Over the past year, I intermittently followed political news coming from Senegal, the West African country that had never seen a military coup since its independence in 1960. It was as if the devil was about to visit them and break that beautiful democratic record. Senegalese youth were on the streets protesting, demanding that their president obey the country’s constitution which required him to step down after two terms in office. They hauled missiles at the riot police, who in turn shot gas-spitting canisters at them. The atmosphere was tension-soaked; but the then President, Macky Sall, was not ready to budge.

When the constitutional court finally ruled in favour of power shift, and the news of the country’s election broke with the emergence of a new president, the first thing that leapt to my mind was, “I wish Ousmane Sonko had run; he would have won!” Sonko was the major opposition figure against Sall. He was subsequently investigated and jailed based on defamation and immoral behaviour accusations. His arrest was a trigger to the mass protests and riots of last year. By July 2023, the party he founded, African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity, was dissolved by the Senegalese government.

But when the name of the winner came through, it was an unknown one. Bassirou Faye. I racked my brains to recall the prominent presidential candidates of Senegal prior to the election. In the ruling party’s camp were the trio:  Prime Minister Amadou Ba (who finally became the candidate); President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, Abdoulaye  Diallo; and Agriculture Minister Aly Ndiaye. In the opposition space was, of course, Ousmane Sonko, who was very popular with young people. Four other candidates of note were former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, former minister Karim Wade, former Dakar Mayor, Khalifa Sall, and the former Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Cameroon, Aliou Dia (who finally came third).

So, who is this Faye? How did he manage to win without widespread name recognition? What powers did he deploy to sway the voters and take over a country that was under the control of a determined politician? Perhaps, it was a supernatural intervention that worked for him. In today’s online community in Nigeria, it is known as ‘Abido Shaker’; that power that makes the impossible possible (a lingo invented and popularised by one Prophet Chukwuemeka ‘Odumeje’ Ohanaemere, a social media favourite). We know how it is in the region when it comes to the so-called power of incumbency; grip so tenacious that when the legitimate loser congratulates the winner, it seems as if an angel has dropped from the sky.

The allure of trappings of office is such that they easily forget where they are coming from and the people that gave them the mandate to serve.  A case in point is Macky Sall, who came into power with so much hope for Senegal; but was only able to break the people’s hearts when he chose to elongate his stay in office – the same crime his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, was guilty of. This is why one can only hope that Faye never disappoints the youth of Africa who see him as the promise of a new dawn. Not only did he win, he has now amassed genuine goodwill, which combined with his age and intelligence, adorns him a political garb in the mould of former United States President Barrack Obama.

Indeed, many are inspired, even in Nigeria which has had its fair share of political near-misses. They are praying to be like Faye, from Omoyele Sowore who taunts the youth for being political bag-boys, to Atiku Abubakar who hopes for “Sai Baba Season 2.” Motivated by the outcome of the Senegalese election, the former presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party had called on opposition political parties in Nigeria to learn from Senegal and form a coalition ahead of the 2027 general elections. Congratulating Faye, Abubakar said one of the ways to remove the All Progressives Congress from office was for opposition political parties to unite into a strong coalition, as was the case in 2015 when the opposition rallied together to remove the PDP from power.

Well, my take is that we should just pocket our optimism and save it for other things. The miracle – or the powers – that pushed Faye to the number one seat in Senegal is not likely going to work in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, it cannot work here. I will state the reasons side by side with the powers in question.

First, Faye won the election because he was technically an independent candidate. After uncertainly over the possibility of opposition leader, Sonko, being a candidate in the presidential election, the political party, PASTEF, endorsed Faye in November 2023 as its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, despite him being detained by the government. However, PASTEF had been banned several months earlier, meaning he was running as an independent candidate. On January 20, 2024, the Senegalese Constitutional Council published the final list of candidates for the presidential election and Faye’s candidacy was validated because he was never convicted although remaining detained. Sonko quickly announced his support to Faye for the election.

In contrast, no candidate can run as an independent in Nigeria. Our constitution does not recognise it. Once you cannot secure the platform of a duly registered political party to run with, you might as well kiss your ambition goodbye. If Faye were in Nigeria, he would not see his name on the final list for his party was non-existent.  Also, the patriotism demonstrated by Sonko, his party leader, is commendable. Voters simply replaced Sonko with Faye. Now that partnership has yielded a lasting fruit for their country as President Faye has appointed Sonko Prime Minister. May Senegal benefit from the passion, patriotism and perspicacity of these great young Africans. Faye is 44, while Sonko is 49.

Second, the Senegal presidential election would not have been possible if the country’s constitutional court did not perform its supreme patriotic duty when it was needed, at the time the nation tottered on the brink of lawlessness. By annulling President Sall’s tenure elongation bid, the constitutional court ruled where it was expected to rule in order to restore the rule of law and democracy. Its central contribution was to calm the tense political atmosphere by giving instructions in accordance with the constitutional framework. In this way, it reminds the executive of its responsibility to respect the decisions of this high regulatory body, and then strengthen its standing in the balance of power and ensure the political stability of the country.

The question is, can this be said of our own Supreme Court? How many times have they disappointed the masses and failed to genuinely and fairly interpret the laws of the land all in a bid to please some political interests and (executive) agenda?

Third, the election in Senegal was not as monetised and tribalised as ours usually is. Granted, we have a population that is ten times that of Senegal, but this West African democracy has proven that there could be an element of refinement and principle in politics. The youth were determined to take back their country, and with the perceptible sense of political decorum and decency and the overriding influence of the rule of law, it was possible. Elections are not to the highest bidder even the outgoing president was a beneficiary of this unspoken commitment from citizens. And, today, it has finally won them pride of place in the democratic hall of fame.

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