When an elected leadership in a liberal democracy fails to meet its basic responsibility of security and welfare of citizens, such a leadership suffers from the disadvantage of incumbency.
Until the defeat of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election by opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians often held in awe the incumbency factor as an electoral advantage. This incumbency factor as an electoral advantage was reinforced in political culture of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 when the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration deployed state power to “captur” opposition strongholds in the 2003 and 2007 general elections in a manner that was described as a “do or die” affair. This bad example of how not to use state power by politically interfering in security operations, dictating to an otherwise independent electoral commission and the generous use of state funds to coercively secure victory for candidates of the ruling party left many Nigerians with a loss of faith in the electoral process. As far as Nigerians were concerned, their votes were counted at the polling booths but their votes did not count when it came to who was eventually elected.
However, the defeat of Jonathan and the decimation of the PDP from a ruling majority to an opposition minority in all tiers and arms of government brought a new dimension to the concept of the incumbency factor and associated electoral advantages. Whereas the advantageous potency of the power of incumbency in electoral matters cannot be discountenanced in a liberal democracy such as Nigeria, there is the more important determinant factor of the disadvantage of incumbency arising from poor performance and general leadership failure.
When an elected leadership in a liberal democracy fails to meet its basic responsibility of security and welfare of citizens, such a leadership suffers from the disadvantage of incumbency. For failing to keep his promise of a better life for majority of Nigerians, a failure that was made worse by undisguised corruption and heightened insecurity, Jonathan’s incumbency became a disadvantage rather than an advantage. And when the PDP took Nigerians for granted and fielded Candidate Jonathan, who was already suffering from an incumbency disadvantage, the party went down in defeat with him. Obasanjo got away with his electoral impunity largely because Nigeria’s democracy was considered nascent and opposition was moderated not to attract military interference in the nation’s fledging democratic experiment.
Jonathan and Buhari have so much in common. Like isotopes of the same element, they are alike in different ways. The same way Jonathan went into the 2015 presidential election, Buhari is going into the 2019 election with an overload of incumbency disadvantage. Jonathan, who was the darling of the poor masses of Nigeria as a man from a very poor background himself with an added advantage of his perception as a meek, unambitious and a perfect gentleman with prospects for a people-oriented government in 2011, had by 2015 become public enemy number one for his failure to meet the people’s expectations. Jonathan failed to substantially alleviate the condition of Nigeria’s suffering masses that saw him as one of their own in whom they vested the legitimacy of democratic power to improve their security and welfare. Jonathan allowed himself to be hijacked by a clique of Nigeria’s corrupt political elite and their business partners, chips of the same old block of state buccaneers that were largely responsible for his own impoverished childhood. He ended up turning Nigeria into a country of the richest man in Africa and the poorest people in Africa.
Similarly, Buhari, who was high in integrity quotient and was widely accepted as a credible alternative to the corruption-riddled Jonathan era, has failed to live up to his reputation. Buhari, whom the masses saw as one of their own and believed his unwavering quest to lead Nigeria was borne out of genuine concern for their pitiable plight, like Jonathan, has surrendered himself to Nigeria’s corrupt clique of state buccaneers. Buhari has failed in clear terms to fulfil the three core electoral campaign promises of fighting corruption, fixing the economy and improved security of life and property that earned him the democratic mandate to govern. To compound Buhari’s failure is his elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy, a factor that has not only undermined economic recovery, national security and the war on corruption but has also left Nigeria most divided than any other time in its 58 years as an independent nation. Buhari’s sectionalism has elevated mediocrity over meritocracy and enthroned incompetence while displacing competence. The concomitant effect of these is that the best hands to help in economic recovery, tackle insecurity and fight corruption are not engaged. The Buhari administration inherited a single-digit inflation rate of 9.01 per cent but bequeathed to Nigeria a double-digit inflation rate of above 17 per cent at the peak of the recession, which has just eased to 11.05 per cent in the first quarter of 2018. Rather than create new jobs as promised, millions of Nigerians lost their jobs in the last three years of the Buhari administration.
As a man with an inflated sense of self-righteousness, Buhari estimates himself equal to the Nigerian state. He equates loyalty to his personae to patriotism to the Nigerian state. He brooks no criticism, no matter how reasonably patriotic. He turns a blind eye to blind loyalists that are looting Nigeria blind across all strata of government. He is deaf to loud voices that are trying to draw his attention to the corrupt excesses of his appointees.
In addition to the raging Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria has been plagued with the additional security challenge of marauding killer herdsmen unleashing uncontrollable terror on farming communities across Nigeria. If Jonathan was criticised for not doing enough to stem the Boko Haram monster, Buhari is being criticised for doing nothing at all to protect Nigerians against killer herdsmen. Emboldened by Buhari’s complacency, Nigeria has become a thoroughfare for killer herdsmen from all West and Central Africa.
The recent flurry of defections from the ruling APC back to the PDP in what can be described as a repeat of history exactly four years ago is a clear indication that the fate of Jonathan in 2015 may be visited upon Buhari in 2019. Nigerians would not punish Jonathan for bad governance in 2015 and reward Buhari for a worse form of governance. The attempt to make light of a serious situation by narrowing the reason for defections to selfish ambition of some the decamping APC members is just self-consolation by Buhari’s supporters. Like Jonathan’s inability to abide by his PDP party zoning arrangement, Buhari’s failure of leadership within his APC party is the major reason for these defections. His failure to impartially uphold the leadership principles of fairness, justice and equity without making a distinction between his personal loyalists and party loyalists has greatly alienated some powerful members of the APC. Most importantly, his failure to fulfil his campaign promises in accordance with the APC manifesto has placed a moral burden on some patriotic Nigerians within his party that genuinely believed in Buhari’s ability to put Nigeria on the path of progress, to speak out against his poor performance in a similar manner they voiced out against PDP’s Jonathan. These powerful members are now emboldened to move out of the APC because of Buhari’s significant drop in popularity on account of widespread discontent among Nigerians over his poor performance in government.
Nowhere is Buhari’s disadvantage of incumbency more discernable than his most secure base of the Muslim North, as seen from the pattern of defections from the APC to the PDP. From the Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, to Kano, the most populous northern state, and the important North East state of Bauchi, the torrent of defections is a protest against Buhari’s inability to meet the expectations of a people that staked all for his rise to power.