As Nigeria looks back at the past years of its political journey, there are moments where her leaders have fallen short of their promises and responsibilities. In some cases, these shortcomings have led to corruption, scandals, and a breakdown of trust between political leaders and the citizens.
It is therefore rare for political leaders to acknowledge their failures and seek forgiveness from the people they once served, reports Saturday PUNCH.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari and a few state governors, having reflected on their years in office as they wind up, took this step to apologise to the people they governed.
For Buhari who would leave office on May 29, he spoke inside the Banquet Hall of the presidential villa in Abuja during a Sallah homage paid to him by the Federal Capital Territory residents led by the minister, Mohammed Bello. He marked his final outing as the president and appreciated Nigerians for the honour to serve the country uninterrupted between 2015 and 2023. He then asked for forgiveness from those he believed might have been hurt by his actions in the course of discharging his duties.
Many Nigerians became dissatisfied with the performance of the Buhari regime after some years into his government, particularly his first term. They argued that his promise to fight high-level corruption, boost the economy and address insecurity remained issues Nigerians still have to grapple with.
Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, however solicited the support of Nigerians for his second term with a slogan ‘Next level’. They promised to take Nigerians to the next level.
The president, perhaps, knew he would have stepped on toes and many would be aggrieved for various reasons sought their forgiveness and understanding for his mistakes and missteps.
He said, “I have been counting the years. Democracy is good, otherwise how can someone come from one end of the country to rule for eight years. My home town, Daura, is about eight Kilometres to Niger Republic. I can’t wait to go home to Daura.
“If they make any noise to disturb me in Daura, I will leave for Niger Republic. I deliberately arranged to be as far away as possible. I got what I wanted and will quietly retire to my home town. God gave me an incredible opportunity to serve the country. We are all humans, if I have hurt some people along the line of my service to the country; I ask that they pardon me. All those that I have hurt, I ask that they pardon me. I think it is a good coincidence for me to say goodbye to you, and thank you for tolerating me for almost eight years.”
But a number of governors whose tenures would also end in a few weeks time and hand over power to their incoming governors have also followed suit in seeking forgiveness from their citizens just like Buhari did.
On Tuesday March 28, 2023, Samuel Ortom, the Benue State governor after meeting with stakeholders from his constituency and member of his campaign council at the Government House in Makurdi, the state capital, championed the idea of apologising to the residents of his state.
Ortom, who had earlier lost his senatorial bid during the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, took the bold step and appealed to those he might have offended as the governor to forgive him. He contested the Benue North-West Senatorial District and was defeated by his former aide, Titus Zam.
In his reaction to his defeat, Ortom argued that he would challenge the outcome of the election in court, with his claim bothering on non-transmission of results electronically. But a few weeks later, the aggrieved governor declared his decision to withdraw the case which he had instituted at the Election Petitions Tribunal where he was challenging the credibility of the Zam’s victory and tendered his apology to the people of the state.
Being a member of the G-5 Group of the Peoples Democratic Party, including Nyesom Wike, Seyi Makinde, Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Rivers, Oyo, Abia and Enugu states respectively, which insisted on the zoning of the presidency to the South, the governor was a major player in the election as the aggrieved governors worked against the candidacy of the presidential candidate of his party, Atiku Abubakar, who eventually garnered over six million votes to come second in the presidential race.
Similarly, the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, who assumed office in 2015 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress after defeating his PDP counterpart, Salihu Takai, also ran for a second term in office during the March 23, 2019 governorship election in the state and was declared winner with a close margin of 1,033,695 votes to defeat his closest rival from the opposition PDP, Abba Yusuf, who got 1,024,713 votes. Yusuf and his party dragged Ganduje before the Election Petition Tribunal for election irregularities amongst other charges.
Meanwhile, on Friday November 2019, the Kaduna Division of the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Justice Halima Shamaki-led tribunal who ruled in favour of Ganduje as the authentic winner of the election after dismissing the entire petition of PDP’s candidate and its party for lacking merit.
