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By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

“Does a man not know if he has pepper in his eyes? If we forget today, how shall we remember tomorrow?” Nigerian Proverb.

THE year 2014 will be significant in determining the future of Nigeria’s democracy and key elements of our national existence. Much of the political re-alignments going on, the turmoil within the PDP and the key issues that will influence the outcome of the 2015 elections will be played out in 2014. President Goodluck Jonathan’s position in relation to 2015 will no longer be a guessing game, and whatever he decides will be critical to political developments and the fate of the electoral process.

The opposition will have to take decisions that will make or mar its chances of defeating the PDP and replacing it as the dominant party. Management of the economy and national security will be major campaign issues, and the proposed National Conference will expose the weak links in the nation’s chain. INEC will be closely monitored to see whether it will raise its levels of performance in 2015, or plunge the nation into another crisis

following widely-disputed elections.

President Jonathan will limp into the year 2014 from a bruising exchange with President Obasanjo which has left both of them the poorer in terms of personal integrity and leadership qualities. President Jonathan has lost on points to a former President who has made a career of sorts in punching leaders when and where they are most vulnerable. The most damaging blows Obasanjo delivered were around President Jonathan’s perceived ambition to run as a PDP candidate in 2015. Tried as he did, Jonathan has not successfully parried the assault on his moral credentials to be another candidate which Obasanjo built upon, following grievances from northern PDP politicians that he has dishonoured his promises. The PDP is already reflecting the fallouts from the quarrels over Jonathan’s ambition, and showing gaping holes in some of its strongholds in the North and the South South.

In 2014, President Jonathan may literally be compelled to declare his interest to run in 2015, because the option not to run could be more damaging to his interest. He would be seen as chickening out of the challenge of taking on northern “born-to-rules”; the Obasanjos and a motley crowd raising alarm that the democratic process and national security will be threatened if his candidature compromises the electoral process. If he does run, it will be on the platform of a radically different PDP, the current one heaving gone through much damage and turmoil. In 2014 and 2015, the PDP will face the possibility of extreme marginalisation, extinction or a resurgence that will set world records. The full damage to its spread and popularity will not be known until after issues over the legality of defected governors and legislators are made clearer. The party will continue to lose grounds in much of the North, and more politicians are likely to leave it if they perceive that a Jonathan candidature will be punished in
the region by voters.

The party will dig deep into its experiences in manipulating critical political muscle and support, including ethno-religions sentiments, and this will provide it with some islands of resistance against voter hostility and a resurgent opposition. The PDP will also intensify building sympathy and support for a Jonathan candidature in 2015 in the South South and parts of the South East; but on the whole, it is likely to find that ethnicity as an electoral factor has eaten deeper than it thinks. With a poor record in managing the national economy, handling a stubborn insurgency and managing other internal security challenges and crimes; a weak will to fight corruption and a general perception that the nation needs a stronger and a more unifying political leadership, President Jonathan will find it hard to win an election in 2015 on his performance alone.

The opposition can make his chances easier or more difficult by the manner it handles its opportunities and challenges. In 2014, it will have to clearly define how it differs from the PDP, in part because of the flooding of the APC by PDP defectors. It will have to resolve deep internal problems within its legacy parties and between them and the new entrants from the PDP who have expectations that may not be easily met. It has to handle issues of party leadership and the emergence of candidates with extreme caution and sensitivity, so that these do not constitute major impediments. It will need to watch its back against the PDP (itself with its back against the wall, but still capable of much mischief); against fifth columnists and politicians with ambitions and warchests that outweigh their respect for the party; and against complacency and incompetence in building strong, national structures.

In 2014, INEC will have to plan and organise the 2015 elections under the most challenging circumstances. It is likely to get most of what it asks for in terms of funding, but critical scrutiny of all its preparations will keep it on the defensive. It will need to look very closely at its voters’ register and the integrity of its own personnel. By now, it should have registered on INEC that for every one politician who wants a fair and level playing field from INEC, there are ten or more who are willing and able to subvert it. INEC will be at the mercy of a PDP long used to finding ways around all its weak points, and a much bigger opposition that will yield it very little ground in trust and faith.

In 2014, the lines will be drawn largely around a two-party battle in the 2015 elections. Camps will be built around ethno-religious sentiments; massive inducements funded by state resources; actual and threatened violence, tall ambitions and high expectations that earth-shaking results will be recorded in 2015. All eyes and energies will be focussed on 2015 elections. So management of the national economy will suffer. The insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country may capitalise on preoccupation with elections to dig in and sustain its fight. Poverty, unemployment and drugs particularly among youth will be used to lure them as foot soldiers in violent election campaigns.

The planned National Conference in 2014 will either be an anti-climax or a dangerous addition to the cauldron. If President Jonathan meets much resistance in facilitating a forum with some bite and legitimacy, he will end up with a collection of Nigerians who will debate issues, cost N7b and produce nothing of value. If however, he insists on creating a forum that will have a semblance of credibility, and he throws into its ring issues such as tenure review, resource allocation, state creation and the legal system, then he will raise tensions and stresses that could threaten the 2014 elections. Either way, Nigerians will watch the National Conference as if the nation’s life depends on it, which, in a sense, it does. Unless it is handled with responsibility and concern for the future of the nation, the National Conference could seriously affect the environment in which the 2015 elections will hold. These elections cannot be postponed or manipulated without plunging the nation into serious and prolonged crisis.

In 2014, the nation will celebrate 100 years of existence. In a century, Nigeria went from one of Britain’s largest colonies to one of the most endowed and promising African countries. The nation spent the last half century in efforts to build a nation out of massive inherent and contrived challenges. It failed to do this due to the absence of a leadership that will provide a rallying point to mobilise its huge human and natural resources in building a united country with a strong economy. Ironically, our democratic process, far from producing inspirational and uniting leadership the nation needs, has become a major liability. In June 2014, Nigeria will participate in the World Cup. This will provide one of those rare moments when we are only Nigerians. In 2014, the nation will prepare to elect good leaders in early 2015. If it does not get it right this time, it may not get the opportunity to do so again.


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