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Buhari at Chatham House Feb 2015

Buhari’s Speech at Chatham House – February 26 2015

Prospects for Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Nigeria’s Transition

Permit me to start by thanking Chatham House for the invitation to talk about this important topic at this crucial time. When speaking about Nigeria overseas, I normally prefer to be my country’s public relations and marketing officer, extolling her virtues and hoping to attract investments and tourists. But as we all know, Nigeria is now battling with many challenges, and if I refer to them, I do so only to impress on our friends in the United Kingdom that we are quite aware of our shortcomings and are doing our best to address them.

The 2015 general election in Nigeria is generating a lot of interests within and outside the country. This is understandable. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, is at a defining moment, a moment that has great implications beyond the democratic project and beyond the borders of my dear country.

So let me say upfront that the global interest in Nigeria’s landmark election is not misplaced at all and indeed should be commended; for this is an election that has serious import for the world. I urge the international community to continue to focus on Nigeria at this very critical moment. Given increasing global linkages, it is in our collective interests that the postponed elections should hold on the rescheduled dates; that they should be free and fair; that their outcomes should be respected by all parties; and that any form of extension, under whichever guise, is unconstitutional and will not be tolerated.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, democracy became the dominant and most preferred system of government across the globe. That global transition has been aptly captured as the triumph of democracy and the ‘most pre-eminent political idea of our time.’ On a personal note, the phased end of the USSR was a turning point for me. It convinced me that change can be brought about without firing a single shot.

As you all know, I had been a military head of state in Nigeria for twenty months. We intervened because we were unhappy with the state of affairs in our country. We wanted to arrest the drift. Driven by patriotism, influenced by the prevalence and popularity of such drastic measures all over Africa and elsewhere, we fought our way to power. But the global triumph of democracy has shown that another and a preferable path to change is possible. It is an important lesson I have carried with me since, and a lesson that is not lost on the African continent.

In the last two decades, democracy has grown strong roots in Africa. Elections, once so rare, are now so commonplace. As at the time I was a military head of state between 1983 and 1985, only four African countries held regular multi-party elections. But the number of electoral democracies in Africa, according to Freedom House, jumped to 10 in 1992/1993 then to 18 in 1994/1995 and to 24 in 2005/2006. According to the New York Times, 42 of the 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa conducted multi-party elections between 1990 and 2002.

The newspaper also reported that between 2000 and 2002, ruling parties in four African countries (Senegal, Mauritius, Ghana and Mali) peacefully handed over power to victorious opposition parties. In addition, the proportion of African countries categorized as not free by Freedom House declined from 59% in 1983 to 35% in 2003. Without doubt, Africa has been part of the current global wave of democratisation.

But the growth of democracy on the continent has been uneven. According to Freedom House, the number of electoral democracies in Africa slipped from 24 in 2007/2008 to 19 in 2011/2012; while the percentage of countries categorised as ‘not free’ assuming for the sake of argument that we accept their definition of “free” increased from 35% in 2003 to 41% in 2013. Also, there have been some reversals at different times in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritania and Togo. We can choose to look at the glass of democracy in Africa as either half full or half empty.

While you can’t have representative democracy without elections, it is equally important to look at the quality of the elections and to remember that mere elections do not democracy make. It is globally agreed that democracy is not an event, but a journey. And that the destination of that journey is democratic consolidation – that state where democracy has become so rooted and so routine and widely accepted by all actors.

With this important destination in mind, it is clear that though many African countries now hold regular elections, very few of them have consolidated the practice of democracy. It is important to also state at this point that just as with elections, a consolidated democracy cannot be an end by itself. I will argue that it is not enough to hold a series of elections or even to peacefully alternate power among parties.

It is much more important that the promise of democracy goes beyond just allowing people to freely choose their leaders. It is much more important that democracy should deliver on the promise of choice, of freedoms, of security of lives and property, of transparency and accountability, of rule of law, of good governance and of shared prosperity. It is very important that the promise embedded in the concept of democracy, the promise of a better life for the generality of the people, is not delivered in the breach.

Now, let me quickly turn to Nigeria. As you all know, Nigeria’s fourth republic is in its 16th year and this general election will be the fifth in a row. This is a major sign of progress for us, given that our first republic lasted five years and three months, the second republic ended after four years and two months and the third republic was a still-birth. However, longevity is not the only reason why everyone is so interested in this election.

The major difference this time around is that for the very first time since transition to civil rule in 1999, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is facing its stiffest opposition so far from our party the All Progressives Congress (APC). We once had about 50 political parties, but with no real competition. Now Nigeria is transitioning from a dominant party system to a competitive electoral polity, which is a major marker on the road to democratic consolidation. As you know, peaceful alternation of power through competitive elections have happened in Ghana, Senegal, Malawi and Mauritius in recent times. The prospects of democratic consolidation in Africa will be further brightened when that eventually happens in Nigeria.