Four years after the 2019 election, Ganduje is expected to end his two-term tenure of eight years by May 29, 2023. He will be transferring power to his strongest opposition, Abba Yusuf, now in the NNPP. The preferred candidate of Ganduje and the APC governorship candidate, who is the incumbent deputy governor of the state, Nasiru Gawuna, lost with 892,705 votes to NNPP’s Abba Yusuf who had 1,019, 602 votes.
On Saturday April 15, 2023, Ganduje made a remark during a Ramadan lecture series at Al-Furqan Juma’at Mosque in Nasarawa GRA in Kano, where he asked the residents of the state to ‘forgive me for I have forgiven all’.
As part of his farewell message, Ganduje said he had forgiven anyone who at any point in time might have wronged him no matter the weight of the offence, while he equally begged for the same.
It was in the same aura that the Taraba State governor, Darius Ishaku, also urged the people of his state to support the incoming administration of Col. Agbe Kefas. Ishaku of the PDP initially contested the 2015 governorship election in the state and won against his rivals from the APC, Aisha Alhassan and David Kente of the Social Democratic Party.
Like Ganduje of Kano State, Ishaku’s victory was challenged by Aisha Alhassan who called for the cancellation of the election. But a five-member panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja led by Justice Abdul Aboki upheld Ishaku’s victory. The panel ruled that his nomination complied with Section 85 of the Electoral Act and that his nomination by the PDP could not be questioned by a non-member of the party. He was eventually declared the winner of the governorship election early 2016.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the election season in 2019, Ishaku ran for a second term in office and was again successful defeating his closest rival, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Danladi of the APC by over 150,000 votes. Out of the 16 local government areas in the state, the governor won 12, polling a total of 520,433 votes to defeat Danladi who emerged second with 362,735 votes, winning only four Local Government Areas of the state.
But there was an upturn in events when the outgoing governor who had ruled the state for almost eight years lost his senatorial bid during the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections. He contested the Taraba South Senatorial District and lost to APC’s David Jimkuta got 85,415 votes against his 45,708 votes.
He later came out a few months after losing his election to apologise to the people of the state as the day to leave office draws near.
In his Easter message signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Bala Dan-Abu, Ishaku said there could be peace among the people and the communities only if everyone resolved to forgive one another by acknowledging issues that could degenerate to conflicts and crises among them.
Noting the fact that he would be leaving office as a fulfilled and happy man, the governor who also solicited for forgiveness and peace said he had laid a foundation on which subsequent governors could build. He also appealed to people not to distract the incoming government.
He said, “There can only be peace among our people and communities if we all resolve to forgive one another and make concessions on issues that tend to generate conflicts and crises among them.
“I am happy that my mantra of ‘Give me peace and I will give you development’ has found firm roots in the minds of all Tarabans and I urge you to let the spirit of peace, love and forgiveness guide your attitudes, actions and relationship with your fellow men.”
Analysts are however asking the extent to which such apologies by these political leaders are acceptable?
A Professor of Political Science at the Bayero University, Kano State, Kamilu Fage, told our correspondent in an interview that it was best for political leaders to deliver their campaign promises to the expectation of the electorate who elected them.
He said tendering apologies by political leaders after the end of their administration for lack of performance would not change anything as democracy was the only platform the electorate had to contract and hope in their elected leaders.
He added, “The apology by the political leaders to the electorate can be viewed from different angles. On a social level and perhaps cultural and religious perspectives, we can say they all believe that we are all humans and cannot be perfect. However, when we look at it from the governance and political dimension, I think that wouldn’t change anything because people believe they did not deliver and you know democracy is a kind of contract between the electorate and the elected. So, the electorate expect performance from the leaders. Apology will not change anything because what they want is their performance.”
Fage noted that Buhari’s campaign promises, which made many people to support him, were partly addressed but not to the full satisfaction of the electorate.
“He was able to record some successes even though it was not 100 per cent, However, a lot of progress has been made. Unfortunately, some issues of kidnapping in the North-West and other parts of the country, IPOB and others are about to overshadow those successes.
