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Winner of 2023 Presidential Election Must Form Coalition Government

Austyn Ogannah

One of the enduring legacies of President Abraham Lincoln, the one to whom the world owes the popular definition of Democracy to be “The government of the people, by the people, for the people,” will be bequeathing to the United States of America a country unified in purpose.

This singularity of purpose drove every decision made by Lincoln. It was the foundational principle of his political life. That was why when he won the 1860 presidential election, making him the first Republican to hold the office, he put in a lot of time and effort to stop the South from separating from the Union.

During his first term in office, Lincoln oversaw the American Civil War and he was in the forefront of keeping America together. When the time came for his re-election campaign in 1864, he came up against a former Union General, George McClellan.

The revolutionary that Lincoln was, he did something unprecedented at the time and selected a Democrat, the natural rivals of the Republicans, to be his running mate, instead of his previous running mate and vice president of his first term, Hannibal Hamlin, who had served alongside him from 1861 through 1864.

Hamlin, a former Maine Democrat who switched to the Republican Party owing to his shifting political views on slavery, helped Lincoln to achieve geographic balance in the 1860 election. But, ahead of the 1864 election, Lincoln picked the Democrat Andrew Johnson to serve as his running mate. This unforeseen move was calculative and purposeful because it was borne out of an impersonal effort on Lincoln’s part to foster racial harmony and healing in the then troubled republic.

As the bitterly divisive civil war came to an end in 1864, Lincoln’s dedication to national unity evoked the leader to train the focus of his campaign for re-election on reconciliation and rapprochement as a way to heal from the conflict. This was the underlying rationale that led him to choose the Tennessee Democrat to be his running mate with a view of spreading his message of unity and being an example of this message himself.

As one who led the nation through the American Civil War and succeeded in preserving the Union and abolishing slavery, he considered it his next mission to work towards bolstering the Federal Government and modernising the U.S. economy. He understood, more than most, how much sacrifice went into keeping America together.

In his planning for the peace, the President was flexible and generous, encouraging southerners to lay down their arms and join in reunion. The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…. ”

In the Team of Rivals, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and esteemed presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, writes about how Lincoln, through his political genius appointed a cabinet of former political foes (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates) whom he defeated to emerge the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 1860. Seward would later become one of Lincoln’s loyal and trusted allies.

In deciding to form a coalition government, Lincoln was practising a government of national unity, which is often a broad coalition government consisting of all parties (or all major parties) that have won seats in the legislature. It is usually formed during a time of war or other national emergency that requires the urgency of unity. This is often a period of deep and entrenched divisions in the polity needing a steady hand, a union-minded leadership and the magnanimity of victory to keep a nation together and moving forward.

Anyone observant enough will realise that there is a need for this in Nigeria today and that is a thought that filled my consciousness throughout the preceding week, especially as it concerns our national existence.

Today, we have before us a deeply divided country across ethnic and religious lines, courtesy of the machinations of some influential politicians and elites across the leading political parties.

As we approach the general election scheduled for early next year, there are worries that whoever wins the presidential election amongst the leading candidates may not be able to govern and fully exercise the mandate effectively because of this challenge.

The current administration has not managed the country’s ethnic diversity properly and this has helped fuel disunity, anger and separatists movements in the land. The divisions in the country today are along ethnic and religious lines, which ought not to be the case.

However, ethnicity and religious bias are not the only factors to consider ahead of the electoral outcomes for next year. The country’s electoral processes have historically been coloured by ethnic and religious prejudice throughout the practice of democracy, but the current federal administration has made matters worse through a string of allegations of nepotism and religious bigotry.

Next year’s poll thus presents an opportunity to begin the journey to once again unite the country on the premise of equity and fairness to all Nigerians, irrespective of tribe or religion.

To achieve this, I counsel the leading presidential candidates to commit to forming a coalition government, just like Lincoln, if they emerge victorious, made up of persons from rival leading political parties to heal the wounds of this fractious electioneering campaign, unify a nation rapidly descending into inevitable division along several tectonic plates and give every part of the Union a deep sense of belonging.

There are a plethora of positions in the Federal Government from cabinet positions to departments and agencies where members of this proposed coalition government can be accommodated to have a role to play in the new government that will succeed the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

When we achieve this, we will be sending a message to the rest of the country that politics aside, we all must not forget that we have only one country and all of us are stakeholders, irrespective of political party affiliation, religion or tribe. It will be an example that will cascade down into even the public space. Political participation will be less violent and the current climate of aggressive politicking will be brought under control.

In 2008, I recall, President Barack Obama, who is also from the State of Illinois like Lincoln and also an admirer of the former Republican president, after a very bitter and tensely fought Democratic Party presidential primary contest against his main opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, was magnanimous enough to offer her the most powerful appointment in his government: Secretary of State, when he emerged as America’s 44th President. Obama did this to unite the Democratic Party.

I therefore call on the four leading presidential aspirants – Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP}, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) to keep this in mind, for the love of service and country, as we approach the general election next year.

A united and peaceful Nigeria within two decades, with good and effective leadership, can truly become one of the greatest countries in the world. This is an honest fact.