By Mark Amaza
In 2011, deciding who to vote for was a pretty simple decision for me: I saw Nuhu Ribadu of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) as inexperienced and Ibrahim Shekarau of the then All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP) did not have an excellent performance as Kano State Governor to use to convince me. So it came down to the last two main contenders – Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
My vote eventually went to President Jonathan, because of my deep distrust for Buhari based on divisive statements on religion credited to him in the past and the manner in which many Northern politicians within the PDP had tried to use what they call “zoning” to have one of theirs become the party’s candidate. For me, those two issues touched on areas really sensitive to me – my freedom of worship and how my ethnicity was being used by others as a glass ceiling to limit how far I could go in life in Nigeria.
I never for once bothered about Buhari’s past record as a military head of state, whether good or bad, because as a personal principle, I believe any time spent in office under two years is too short for an objective assessment of performance, and knowing that he cannot do as a president of 12-year old democracy what he did as a military dictator. That sentiment has not changed even today.
After the post-election riots in parts of the North by mainly Buhari supporters which largely turned ethno-religious that killed over 800 people, I was convinced beyond every reasonable doubt that I will never vote for him. In fact, I became passionately against him, so passionate that my friends would always come to me when in search of arguments against him.
However, my support for the Jonathan administration began to wane with the gradual escalation of the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram sect and general insecurity in the North-East, especially in my hometown of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Gradually, his actions and inactions chipped away at my support for him, sometimes in bits – such as his statement that Boko Haram members existed in his cabinet, and yet not taking any action on it – and other time in large chunks – like the presidential pardon granted to his former boss, DSP Alameyeseigha.
I could not for the life of me fathom how a president could seem to not be bothered with the terrorist activities in his country, deliberately “unlooking” the states most affected, and only visiting when it seemed expedient to do so because of politics – the first time in March 2013 when the newly formed opposition party, the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) had all its governors in Maiduguri.
How about his presence at his party’s rally in Kano the very day after a deadly bomb blast killed 80 people in Nyanya, Abuja? What about his silence when 59 kids were killed at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State or when 35 students of the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi in Adamawa State were murdered or on the numerous clashes and murderous raids on villages in the Middle Belt? What about the way his party and people in his government have carried on about the abduction of 219 girls from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok and their successive attempts to intimidate and discredit the #BringBackOurGirls campaigners?
I have not even mentioned the manner in which his government got increasingly intolerant of criticisms, evident in the way they always attacked the messenger rather than the message. This peaked when all former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi got for his troubles on sounding the alarm that as much as $20bn in oil revenue had been stolen over three years was to be sacked.
I have not even mentioned the fact that the few successes of his administration are grossly overshadowed by the fact that our record high revenues from oil have not been judiciously used, coinciding with constant revelations of high corruption in government places or the fact that he seems unable to take certain drastic actions, such as not firing Minister for Interior, Abba Moro after the Immigration recruitment scam which cost the lives of 19 people.
Day by day, I was finding it harder to justify my support for him, especially when I was seeing people I know & am related with losing their lives to terrorism and the lucky ones hurriedly moving away from those areas. It was infuriating that the fight against these terrorists seemed to be compromised by those directly profiting from it, or even politicized by people around him. It was time to support someone else – and I threw my weight behind the candidature of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the APC.
Sadly, my heart was broken when Buhari won the APC nomination and I found myself with the unsavoury choice of supporting Jonathan again. But it was only getting harder.
In an even more rapid manner, my deep opposition to Buhari was chipped away – starting with the pick of his running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a man hardly anyone is in doubt about his intelligence and his integrity and the appointment of Kayode Fayemi, the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, a man I greatly admire as his campaign’s Director of Policy. I could hardly argue that the man was going to be clueless about Nigeria’s problems and its solutions as he was rapidly surrounding himself with smart men.
Yet, my stubborn nature came to the fore I stood my ground in my opposition to him. Although I was far less enthusiastic about Jonathan compared to 2011, I was not prepared to entertain the possibility of a Buhari presidency.
Another turning point came when President Jonathan visited Maiduguri twice in eight days last month, despite his handlers saying previously that the area was not safe enough for him to visit. So what miracle made the place suddenly safe enough or was it the approaching elections that made it so?
There was also the fact the APC campaign has by far been more effective and cleaner compared to that of the PDP, with less use of religion in campaigning – I could not help but admire from across the fence. Seeing many people close to me and whose stories are like mine, who used to share the same fears about him now enthusiastically support him was melting the ice in my heart.
But many times, the process of someone changing his mind happens gradually rather than suddenly.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the postponement of the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Saturday. I was infuriated with the manner in which national institutions like the military that should be apoliticial were used force INEC’s hand to shift the elections. How else could one explain that the military went from being ready for the elections to saying that they will be unavailable to provide security on the 14th of February as they will be fighting the Boko Haram insurgents?
This was a continuation of past behaviors where these institutions have been politicized – such as the claim of the Department of State Services (DSS) that APC tried to bribe them to rig the Ekiti State elections and that they were attempting to hack into INEC servers from a remote location, despite the servers being offline, yet has not charged anyone to court. It did not help matters that last week, a taped conversation of high-ranking members of the PDP, a couple of them cabinet ministers, and an army general discussing how to rig the Ekiti State gubernatorial elections last year, which PDP won, was leaked.
One has to admire the ingenuity of the incumbent administration – they have realized that gone are the days of brute-force rigging. Thus, they are trying to take advantage of prevailing situations to actualize their aims without actually breaking any laws.
However, they forget that Nigerian voters are much smarter than before and can read in between the lines. For me, attempting to tamper with such institutions is a severe no-no. Many people died for us to have this democracy we are enjoying, imperfect as it is, and it will be a severe betrayal on our part if we allow this democracy to be twisted and its institutions subverted.
If this administration is acting with impunity in its first term, one can only imagine what it will do in its second term – attempt to get a third term, perhaps? There needs to be a punishment for incompetent governments and right now, we have the opportunity to use our votes to punish them by denying them a second term.
I admit that General Buhari is not an ideal candidate, and that the APC is not an ideal party. But right now, we do not have the luxury of waiting for ideal candidates and parties. When as a voter, you give someone your goodwill and he rubbishes it, it is your duty to take it away from him, give it to someone else and ensure that you hold the new beneficiary of your goodwill lest he suffers the same fate.
Goodluck Jonathan has not made good use of my goodwill, and I will very much prefer that I give it to someone else this time around. His efforts and lack of it have turned me from being his supporter to becoming his opponent’s campaigner, dedicating my little time and even money to his campaign.
It is about time that Nigerians experienced change.
Mark Amaza is on Twitter as @amasonic. This piece first appeared in Ynaija.com