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President Buhari’s intention to run for a second term is within his rights. It is left for the electorate to endorse or reject him
Although the announcement that he would seek re-election came, not directly from him but rather from third parties who gave ‘clamour by Nigerians’ as the reason for the decision, President Muhammadu Buhari’s entitlement to contest for a second term in office is well within his constitutional rights as a citizen. But the responsibility of enlightening the polity about the failings or successes of his first term is that of the national elite to which this editorial board belongs. On the other hand, the obligation of using their votes either to endorse Buhari’s performance with a second term or send him back to retirement in Daura ultimately belongs to the Nigerian electorate in our democratic context.
To that extent, we are not in support of the privileged voices that have appealed to moral and sentimental suasions to discourage Buhari from exercising his rights under our constitution. In liberal democracy, the choice of running for office or not belongs to the individual political actor. Once that freedom of choice is exercised, it ought to be respected by all, regardless of how they feel about the incumbent.
That there is no direct correlation between performance in office and electoral victory perhaps explains the recent proliferation of controlled democracies such as in China, Rwanda and Russia. But the diversity of Nigeria and the delicate fault-lines make such proposition difficult under our national environment. However, what is at issue in the various restraining voices on the Buhari repeat candidacy is an appeal to common sense, especially against the background that the president had in the past promised to spend only one term in due deference to his age. But the choice which Buhari has now made in his declaration of intent to run is a private political one.
There is moreover a sense in which Buhari’s declaration is in fact a service to the development of our democracy. First, there are many people who believe his first term has been less than remarkable in any positive sense. Several Nigerians would readily declare it a national disaster. Our myriad national problems – insecurity, youth unemployment, economic desperation, corruption etc., have, for instance, worsened under him. That at least seems to be the general perception. Therefore, Buhari’s second term wager is in fact a way of testing whether an electoral outcome will ratify or invalidate this overwhelming public perception.
Meanwhile, a re-election option offers an incumbent the opportunity to renew his social contract with the electorate with more convincing arguments, better commitment to the public good and evidence of genuine political penitence. If the incumbent wins re- election, the electorate is condemned to live with the consequences of its action. If, on the contrary, the bad leader is rejected at the polls, then the people will have punished the incumbent for the hubris of governing badly.
President Buhari has demonstrated strong conviction in his own record of achievement as he sees it. He has presided over Nigeria in the last three years armed with a definition of leadership and a vision which only he and a few of his devotees understand. The challenge for all the opposing forces is to demonstrate to the president and his ruling party that the promise of a better Nigeria lies elsewhere. The only means which democracy offers us all to advance our contentions is the ballot box. To that extent, a free and fair process in the 2019 general elections becomes a grave national security issue. It is in fact an emergency situation. But that is what Buhari owes Nigeria.