Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar formally launched his presidential candidacy for the fifth time two days ago, as of this writing. Will he strike it rich this time? It’s possible that this is his only chance to enter Aso Rock Villa. I wish him the best of luck in his endeavors.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, says an English proverb. Abubakar is surrounded by like-minded individuals. That admonition was taken to heart by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In 1959, 1979, and 1983, he attempted to win the people’s approval to become Prime Minister and then President. He attempted three times and failed all three times, but each time he got up and returned to the ring.
He was, and continues to be, the only agbada politician in Nigeria who was totally prepared to rule the country. General Ibrahim Babangida was the only other military politician who was equally prepared for power. In 1985, he struck the ground running.
Awolowo reflected deeply on the country, its many issues and challenges, and authored volumes outlining what needed to be done to put Nigeria on the path of contemporary educational, economic, and social growth. However, in politics, power occasionally eludes those who are willing to use it for the greater good.
Muhammadu Buhari, as a Major General, attempted three times in 2003, 2007, and 2011. He even formed his own political party, the CPC, in 2011 to run as its single presidential candidate. In 2014, political fortune smiled on him when the PDP suffered a severe hemorrhage and was left by a big number of men who had gained from it for 16 years in the executive and legislative branches of government at national and sub-national levels. He got lucky the fourth time around and was elected president of Aso Rock in 2015.
Abubakar has made no secret of his desire to become president. He nurtured his ambition as vice president because he, like many others, expected that President Obasanjo would choose the Mandela option and run for only one term in office before passing the torch to him. He underestimated the allure of power and the fact that few individuals pass up the chance to acquire it. When his desire collided with that of his boss, the waters were poisoned, and they became sworn enemies. In 2007, Obasanjo even declared that Abubakar would succeed him if he died. Abubakar kept his vice-presidential status but moved to another political party to pursue his ambitions. Fortunately for Obasanjo, Abubakar did not make it, and we were spared the sight of the former president’s body.
Political power, rather than economic power, is the more important of the two powers that dominate the world. The presidency is such a coveted property that those who are sincerely ambitious do not easily relinquish it. A guy who wields political power is the owner of his country. He has the ability to economically empower the economically disadvantaged. With his approval, a poor man in Ajegunle can be changed into a wealthy man, living in the opulence of opulent enclaves such as Banana Island in Lagos or Asokoro in Abuja. You can see why the wealthy continue to pursue political power. It isn’t a case of greed. It is a result of the interaction between political and economic forces. Political power buys economic power, but economic power preserves and expands political authority.
Time and time again, men slug it out. You never say you’re going to die. The recirculation of old faces in politics is unavoidable because individuals who have tasted political power are unable to let go easily. Some of them are fortunate, yet mother luck is not there in others’ life. Politicians are not allowed to retire. They merely assume new identities as godfathers and stakeholders and continue to act as puppeteers, pulling the strings that cause the new faces at the end of the string to dance in the wind.
Abubakar made history by becoming the first presidential candidate to launch his candidacy. Perhaps additional aspirants will follow in Abubakar’s footsteps in the coming days and overwhelm us with a barrage of pronouncements. When a man declares his candidacy for a political post, two things usually happen. One, he exposes himself to the electorate’s scrutiny; and two, he is free to campaign for the position and sell himself to the electorate as the best thing that could happen to the country.
However, Abubakar will be arrested for breaching the law if he goes to the hustings. “For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling and end 24 hours prior to the day,” says Section 101 (1) of the 2006 Electoral Act, which was preserved in the 210 amendment and clearly left untouched in the 2022 amendments.
As a result, Abubakar has no edge over other candidates who may declare later. The people are expected to be fully involved in the leadership selection process in our kind of democracy. Their responsibilities do not end with voting on election day. People have the right to know their potential leaders and their backgrounds, to publicly question them about their beliefs, and to use this information to assess their eligibility for significant electoral offices under participatory democracy.
I’ve argued before on this blog and elsewhere that political campaigns are about more than just winning elections. It’s more about individuals getting to know their possible political leaders. INEC is concerned that campaigns held long in advance of election day will inflame the political atmosphere. In any case, the polity is constantly heated. The polity will never feel like a frigid chamber, and it is not desirable to make it so. The electoral laws contains a provision that bans citizens from learning who their potential leaders are. It grants the political godfathers the permanent power to impose their knucklehead candidates on the people. People will never receive the leaders they deserve unless they take part in the selection process.
This electoral act clause has been preserved at our expense. The godfathers’ reign will never come to an end. The people will never be able to reclaim the authority that has been taken away from them. In a participatory democracy, they are reduced to spectators and unable to fully participate in the electoral process. The next time the national legislature considers changing the Electoral Act 2022, honorable men and women might consider removing this impediment to our participatory democracy’s full bloom.