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Democracy, Deferred (...Anact of desperation from an incumbentterrified of losing)- Chimamanda Adichie

Last week, Victor, a carpenter, came to my Lagos home to fix a broken chair. I asked him whom he preferred as Nigeria’s next president: the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, or his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari. "I don’t have a voter’s card, but if I did, I would vote for somebody I don’t like,” he said. 'I don’t like Buhari but Jonathan is not performing.”
Victor sounded like many people I know: utterly unenthusiastic about the two major candidates in our upcoming election.

Were Nigerians to vote on likeability alone, Jonathan would win. He is mild-mannered and genially unsophisticated, with a conventional sense of humor. Buhari has a severe, ascetic air about him, a rigid uprightness; it is easy to imagine him in 1984, leading a military government whose soldiers routinely beat up civil servants. Neither candidate is articulate. Jonathan is given to rambling; his unscripted speeches leave listeners vaguely confused. Buhari is thick-tongued, his words difficult to decipher. In public appearances, he seems uncomfortable not only with the melodrama of campaigning but also with the very idea of it. To be a democratic candidate is to implore and persuade, and his demeanor suggests a man who is not at ease with amiable consensus. Still, he is no stranger to campaigns. This is his third run as a presidential candidate; the last time, in 2011, he lost to Jonathan.

This time, Buhari’s prospects are better. Jonathan is widely perceived as ineffectual, and the clearest example, which has eclipsed his entire presidency, is his response to Boko Haram. Such a barbaric Islamist insurgency would challenge any government. But while Boko Haram bombed and butchered, Jonathan seemed frozen in a confused, tone-deaf inaction. Conflicting stories emerged of an ill-equipped army, of a corrupt military leadership, of northern elites sponsoring Boko Haram, and even of the government itself sponsoring Boko Haram.

Jonathan floated to power, unprepared, on a serendipitous cloud. He was a deputy governor of Bayelsa state who became governor when his corrupt boss was forced to quit. Chosen as vice president because powerbrokers considered him the most harmless option from southern Nigeria, he became president when his northern boss died in office. Nigerians gave him their goodwill—he seemed refreshingly unassuming—but there were powerful forces who wanted him out, largely because he was a southerner, and it was supposed to be the north’s ‘turn’ to occupy the presidential office.

And so the provincial outsider suddenly thrust onto the throne, blinking in the chaotic glare of competing interests, surrounded by a small band of sycophants, startled by the hostility of his traducers, became paranoid. He was slow to act, distrustful and diffident. His mildness came across as cluelessness. His response to criticism calcified to a single theme: His enemies were out to get him. When the Chibok girls were kidnapped, he and his team seemed at first to believe that it was a fraud organized by his enemies to embarrass him. His politics of defensiveness made it difficult to sell his genuine successes, such as his focus on the long-neglected agricultural sector and infrastructure projects. His spokespeople alleged endless conspiracy theories, compared him to Jesus Christ, and generally kept him entombed in his own sense of victimhood.

The delusions of Buhari’s spokespeople are better packaged, and obviously free of incumbency’s crippling weight. They blame Jonathan for everything that is wrong with Nigeria, even the most multifarious, ancient knots. They dismiss references to Buhari’s past military leadership, and couch their willful refusal in the language of ‘change,’ as though Buhari, by representing change from Jonathan, has also taken on an ahistorical saintliness.

I remember the Buhari years as a blur of bleakness. I remember my mother bringing home sad rations of tinned milk, otherwise known as “essential commodities”—the consequences of Buhari’s economic policy. I remember air thick with fear, civil servants made to do frog jumps for being late to work, journalists imprisoned, Nigerians flogged for not standing in line, a political vision that cast citizens as recalcitrant beasts to be whipped into shape.

Buhari’s greatest source of appeal is that he is widely perceived as non-corrupt. Nigerians have been told how little money he has, how spare his lifestyle is. But to sell the idea of an incorruptible candidate who will fight corruption is to rely on the disingenuous trope that Buhari is not his party. Like Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress is stained with corruption, and its patrons have a checkered history of exploitative participation in governance. Buhari’s team is counting on the strength of his perceived personal integrity: his image as a good guy forced by realpolitik to hold hands with the bad guys, who will be shaken off after his victory.
In my ancestral home state of Anambra, where Jonathan is generally liked, the stronger force at play is a distrust of Buhari, partly borne of memories of his military rule, and partly borne of his reputation, among some Christians, as a Muslim fundamentalist. When I asked a relative whom she would vote for, she said, “Jonathan of course. Am I crazy to vote for Buhari so that Nigeria will become a sharia country?”

