For the first time in my life, I heard that some Americans were killed and the Capitol vandalised by a mob because of a presidential election. It was the kind of stories we hear from countries in Africa, Asia and South America. What changed? Nothing changed in the American system. The only thing that changed was that a man called Donald John Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016 and contested the 2020 election as the incumbent and lost.
The electoral crisis that the US is facing today was not caused during the 2020 election. The seed was sown in 2016 when Trump presented himself as a presidential candidate under the Republican Party and was elected in spite of all the signs he showed about himself.
Since I began to follow the American presidential election in the 1980s, I noticed that Americans never allowed anyone with a question mark over his personality or family to emerge as president. Everything about the candidates was laid bare. All their actions and comments since their adulthood were dug up and dissected. Their family members and associates were analysed. Their height and weight were X-rayed. An American president should not be less than 6-foot high, so as not to be dwarfed by the presidents of other countries. He should not be overweight, so as not to look clumsy or unhealthy when he is with other presidents or executing his duties.
An American president should be guarded in his speech. He should not be uncouth. He should sound presidential and inspiring. He should be bold and sure-footed but not caustic and bigoted. He should respect other people’s religion, ethnicity or race. He should see all Americans – irrespective of their backgrounds – as one and equal.
Therefore, even though Americans never believed that a saint should lead them, they believed that anybody who should lead them must start early in life to prepare for that esteemed position. They never allowed anyone to just emerge from nowhere and bamboozle them with beautiful rhetoric and become their president, to avoid having to see their president face scandals over past deeds.
Once a past issue was discovered about a candidate, it was brought to the fore and discussed sensationally. Such a candidate would be portrayed as unfit to hold the position of president. Most times, such a candidate would withdraw from the race.
In 2015, when Donald Trump came out to participate in the American presidential race, he failed on virtually all the points. Yet, it did not stop him from being elected president. The reason was that like Adolf Hitler, he came out with a nationalist ideology. He presented himself as the warrior of God who had come to fight all the enemies of America without minding whose ox was gored. He packaged himself as a man who had come to wipe away the iniquities in America and “make America great again.”
His comments were acerbic and uncouth. He ridiculed people based on their gender, religion, race, looks, and health condition. He pilloried anybody or group that disagreed with his comments and actions. His supporters loved it. According to them, “A warrior of God” does not need to be politically correct in speech. Different issues about his sex life and dealings with sex workers were unearthed. The nude pictures of his wife as a model were published. These would have put a full stop on the presidential ambition of any other candidate. But Trump’s supporters said that even Paul was once Saul who killed Christians, while Mary Magdalene was once a sex worker who became a close ally of Jesus Christ.
The icing on the cake was when he said in January 2016 in Iowa, while contesting the Republican Party ticket: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Indeed, that atrocious comment did not make him lose voters, as he went on to win the party’s ticket and the presidential election. It was a clear sign that Trump knew the type of hold he had on his supporters. As far as they were concerned, Trump could never do any wrong.
It was that mindset that permeated the four years of his presidency. Rather than unite the country immediately after his victory, he continued with his rhetoric, dividing the country into those who were for him and those who were enemies of America. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Trump continued to say that the only way he could lose the 2020 election was if it was rigged. He never committed to accepting the result of the election if he lost. As far as Trump is concerned, any election he does not win is rigged. It was the type of narrative Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regaled Nigeria with between 2003 and 2015. Even though he barely campaigned in the Southern part of Nigeria and was not popular there, according to him, any election that he lost was rigged. That narrative led to the killings and destruction perpetrated by his supporters when it became obvious that he was losing the 2011 election
Buhari also clearly displayed his traits but passion beclouded the minds of many. As a military head of state, Buhari was alleged to have supported the candidacy of Ide Oumarou of Niger Republic as the secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity, against a Nigerian, Peter Onu, in 1985. Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, denied this in 2017, explaining that Buhari did not support Onu because the five big African countries reached an agreement not to contest the OAU’s top job. In addition, Buhari was accused that in October 2000, as a former head of state (seen as a father to all), he led a team of Arewa men to visit the governor of Oyo State, Chief Lam Adesina, to protest that “his people” were being killed, a sectional visit no other former head of state would be part of. Yet, many Nigerians voted for him assuming that he would see all Nigerians as “his people” and treat them equally.
During the sharia riots of 2000, while other current and past leaders were making efforts to douse the religious tension caused by the introduction of sharia law by some states in the North, which had caused the deaths of many Nigerians, Buhari, a former military head of state, was the only one who came out openly in support of the implementation of sharia, not concerned about the deaths of Nigerians then. Yet, many Nigerians assumed that he would treat people from different religious backgrounds fairly as an elected president.
As a retired head of state, Buhari was accused of not submitting any certificate but sworn affidavit to the Independent National Electoral Commission since 2003 he began to run for president. He was also accused of not improving on his education since being overthrown in 1985, although he was only 43 years old then. He was not known to have run any business successfully since his retirement. He was not known to have pushed forward any business idea or intellectual view. Yet, Nigerians assumed that a man who had no interest in education or personal improvement would transform a country.
Americans are lucky that their democracy has been well-grounded over the centuries. If not, Trump would have used soldiers to arm-twist the electoral body to declare him president, and deal with anybody who protested against the result. He would have used his first term to arrest anybody who criticised him and proscribe any media house which does not support him.
Any country that elects a president who does not care what he says or does is creating a problem for itself. A divisive leader creates a country that is never at peace.
After the exit of Trump, Americans led by President-elect Joe Biden should start the mission to unite and heal the United States of America. Similarly, after the exit of Buhari, that should be the same mission for anybody who will take over from him. But it won’t be an easy task for such a person.