Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu

One good thing about democracy is its recognition, all over the world, as a game of numbers. Simply put, it is a game of numbers. Here, it does not matter if the majority is a bunch of irredeemable fools. What is essential is that their voice is heard and respected. That is essentially what the April 16 presidential elections came to prove. Everyone who voted in the election had his or her reason to vote his or her choice. Even those who voted for SDMP, after its candidate had withdrawn from the race, still have their reasons for casting their ballots for the movement.

However, it is good to the wish of majority of Nigerians to cause a systematic breakaway from the past that Goodluck Jonathan carried the day. There is no doubt that Nigerians had become thirsty for change, one that could come through the ballot box, not barrel of the gun. That thirst made them to register massively to cast their votes. That showed actually that true power lies in the thumb, just a finger of the five fingers. This, to my mind, is a lesson to every Nigerian politician or public servant, to realize that a day of reckoning will always come; the day when the office seeker will stand before the electorate to beg for votes.

What caused the groundswell of support for Goodjo is his humble disposition to issues. He struck the heart of the Nigerian youth who now said he wants a break from elitism, which is an incurable disease that has held Nigeria back. Will Goodjo totally eradicate this disease? Time will tell. But it is good that Nigerians made a choice. It does not matter if the choice is right or wrong. What matters most is that a choice has been made and respected.

However, one thing that showed itself very clearly in the presidential election is the deep seethed division of the country along religious lines. The foreign media has not stopped emphasizing this religious divide. Nigeria is always seen, from foreign prisms, in terms of the Muslim north and Christian south. Like most Nigerians, I think this is wrong and divisive. This total refusal to harp on things that make Nigeria a unique country creates tension. This sort of tension expressed itself in the presidential election.

In 1999, religion didn't play any role in who led the country. So too in 2003 and 2007. At these elections, Nigerians voted for continuity of the progress made in advancing civil rule. Sadly, we made "progress" this time around emphasizing more on the religious divide than anything else. When a review of the electioneering process is done, it will be observed that preachers, both in mosque and churches, spent more time campaigning against opponents on religious grounds. Most of the voters I interviewed on the voting day told me they voted their choice because of his religion. Some even said their religious leaders had warned them against voting for a candidate who is not a member of their religion. To my mind, though we cannot divorce religion from politics, the dimension it took was somewhat dangerous for our nation. I do not think that majority Nigerians want their country to be divided along religious lines. Rather, I think that most will like to see themselves as either progressives, conservatives or liberals not essentially as Muslims, Christians or animists.

Those who embarked on this electoral journey using this religious route, may have, without deliberately planning it, fragmented our country more than anything else had done. This is because Goodjo will not be sworn in as president for Christians neither would General Buhari, had he won, be sworn in as president for Muslims. I am not sure any of the contestants viewed his or her chances from the religious point. Each one of them wanted to be president of Nigeria, not a religious section of it. However, what has happened simply confirms to all that religion is also politics. Not just about rescuing hell-bound souls and redirecting them to a heaven where they will no longer die, but live forever.

I may be wrong here, but I sincerely think that it was the emphasis on religion that made a fool of most political analysts who had argued that the outcome of the National Assembly election was an indication that Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) had no firm stake in the north. Those analysts who made such arguments are now better informed about what sentiments religion holds in Nigeria's politics, at least, at the national level. The basic lesson here is that religious sentiment strikes at the heart of youths, who, I suppose, constitute more of the voting percentage. Therefore, with the new religious radicalism growing in Nigeria, we see the possibility of a trend that will al-qaedalise religion in Nigeria, from both divides, leading to verbal and physical expressions that may ultimately annihilate humans.

Now, the basic challenge of the post-presidential election period in Nigeria is to heal wounds caused by this negative deployment of religion in elections. Like it or not, the sentiments that would be expressed in most parts of the country, upon public declaration of the result, may cause an Egypt or Tunisia for some hitherto powerful religious institutions. If it comes to that, then we would be living witnesses to instability brewed on religious grounds. This, to my mind again, is more difficult to contain.

We also see that with this election, which is simply about empowering some people with a guaranteed four-year job and meal ticket (stoppable only by judicial pronouncement, resignation or death), with which they pretend to work for our common good while exerting energy to ensure we remain unemployed, under-employed, hungry and without potable drinking water, homeless, victims of all manner of diseases etc, egos have been bruised. Those egos ought to be soothed because a man whose ego is bruised is worse than a demented soldier.

Besides, with the outcome of the NASS and presidential election, I do not think that the change Nigerians radically want has been achieved. We have seen results of the NASS elections and the implication is that PDP still has the majority. Even if the other parties that picked pockets of seats form an alliance, they still will not get the numbers required to checkmate the PDP. Having observed that most votes in the NASS are voice votes, I do not think there is any way opposition voices will drown those of the PDP.

For instance, I have heard many argue that the in-coming NASS will be different. Here, I want to remain a pessimist. I need to know how men and women, who had spent millions of naira on a very costly electioneering period, would agree not to recoup. Remember that elections in Nigeria are an investment which dividend is enjoyed over a four-year period. Even those who were thrown out midway are never asked to make refunds. So, I do not see any of the new legislators agreeing to do away with the self accounting status of the National Assembly, neither do I see any of them agreeing to have a cut in their allowances and other perks which David Mark worked out for his colleagues. The major attraction in the NASS election is basically that most Nigerians have now come to realize that being in the corridors of power is financially more rewarding than sustaining a private enterprise where you pay more to provide your own source of power. This is part of what must be checked. If we do a background check, it will be discovered that some of the elects had graciously shut down their businesses and took the plunge. The aim is not essentially to serve you and me, but to make enough money to sustain their families. That is why I do not think even the new NASS will do away with the sort of corrupt practices that trail oversight visits from NASS members. But this is actually the change we seek.

Therefore, the only change we may have succeeded in achieving here is democratically swinging the presidential pendulum and asking Goodjo to continue to seek the transformation and integration of Nigeria. But I still have my doubts given that PDP is still the behemoth it has always been. Goodjo just has to look at the faces on Nigerians and understand the body language which speaks in the direction of making sure that PDP is cleaned up and the old brigade retired from politics. It will not pay us or Goodjo any good if at the end of the day, we still have corrupt past ministers, governors, party men, contractors milling around the presidency in such brazen manner as to suggest that we still do not matter.

Goodjo's ability to reconcile, rebuild and refocus Nigeria will make his four-year tenure more eventful than a thousand tenures. That alone will make even his worst critics recant.