Nigeria has predictable voting patterns, as all democratic countries do. Buhari can expect support from large swaths of the core north, and Jonathan from southern states. Region and religion are potent forces here. Vice presidents are carefully picked with these factors in mind: Buhari’s is a southwestern Christian and Jonathan’s is a northern Muslim. But it is not so simple. There are non-northerners who would ordinarily balk at voting for a ‘northerner’ but who support Buhari because he can presumably fight corruption. There are northern supporters of Jonathan who are not part of the region’s Christian minorities.

Delaying the elections is a staggeringly self-serving act of contempt for Nigerians.
Last week, I was indifferent about the elections, tired of television commercials and contrived controversies. There were rumors that the election, which was scheduled for February 14, would be postponed, but there always are; our political space is a lair of conspiracies. I was uninterested in the apocalyptic predictions. Nigeria was not imploding. We had crossed this crossroads before, we were merely electing a president in an election bereft of inspiration. And the existence of a real opposition party that might very well win was a sign of progress in our young democracy
Then, on Saturday, the elections were delayed for six weeks. Nigeria’s security agencies, we were told, would not be available to secure the elections because they would be fighting Boko Haram and needed at least another month and a half to do so. (Nigeria has been fighting Boko Haram for five years, and military leaders recently claimed to be ready for the elections.)

Even if the reason were not so absurd, Nigerians are politically astute enough to know that the postponement has nothing to do with security. It is a flailing act of desperation from an incumbent terrified of losing. There are fears of further postponements, of ploys to illegally extend Jonathan’s term. In a country with the specter of a military coup always hanging over it, the consequences could be dangerous. My indifference has turned to anger. What a staggeringly self-serving act of contempt for Nigerians. It has cast, at least for the next six weeks, the darkest possible shroud over our democracy: uncertainty.

For The Atlantic


  1. I would rather have an active president with uncertain intentions than a dormant president with good intentions....

    I will vote for Active CHANGE 2015

  2. Chimamanda, well crafted opinions as usual. I honestly don't know how inec' boss thinks he can rope himself out of this.

    They were not prepared for the elections at all. Holding it on the 14th would have been a disaster. Too many unclaimed voters cards, untested voter card machines, unpasted voters list, untrained staff and so on. Security isn't the issue at all.

    1. The future looks bleak, how did we end up here. @Uyi, I don't think Fashola did much but this is story for another day. The amount of money Lagos generates, he did nothing. It is just our mediocre mentality that drives us to sing praises of people that did little vis a vis the resources they control. J

  3. LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, MASTER of the universe, when will your humble child be able to express his feelings like this wonderful lady?

    There you have it; two very wrong choices face Nigerians at the 11th hour, but it's obvious why Buhari's prospects are better. Now she's the second Nigerian hinting on a possible extension/military coup (1st being Obasanjo) because of a desperate incumbent president. GOD help us all.

    1. Memphis.......... Okay now but I agree with her even though am a pro Jona. GOD should make the right candidate win. Shikena.

    2. @Mabel, from Thelma's last Post we've learned that GOD shows us major signs for us to act accordingly. There's no way HE'll interfere with our will and make the right candidate win. With all the melodrama, do you still think GEJ is a better option than GMB? The two choices are wrong, but with all these signs being shown, what do you think?

    3. Yes am with memphis on this one! The "sign" message is not only confined to rships, other matters like this too also apply. We must act accordingly, God will not. You can't vote for GEJ and pray that GMB wins finally, that's how most Nigerians feel @ d moment. Sad!

    4. I just see something wrong about GMB,dere is something too gud to b true about him,I can't just seem to place,I am still convinced Jona has something to offer,something we can't all see yet,he needs a chance. Just my opinion ohh,no one must agree or disagree, just my thoughts.

    5. Exactly my thoughts too maybel. There is something about Buhari that I don't like

  4. She's right.... I don't like the way this country is going but let's hope for the best.

  5. I'd have wished for a Fashola who has proven himself in this generation. but this country could never beyond religion and geography. And that would always be our issue in the political hemisphere of Nigeria. Just imagine Americans fighting for slots from the eastern conference or western for the determination of their next president. *sigh but we are here now, and we have to move forward...not sideways

    1. I replied your comment I don't know how it jumped up as a reply to Clare's comment. bb confused face.J

    2. Lol. J. Even Agbaje can't even, clearly enough, fault fashola's governance with his campaign. That should tell you something dear

    3. Unlike the circus party GEJ is having in the federal level to the point that Buhari is like a superhero we've been waiting for.

  6. I'm still Pro Jonathan...I still believe in him. At least, he has done well, and he will do better this time. Thank God I can now comment...*dancing*.

  7. I have a concern: during the second term, most politicians do not out-perform their first-term achievements. We have seen Jonathan's achievements during his 6-year tenure, would he perform better if given a second term? Are their indices to convince us of a better Jonathan during the next four years?

