too many people who have reasons to block innovation and who have more access to a Nigerian president than most ministers can ever muster. In such circumstances, personal understanding and endorsement of an incumbent president becomes the only guarantee for the possibility of innovativeness. Is that guaranteed in the Buhari presidential rule book?