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The Nigerian elections are a choice between bad and worse

CAMPAIGN RIDE: A presidential candidate from the All Progressive Congress rides atop a campaign bus in Lagos

“IN A choice of two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before,” so said the American actress Mae West. One can only wonder what Lady West would have made of the upcoming Nigerian election.

We indeed have two evils in the form of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and former dictator General Muhammed Buhari, but sadly we have tried both. And both left a foul taste.

If you thought the prospect of a contest between David Cameron and Ed Miliband was uninspiring, when compared to Jonathan vs Buhari, Cameron vs Miliband is up there with Hulk Hogan vs Macho Man Randy Savage (the forced retirement match) in excitement terms.

Nigeria is a nation of 170m people. I don’t think I am being biased when I say it is one of the most naturally gifted and intelligent nations on the face of the Earth - industrious, diligent, creative and conquering in the face of overwhelming odds. It has the capacity to be a world leading nation – a superpower even. But the one thing that has failed Nigeria time and again is leadership.

Oil rich and with a very serious unacknowledged population growth problem (the country’s population of Nigeria in 1992 was 88.5m, today it is an estimated 170m), Nigeria is a chronically complex nation - socially, politically and economically. It needs an intellectual giant as a leader, a person who oozes leadership capability, intellect and competence, a person worthy of being followed.

In short, Nigeria desperately needs a Churchill figure for war-like times. Tragically, what this coming election has to offer is Buhari and Jonathan. And Churchill they are not.

Let’s start with Buhari. In 2014 Britain was run by David Cameron. In 2004 Britain was run by Tony Blair. In 1994 Britain was run by John Major. In 1984 Britain was run by Margaret Thatcher.

Does anyone really think Blair or Major could make a political comeback? Of course not. Buhari however was not the peer of either Blair or Major. Buhari snatched power in Nigeria in 1983 (albeit on the last day of the year). At the exact same time as Thatcher ruled the waves. Just for context he was running Nigeria’s affairs in that pre-historic era when Thatcher was at war with Arthur Scargill and the miners. Making matters more worrying, he wasn’t a particularly good leader.

He was very much a dictator, a deeply oppressive one at that. For example, if you ran onto a bus without queuing you’d be beaten in public by a soldier or told to perform a punishment, such as the ‘frog jump’ (jumping squats whilst clutching your ears) right in front of your children if need be.

Many of his policies were disastrous. For example, the banning of imports increased smuggling significantly and helped fuel the culture of corruption in Nigeria.

To his credit Buhari did fight corruption. But not without declaring that he would not “pay any regard to what is called the rule of the law”. His efforts to fight corruption were arbitrary and he often adopted illegal tactics. In what remains one of the most infamous moments in Nigerian political history, the Buhari regime attempted to extradite a former minister called Umaru Dikko from London in order to face corruption charges. As opposed to going through the usual channels, the Buhari regime contracted Mossad to drug and kidnap him in London and ship him back to Nigeria. If only they had remembered to complete the correct paperwork – the crates were not marked as diplomatic bags allowing police at Stanstead to open them and foil the plot.


GREAT HOPE: Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola

Yet, it would appear that the 72-year-old Buhari – thrice rejected at the ballot box, sparsely articulate and a tired former dictator whose academic qualifications seem to be forged, is the front runner. The Usain Bolt of this race. And this is to the credit of the very inept nature of Goodluck Jonathan’s government.

I went to Nigeria to witness Goodluck Jonathan’s election in 2011. It was a joyous event. He deservedly won by a landslide.

After that I personally went on multiple BBC shows to talk him up and spoke to fund managers across the City to sing his praises. I screamed about how great he was in the ears of anyone who would listen. I believed in him. Something just felt and sounded right about him. He selected a very good team of renowned technicians and represented Nigeria well in the international media. He was the first genuine Nigerian democrat (with no real ties to the military) since Shehu Shagari in 1983 (who was overthrown by Buhari). My “Goodluck to Nigeria” mini-flag still sits atop my fridge today.

Goodluck Jonathan proved to be an unmitigated woeful disaster.

The hundreds of missing girls of Chibok (which made Goodluck a household name in the west); the oil subsidy removal which sparked mass outcry and nearly triggered a revolution; the sacking of respected technicians such Sanusi Lamido; the totally needless out-of-the-blue criminalisation of homosexuality; the missing $20bn from the coffers; his unforgivably bombastic (now trademark) quote “stealing is not corruption”; the loss of control of the military; the unchecked rise and rampant nature of Boko Haram, now one of the biggest problems in Africa; the failure to say anything about the slaughter of 2000 Nigerians whilst offering condolences to France for the 17 lives they lost at the same time; the clearly reduced standing of Nigeria in the international community.

The Homer Simpson of democrats vs the Darth Vader of dictators: pick your poison.

If Nigeria does have a Churchillian figure on the horizon it is none other than Babatunde Fashola, the esteemed and internationally respected Governor of Lagos. This is a man who could make a difference. This is a man who has made a difference in Africa’s most populated city (Lagos). Fashola is the great hope for Nigeria.

The prospect of a Buhari victory offers two opportunities: regain centralised control and authority over the military which would at least mean the Nigerian army takes the fight to Boko Haram. The second is that it could pave the way for a Fashola run for the presidency since he and Buhari are from the same party.

Frankly, if it wasn’t for those two remote potential opportunities I would suggest Nigerians toss a coin in the air in the polling booth: heads Goodluck, tails Buhari.

Nigeria deserves so much better than this.

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