Now that the president has declared his intention to contest for a second term in office, exciting times can begin. President Buhari’s new journey begins with the status of an aspirant seeking for the nomination of his party. The APC has been a very inactive party since it won the 2015 presidential election. It failed in its first responsibility, which was to ensure that its members get the thousands of appointments a new president is entitled to make. Both the party and the president had argued during their campaign that former President Jonathan had appointed corrupt people into office and promised to replace them with new competent people with integrity. It did not happen for years and when it finally started to happen almost three years into the four-year life of the regime, a lot of names of dead people were seen on the list. For the thousands of party cadres who were legitimately expecting appointments from their party and did not get anything, what enthusiasm would they have for aspirant Buhari?
The party is also deeply embroiled in factional struggles in key states its dependent on for high vote numbers. In Kano, Katsina, Kaduna and Bauchi States, party factions are involved in a fight to finish. When Buhari transits from aspirant to candidate, would he still have the cult following he has enjoyed in these states. Many of his supporters believe that he would. They point to the 2011 elections when factionalism affected exactly the same states and Buhari got his full compliment of votes but their gubernatorial candidates all lost elections they should have won. The expectation therefore remains that factional struggles might affect governors but not the president. The difference today is that all the said states have incumbent APC governors today and it’s not clear how such governors might impact on the elections, after they have, as they are expected to do, expel their opponents from the party for anti-party activities.
Dynamics related to the farmer-herder conflicts have also seriously affected the credibility and popularity of the President in states such as Taraba, Benue, Plateau and Zamfara. Many citizens in such states feel they have been abandoned to endless violence and are unlikely to provide the type of support they gave the president in 2015. Religious mobilisation has also been very high in relation to President Buhari and many Christian are already campaigning against him. There are also issues about the relationship between some governors and the President, which might create difficulties in obtaining the presidential candidature in the party convention.
The next question is who will finance the campaign of aspirant and later candidate Buhari. In previous elections, his supporters with means knew their candidate had no money of his own so they financed his campaigns. Since the 2015 victory, many of such supporters with means have become disgruntled and may no longer be willing to dip their hand into their pockets. In this scenario, where would the money come from? But then, maybe some people have had doors opened for them to make money to cover the campaign. If this were so, then it would pose questions for the anti-corruption stance of the Buhari Administration.
The greatest challenge for the President would be his message to Nigerians on why they should elect him for second term. We have never had a president who showed as much reluctance to govern a Buhari did. He combined both a laissez faire and laissez alter attitude to governance and would not normally respond to emerging emergencies until crisis builds up into a crescendo that shakes his government. I recall that after his first hundred days in power, the Centre for Democracy and Development drew attention to promises for the first 100 days in the document: “Muhammadu Buhari: My Covenant with Nigerians”, which commits the President to specific achievements in the first 100 days. At that time he had still not even appointed ministers not to talk of developing action plans for what they would with the power they had won. It would be recalled that the campaign document in question was particularly well crafted and spelled out in clear detail specific deliverables Nigerians should expect from Muhammadu Buhari were he to win the election. He won and therefore Nigerians started to ask for results. It took almost two months after the 100-day event for the President to even appoint his ministers. Aspirant and candidate Buhari should be ready to answer to a lot of questions on whether he was ready to rule in the first place and why Nigerians should believe he is now ready.
There are two important issues about campaign promises that we as citizens should note. The first is that in a democracy, candidates are voted for on the basis of their promises to the electorate and the belief of voters’ that they will keep to the said promises. In Nigeria, because we have had a long history of electoral fraud and godfathers rather than voters deciding electoral outcomes, there is a very poor tradition of citizens demanding that promises be kept. Voters knew that they never voted for the said officeholders in the first place and therefore did not have high expectations. Nigerians did vote for President Buhari and it’s appropriate that they scrutinize and assess the President based on his promises.
The second important issue about campaign promises is that candidates, pushed by public relations firms and campaign teams tend to promise more than they can deliver if and when elected. On assuming office therefore, they try to tone down their promises and engage in creating justifications about the difficulty of the realities they find in office. It is also the case that in certain situations, the nature of the problems encountered by governance teams is much worse than what they had anticipated. That might have been the case for President Buhari who assumed power after voters disgraced out the most corrupt and irresponsible government in our history. Nonetheless, he still has questions to answer because he did make all the 222 promises counted in Buharimeter and most of them have not been kept.
It is true that citizens are not stupid and they usually have a clear idea of what is possible or impossible and what timelines are realistic. Sincere and committed politicians who have exaggerated in their campaign promises have every right and indeed the obligation to issue reality checks to the citizenry on their programmes and issue revised time lines. The question for President Buhari is when and how did he engage Nigerians on the challenges of programme implementation so that they could decide whether he deserves a second chance. I have heard government minders say that the President did not make 222 promises, that he only made three – security, anti-corruption and jobs for the youth. Okay fine, where exactly are we on these three items, which of course have to be broken down into details. On the whole, one major concern Nigerians have is that the President has not been talking sufficiently with them. The tide has changed, we are the Oga Citizens, our time has come and the ball is now in the court of aspirant/candidate Buhari – talk to us, convince us on what you have been doing with the power we gave you.