But there are other reasons why Nigerians and the whole world are intensely focussed on this year’s elections, chief of which is that the elections are holding in the shadow of huge security, economic and social uncertainties in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. On insecurity, there is a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure.

Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory the size of Belgium. What has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against insurgency. I, as a retired general and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers: they are capable, well trained, patriotic, brave and always ready to do their duty in the service of our country.

You all can bear witness to the gallant role of our military in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and in many other peacekeeping operations in several parts of the world. But in the matter of this insurgency, our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem. The government has also failed in any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem leading to a situation in which we have now become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue.

Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunitions to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas. We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism.

On the economy, the fall in prices of oil has brought our economic and social stress into full relief. After the rebasing exercise in April 2014, Nigeria overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. Our GDP is now valued at $510 billion and our economy rated 26th in the world. Also on the bright side, inflation has been kept at single digit for a while and our economy has grown at an average of 7% for about a decade.

But it is more of paper growth, a growth that, on account of mismanagement, profligacy and corruption, has not translated to human development or shared prosperity. A development economist once said three questions should be asked about a country’s development: one, what is happening to poverty? Two, what is happening to unemployment? And three, what is happening to inequality?

The answers to these questions in Nigeria show that the current administration has created two economies in one country, a sorry tale of two nations: one economy for a few who have so much in their tiny island of prosperity; and the other economy for the many who have so little in their vast ocean of misery.

Even by official figures, 33.1% of Nigerians live in extreme poverty. That’s at almost 60 million, almost the population of the United Kingdom. There is also the unemployment crisis simmering beneath the surface, ready to explode at the slightest stress, with officially 23.9% of our adult population and almost 60% of our youth unemployed. We also have one of the highest rates of inequalities in the world.

With all these, it is not surprising that our performance on most governance and development indicators (like Mo Ibrahim Index on African Governance and UNDP’s Human Development Index.) are unflattering. With fall in the prices of oil, which accounts for more than 70% of government revenues, and lack of savings from more than a decade of oil boom, the poor will be disproportionately impacted.

In the face of dwindling revenues, a good place to start the repositioning of Nigeria’s economy is to swiftly tackle two ills that have ballooned under the present administration: waste and corruption. And in doing this, I will, if elected, lead the way, with the force of personal example.

On corruption, there will be no confusion as to where I stand. Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed into my administration. First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only. Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference.

But I must emphasise that any war waged on corruption should not be misconstrued as settling old scores or a witch-hunt. I’m running for President to lead Nigeria to prosperity and not adversity.

In reforming the economy, we will use savings that arise from blocking these leakages and the proceeds recovered from corruption to fund our party’s social investments programmes in education, health, and safety nets such as free school meals for children, emergency public works for unemployed youth and pensions for the elderly.

As a progressive party, we must reform our political economy to unleash the pent-up ingenuity and productivity of the Nigerian people thus freeing them from the curse of poverty. We will run a private sector-led economy but maintain an active role for government through strong regulatory oversight and deliberate interventions and incentives to diversify the base of our economy, strengthen productive sectors, improve the productive capacities of our people and create jobs for our teeming youths.

In short, we will run a functional economy driven by a worldview that sees growth not as an end by itself, but as a tool to create a society that works for all, rich and poor alike. On March 28, Nigeria has a decision to make. To vote for the continuity of failure or to elect progressive change. I believe the people will choose wisely.

In sum, I think that given its strategic importance, Nigeria can trigger a wave of democratic consolidation in Africa. But as a starting point we need to get this critical election right by ensuring that they go ahead, and depriving those who want to scuttle it the benefit of derailing our fledgling democracy. That way, we will all see democracy and democratic consolidation as tools for solving pressing problems in a sustainable way, not as ends in themselves.

Permit me to close this discussion on a personal note. I have heard and read references to me as a former dictator in many respected British newspapers including the well regarded Economist. Let me say without sounding defensive that dictatorship goes with military rule, though some might be less dictatorial than others. I take responsibility for whatever happened under my watch.

I cannot change the past. But I can change the present and the future. So before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms and is subjecting himself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time.

You may ask: why is he doing this? This is a question I ask myself all the time too. And here is my humble answer: because the work of making Nigeria great is not yet done, because I still believe that change is possible, this time through the ballot, and most importantly, because I still have the capacity and the passion to dream and work for a Nigeria that will be respected again in the comity of nations and that all Nigerians will be proud of.

I thank you for listening.

