Whither Nigeria: 6 months to election, where are the presidential aspirants?

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By Clifford Ndujihe & Henry Umoru
ARGUABLY, Nigeria has never had it so bad. Seven months to a presidential election, the aspirants are not known.

The political atmosphere is not charged or astir. Consultations, if any, are done in low and hushed tones. The electorates do not know what to expect from those who will want to govern them because nothing has been said or promised.

There is no flurry of activities in the political parties especially the opposition parties that should keep the ruling party on its toes. Does it mean the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and President Goodluck Jonathan are doing well? If not, who is going to stop them? What will the person or party do differently for Nigeria and Nigerians?

6 months to election,who and  where are the presidential aspirants?

6 months to election,who and where are the presidential aspirants?

There is loud silence in the polity less than three months to the beginning of presidential primaries. Does it mean that the political class and would-be candidates are taking the electorates for granted?

It has not always been like this. Several months before the April 21, 2007 presidential polls won by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of the PDP with Dr Goodluck Jonathan as vice president, the polity was awash with a horde of aspirants, who criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country consulting stakeholders and seeking endorsements.

They were upbeat to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose perceived Third Term Agenda was shot down by the Senate President Ken Nnamani-led National Assembly with the support of Nigerians.

The aspirants included most of the governors, who were doing their second term then. We had Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida; Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yerima and his Abia State counterpart, Orji Uzor Kalu. Among those whose aspirations were not in doubt and whose political moves electrified the polity included Dr. Peter Odili, then governor of Rivers of State and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

As of July 2010, about nine months to the April 16, 2011 presidential elections, many aspirants had emerged, declaring their readiness to do political battle with President Jonathan. Within the ruling PDP, Gen. Babangida had declared his intention.

There were also the likes of Atiku Abubakar; then Kwara State Governor, Dr Bukola Saraki; and General Muhammed Gusau (rtd). Among the opposition parties, those whose aspirations were known included Mr. Donald Duke, the former governor of Cross River State, who was warming up to fly the flag of Labour Party; Otunba Dele Momodu of the National Conscience Party (NCP); Malam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Change (CPC) among others.

Even President Jonathan declared his intention on September 18, 2010, about seven months to the election.

But things are different now despite early release of the 2015 election timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

With the INEC fixing February 14, 2015, seven months away as the date for the presidential election, one would have expected that the political climate would be turbo-charged now with hundreds of aspirants showing interest to remove President Jonathan from Aso Rock.

One expected the PDP, All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party (LP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), etc, to have commenced the process of producing their presidential candidates. It appears that the coast is almost clear for PDP’s Jonathan, who has not even declared his intention against the backdrop that the House of Representatives caucus of the PDP endorsed him, this week, for second time, with the PDP Governors, National Executive Committee (NEC), Board of Trustees (BoT) and others to follow, thereby clearing the political bush for the president.

2015 election timetable
According to a breakdown of the timetable of activities for the elections as contained in a document signed by INEC’s Secretary, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, the presidential primaries of the various parties should be held between October 2 and December 11 while campaigns for the election will commence November 16.The dates are in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010.

Campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections will commence on November 16, 2014 while campaigns for governorship and state houses of assembly will start on November 30, 2014.
According to INEC, campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections would end on February 12, 2015 while those of governorship and state houses of assembly would stop on February 26, 2015 and February 28, 2015 respectively.

With political activities so dull six months to the election, Saturday Vanguard asked politicians and stakeholders what the scenario portends for the polity.

APGA is not focusing on the presidency now –Umeh
Reacting to the development, Chairman, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, said that his party was for now concentrating on governorship, state houses of assembly and National Assembly elections and not the presidency because that requires so much resources.

He said: “Who are the presidential candidates of the other 24 parties? We are interested in building our party with more governorship, National Assembly and State Assembly victories across the country in the 2015 general elections! A Presidential election is not a local government election.

You need much resources to contemplate participation. When we muster enough strength, we will join the contest. But, we shall play a major role in determining who wins the presidential election in 2015 through alliance engagement.”

Politicians‘re not taking voters for granted –Ben Obi

Asked if politicians were not taking voters for granted with their approach, Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi said, “I don’t agree with you. INEC has a time table and you have to follow the time table.”

Told that campaigning is different from signifying intention to run, he said: “But you have to follow the time table. If somebody wants to run and he is consulting quietly, how would you know? I know of people who have interest. Running for presidential election is not a child’s affair. For you to go into the presidential race you have to consult to be sure of what is on the ground.

You have to have a structure. APC thought it was easy but as you can see they are now facing their own internal wrangling. If they don’t sort that out now before going to talk about, who will fly the flag of the party, your guess is as good as mine. Even in the PDP, we are doing some reconciliation.

As you can see the National Chairman who people refer as the game changer is moving around and he has brought some innovations, which are making the party come alive by trying to make sure that he reaches out. Fortunately for him, he has been a governor and most of these problems emanate from governors that want you to do this or that.

But at the end of the day they are leaders of their various states. So, they have found their equal match and colleague in Ahmed Muazu. So it makes things much easier.”

Why our politicians are timid –Odumakin

Asked a similar question, Mr.Yinka Odumakin, a leader of Afenifere and a delegate at the confab, said he does not think the presidential aspirants were taking voters for granted.