    His words in 2011 "If I’m voted into power, within the next four years, the issue of power will become a thing of the past. Four years is enough for anyone in power to make a significant improvement and if I can’t improve on power within this period, it then means I cannot do anything…”


  8. I asked a teenage girl who she will vote for. She said GEJ. I asked why and she said, because he likes his face.
    That's when I realized that some will vote for their looks alone. Lol

    I told her about the character of both of them and she became swayed towards GMB and even her mother was seconding it.

    1. Besides the Presidential and gubernatorial elections, the house of rep and senate candidates I will vote for (if I vote) will be based on their looks **covers face**

      I honestly don't know what they do.

  9. The fact is this Jonathan CANNOT do much for nigeria if elected a 2nd time. There will be toooooooo many people to be appeased and compensated. He had 6 years to make very remarkable difference., but he didn't. He is one lucky chap, to have had 6 years.

    Unless it's the western. World, most black presidents/governors and co hardly do much in their. 2nd tenure, it only takes a man/woman with loads of integrity to see their promises through.

  10. The fact is this Jonathan CANNOT do much for nigeria if elected a 2nd time. There will be toooooooo many people to be appeased and compensated. He had 6 years to make very remarkable difference., but he didn't. He is one lucky chap, to have had 6 years.

    Unless it's the western. World, most black presidents/governors and co hardly do much in their. 2nd tenure, it only takes a man/woman with loads of integrity to see their promises through.

  11. Chief GMB was in govt for 10yrs serving under different capacities including the seat he's vying for now.... I dare anyone to name or show a picture of one project he executed successfully for the good of NIGERIANS.
    1)He canceled the feeding of students in University and instituted the payment of tuition fees and now he claims he would introduce student loans and pay every unemployed person #5000 per month. Has anyone asked him how he intends to generate money for that purpose? Or he wants to plunge us into more debt?
    2)He claims he borrows money for forms and doesn't have up to a million in his account. Okay!!! Just yesterday his wife donated 135million in Adamawa to IDPs.... Good deed, compassionate woman....where did she get money and even if its her money, couldn't she have borrowed her sweet fine man money to pay for forms afterall they are both going to Aso rock? It shows his house is not even well-managed and he wants to manage this cross that is Nigeria?
    3)He has been riding on trains and cars on the roads and he agreed with Amanpour that Jonathan is a failed president yet during his reign, he didn't commission any project for the production of common 'boris'
    Okay o!!!! Nigerian Youth, Dia ris God o!!!!

    We should be very careful S̶̲̥̅Ơ̴̴̴̴̴̴͡ that the past of our parents doesn't become the future we give our children. Even my grandmother of 87 went to collect PVC because she doesn't want Buhari who flogged to sell the tins of milk she bought at #3 for 30k.
    In the end, let God's will prevail.

  12. I have a problem with people that say Jonathan has failed.... so all the strides he has made like
    1)Building 125 almajiri model schools is failure?
    2)re-structuring of the aviation sector that made the US to award 9ja category-A status is failure?
    3)The auto-mobile policy he introduced that has seen Nigerians like the INNOSON group come to lime-light and Kai, Nissan, et Al come to 9ja is failure?
    4)The TETFund for Universities that has seen many lecturers to develop themselves abroad and improve school research is failure?
    5)YouWin, YEAP and GIS that's churning out opportunities for graduates is failure?
    6)Privatization of the problematic PHCN which has seen resultant improvement in power generation is failure?
    7)IPPIS and the e-wallet scheme for fertilizer purchase by farmers directly instead of thru corrupt middlemen is failure?
    This is outside the infrastructures like good rail system, rehabilitated and reconstructed roads and so on.
    Please let's be fair and call a spade a spade, he has done well and can do more but 'clueless' people keep distracting the poor man.

    Those that have been job-hunting, pls GEJ didn't cause your joblessness he's trying to fix the rotten structures he met on ground and requires your prayers and patience.

  13. Hian! Can we rest the Gej/Buhari debates already?

    Everybody already knows who they'll vote for. Can't we just leave it at that? All of us can't agree to vote one candidate so lets just agree to disagree on who the "best man" is and let sleeping dogs lie.