Information News

A Time for Change, and the APC?

The Politics of Change and a New Nigeria
Of those privileged to have visited the UK from Nigeria, many would have made a stop in London. The city is well worth the effort and time required to take in some of its many wonders. From the structures, castles and homes in the old town, to the glistening skyscrapers that adorn the new commercial and financial centres, as well as the various modes of transport available to the Londoners of today: river boats, buses, taxis, overground trains, underground trains and even driver-less trains!

Travelling on the London underground, or Tube as it is sometimes called, it is common to hear the announcement “all change, this is the last stop for this train …”, or something to that effect. On hearing this, all commuters are required to abandon the affected train and seek other means of reaching their destinations. Should we be asking ourselves if the time to change trains here in Nigeria, and to ponder if the train we are on now can take us any further in the direction that we want to go? Have we traveled for so long on the PDP train that we have forgotten that we are now going round and round like the Circle line on London’s underground? Could it be that we need to abandon the train because, even though the engine is still running, movement has ceased?

But a change to what?
A person who is considering choices for lunch must have the ready access to more than one type of food, i.e. he/she has access and can afford the choices. Therefore, if we are to contemplate change in Nigeria today, there must be an option or alternative, and such alternative must be viable. Most Nigerians will agree that the nation is broken in a fundamental way and that major change is necessary for our corporate survival. It is also clear that time is short to effect the needed changes. So, the only disagreement across the nation is the modus or nature of the change.

Politically speaking, Nigerians have only two choices for driving democratic change. It will have to be either of the PDP or the APC, as neither of APGA, Accord, Labour, or the other peripheral parties, are national in terms of support or outlook. So, if Nigerians discount the PDP, the most likely beneficiary of a new mandate would be the APC. If change will come to Nigeria, this is probably the best opportunity for an opposition victory.

While there is definitely a widespread dissatisfaction with the PDP and Dr Jonathan, this does not automagically translate to support for the APC. Unless the APC can articulate a clear linkage between Nigeria’s present problems and the failures of the ruling party, the party may struggle at the polls. The APC must be alive to the reality that people and parties lose power, they do not relinquish it. Another big challenge for the opposition is the fact that the electorate is mostly poor, uneducated and/or young, and will be easy prey for misinformation and monetary inducement. Voters must be persuaded that the APC is a live and beneficial alternative to the status quo; “live” here means that an APC vote could transform into electoral victory, and “beneficial” indicates that there is a clear potential of new or increased gain that would accrue to the voter on account of an APC victory. Elections are emotive and relational; both the message and the messenger must be appealing to secure loyalty of the voter right up to the polling booth.

Strategising for Electoral Victory:
One area in which previous APC candidates, and the party as a whole, have been incredibly short-sighted is in the planning and execution of electioneering strategy. It is vain to complain about rigging when it is clear that manipulation of votes is a primary device of incumbents in Nigeria. Rather, opposition parties must prepare and articulate a clear electioneering strategy to a core caucus within the party. The strategy must be very confidential, so that a DSS raid does not land the crown jewels in the hands of the PDP. It should lay out detailed plans that the party has for securing the majority of popular votes, as well as counter-plans for thwarting the rigging machinery of the ruling party.

Opposition parties must be very careful in building an electioneering strategy team. The team must be a mix of strategists, party executives, and street-level activists, so as to attain a balance of intellectualism, political sophistication and street-wisdom. Each member must have strong loyalties to the party or the success of the strategy, i.e. there must be a direct benefit/loss for every member should the party win or lose the election. This team will be the equivalent of an elite special-forces unit in an army. While most of the team will be card-carrying members of the party, it may be wise to bring in some external consultants with innovative ideas that will help distil/energise the strategy.

Having come up with the electioneering strategy, the next thing will be to prosecute it with vigour, determination, and agility. It would be credulous to believe that everything will go according to plan, but a bloc of supporters that are chaperoned by activists, who in turn are directed by a strategy team, have a much higher chance of success than a rabble of thugs and paid-per-day voters. The strategy and a significant part of its execution occurs pre-election, on election day the icing should be put on the cake, the party that wins would normally have gained an advantaged position before election day.

Before elections the priorities are mobilisation, risk assessment, and the pre-emptive deployment of consolidation or mitigation plans. This will involve detailed analysis of voting history, demographics, reconnaissance and logistics; the goal being to assess the opportunities and threats and to deploy resources appropriately in terms of type, time and proportion. On election day the priorities shift to mobilisation and facilitation of voting, execution of locational psychology, and the gathering of evidence. Win or lose, the gathering of evidence is key at every polling station, it is the only way that a party can independently satisfy itself of the veracity of any pronouncements made by the INEC. The evidence will also provide invaluable data for future strategy, and fuel for a post-election strategy. However, a detailed electioneering strategy is out of scope here, but all aspiring candidates need one, especially when in opposition. A word here though will suffice for the wise: election victory will not be served on a plate; only those that contest it can win it!

