Why are some people, including my friend, Pa Ikhide, going off on those who supported Buhari’s election as though they, those who opposed Buhari, had a crystal ball and could see that Buhari would be a disappointment?
Look, none of us, Buhari supporters or opposition, knew for sure what a president Buhari would do, how he would perform. Let’s at least agree on that baseline. Both groups, supporters and opposers, made their decisions based on two things bodies of information: antecedent and promises.
Those who opposed candidate Buhari–the principled ones, not the pro-Jonathan people and Buhari haters–based their decision on antecedent. Those who supported candidate Buhari–the principled ones, not the Jonathan haters or pro-Buhari fanatics–did so based on his promises, but also partly on his antecedent. Those who supported him did so because he claimed to have repented from his dictatorial ways. He was a reformed democrat, he said.
We believed him. He and his party, the APC, also made many promises. Some of them were admittedly fantastical, too good to be practicable, but others were within the realm of plausibility. We cautiously and somewhat desperately believed the promises. Pa Ikhide and his cohort want to stick it to those who believed the promises and Buhari’s proclamation of personal evolution without recognizing that the alternative was unacceptably bad.
Some supporters, of course, erroneously assumed that the authoritarian Buhari of 1984, was sorely needed to put Nigeria in order and to deal with Boko Haram. Even this was a rational position, given the turbulence of the Jonathan era.
But neither of us, supporters and traducers of candidate Buhari, knew at the time that he was not the reformed democrat that he claimed to be or that he would renege on the promises he and his party made.
Those who arrogantly accuse others of foisting Buhari on Nigeria through their support could use a little humility. They could start by admitting that, like supporters of candidate Buhari, they were making a decision based on information available to them about Buhari (antecedent) and basically guessing what a President Buhari might or might not do based on that information. Just like the Buhari supporters who romanticized about Buhari’s anticorruption, high-handed leadership of 1983-1985 and assumed that this information meant that he would clean up corruption and solve Boko Haram.
Those waxing sanctimonious and morally superior today could start by humbly admitting that they had no additional information and had no extraordinary ability to discern the future–that the decision to support or oppose candidate Buhari was expectational, speculative, rational, and risky. None of the two decisions is more so than the other.
Supporters and traducers were both speculating on a Buhari presidency. That the traducers have largely been proven right is no reason to claim that supporters willfully overlooked signs of Buhari’s future failure or that the traducers were gifted with clairvoyance and thus saw that Buhari would turn out this way.
Democracy is about perpetually searching for better electoral alternatives, replacing bad administrations with alternatives understood to be better, and hoping that the replacement does better than the preceding administration. To that end, the choice that Nigerians, including intellectuals, made in 2015, was a rational democratic one. Pa Ikhide and his cohort should get over it. It doesn’t do any good to relitigate that choice.
The intellectuals who promoted Buhari’s candidacy were, moreover, echoing the sentiments of the majority of Nigerians who saw Jonathan as an irredeemable disaster and his administration as a bazaar of high level theft that was unsustainable even for another year, not to mention another term. They examined the unsustainability of Jonathan’s kleptocracy in the context of the only other available option (Buhari), and chose to rationally, and expectantly believe Buhari to be a reformed democrat as he claimed, as well as to believe the many promises he made.
Every electoral choice is a risk. Obama was not a particularly distinguished state or federal senator but Americans, when faced with a continuation of the failed Republican status quo, turned to him, believed his promises, and disregarded his shortcomings. It was a risk. It paid off. Some of these electoral risks do not pay off. Buhari, so far, belongs in this category.
Embracing change in the context of a disappointing political status quo is the very essence of democracy. So, instead of yapping constantly and repetitiously about how Nigerian intellectuals promoted a bad product in Buhari, why not give some credit to some of these same intellectuals for their courage in criticizing the administration of the man whose candidacy they supported and promoted?
Why not especially give credit to those who started this vigilant critique in the early days of the administration when it was still quite unpopular to criticize Buhari because the impact of his failures was still minimal and Nigerians still thought he had good plans and that it was too early to call him and the APC out on their failures?
Why not in fact join in the effort to hold the administration accountable? Proclaiming yourself more perspicacious than everyone and making that claim the fulcrum of your public intellectual output accomplishes nothing. Your constant griping only distracts from this task of criticizing and demanding for answers from Buhari and his people.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Moses E. Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014).