“When you take the issue of corruption, which was one of the main things he campaigned on, I think that one initially showed some success because people were happy that perhaps what Buhari did when he was a military ruler will be repeated as a civilian but unfortunately we see corruption getting worse especially in the last two years. Efforts have been made to tackle it but it seems like a wildfire; the more you try to address, the wider it becomes.”
On the economy, the don identified excessive borrowing, devaluation of the naira and the rising inflation, which have over time worsened the poverty rate, as some of the factors responsible for the setbacks in Buhari’s eight-year administration.
He added, “Some people will accept it and say okay this has happened and we are humans but the majority will not accept it, because after all the damage has been done. The apology can only soothe the mind but can never soothe the wound.
“I think many people will not see the apology as something that will rectify the shortcomings but if they had come out to believe they are not perfect in terms of delivering what they promised, it could be a lesson to the incoming leaders that a lesson will be learnt. It is better to do their best and let the people judge rather than being insensitive to people’s wishes such that they will start rendering apologies at the end of their term.”
For the Chancellor of International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Chief Omenazu Jackson, the actions of the governors and the President could be considered as a crime against humanity, saying the apologies signified a breach of confidence which the people had in their governments.
Jackson stressed, “To us, the electoral mandate requires the desire to take the people from where they are to where they want to be. When they do so, they have been able to justify it. But if they fail to do so and render an apology, it means they have left people where they met them. It is tantamount to genocide. It is a crime against humanity for them to have betrayed people’s trust.
“It is a breach of contract, confidence, and a bad approach to political life. They know that they don’t have what it takes to hold those positions but they pretended. It is a shame that after eight years what we see is an apology. It is not forgivable because Nigerians are paying over millions of naira as ransom to save their relatives from their captors within the Nigerian territory.
“Sambisa forest is still under the control of criminals, while we have a retired general as the president and Commander-in-Chief. Where do we go from here and what is the value of an apology? We will not accept apologies because we elected the governors and the president and the country cannot be a field of lousy apologetic minds. When they were seeking the mandate, they didn’t seek a mandate to apologise but to work for the people so what is the lousy apology for?”
Commenting on Buhari’s claim on several occasions that he had done his best, the political analyst explained that little was what he did from the enormous expectations Nigerians had from him. He said, “Buhari’s best is not good enough. Nigerians expected more from him.”
Also, a professor of Political Science at the Ekiti State University, Ekiti State, Akinsola Agagu, said their performances could be assessed based on the extent to which their campaign promises had been delivered.
He added that corruption, the zeal to improve on the depressing economies and the willingness to tackle terrorism, which were mostly their areas of concentration at the point of campaign, had yet to be addressed eight years after.
He said, “The situation is just like shooting and apologising later. Their performance can be measured by three major things; what they promised the people that they would do (the social contract), they came up with manifestoes assuring the people that they would perform, particularly President Buhari, who promised to tackle the issue of insecurity.
“After eight years, how far has he gone and has he left the situation better? The other one is the issue of corruption which remains a nightmare, and even if you look at social services like electricity, is there an improvement?”
He admitted that the president has tried in some areas, especially with the rail lines and other projects, but that for the eight years, the resources expended and generated, and the amount of loans taken could make future generations indebted.
He continued, “So invariably when a president promises to do something and at the last minute what he comes out with is an apology, that means much have to be desired. For an executive, particularly a retired general, I think he should be able to use his military intelligence and competence to tackle insurgency.
“We can say it was an act of humility for them to apologise because they are sure that they didn’t satisfy the people. They knew they did not meet people’s expectations given the manifestos they presented. One should commend them for the humility, but does it actually help the situation?”
He argued that the forgone opportunity that their tenures created could not be bought over or mitigated? “This issue of apologising after tenure can also have negative effects because a political office holder can say okay at the end of their tenure they would simply apologise,” he added, “It is still better than those who did not perform and did not apologise, but such an apology does not buy back the time and opportunity lost.”