So What Happens If the Opposition Wins?
An APC/opposition victory would be a seminal moment in the history of Nigeria. But could it be more than that, could it be more than another flash in the pan of African and indeed black history? The desire for positive change in the social economy of the nation has never been so high. Nigerians have been pressed beyond endurance these last two decades. While the rest of the world has advanced, Nigeria has regressed. Many lives have been blighted, many lost, and large numbers living as though dead. The weight of expectation on any new government will therefore be very high. Unfortunately, these are inauspicious times, there are monumental infrastructure deficits across the country, oil prices are falling, record numbers are unemployed, and the security situation is so bad that Boko Haram may be approaching Abuja by the time the next president is sworn in this May.

There is so much work to do; the question would be where to start? In addition to a plethora of other issues, it is vital to sanitise the judiciary, else not much traction will be gained against corruption; in tandem, power and transportation must be addressed as matters of national emergency, and of course security must be prioritised. There are others such as education, health, etc. that are also important, but these can wait until the fundamentals have been stabilised. In the celebrated case of Lakanmi and Kikelomo V The Attorney-General of Western State of Nigeria and Ors (1971), the Nigerian Supreme Court held that the voluntary transfer of power by the civilian government to the military in 1966 was justified under the doctrine of necessity. Since then, governance in Nigeria has had to resort to the same doctrine to navigate tricky strictures on the democratic path. Given the present state of the judiciary, EFCC, DSS, and police, it is most probable that a new government will have to be imaginative in the extreme to use the deformed instruments of state to fix the very state itself. Will they have to push the limits of this same doctrine past its limits?

If that path has to be resorted to, said government must be careful; power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a lesson more so for the retired General who may be leading such a government. Corruption is the elephant in the room, and it goes without saying that a failure to seriously curb corruption will result in ultimate failure to move Nigeria forward. Ribadu it was that said, “when you fight corruption; corruption fights back”. However, care must be taken to ensure that Nigerians do not become the collateral damage that results from the fight between government and the agents and machinery of corruption. Good Zen is to be rid of sycophants and PDP fifth columnists; these two are more dangerous to a progressive government than corruption and all other ills – once you get rid of the rats, the snakes will also disappear.

Could this be a New Nigeria?
With the likes of Nuhu Ribadu as gubernatorial candidate under the PDP and Osinbajo as running mate on the APC presidential ticket, it should be clear to discerning observers that all the good eggs are not in one basket. For all the failings of the PDP leadership and Jonathan, there are still distinguished Nigerians in the rank and file of the party. Similarly, the presence of the likes of Buhari et al should not detract from the fact that the APC is not a church of saints. Nigeria though is served by the process that has brought these persons, and the coalition, to the forefront of Nigerian politics.

A win for the APC is likely to catapult many more progressives to the high table. Influence from the top will percolate downwards and progressives will be encouraged to come out of hiding and join the rebuilding. Similarly, as rats flee the sinking PDP ship, the original crew of visionary Nigerians that formed the party may glean an opportunity to retake the helm. If such things happen, it could usher in a truly new country; a New Nigeria that millions have dreamt of for many years, and for which several have given their very lives. It could be even much more than that. This could be the foundation for the first, truly great, black nation of the modern age. A nation led by black people, run by black people, and populated by black people, and a nation that begins to do those great and good things that hitherto have been associated with the Caucasian, the Latino, the Indian, the Chinese and the Arab.

A nation where there is rule of law, where the police is a service and not a force, where the army’s ire is felt by invaders and not defenceless citizens. A country where schools and hospitals are run by civil servants and not part-time mercenaries, a place where energy plants serve a thriving manufacturing and services sector, where roads are built and maintained, and that by Nigerians. A land in which the vote of the citizen counts and the lines of tribe and religion have been erased by shared values, aspirations and achievements. A New Nigeria that sets an example for the whole of black Africa and pulls hundreds of millions out of their nightmares and into the light of a progressive co-existence and the infinite possibilities available to all in a land so rich in every resource salutary to human existence and prosperity on this earth.

It is the prayer of all Nigerians that the forthcoming elections are credible, free and fair, and that such candidates as represents the best value for the present and future of our great nation wins.
We wish all contestants every good fortune within the bounds of our laws.
May God bless us all and usher in a New Nigeria in our own lifetimes; amen.

Jimoh Oyewole
Nigeria Abroad (UK)
+44 793 920 3120