I wasn’t desperate to win 2015 election —Buhari

•Says it was Nigeria’s political watershed •Akwa Ibom gov cautions him on politics of identity

President Muhammadu Buhari receiving his award as Leadership 2015 Man of the Year from former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on Thursday. With them are, from left, Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel; representative of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr Tanimu Turaki and the chairman, Leadership Group, Sam Nda-Isaiah.

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday, expressed his commitment to ideals of democracy, disclosing that he did not run for the 2015 election with desperation to win as people were made to believe.

This came as the Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr Emmanuel Udom, told President Buhari to discourage politics of identity and ethnic cleavages, in order to promote national cohesion, peace and development.

Both spoke in Abuja, on Thursday, at Leadership Newspaper Awards, where Buhari, former President Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Attahiru Jega, former chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), were conferred with Leadership Person of the Year 2015 awards.

Buhari, while describing the 2015 presidential election as a watershed in the political history of Nigeria, said collectively, the prophets of doom, who had predicted the disintegration of the country after the election, were disappointed.

He said himself and other actors in the election were led by the higher ideal of the future of the country and the well-being of the people, rather than mere desire of politicians to win elections.

“It is, therefore, our commitment to this ideal, the patriotic zeal of President Jonathan, the impartiality of the electoral umpire, INEC and exemplary conduct of the political parties, foreign pressure and other actors that we collectively disappointed the prophets of doom, who had predicted the disintegration of the country after the 2015 general election.

“Our democracy has been strengthened by the outcome of the 2015 elections, as our people now have more faith in the electoral system in the sense that their votes would count when choosing political leaders at various levels.

“We, the political class, should build on the experience of the 2015 elections to nurture our democracy,” he said.

He congratulated his joint award winners, ex-President Jonathan and Professor Jega, as well as other awardees.

His comments contradicted views held by the opposition then, which criticised Buhari as “being too power thirsty” and one who would stop at nothing to reclaim power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Jonathan was represented at the event by former Minister of Special Duties,Tanimu Turaki.

Buhari recalled the invaluable contribution of the media in the events that played out in the political journey of Nigeria, adding that it behooved the political class to build on the experience of the 2015 elections to nurture the country’s democracy.

“The events of 2015, which the Leadership Newspaper has chosen to bring to the fore today, marked a watershed in the political history of our country.

“It is my fervent hope that the awards will encourage all those recognised today to remain committed to good behaviour in their various endeavours to justify this recognition and serve as inspiration to others,” he said.

Speaking further, he said “on our part, our doors are wide open to media inquiries in line with the transparency and anti-corruption stance of our administration.”

While delivering his paper at the event, entitled: “Democracy, Political Transition and the Challenge of Leadership in Africa,” Governor Emmanuel said the daunting economic and political problems bedevilling Nigeria placed it at a crossroad, even as the nation marked its 56th independence anniversary.

While taking a cursory look into Nigeria’s political history and how it had evolved over the years, Emmanuel said democracy had its biggest effect in Africa’s most populous nation and its economic engine room, Nigeria, in 1999.

According to the Akwa Ibom governor, four previous attempts at introducing government based on the rule of law and democratic principles suffered huge reversals, due mainly to lack of elite consensus on the workability of democracy.

He said from 1999 to the present, Nigerian democracy had withstood all internal fissures, with its culture being internalised by Nigerians and a process of consolidation achieved.

Quoting late Harvard University political scientist, Professor Samuel Huntington, who had posited that “if elections took place in two cycles and the process was seen to have been transparent and free, then a consolidation may have taken place,” the governor said the crowning glory of the nation’s democracy was when former President Jonathan, putting the interest of the nation above his personal interest, conceded defeat to the current president.

“If the Huntingtonian model were to be applied, Nigerian democracy has not only consolidated but is growing and deepening in a profound manner,” he said.

According to him, “the margin of defeat was not extraordinary and most people had expected the then incumbent President Jonathan to use the instrument of power at his disposal to influence the outcome of the election or challenge the outcome in the law court.

“In a moment that stands out as the crowning glory of our democracy, then President Jonathan, putting the interest of the nation above his personal or group interest, conceded defeat to the current President Buhari, then of the opposition and now ruling party – the APC even before the final figures were tallied,” he said.

“Our democracy has definitely come to stay and we should all be very proud, but there are still lots of job to be done,” he added.

The governor said there was, however, the need to constantly engage the people on what government was doing to address their issues and problems, adding that “an engaged electorate is an informed electorate and this will eliminate apathy and a feeling of isolation.”

He also described Nigeria as a country with deep cleavages where the main allegiance and interest goes first to individual ethnic blocs over the larger national interest.

Emmanuel said the political class would do well  not to promote identity politics, but rather promote those tendencies that would unify Nigerians as a people of common destiny and growth.

Former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was the chairman of the occasion, in his remark, sought peace and unity of the country for real development to take place.

He said Nigeria had cause to celebrate because the 17 years of uninterrupted democracy had put the country on the world record as a democratic nation.

Chairman, Leadership Group, Nda-Isaiah, said the three persons selected by the management of the company for “Leadership Person of the Year 2015” all did something extra-ordinary to keep Nigeria one, in spite of predictions that Nigeria was going to break.

He disclosed that Jonathan stood out above all for conceding defeat to President Buhari, after he was told that over 10,000 Nigerians would have died that day the result of the 2015 presidential election was announced.

He said the essence of the occasion was to celebrate Nigeria’s democratic experience.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara; Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo; Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Dr Boboye Oyeyemi, were among other categories of awardees at the event.