2019: Dialogue or Diatribe? By Issa Aremu

It was certainly entertaining, listening to contrasting views on the Challenges of 2019 at the 15th Trust Dialogue last Thursday, 18th of January, 2018  in Abuja. Aptly the news editor dubbed it the “clash” of the “titans” at Daily Trust Dialogue. But did “Daily Trust” envisage genuine dialogue or endless diatribes political gladiators about 2019? We of course had a bagful of political star-words, diatribes certainly not illuminating Dialogue about 2019. William Isaacs in 1999 did a seminal work on “Dialogue”  which he rightly defines as “The Art Of Thinking Together”, “a conversation with the centre, not sides”. There was so much heat at the 15th Trust Dialogue, but little light about how we are to cope with the challenges of next election year. There were side kicks, but very little conversation aimed at deepening democracy.

I wonder what the former President of Botswana, Festus Moghae made of the notoriety of Nigerians’ shouting matches, talking at, (rather than talking  with!) other. It is a sad commentary that in our daily frustration, the latest being fuel scarcity which true to Lamido the politician turned into political bunching bag! Paradoxically, good ideas came out of the respective hardened positions  at the forum which devoid of excessive partisanship could guide us in deepening the democratic process well beyond 2019. Former governor of , Alhaji Sule Lamido commendably adopted historical method in his hour-long presentation which  devoid  of its legitimate partisanship would have set the tone for real Dialogue in place of long,  long monologue.

My take from his presentation is that Nigerian democracy has come of age with the all its strengths and weaknesses. Notwithstanding its identified limitations, 1999 has guided our democratic process in the past 17 years. With  5 transitional presidential elections, scores of governorship elections and as many as 85 million registered voters and as many as 70 political parties for next year’s election, this is the largest democracy in Africa! We can debate the quality of elections, but we cannot deny that this is a country of elections and elections. We have long commendably put an end to criminal annulment of elections. Thus 2019 must be a continuation of this process of votes, vote counting and oaths takings at all levels. Interestingly, both President Muhammadu Buhari represented SGF Boss Mustapha and Alhaji Sule Lamido alluded to this strength of our democracy without celebrating it for nation building. President Muhammadu Buhari accepted as much that his predecessor Dr. Goodluck Jonathan “historically set the tone for political conduct in the country graciously accepting defeat “in the keenly contested presidential race. President Buhari should have gone ahead and urged all contestants next year in the spirit of genuine Dialogue to allow INEC determine votes , not the courts of which himself spent years to validate his perceived denied victories in 2007 and 2011.

Indeed I expected the President to also add his voice in impressing on the judiciary to put an end to the current anarchic judgments on same electoral cases, as demanded INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu. Conversely Lamido would have drawn useful lessons from his useful historical excursions. He made a strong point that  the country stabilized politically after the chaos  of June 12 elections annulment. But  it not strength of the ruling PDP alone but the resilience of all Nigerians who have come to accept that democracy might not be perfect but alternative military dictatorship is worse. The personalization of discourse denied  Lamido  useful political capital as a democrat. Yes President  Buhari, could have been an onlooker during the struggle for democracy in the 90s. We can even go down the memory lane to that he like other Generals once overthrew democratically elected governments. But that is the beauty of democracy that it allows its adversaries to come to terms with their limitations.

Democracy  is like water, which late Fela Anilulapo in his ever green lyric says “has no enemy”. Yes it is to the eternal credit of democracy, not PDP that to quote Lamido that  “By 2003, people who hitherto couldn’t contemplate seeking to lead the country in 1999, joined politics in 2003”. Certainly  our democracy urgently needs urgent quality control. It must deliver the promises of water, light, roads and security. Former INEC Chairman Prof Attahiru Jega, hit the nail on the head when he said that we cannot pretend all is well with the country.

The presentation of   Lagos State governor and APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumes special significance to the extent that he pointed out that election should not be periodic ritual   game for office seekers but a means to national development with thought provoking and controversial recommendations for resolving the nagging problems of fuel  scarcity and the serial cattle headers/ farmers’ clashes. A true Dialogue should have given us the opportunity to interrogate his recommendations for nation building in a democracy.

Issa Aremu mni