Never mind. I am back on my bit. I was actually on vacation. It was a well- deserved 4-week vacation in my native Nigeria. But I am back now. Yes. In just one month, Nigeria's 5th succeeding general elections will be held across the nation. But there are many disturbing issues that need a general understanding of Nigerians as the country stumbles toward general elections in the face of a steadily intensifying violence by Boko Haram, and the introduction of a biometric voter-card system designed to end electoral fraud.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, NEC, is confident it can organize credible elections, going by the assurances the agency's spokesman, Kayode Idowu, gave journalists in a January 6 interview. “The new biometric card will help to ensure that credible elections are held on February 14”, he said. “In that chip, your picture is there, your fingerprints are there; everything is there. If someone takes your card to the polling unit, either because they bought it or they stole it, they won't be able to use it because the fingerprints will not match.”
During the last election in 2011, accusations of electoral fraud had led to widespread violence in the Northern parts of the country. Nigeria is a big country with a population of over 170 million people, made up of a predominantly Muslim North and a predominantly Christian South. Following that election, hundreds of Nigerians died in riots in the North when President Goodluck Jonathan, the 58-year old Christian presidential candidate from the South-South defeated the 72-year old Muslim former military Northern dictator, General Muhammadu Buhari.
This year, the two have again been paired to contend the Presidential elections in the next 30 days.
What are the stakes? What do Nigerians expect? Who should they vote for, and why?
Following the merger of three of the biggest opposition parties last year to form the All Progressives Congress, APC, Jonathan's ruling People's Democratic Party, PDP, may appear on the surface level to be facing what can be regarded as its greatest challenge since it came to power at the end of military rule in 1999. But, the truth is that despite his fluctuating approval rating, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be considerably popular among many Nigerians. He still has several high profile supporters. One of them could possibly be the only two-time President and strongman of Nigerian politics, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who has continued to publicly criticize President Jonathan. Despite his public criticisms of the Jonathan Administration, Obasanjo made a sudden appearance with his entourage during last week's marriage of Jonathan's adopted daughter in Abuja. These and the fact that both men had a closed door meeting a few hours ago indicate that there might still be an understanding that Obasanjo may not abandon his political godson in the cold weather now that it appears he could need his fatherly support in his political career.
One reason why Jonathan appears to be popular, especially among Nigeria's elite class, is that from when the military staged its first coup in 1966 to the emergence of the 4th Republic in 1999, all the Heads of States were military dictators who had no formal university education. They were all products of military schools.
Nigerians wanted a change because no Nigerian who attended a proper university had occupied the Presidential position since the sacking of the First Republic by the military in 1966. Nigerians longed for the day a university graduate would become President. It was the dream of every university student, every university don and every member of staff of Nigerian universities. This is why, when in 2007, the two university lecturers, Musa Yar 'Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were presented as presidential and vice presidential candidates respectively, the overwhelming desire of most Nigerians was to get them sworn in immediately.
Most Nigerian elites have the mindset of the nation's political class which is determined to believe that “the worst type of self rule is better than the best type of foreign rule.” By the same token, most educated Nigerians are convinced that the worst type of governance by an educated democrat is better than the best type of governance by a military dictator. And they may be right.
As I have pointed out in one of my articles titled, 'The same old song in a new name' it was the intervention of the military in the democratic evolution of the Nigerian nation that ushered in the era of rogue politicians and rogue business class that consequently made the country what it is today, unaccountable and ungovernable. And Nigerians cannot continue to go the wrong way all the time as if the devil blindfolded them.
The opposition party, APC, already has a problem with General Buhari's candidature. There are credible indications that prominent Northern leaders and elders who had initially declared support for his candidacy in the February 14 elections have started reconsidering their position, following alarms that the General might be suffering from a serious health challenge.
Last week, online media quoted Buhari as collapsing during the presidential campaign rally of the APC in Calabar, Cross River State.
The APC instantly denied the report. APC spokesman in the South-East, Comrade Osita Okechukwu, dismissed concerns about Buhari's health, saying that the alarm was designed to create doubts about the credibility of the APC presidential candidate. “They are only trying to dig up what is non-existent; no record of their claim. The General has his doctor and anyone can contact him, rather than speculate.”
The denial notwithstanding, the development immediately prompted meetings among top hierarchy of the Northern political establishment to review their stand on their Buhari support.
The North is becoming increasingly conscious of a possible repeat of the situation it found itself in, following the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua in office in May 2010. President Yar' Adua died three years into his tenure, following a serious illness that took him to Saudi Arabia for treatment several times before his eventual demise. The illness had surfaced during the 2007 presidential campaign, leading to rumours of Yar'Adua's death, but he had bounced back on the campaign train to win the election.
For now, following reports on the Calabar incident, Northern leaders are beginning to rethink their promised support for Buhari in view of reports that he is suffering from a certain ailment which is believed to be wearing him down at 72. There are also reports that the elders are pushing to cut a deal with Jonathan to complete his tenure in 2019 and to extract a promise from him that power would be returned to the North through a younger and more energetic Northerner, come 2019.
Prominent Northern politicians said at the weekend that the North is still suffering from the effect of Alhaji Yar'Adua's death in office, and that it would be unfair to the North to risk the situation once again.
There were reports that Yar'Adua was ill before he was picked up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket. Northern leaders saw the crisis coming but believed that only God determines how long a human being will live. Many Northern leaders believe that it would be a bad day for the North to have power return to the South-West just ten years after Obasanjo spent eight unbroken years in Aso Rock should what happened to Yar' Adua repeat itself.
In the circumstance, the most credible option before the North appears to be to cut a deal with Jonathan for 2019 when the country would have settled down to raise a stronger, younger and more acceptable Northern candidate. Who knows?