  14. Her Opinion but i want to share a story with you guys..
    I just finished runniing a prog in one of the prestigious universities in Nigeria. I submitted my work for Plagiarism scan and it didn't pass... was a little above the required %. I was asked by the Prof in charge to make corrections and re-submit. I did as told and when i came to submit the Prof directed a young man in charge of the submissions to take my work and make sure it was sent for the scan Sharp- Sharp. the young man said "okay sir!". As soon as we got to his office, he said to me "sister, if you want your work to go sharp sharp you have to go and type the letter ooo... i'm tired and i wan commot" I was shocked but i agreed to type the letter.. afterall i'm the one in need. he gave me the sample and off i went to do the typing. by the time i came back, he had gone out.. i had to drop the work in his colleague's office for him to pick up... it was a friday, he didn't come back to work but said he will pick it up on monday. On monday, i waited for a confirmation from him that he had picked it but didn't get any so i called him. he said "Ehen, i have been waiting for you to call ooo.. Do you know you didn't make any photocopies?" i was like "Sir, you didn't ask me to and besides i thought photocopies should be done after the letter has been signed not before?" he said "Oh well, i have to make 3 copies so send me N200 airtime" I was like "Sir?" he said "you heard me, or you can come from wherever you are to make the copies. i am about to go out ooo so send the card now" I was stunned and angry but i was very far from the school and knew that i stood the risk of having my cd disappear... it happened to a classmate. so i jejely bought the card n sent to him. Now i know that if the Prof in charge knew that this as happening, he would be mad as hell and the young man stood the chance of being queried or worse... As i thought of it, i could relate it to govt. The person in charge might not be corrupt or even have an idea of the kind of corruption going on in their govt... afterall i gave the man the N200 card n shut up.... So those saying GEJ is corrupt or he hasn't done anything think about it. Even the BH issue i have friends in the military and they have said Sabotage is the main reason it seems the military's not doing anything and they have lost a lot of their fine soldiers because of it GEJ that has been sabotaging the army no... its a nigerian like me and you, its an army personnel that has been bought over by BH or by their ideas.. It's just easy for us to sit in our houses and judge. . Plus buhari/APC has been making inciting statements.. what example is he showing?? As far as i know, GEJ is working.. we may not know because we are not beneficiaries but i have seen beneficiaries of his numerous schemes especially in agriculture...So yeah it seems the work is getting done slowly but its getting done. Anyone who say nothing is being done at all is a liar which APC seems to be saying all the time. I am neither for PDP or APC because i think both parties are full of corrupt old men.APC is the rebellious faction of PDP, they are the same corrupt people... so kini big deal? I don't see what they really have to offer, they don't say much in their manifestos except criticizing PDP... no promise of continuity, at least promise to continue the good works.. but they don't see any good so... and to be honest in-continuity in government causes stagnation. My opinion, vote for who you think will do well but be wise and objective in your thinking. Lets make Nigeria the country we want it to be by fighting corruption in our little corner. Zi

    1. Zi!!! I can fight you right now fa! And no! You're not pardoned for making me read this!
      So you made me read this looooooooooong epistle just to buttress your point that Jonathan is not corrupt and is getting work done albeit slowly. Egbami! Does that even make sense to you? Someone turns the other way when corruption is mentioned and you say the person is not corrupt?! Let's even assume that Jona noh steal anything at all... how many people has he brought to book or sanctioned.. or you want to tell me he is like your professor that is oblivious to what his subordinates do? BS!!! How did you even think this up sef? Juxtaposing your professor in this situation with Jona and his fellow "brethrens"...

      I for one don't think Buhari would or can do better.... I just think it is time for Nigerians to stand up and say NO to BS. when we don't want something or we're tired of a particular situation... we should DO something about it and stop talking or arguing on social media. It's high time this politicians know we the people have the power to boot them out if we think they are not doing well. It would make them sit up and do the needful. Quite frankly, I think if Jonathan comes back... we're simply saying it's fine for our leaders to do whatever they like however they like and nothing can be done about it. to me it screams defeat and helplessness! We all agree that Jona's govt failed woefully compared to the resources he had at his disposal. We've had enough of impunity, insecurity, poverty at its peak to mention a few. Jonathan should be kicked, thrown, hauled!!! Out of aso rock come May 29. Congratulations to the "beneficiaries" of Jona's govt. At least some people will remember him for good. That wan sef is enough! Chai! It's too early to be ranting like this!

      It's friday people!!!!!!! Turn up!!!! Turn up!!! Turn up!!!!!!! (errr... ok)
      Happy Valentine in advance! Lmaoo! (na on top radio I hear am o!)

    2. If u had read her epistle praising GMB and overlooking the fact that he is also in a party of corrupt people,wld it have justified ur reading time? Asking for a friend...

  15. Pardon my lengthy Zi

  16. I'm charmed by Chimamanda's choice of words and her writing skills. Her articles have a way of endearing me to her. It's nice and also commendable to see a woman who isn't in the political arena have strong yet very incisive views about the economy and politics.

    I doff my hat to your works.

  17. @Uyi Nigerians are between the devil and the deep sea, albeit Nigerians are to choose between the devil that we know and the angel that we do not know. We would use our tongues to count our teeth, only time would tell..


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