There are defeats nearly as triumphant as victories, made glorious by their greater accomplishment in labour. Such was the defeat of Atiku Abubakar in the just-ended presidential election, never mind the heartbreaking effect. In nearly two years of electioneering, Abubakar marketed an alternative nation of enterprise, unity, and justice. He ran a sincere campaign that preached restructuring, a sore point for his ethnic base;; he chose an Igbo running mate when expediency demanded one from the Southwest; he vowed to privatize the NNPC, though political cunning would suggest silence or falsehood on the subject. It was, however, his quest for justice that won him both the love and hate of many.
Justice, as symbolized by his choice of Peter Gregory Obi. The politics of Igbo exclusion had moved from denial to open rationalization, and, despite current agitations for Biafra, the official apartheid became more severe. The Buhari government was a child of the ethnic gang up of 2015 between the North and the Southwest, so appointments and other perks of power were passed between the two regions over the heads of the Igbos. Matters got so brazen that the Vice-President, as well as a minister from the Southwest, tasked voters from the region to vote Buhari so that power would return to the region in 2023 — and last for another 8 years before it hurries back to the North. That calculation will now come to pass, more so to compensate Bola Tinubu for his strategic and financial support leading to his party’s current victory. No degree of Igbo electoral fawning will disrupt this arrangement.
Atiku’s politics was far elevated above such narrow and selfish visioning. He had a national outlook that sought to unite disparate regions whose ethnic fault-lines had become too agitated. Buhari chose Osinbajo not for competence but strictly for ethnic gratification: he did not even know him, nor did the latter have executive track record in leadership. Besides ethnic justice, Atiku chose Obi to harness a competency in building business and economic value, rather than choosing just any politician from the region. He lost mainly due to this nationalist activism, having angered part of his base whose stakes were better protected by injustice. The ensuing rigging was a mere expression of this disaffection, in support of a dark alternative afoot with the promise of blood money. Though not a saint, Atiku Abubakar held a lot of meaning for those of us who had developed a national imagination of inclusion and youth energy, of justice and modern governance. He inspired hope in a PDP once a tasteless contemplation. It was also a campaign run by decent managers and engagement was craved, not avoided.
But his defeat is a metaphor for the defeat of elections, after the electoral process had found incremental refinement since 2011. Violence, clampdown by security agencies, electoral irregularities, clampdown on the judiciary, including on members of the opposition. Voter confidence has now been seriously eroded, rolling back the gains of the past two electoral cycles. The bandwagon effect may lead to a dominant one-party victory in the subsequent elections. An impressive checklist of failures has rewarded itself with looted victory.
Indeed it was a victory whose gloating came before it even materialized, one too scandalous for congratulation. While the hope for political appointment has anchored many youth to the salutation of evil, many spoke when silence was fashionable — when dissent was costly. They chose hunger over a yesmanship that could win contracts. They were repulsed by Buhari’s nepotic impunity. They could not contort arguments around herdsmen murdering hundreds amid presidential silence. They resisted cabalocracy. They could not fetishize poverty as some mark of integrity. They did not believe that corruption should defect across party lines and become whole. They did not justify the murder of unarmed protesters while “repentant” Boko Haram terrorists were set free with bags of money. I am delighted to know many of them, including Temidayo Ahanmisi, Charles Ogbu, Farooq Kperogi, Moses Ochonu, Uwuma Precious, Olutoyosi Omotosho, Anozie Ebirim: they give me hope!
That young man I gave a lift on the day of the election, who was walking from Okota to Oshodi, thank you. That policeman I picked up at Oshodi and dropped off at Obalende, who was embittered by our ethic fissures. That woman with a child strapped to a back, who had walked from Keffi to Queens Drive in Ikoyi, only to be told she was in the wrong polling unit — who let me drive her round till we found the right place. That guy at the polling unit that wept for being unable to vote with a “faulty” PVC —thank you. To the accidental comrade at the Bourdillon 020 polling unit, who volunteered to organize the tumultuous crowd, taking the tail of the queue, thank you. To Leah Sharibu, activist that showed principle amid terror, may you be free. To that kind, State-House journalist and friend that processed my press pass though we were on opposing sides, thank you.
To all Nigerians that mobilized themselves around Atiku’s alternative nation — where one tribe is as good as the other — Nigerians whose patriotism has now been overrun by the privileging of ethnic politics, may Nature reward your service. You jeopardized careers on behalf of a nation that does not exist, but virtue is its own reward and is vindicated even in defeat. As I take what may be a very long break, if not a permanent exit from social media and the Nigerian project, I promise that you all have my respect. Some of us may find alternative nations, psychologically or in actuality, but we must remain proud of the choices we made.
And for Atiku Abubakar, a bridge across ethnic and religious divides, a hardworking man that invested all of himself to build a dream Nigeria when it was wasteful to do so, may history remember. In proposing equity, you were punished with the opposite. But your story has not ended yet and the Universe will be with you. Though a painful moment, the honesty of our labour is morally satisfying, as the philosophy of greater good for all above the self is an internal victory many will never come to understand. ✚
Ibe-Anyanwu is a freelance journalist. His first book, Under Bridge, won the ANA Prize for Prose in 2014