By Abimbola Adelakun
My prayer for Nigeria is that President Muhammadu Buhari will not contest another presidential election in 2019. I hope when the time comes, he will do the noblest thing: Thank Nigerians for giving him a chance to serve, allow the transition process to run smoothly without his interference, and walk away with his head high. That will be the best thing for Nigeria, and one hopes he has enough of the acclaimed Mandela spirit in him to know when to walk away from the gambling table. Nigeria is doing poorly under his watch and we cannot continue this way until 2023. We cannot be munching the same old issues on our weakened gums every election cycle. If Buhari decides to contest in 2019, we will waste about half of the electioneering time on enervating debates about his health; arguing whether he has the physical and mental capability to continue the taxing job of leading Nigeria or not. His detractors and his followers will have a lot of material to chew on for many such specious debates, none of which will improve our lot.
There will be much talk about Buhari’s disposition: how he not only failed to stop medical tourism as he promised but has probably spent the highest sum of public money ever on his health. This year, he has spent almost six months abroad treating an unknown ailment, and there is no guarantee he will not travel again before his tenure expires. His foreign trips have cost Nigeria tons of naira, and knowing how prohibitive medical costs in Britain can be for a non-citizen, Buhari has probably cost Nigeria higher than the budgetary allocation to the entire health sector in Nigeria. And the man is not humble enough even to be grateful to Nigerians whose sweat and blood pay for these luxuries.
When he returned from his last lengthy trip in August, after some 104 days, his first impulse was to re-establish territorial dominance to dissidents who had gained ground in his absence. Shorn of either tact or contemplation, he rode roughshod on an issue that could have been handled far differently. If Buhari chooses to contest, these issues will come up and his defenders, will, expectedly, twist themselves into climbing ropes to defend their “big daddy”. They will blackmail us with religious and cultural sentiments about not holding a poor man’s health against him. They will whip out their Red Book and mindlessly spew out their regular jabberwocky about their poor old man. They will say he is deserving of our indulgence because he is the messiah who saved Nigeria from the 10 plagues, (never mind that people are fighting Pharoah’s army and drowning in the Red Sea).
The conversation will expectedly spiral into the usual argument about Buhari fighting corruption. His aides will argue that for Buhari’s flaws to be so evident, it could only mean that corruption is fighting back. At this point, aides will then reach for their favourite whipping boy ¬¬¬– Dr. Goodluck Jonathan – to blame him for everything wrong with Nigeria. They will do all these to pass the time and by the time we are done with this chaotic cycle of palaver, more than 90 per cent of the election time would have been frittered and the election date, close. We would have little time left to engage the actual issues that matter to our lives as Nigerians and our future as a country. Time is running out on us as a nation and we can barely afford distractions. We need to be serious and Buhari’s presence will hardly let us be. That is why he needs to go in 2019.
Buhari’s government has fallen far short of the standard it set for itself and it is unfair that we should be called upon to discuss his underperformance when far weightier matters are at stake. We should not have to be running through the content of its manifesto to see what promises he made about reforming the country’s political construct when we should be having far more useful conversations with a fresher candidate who has his thought through political reforms and is ready to highlight them lucidly. In 2019, we should not have to be carrying out a post-mortem of Jonathan’s government, along with the usual spirit-sapping news of who stole what, when, and where. We want someone who has thought through the art of fighting corruption in Nigeria, has viable and workable plans towards achieving them and is not going to surround himself with people his government should be putting through the judiciary laundry.
From 2019, we should not have to listen to about a mere 55 people who have stolen a whopping $6.2bn from Nigeria’s coffers anymore. We need to move forward as the stories of corruption are no longer entertaining; they are now a psychological burden that breeds despair in the audience and ultimately desensitises them to corruption. We no longer need such diversion
We should not have to resurrect the old question of whether Buhari has a certificate or not. Neither should we be consumed with his aging body when he gets exhausted on campaign grounds and flies out for another round of medical tourism in the thick of the election. None of that should be our portion. Come 2019, we should not have to deal with the odium that will emanate from Buhari’s aides who will dominate the media with their religious-spiced charade. We deserve more; we deserve better.
If Buhari loves us and loves this country, he should just go back to Daura so he can free the political space for more deserving candidates. In 2019, we want to be talking about issues that border on rebuilding the education sector that has been consistently vandalised by previous administrations that needed to weaken the mind of Nigerians to make them more susceptible to administrative abuse.
We need to talk about how we can revamp the Nigerian health sector so that every Nigerian, from the interior of Borno State to the cosmopolitan Lagos can have access to quality medical care. We do not want to hear Mrs. Aisha Buhari talk about how Aso Rock, with all the budgetary allocation it receives, lacks elementary amenities. If Mrs. Buhari is pained by what is happening in Aso Rock, she could have conducted an independent investigation and resolved the issue privately. Bringing it to the public is a waste of time because her audience has no power to adjudicate. Public access to medical care is worse and Mrs. Buhari’s complaints, from the top of the pinnacle where she is perched and enjoys the privilege of her positions, can barely appreciate people’s health challenges.
From 2019, we should not be dealing with leaders who gorge themselves on public wealth and then turn around to enter the oppression Olympics with genuinely disenfranchised people. No matter what the APC and its governors – especially the likes of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State who is an ardent supporter of Buhari 2019 say – I pray Buhari leave the arena and let Nigeria breathe.
Not that I believe that 2019 will turn Nigeria into an El Dorado or that a perfect leader is waiting in the wings to take over. Our walk to freedom is far and the road ahead offers no guarantees. There is a lot of work in our future to get to the Promised Land and that is why we can barely afford to waste time beating a dying horse and insisting it takes us home. We should be looking for candidates who have energy, goals, plans, ideas, philosophy, and vision. Buhari cannot offer all these for obvious reasons, some of them not his fault. And that is why he should do all of us a favour and exit this stage when he can still get some applause.
– Originally published in The Punch, October 12, 2017
By Abimbola Adelakun