His words: “I do not think so. I think what is happening is that the country is unsettled with bombings, killings and crises. If you have a thinking political class, next election should not be the issue now. How do you want to conduct a successful election in seven months time in the midst of these?

“In Ekiti, we saw many things. Yes, the election was peaceful but how many soldiers and police did you deploy there? How many will you deploy all over the country in a general election?

“First, we have to settle 2014 and resolve the future of Nigeria before 2015 election. If those who want to scuttle the National Conference report succeed and we are talking about going for election next year, then we are going for war… that is why politicians are timid. We know the presidential aspirants but they cannot come out because the water is not settled, it is muddled. And the water is not going to clear unless we address the issues about the future of Nigeria.”

Scenario is amazing –Victor Attah

In his contribution, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, who described the scenario as amazing, stressed that the PDP and APC are simply the same as they are only politicking while the country was being underdeveloped.

Activities ‘ll pick up next month –Kumo

Commenting on the matter, former Special Adviser on Election Matters to past PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, and a delegate at the National Conference, Senator Saidu Umar Kumo, said there was a little bit of maturity in the entire political system.

According to him, in past people used to come out early because there was no fixed date, but what obtains now is that INEC has released the election time table, adding, “since the time is known with the released timetable, from August, all political parties will come up and political activities would then kick off. It is not too late, people will build on this.”

I’m worried –Zoro

Former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and a delegate at the National Conference, Sani Zoro said: “My worry is that Nigeria is no longer a law and order country.

Some aspirants in some places had since launched their campaigns in the open, contrary to INEC guidelines. Yet, the so-called independent commission cannot bring them to book. I am not optimistic about rancour-free or free and fair elections in 2015.”

PDP’s candidate is known, we’re waiting for the opposition –Okon

On his part, a delegate representing Akwa Ibom State at the National Conference, Senator Aniete Okon said: “In PDP, the President has the conventional right of first refusal (to be the presidential candidate.)  The party without excluding any other aspirant must in the manner of universal convention of parties in most democratic realms invite the incumbent to bear the party’s standard into an election on the incumbent’s record.

“In The PDP, we believe that Mr. President has more than made the mark. His record, given the distractions posed by the concert of dark intrigues that spawned hydra-headed conflicts and consequential breaches of security and eroded our sovereignty commends Mr. President to justifiably to present himself for re-election.

In the PDP, there is no credible aspiration that will be worth a passing glance. We are ready. It is the opposition that has the daunting task of house keeping to sort themselves and establish some thing akin to order.”

The opposition should come up with alternatives –Nwagwu

In like manner, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform and a delegate to the National Conference said: “For the position party, there is no pretending about who their (PDP) candidate will be. As it stands today even aspiration is criminalised and they started third party campaign, mobilization and group endorsements.

Worrying, however, is the opposition party, who in my view, should have unveiled their candidate considering that they may be bogged down by possible acrimonious convention. Therefore, they will need good time to get that behind to face the general election.”

Prospective aspirants are in order –Okoye

In his contribution, a constitutional lawyer and a delegate at the National Conference, Festus Okoye, said: “Parties and their candidates are products of the law and the Constitution. Their fidelity must be to the constitution and the law. Credible and transparent elections are therefore anchored on respect for the rule of law and due process.

”By the provisions of section 99 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), political parties and their candidates shall only commence what the laws refer to as Public Campaigns 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.

”Furthermore, political parties and their candidates shall campaign for elections in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Commission.

This is also based on the fact that by section 30 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) the Independent National Electoral Commission shall, not later than 90 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under the Act publish a notice in each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory stating the date of the election.

Candidates of political parties will therefore only emerge after the political party primaries held in accordance with section 87 of the Electoral Act. What we have as at present are aspirants.

”The aspirants can engage in in-house consultation, lobbying, positioning, negotiation and endorsement. They remain aspirants and cannot in law campaign in public. So, the dearth of aspirants as at today is not a minus for the electoral process. Rather, it enhances the position that public officers should concentrate on the art of governance rather than running up and down campaigning when the time is not ripe.

”However, it will be naïve to pretend that political campaigns have not started or that we do not know the aspirants and or the candidates that may likely be in the race in 2015. Watching the television, listening to the radio and driving around the major cities one sees a galaxy of billboards, posters, handbills and paintings on the wall extolling the virtues of one aspirant or the other.

”My take is that candidates must comply with the law relating to public campaigns. My second take is that candidates can only emerge on compliance with section 87 of the Electoral Act. My final take is that the Nigerian people already know the likely presidential candidates as most of them have been doing underground campaigns.”

We’re following the electoral law –Okechukwu
For Osita Ikechukwu, National Publicity Secretary, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, activities are on going except that they are not full-scale because of the electoral law. He said that with the way and manner messages are carried out on President Jonathan, there clear indications that he is the candidate of the PDP.

According to him, Nigerian Television stations are awash with programmes and advertorial on President Goodluck Jonathan comparing him with late Nelson Mandela; President Barack Obama of the United States of America, USA, among others, just as he said that meetings take place everyday with groups and associations, adding that at the local level, activities are also on with governorship aspirants, senatorial aspirants and others showing interest.

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