The shout of “change” filled the entire atmosphere as people await the declaration of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressive Congress, as the winner of the 2015 presidential election. Before then, Nigerians were glued to their television and radio sets as they await the announcement of the winner which took Jega over twenty-four hours to declare. The twenty-four hours were like years to many, and like a woman in labour who cannot await the delivery of her child, so were Nigerians anxious of the presidential election results. All this is history now, as Gen. Buhari has won the election, thereby defeating Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan with a margin of over 3 million votes. Buhari’s victory will go down memory lane as the first person in Nigeria’s history who defeated an incumbent national leader. He has therefore set the precedent on how to defeat an incumbent national leader, having tried and lost on three different occasions. We shall look at some of the guidelines he has set.

First, to defeat an incumbent leader, the leader must have failed or believed by the majority of the people to have failed. In simple terms, there must be prevalent incompetence in his administration. This incompetence could be those things he ought to do which he failed to do, or those things he ought not to do which he did. This incompetence is the loophole that an opposition leader would exploit. Buhari defeated Jonathan because majority of Nigerians, most especially from the North-Eastern states, believe that Jonathan has not only failed them but left them at the mercy of boko haram who killed them, burnt their possessions and even took control of their territories. In as much as Jonathan wept as they suffered, his inability to swiftly and dramatically end insurgence in Nigeria gave credence to his incompetence. For this reason, Buhari defeated Jonathan in the north east. Aside the boko haram saga, allegations of corruption here and there, inability of his state Governors to discharge their duties in their respective states through the payment of salaries and other developmental projects, made the people to lose faith in Jonathan’s administration. And since uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, all these incompetences were blamed on Jonathan.

Second, the incompetence we discussed above must also spread to the incumbent leader’s party. The failure in the leadership of his party also makes the leader vulnerable. If his party is divided, and he is unable to manage and contain the crises, then the opposition can always use that to his disadvantage. This is why the healthy functioning of a leader’s party ought to be his priority. The crisis within the PDP started a long time ago, but was effectively managed by the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Jonathan appeared to be too soft hearted and tolerant of many things, and he couldn’t handle the aggrieved party members. Unfortunately for him, they left at such a time when the opposition parties were merging and growing stronger. Subsequently, internal democracy was submerged and replaced with politics of imposition. The will of the people mattered less, as the sovereigns always had their say. This led to further defections. Thus, the center couldn’t hold, and things fell apart. The opposition can always exploit a crack in the incumbents’ party leadership.

Third, different political parties have different ideologies, but for victory to be achieved, some of these ideologies and differences must be reconciled towards a formidable force against the power of incumbency. Since a single piece of broom cannot sweep the mess piled up for years, there is a need for a coalition with other brooms, irrespective of sizes and designs. This was what led to the merger of different political parties to form the All Progressive Congress, which was indispensable for the defeat of the incumbent administration. Thus, to defeat an incumbent leader, differences between the minor political parties must be set aside and all factions must come together to make that happen.

Fourth, since it’s all about democracy, then the people must be convinced on the necessity of change and their role in ensuring same. It’s not whether the change is feasible or not, infact, it’s not even a question of whether there is a need for change or not. It is a matter of persuasion to the populace based on the shortcomings of the incumbent administration, and the promise of a better government. As a matter of fact, any opposition government intending to take over power must make the people believe that their present government has failed. This is very easy since no government is perfect in the same way that imperfection is an attribute of mankind. But how well these flaws are exploited will determine the extent of enthusiasm by the people to vote in a new government. After this, the people must be made to understand that the change can only be effected by them. They are to do this by voting en masse and protecting their votes. That is the sacrifice they must make! It looks like a movie or some piece of literature, but it worked for Buhari. If not, it is incomprehensible how Buhari intends to work the magic of making one dollar equivalent to one naira, amidst other campaign promises. It’s all propaganda, but the people believed it, and laid down their lives for his victory.

Fifth, one must have kin and other people of similar affiliation, who are ready to lay down their lives for the actualization of his ambition, if he must defeat an incumbent leader. This invariably means that reasons, manifestoes and programs are insufficient devices in defeating an incumbent leader. There must be, as a matter of requisiteness, people who support one for who he is, where he comes from, and where he belongs to. It is for this reason that Buhari won by a landslide in northwest. The people came out to vote for one of “their kind” who is a northerner and a Muslim, aside which, they cared less for what he has to offer. Unfortunately for Jonathan, his people never saw this as a necessity not until their brother began to lose. They thought they could eat their cakes and still have it, so they bothered less about voting in the election. Show me your people who are ready to give you unalloyed support and I will tell you you’re not far from victory.

Sixth, an independent electoral body is a sine qua non for defeating the incumbent leader. This is where I must commend Jonathan and Muhammadu Jega (the chairman of the electoral body). Jonathan gave Jega the full support he needed from the very beginning, and Jega was also strong and uncompromising in the course of the electoral process. If Jega compromised, then no matter the support one gets from all the voters, the election could be rigged. So the very first thing one must do in order to defeat an incumbent leader, is to ensure that the electoral body is truly independent. I respect Jonathan for his refusal to remove Jega despite the resounding calls by the PDP that Jega must go. He is an honourable man, and must be celebrated for the atmosphere in which he allowed Jega to work.

Lastly, if after following all the above discussed guidelines but one still fails to defeat an incumbent leader, then one must try again. Buhari has shown us that there is absolutely nothing that can defeat a persistent will. He almost gave up in his bid, but thank God he didn’t. There is absolutely nothing that can take the place of constructive persistence. So when next you contest against an incumbent leader and lost, don’t give up, re-strategize and try again.

About the Author:
 Author Photo Bandawa writes from Abuja, Nigeria. You can follow on twitter @NBandawa