This column takes liberty of the season to wish every Nigerian a Happy New Year, just as countless Nigerians and citizens of the world also did with the arrival of 2019. This is regardless of the fact that how much of such felicitations and expressions of goodwill were sincere and actually qualified just as delivered, remain indeterminable. Traditionally, such felicitations are shared by siblings, partners, rivals, and even mutually aggrieved combatants who would proceed to massacre each other at the next moment. Do boxers in a ring not touch gloves before the commencement of pugilist action? Yet New Year greetings also serve a purpose even if such is only a brief interregnum in a continuum of crisis and conflict. For Nigerians, the exchange of felicitations with the turn of the New Year provided exactly such a welcome ambience to herald the happenings – great and small, sweet and painful, beneficial and ruinous – that will mark the course of the year.
In one vein is the long drawn drama that is expected to drive the forthcoming polls that will hold between February and March. Then is the series of other outcomes – such as from face-offs between the government and various interest groups; like the trending issue of minimum wage for workers across the country which has pitched the government and the country’s labour movement in a horn lock. Another is the resurgence of the Boko Haram insurgency and its likely spread from the North East towards the North Central and North West. For instance, just the other day, media reports featured the Governor of Katsina State Aminu Masari lamenting the invasion of his state by miscreants, including terrorists ostensibly in semblance of the Boko Haram mould.
To accentuate the fact that life is always a mixed grill which features different strokes for different folks, while the country was celebrating the period just before, during and even after the turn of the New Year, so featured some most painful happenings that dampened the joy and beauty of the season. Even in the midst of the festivities, several patriotic Nigerians serving in the armed forces were paying the supreme price as they died in combat encounters with the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East of the country. Among the reported cases are those of the five personnel of the Nigerian Airforce who died during an operation when their military helicopter crashed, and other Army personnel who also died when their post was overrun by the insurgents. Most painful was the angle that one of these army personnel was a medical doctor, while one of the helicopter crew just married a few weeks ago, leaving his beautiful wife a widow, after just a few days in matrimony.
While some may argue that in the course of the felicitations of the season such gory tales seem inappropriately timed as they could dampen the mood for some hedonists, there is actually no better time for drawing the attention of Nigerians to the reality that life in the country has degenerated to the level where sadness and joy are as close to each other as the two sides of a coin. Someone recently noted that in many medical facilities the restaurant was often located adjacent or even opposite the morgue, and cited, for example, the National Hospital Abuja. His interpretation of the observation was that while a customer would be enjoying the culinary pleasures of the restaurant, he or she would also be reminded of the end game of life on earth, and hence apply wisdom to daily living.
Specifically, in a matter of weeks the 2019 general polls will hold on the designated dates for the various categories of political offices, even as palpable concern for the exercise grips a wide cross-section of the country. Lessons from the avoidable negative aspects of previous polls have largely fueled such concerns especially as the build up to the polls exercise has not featured significant deviations from and refinements to the ugly faces of the past. A reflection on the causative factors for the concerns reveals a complement of issues that qualify for Nigerians to question the integrity of the polls exercise. Indeed, hardly would any day pass without one or more dizzying development mark its passage, leading the buildup for the polls into a crescendo of unprecedented intensity.
If among all the issues in the country, Nigerians place a higher premium on the polls and the outcomes, it is for good reason. As pervasive as the multifarious challenges to daily living in Nigeria are, the blame has rightly been placed at the doorstep of leadership failure and bad government. And the forthcoming polls offer the next opportunity to avail the country of the change of guard which hopefully, would usher in a better disposed leadership community. By implication therefore the destiny of the country hangs on the turn of events with respect to the polls. In that context also lies the driver of the feverish pace of buildup to the exercise, which is many cases accounts for the overzealousness of some political actors, who could cross the line that separates discretion and knavery in power tussle.
In the context of the foregoing, President Muhamadu Buhari deserves commendation for reminding Nigerians that the elections should not be a do or die affair. His message from the throne should rightly serve as the mantra of the polls exercise and should therefore enjoy a buy-in by all stakeholders – especially the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As the electoral umpire, the INEC leadership should appreciate the huge burden of earning credibility for the agency and the country both at home and abroad with the conduct of the polls. Beside and more importantly, the leadership should guard itself against being blamed for fomenting avoidable election related crisis, with any aspect of its operations. To wit is the present widespread revulsion by Nigerians over the appointment of Hajia Amina Zakari as head of collation centre for the elections. It is significant enough that the public outcry over the development is rising to a din, just as her appointment is casting a shadow of doubt over INEC’s efforts at playing clean. If she is not worth desecrating the image of INEC for her sake, why not redeploy her?
As both the Bible and the Qur’an teach, whether Muhamadu Buhari will win or lose a second term in office, is the exclusive preserve of God. Nigeria has enough crises already, and adding fresh ones remains unacceptable, as such may lead to a situation where even the already over-stretched security set up in the country will be too overwhelmed to cope with restoring Nigeria into one indivisible piece.
Happy New Year Nigerians and heartfelt condolences for the bereaved families.