I wrote the following piece, presented in italics, shortly after the postponement of the 2015 Presidential elections. It is important that the reader approaches it with an open mind, with an understanding of the context of its construction. The piece, titled “Buhari’s One Chance Campaign” never got published. One of my colleagues to whom I showed it advised against its publication. His point was that we should remain professional and not get involved in partisan politics. A member of our digital media team was so excited he wanted the article published. Anyhow, the older team member won the argument. But in the light of recent developments and the fortunes of the Buhari administration since 2015, the article has proved prophetic.
In 2015, the Buhari campaign train was so hypnotic most Nigerian voters jumped onto it. Less than three years later, the same persons are struggling to jump off the train. Out of the 15 million persons who voted for Buhari in 2015, millions of them have lost their jobs. Today, the strongest and most vocal supporters of the Buhari proposition are all so embarrassed they have chosen to keep quiet. One of them is now a self-appointed referee of Nigerian democracy going about with a RED CARD. A former Minister of Petroleum who promised that under Buhari, petrol would be N40 per litre has been wisely quiet. A senior citizen who asked Nigerians to stone the Buhari team if they did not deliver in two years has not been heard from for a while. On twitter, and the rest of social media, many Nigerians are wielding stones and throwing them at will.
The tomorrow that we looked forward to yesterday is now so laughable if not saddening. The country is in a worse shape than it was in 2015. The same economy that used to be one of the most stable in Africa is now in tatters; insecurity has worsened, yesterday’s hope has turned into despair. Yesterday’s supporters have become today’s critics of the government. There are many lessons involved: how the Nigerian intelligentsia gathered dust in their faces, and how the people betrayed themselves. In 2015, here is what I wrote and kept:
BUHARI’S “ONE CHANCE” CAMPAIGN:
“Ordinarily, a busy bus station in Lagos is the headquarters of nightmare. Getting from one stop to the other could be an uphill task especially during rush hours. In those days when I journeyed from one end of the city to the other in Molue buses, I had to, like nearly everyone else in the same situation, learn how to jump into a moving vehicle, how to descend while it was in motion and how not to end up under the wheels as many routinely did in our Alakuko-Alagbado side of the city.
But the “One Chance” always seemed, at first encounter, like a God-sent. If you lived in Lagos in the 80s and 90s, you’d probably remember those buses referred to as “One chance” and the dubious notoriety that they eventually came to acquire. Once you heard the bus conductor screaming “One Chance…one chance…enter, enter.. ko si change ma wole o”, you knew immediately that with only one seat left to make up the full passenger load, your long wait at the bus stop had come to an end.
It was natural to jump into the bus. It promised a change of circumstances and offered hope. It was also reassuring because you could actually see a number of people already seated inside the bus. And of course, it was ready to move. But with time, and this is the rub of it: the “One Chance” acquired real notoriety. The phrase itself has since become a footnote in motor park lexicography, following the realization that a “one chance” trip could be a journey to despair. Not every “One Chance” bus was necessarily bad in those days, but the phrase became a metaphor for impending evil, and the label stuck.
It became synonymous with a vehicle of deceit deployed by criminals who posed as transporters and passengers, and lured anxious commuters into their trap. The passengers in the bus were practised con-artists who would eventually reveal their true nature. The driver could be an agent of the real gangsters waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting victim. Lives were lost, many ended up in ritual dens, never to be seen again, women were raped, the luckier victims were dispossessed of valuables and pushed out of the vehicle.
As such frightening tales made the rounds, people became wary of “One Chance buses”; they became more careful in responding to the calls of urgent movement and deceptive completeness. They learnt to look before boarding. They learnt that useful lesson about the contrast between appearance and reality. What you see is not always what is. When the illusion clears, the residue is sheer regret. And so, to every “one chance” call, caution became advisable.
The leading opposition party in the 2015 Presidential elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC) reminds me of this “One Chance” phenomenon. General Buhari is driving a “One Chance” bus, and trying to lure unsuspecting Nigerians to certain despair. His passengers are a motley of disaggregated, conflicted persons, looking for innocent preys. Their conductor is a waltzing, energy-drink-guzzling hustler who is driven by malicious desperation. With drums and dance, and a song, they have managed to generate hype, hoopla and hysteria at every bus stop. The unwary may have boarded the bus, not even knowing where it is headed. Those who seem to believe that a democracy also guarantees the right to be misled, have jumped into that tragic “one chance bus”.
They have been told their driver is unqualified, lacks a mastery of the road; he doesn’t even have a licence. Happily enough, they are all beginning to get the message. I have heard some of the once- hypnotized respond that they actually wouldn’t mind if the fellow brandishes a NEPA receipt and calls it a driver’s license. This is a strange kind of hypnotism; and that is how it works: it is the first cousin of delusion. No wonder, every attempt to get the driver to take a driving test has also failed.
