The greatest challenge facing the democratic process in Nigeria, as in most developing nations, has to do with management of the post-election transition process. The political tension and acrimony between parties and politicians peaks at the polls and tends to escalate during collation and announcement of results, giving electioneering a “do-or-die” tendency. This situation impacts negatively on the democratic process as election-related violence often takes a heavy toll on lives and property, disrupts elections and ultimately threatens national stability.
Those who predicted the chaotic demise of the Nigerian state in 2015 based their pessimism on the high level of political antagonism and general insecurity. They expected the elections to ignite the explosive situation with the usual winner takes all-bad loser outcome that unleashes deadly ethno-religious mayhem across the land. Though political leaders routinely preach against political intolerance and vandalism, their sermons do little to prevent election-related violence, necessitating increased deployment of military forces to effectively restore and law and order.
It took the historic telephone call by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to General Muhammadu Buhari, victorious winner of the 2015 presidential election, accepting defeat and congratulating him even before the full results were released by INEC, to dramatically turn the tide from high tension and imminent civil disturbances to unprecedented peaceful transition of power from an incumbent government to an opposition party.
Instructively, this welcome departure from do-or-die politics of uncompromising competition for power at the expense of national stability and safety of lives and property, was predicated on the profound pronouncement by the former President that his “political ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian”, which he eloquently demonstrated by opting for voluntarily conceding defeat rather than rejecting results, alleging rigging, stoking political tension and eventually resorting to protracted court action that could provoke more post-election crises.
The victorious President Muhammadu Buhari was equally instrumental to the peaceful transition by accepting the unexpected gesture with reciprocal espirt de corps, commending his erstwhile rival in the tradition of good sportsmanship thereby projecting the principle of no victor-no vanquished to douse the potentially provocative celebrations among his elated supporters.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was all a matter of two statesmen, then President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari, magnanimously rising above the fray of competing political interests and conscientiously relegating their individual self-esteem in favour of preserving the divine dignity of life of their respective supporters as well as the peace and stability of their fatherland. Such basic humane thoughts and actions by two leaders, with profound, inestimable and indelible physical and spiritual dividends for themselves, their people, their country and, indeed, humanity as a whole! By the same token, Nigerians have proved to the world that they cannot be perpetually predictable as a failed nation state.
Nigeria has not only survived 2015 intact and consolidated as a viable democratic nation with exemplary statesmen as leaders who cherish their citizens, it has also endured the political strains of another general election without “falling”. The country has also admirably managed its election-related trauma though not without the inevitable skirmishes here and there. These instances further testify to the resilience of the political fabric of the country and the citizens’ collective commitment to sustain the integrity of the federation and viability of the democratic dispensation against all odds. This patriotic trait has always been a timely intervention and saving grace in desperate times , notably deployed as pragmatic approach to unforeseen eventualities, such as ending the civil war, June 12 crisis, Abiola’s death and the memorable “doctrine of necessity” during the Yaradua health crisis.
However, Nigerians are still apprehensive about the prospects for achieving the much desired lasting post-election political reconciliation to effectively bury the hatchet between the two leading parties and their political leaderships as the surest anti-dote against election-related antagonism and outbreaks of civil disturbances. With simmering challenges to national security like the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency, resurgent skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers as well as the deadly sporadic attacks on rural communities by gunmen still engaging our combined defense and security forces, we cannot afford any prolongation of no less calamitous post-election turbulence.
Unlike former President Jonathan, former VP Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate in the just concluded presidential elections, has chosen to challenge the outcome at the election petitions tribunal. Obviously, not only are the personalities different, the circumstances surrounding the elections are not the same. Besides, the option of seeking judicial review of the results remains the most civilised and lawful alternative to unleashing violent unrest or making Nigeria “ungovernable”.
Nevertheless, seeking judicial review of presidential election results does not preclude exploring promising possibilities for adding Atiku Abubakar to the roll of honourable, selfless, patriotic, people-oriented and, above all, God-fearing Nigerian political leaders who share former President Jonathan’s noble political principle that his “political ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian” which motivated him, even as an incumbent president, to magnanimously pre-empt the conclusive declaration of his election loss by summarily calling his rival to accept defeat and extend congratulations. Former VP, Atiku Abubakar surely will, as a God-fearing, people oriented patriot and political leader, find greater fulfillment in this post-election attainment!
Remarkably, President Buhari has not lost touch with the glorious inspiration he gained from his noble predecessor’s “call to honour humanity”. Even as an incumbent president, savouring the revalidation of his momentous 2015 election, he has found the humility to promise to run an inclusive administration that will be willing to partner with all patriotic stakeholders in the Nigerian Project to keep the country on the track of progress and development. He had earlier dissuaded his exuberant supporters from subjecting the opposition to humiliation while celebrating, emphasising that after electioneering, all hands should be on deck in the national interest, irrespective of party affiliation.
Clearly there is an enabling environment for enthronement of the much-anticipated no-victor-no-vanquished spirit of post-election goodwill, cooperation and common commitment to national unity and stability waiting to be fully exploited. Just as in 2015, it is essentially a matter requiring the focused commitment of both President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar to heroically rise above the fray of competing political interests and consciously suppress their self-interest to prioritize preserving the dignity of human life and promoting the peace and stability of Nigeria. They both must actively adopt constructive engagement to create avenues for political reconciliation and ultimately resist the pressure of hawks to be uncompromising.
Atiku Abubakar has certainly attained the age and national stature to think more about leaving a legacy that will preserve his patriotic value to the progress and development of our democratic dispensation as a more befitting recourse after his unsuccessful presidential bid than the acrimonious judicial challenge of election result that has rarely, if ever, reversed the expressed will of the people. President Buhari too should now be enlisting the goodwill and support of all leading political leaders across partisan and geo-ethnic divides, including Atiku Abubakar, to form an impactful inclusive government and also restore and strengthen national dialogue and consensus, desperately required to heal several open wounds and mend many fences, so as to bequeath a more united, peaceful and purposeful nation as a parting gift in 2023. This is another doctrine of necessity that must be applied in the national interest.
Salami writes from Ilorin, Kwara state.