When it comes to the appropriateness of President Muhammadu Buhari canvassing a second term in office despite his failing health and age, everyone has an opinion.
As we get closer to the 2019 general election, the political environment is looking gloomy and more uncertain than ever before. The past three years have been disappointing in many ways. The performance of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has not inspired anyone. The grandiose promises the party made to transform the nation politically and economically, the promises to improve the socio-economic conditions of impoverished citizens and to reposition Nigeria in the international community have disappeared like a bad dream or a meteor.
As the end of the first term of the government approaches, many people have wondered whether the decision they made in 2015 to vote for the APC was a wise judgement or whether it was an ill-informed decision made in a hurry to reflect the mood of a morally and economically battered nation.
After 16 years during which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) consecrated corruption and thrashed the treasury, no one knows for sure where the nation’s salvation would emerge from after next year’s election. Certainly, the deliverance has not come from nearly two decades of PDP rule. Worst still, the little hope the nation held in 2015 has been diminished by APC’s undistinguished four-year experiment. This makes the choice of the political party and presidential candidate that would lead the country for the next four years somewhat formidable.
The guarantee the APC made to save the nation from the rapacious actions of the PDP has since been exposed as a scam. Everyone is asking the question: is this the brand of democracy we craved and marked with much spectacle after the 2015 presidential election? Why are lawmakers defecting from one party to another, as if it is rewarding to abandon and undermine the party that elevated them to their current positions? Why are lawmakers and state governors waving the impeachment flag at anyone who disagrees with them?
The APC and the PDP have found it excruciatingly difficult to discipline their erring members. When it comes to the appropriateness of President Muhammadu Buhari canvassing a second term in office despite his failing health and age, everyone has an opinion. But public opinion on this issue is as divided and contradictory as the views of every presidential candidate. Most of the crusaders who are promoting Buhari’s second term agenda are self-appointed and driven by their own interests rather than an agenda that is in the best interest of Nigeria.
Those who are vigorously leading the campaign for Buhari’s re-election have adopted fear tactics as their major weapon. They caution that the man has done so well in office in the past three years that his exit from office would cause a slowdown in the pace of economic development. Yet no one can point to concrete evidence of the government’s spectacular achievements. There is even the mindless suggestion that Buhari’s departure would lead to the disintegration of the nation or the widespread adoption of corruption as the official motto of the government that would succeed Buhari. The President’s servants who have been parading these arguments claim that Nigeria, as it currently stands, cannot produce any politician of younger age who is capable of matching or surpassing Buhari’s achievement record.
I am incensed by the pro-second term argument because it is unsophisticated and also because it is decidedly hare-brained. If we must practice democracy, even the most basic form of it, we must not uphold arguments that make us look silly in the global community. It is morally unacceptable for anyone to suggest that Buhari should go for re-election just because his servants are pushing the argument that he has performed magnificently even when critical evidence suggests he has not.
Let us be clear here. Buhari’s performance in the past three years has been mediocre or at best disappointing. If performance were to be the sole basis for determining the tenure of a President, Buhari would be hard-pressed to find that moral and political ground to seek re-election. But no one should be surprised by the heightened tempo of the campaign for Buhari’s second term. In Africa, it is normal for Presidents to aim to remain in office forever.
The people at the forefront of the campaign to re-elect Buhari are not listening to public opinion and they are certainly not paying heed to the ethical issues that might arise from re-electing a man who spent the better half of his first term shuttling between a London medical facility and his presidential office in Abuja. All that Buhari’s campaign managers want is for the man to remain in office regardless of whether his health and his age can withstand the strains, hardships, tension, and rigours of the job.
Presidential advisers in Nigeria have demonstrated the unquestioned capacity to turn reason upside down in order to strengthen their hold on power and to advance their self-centred interests. That is not a compliment. It is a ringing criticism of those who were appointed to serve as the private eyes and ears of the President but who continue to mislead the President.
There is a limit to which presidential advisers can continue to push a frail man to remain in office. There are certain things we can do in life and get away with easily. However, it would amount to pushing our luck if we ignore the health clock that tells us it is time we stopped working and time we started to rest and to take life easy.
Nigeria is now sharply polarised over Buhari’s decision to seek re-election. Constitutionally, he is entitled to seek re-election. But would that ambition strengthen or weaken his health? Would that aspiration keep him vibrant so he can muster the energy to prolong his stay in office?
There are those who support Buhari’s decision to go for a second term and there are those who are vehemently opposed and even offended by that decision. Both groups are working hard to promote their views and to win supporters. There are also those who have no opinion yet. They have not taken a position on whether or not Buhari should run for a second term. These are the people who are at the crossroads of the debate.
Buhari’s aspiration for a second term must be judged against the background of his health, his age, and his unimpressive performance. At his age, the President should consider retiring to his hometown to look after his health. No man or woman has a monopoly over leadership skills in a country of over 180 million people. The youth have as much stake in the future development of the country as members of any other age group.
For many years, Nigeria was led by ageing politicians and military dictators. And for those years, the country floated in no particular direction, like a ship taking in water prior to plunging to the bottom of the ocean. The future of Nigeria, I would argue, rests with the youth rather than with the old breed of politicians and former military dictators.