Look who is talking

Should an incumbent president be re-elected because of his region of origin, his ethnicity, and his religious faith or should his re-election be based principally on his record of achievement? These questions have emerged following a bizarre remark by the director-general of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, in his public campaign for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

In his eagerness to position himself as the chief driver of Buhari’s re-election and obviously to secure his job as the boss of the VON, Okechukwu said shamelessly in Enugu last week that if Igbo voted for Buhari in the 2019 presidential election, it would be the quickest and most practical pathway for an Igbo politician to become president in 2023. That was not all. He also said that Igbo vote for Buhari in next year’s election would steer members of this ethnic group into the mainstream of Nigerian politics, and end years of marginalisation of Igbo people.

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How fallacious and illogical. Okechukwu’s statement was ludicrous, if not foolhardy. It was embedded in wild assumptions. Should Igbo people vote for Buhari on the assumption that it would yield an Igbo president in 2023? Should this happen, it would make the Igbo stupid in the eyes of other ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Okechukwu’s badly articulated analysis implied that Buhari has the sole power to pick the president who would succeed him in 2023, if he were to win next year’s presidential election. The comment was also fatuous because it suggested that, if the Igbo refused to vote for Buhari in 2019, no politician of Igbo descent would ever become Nigeria’s president.

Even if Buhari won the 2019 presidential election, no one, including Okechukwu, could guarantee that Buhari, confronted by declining health and age, would have the capacity or charisma to influence how people would vote in 2023. Even if Buhari supported the election of an Igbo as president in 2023, there is no assurance that Buhari would not change his position closer to that election.

Nigerian politicians, like politicians in other parts of the world, can be as slippery as hair cream. You cannot trust them. You cannot hold them to their words. They promise something today and produce arguments tomorrow to defend why they have to break their promise. These are the elements that frame politicians’ persona. They are wily, sneaky, calculating, shrewd, cunning, inconsistent, and unreliable. Based on Buhari’s recent record of unfulfilled promises, anyone who believes what Buhari would tell voters in his forthcoming election campaign would believe anything.

Ahead of the 2015 presidential election, Buhari, as the standard-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its election manifesto, promised to transform Nigeria, to turn the country into an economic paradise, a country in which food would be in abundance, in which all men and women would be equal, a country whose currency would be at par with the United States’ dollar, a country with minimal crime, low unemployment, negligible infant mortality, and no history of insurgency, militancy, and clamours for regional autonomy. Three years on and approaching the end of his first term, all the promises that Buhari rolled out nearly four years ago have become an optical illusion.

Buhari’s track record over the past four years has shattered rather than strengthened public confidence and trust in him as the president. He broke many promises he made prior to his election in 2015.

Consider this example. The president’s apathy to mindless killings by murderous herdsmen has exposed the contradictions in a man who said on his inauguration that he would govern in the interest of all Nigerians. Buhari received popular support before and during the 2015 election because he sang all the right songs that voters wanted to hear – zero tolerance for corruption, even-handedness in the treatment of citizens regardless of their region of origin, religious beliefs, and ethnic affiliation. Buhari promised rapid economic development across the country, eradication of hunger and poverty, swift development of infrastructure, improvement in quality of higher education, special attention to healthcare needs of citizens, industrial development, and enhancement of agricultural production. These were just some, not all, of the promises that Buhari and the APC made to the nation.

Against this background, why would Igbo believe Okechukwu’s empty statement that a vote for Buhari in 2019 would result in an Igbo politician becoming president in 2023? Igbo voters are not gullible. They cannot find any evidence to lean on to show that Buhari’s government has been exceptionally nice to them, that the president has transformed the region in terms of economic development, establishment of industries, road construction and repairs, establishment of state-of-the-art hospitals, and massive channelling of federal resources to the region.

When Okechukwu and his band of supporters go out to campaign for Igbo votes for Buhari, they should be prepared to point to the government’s concrete achievements that would persuade voters. Speechifying won’t do the magic.

It is mindless for anyone to suggest that if Igbo voted for Buhari in next year’s presidential election, that action would end decades of marginalisation of Igbo people and offer them recognition in the country. Buhari is not the chief determinant of how people would vote in an election. It is bizarre, therefore, to attribute to one man the power he does not hold. No president in the history of Nigeria has ever influenced the pattern of voting in an election. No president in the history of this country has ever successfully predicted how voters across the country would cast their ballot in a presidential election. Indeed, no president – military dictator or elected politician – is so charismatic and adored by the people that he could shape the outcome of votes cast in a free and fair election.

I would argue that Buhari lacks the power and charm of a kingmaker in Nigerian politics. He cannot decide for all citizens how they would vote in the presidential election in 2023. We must learn to call a spade a spade.

What Okechukwu said about the need for Igbo to vote massively for Buhari in 2019 was appalling, offensive to Igbo people, demeaning, and clearly unreasonable. It was even disgusting that he had to drag into the ongoing election rhetoric the name of Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of the frontline politicians who campaigned vigorously for Nigeria’s independence. Okechukwu told his kith and kin in Enugu last week: “Let’s vote for Buhari in 2019 and pluck the olive branch of President of Nigeria of Igbo extraction in 2023. It is more pragmatic and surreal. It’s what Zik would do if he was alive.”

The assumptions on which Okechukwu based his argument are weak, absurd, and laughable. He insulted all ethnic groups in the country when he assumed that Buhari has the authority to think and decide for voters across the country.

It would have been understandable if Okechukwu had pleaded for Buhari’s re-election on the basis that it would guarantee him the possibility of retaining his job as the director-general of the VON. Beyond this, Okechukwu’s argument is baloney and must be disregarded.