The conductor is also hyper-active, gripped by strangely high spirits, having customarily taken a quantum of same. He urges the driver to keep his feet on the accelerator, and yet, the last time this man drove a vehicle was in the other century. But the hashish is so strong, its effluence so consuming that the passengers have failed to see that their driver is already falling asleep on the steering.
He is the oldest driver in the motor park, but he wears stylish clothes to make him look young by all means. His bones are weak; his grip on the steering is failing. He often forgets the name of his assistant. He can hardly remember the name of his conductor. And don’t bother to ask him about road signs. If only those rushing into his “One Chance” bus would take a look at the passengers and the conductor: the tell-tale signs are not hidden.
A certain kind of people is easily deceived by appearances. It happens often on our expressways, where all you need to do to mislead other motorists is to suddenly make a U-turn in the middle of the road, and face the opposite lane. Wave your hands to suggest anything and mumble some mumbo-jumbo such as “Change, Change”; almost instinctively, every other motorist will slow down and begin to stare at you for signs, and they will obey your cue.
They will even scramble to do so, until a logjam is created. The madness could continue for close to an hour, until a reasonable man would venture out in the proper direction of the original route. Gradually, others will return to the same route until it is realized that they had initially been misled, scammed, misinformed, deceived.
This is exactly the tragic nature of the Buhari campaign in this election. Apart from the hotly-contested 1959 and 1964 General elections, which unfortunately sowed some of the seeds of an eventual blow-out, no other general election in recent memory has been this fiercely contested. Before February 14, emotions had reached a boiling point in Nigeria. This is probably why the postponement of the elections has been a blessing in disguise. If the pre-February 14 tension had run its course, with the country tottering dangerously on the brink, the outcome could have been disastrous for the polity or whosoever emerged as winner. Elections in themselves do not guarantee peace or stability; they could in fact, become the catalyst for dissolution. This is why caution is advisable.
But the Buhari campaign group and its supporters are incautious, driven as they are solely by narrow interests, unbridled passion and phantom triumphalism. For an election that has not yet taken place, they are already claiming victory, and threatening chaos if Buhari does not win. Their attempt to force their candidate and ambition on Nigerians as an inevitable outcome only points to sinister motives. This is their undemocratic strategy with which they are luring the unwary into a tragic “One Chance” bus. Such shamanistic tactics, and the hideous propaganda propelling it, do not bode well for our country.
Buhari was unelectable in 2003, 2007, 2011, and he is even far more unelectable now. In his previous failed attempts, he was at least his own candidate, but this time, he is at best some other people’s Special Purpose Vehicle; that is why he comes across more in this campaign like a mannequin under the control of seen and unseen masters with hidden agenda.
Nobody should seek the Presidency of Nigeria as an SPV. I argue that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, apparently the owner of the APC, wants a Buhari Presidency because he imagines it will transform him, not Professor Yemi Osinbajo, not anyone else, into the most influential political figure in Yorubaland. The “treacherous” Rotimi Amaechi is busy dancing up and down because for him, a Buhari Presidency will enable him settle scores, with his imaginary enemies. Festus Odimegwu, who was booted out as Chairman of the National Population Commission for making racist comments about Nigerians of Northern extraction wrote a Buhari endorsement article recently, it was actually a masked revenge piece. They will all be disappointed. And if General Buhari wants to be President, he needs to come across as his own man.
President Jonathan is his own man. All the self-proclaimed, would-have-been Godfathers to his presidency have on their own committed political suicide. He is tested, healthy, strong, focused and committed. He has campaigned on the basis of his record of achievements and the phenomenally positive transformation that Nigeria has witnessed under his watch in the past four years: the revived railways sector, the strengthened education sector, greater emphasis on youth, women empowerment and inclusive governance, a robust, economy, massive job creation, expansion of the space for human freedoms, and a purposeful, engaging campaign for a second term.
In comparison, all I see on the Buhari side, is a lot of mean tactics, hate-driven propaganda, shallow costuming, third-party outsourcing of leadership, and manifold deception. Their attraction is that of a “One Chance” bus, not concrete vision, not change or progress, not leadership. The electorate is beginning to see through their charade. Their “One Chance” bus is now being seen for what it is: and it is precisely why the electorate will vote massively for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on March 28.”
That is the article that never was. But here it is, three years later, unedited, fully reflective of the mood in which it was written. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. But this much can be said: no matter how challenging the last three years may have been, we can only hope that we have all learnt our lessons about the complexity of Nigerian politics and the length of the politics of acrimony. Looking forward to tomorrow, President Buhari can still change the narrative and prove all Damascus-moment critics wrong. I am optimistic that he can. He should.
Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.