By Femi Aribisal
To be truly progressive, the APC must not just talk progressivism, it must walk progressivism.
The fact that Nigeria is a country with some 350 ethnic groups makes it imperative that we must always be politically mindful of ethnic, religious and regional considerations. Failure to do this on the idealistic grounds that the quality of our public officials is more important than their ethnic and religious origin is bound to be problematic.
Nigerians are yet to believe, if we ever will, that the competence of a president is more important than his ethnicity. In any case, the background of a president is without prejudice to his ability. There is no ethnic group in Nigeria that does not have people who can be excellent presidents. However, if issues of federal character and ethnic-balancing are not addressed in Nigerian politics, even the best presidential materials will become ineffective.
The average Nigerian is not a sophisticated voter. Therefore, people like me will continue to analyse Nigerian politics from the perspective of the need for regional and ethnic-balancing.
The APC is seen as a vehicle for Northern domination of Nigerian politics and many people are implacably opposed to this. Although the APC claims not to subscribe to zoning, everyone knows its 2015 presidential candidate must come from the North, otherwise the centre will no longer hold. Certainly, all those insisting the North must regain power have flocked to the APC precisely because they see it as the vehicle for realizing their dreams.
There is also widespread perception that the APC is sympathetic to the Boko Haram. Fani-Kayode, a former APC member, complained that the APC is the political wing of the Boko Haram in the same way that Sinn Fein was the political wing of the Irish Republican Army in Britain. Indeed, for the longest time, some APC members were Boko Haram apologists. Murtala Nyako even claimed the Boko Haram was a Southern hoax. He called it a “phantom.” Muhammadu Buhari sought political amnesty for the Boko Haram; demanding the insurgents should be given the same golden handshakes as the militants of the Niger Delta.
Therefore, it will not be easy getting non regionally-chauvinistic votes for a Northern APC presidential candidate in 2015. If that Northerner is a Muslim, it would be harder still. The Boko Haram insistence that Nigeria must become a Muslim Caliphate and the systematic bombing of churches and killing of Christians in the North ensures that religion will be a major factor in the coming election.
While Muslims may have no qualms voting for a Christian president, Christians are likely to see the defeat of an incumbent Christian president by a Northern Muslim as succumbing to Boko Haram. That feeling is unlikely to be assuaged by a Southern Christian vice-president, in the same way that the demands of some Northerners for a Northern president have not been assuaged by the fact that the current vice-president is from the North.
The blunder of Atiku Abubakar in stating that the North will not be voting for President Jonathan in 2015 betrays the Northern bias of the APC. If the North will not be voting for a Southern candidate, why would the South vote for a Northern candidate?
A Southern Christian presidential running-mate in 2011, in the person of Pastor Tunde Bakare, did not help Buhari, who remains a hard sell in the South. Buhari was only able to muster a measly 391,922 votes from the South, out of a total of over 38 million votes cast nationwide. That is conclusive proof that fielding Buhari yet again as the Northern presidential hopeful, on a fourth time lucky gambit, is bound to fail. Chances are Buhari would get even less votes this time out than he did in 2011.
The challenge for the APC is to get Southerners to vote for a Northern APC presidential candidate in 2015, in spite of the current regional and religious polarization of Nigerian politics.
The APC desperately needs a Southern politician to balance its Northern presidential ticket. However, such politician cannot come from the South-East or the South-South.
In spite of the presence of men like Rochas Okorocha of the South-East, and Rotimi Amaechi of the South-South, the APC has little chance of getting significant South-East and South-South votes. These geopolitical zones remain Jonathan strongholds. Their voters are not likely to agree to truncate Jonathan’s South-South presidency in exchange for a Northern president and a South-South or South-East vice-presidency. If APC is to get vital Southern votes in 2015, the answer lies in the South-West; a region of residual APC/ACN political strength.
The APC needs a vice-presidential candidate with sufficient political clout to galvanise South-West votes. There is only one man in South-West politics today that can conceivably marshal bloc South-West votes for the APC in 2015. That man is none other than Babatunde Fashola! As far as the APC is concerned, Fashola is the game-changer!
This truth will be very bitter for die-hard Tinubu supporters. But the fact is that Fashola, and not Tinubu, is now the poster-boy for the APC in the South-West. In spite of having the second-largest bloc of voters among the six regions in the country, the South-West had the least number of voters in 2011. Only 34% of the South-West’s 14 million voters bothered to vote. Fashola could conceivably invigorate South-West voters in a way no other politician currently on the horizon can.
Fashola as APC vice-presidential candidate will do for a Northern candidate what Bakare could not do for Buhari in 2011; he will clean up South-West votes. If nothing else, Fashola has a legacy of eight years of tarring roads, building bridges and planting grass and flowers in Lagos. Moreover, he does not come with the political baggage of Bola Tinubu, who has become a political liability, even in the South-West.
Unlike Tinubu, Fashola has not antagonized the Afenifere and the Yoruba Obas. Indeed, the coming regional elections in the South-West are shaping out to be as much about the need to bring an end to the domineering politics of Tinubu as anything else. With Tinubu on the ticket, allegations of certificate forgeries, inordinate land-grabs, nepotism, alpha beta scams, toll-gate deals and anti-democratic manipulations will come to the fore. Therefore, in contrast to Tinubu, Fashola is a breath of fresh air.
Neutralisation of Tinubu
A Fashola vice-presidency would have the added political bonus of spelling the end of the political pretensions of Bola Tinubu in the South-West. Vice-president Fashola will quickly upstage “party leader” Tinubu. A Fashola vice-presidency would mean, to all intents and purposes, the passing of the baton from Tinubu to Fashola. It would spell the end of the self-appointed “godfather” of South-West politics. Therefore, Tinubu can be expected to say to a Fashola vice-presidency: “over my dead body!”
But the fact of the matter is that the APC only has a chance in the coming presidential election “over the dead body” of Tinubu. Tinubu must be marginalized in any marketable APC equation. Any attempt to accommodate him inordinately, as happened in the rigging of Oyegun as party chairman with the collusion of APC governors, will turn far more ugly and disastrous for the party than it was the last time. To have any reasonable chance of success nationally, APC must have a viable South-West policy. That means its presidential ticket must be built around one man: Babatunde Fashola.
Fashola as APC vice-presidential candidate would be a stroke of genius for the APC in addressing yet another liability of the party: its widespread perception as a Muslim party. This perception has come about because Bola Tinubu’s ACN never ever fielded a non-Muslim candidate as the governor of any South-Western state. When the APC registered as a political party with INEC, 17 of its 18 board-members were Muslims. For months until recently, all members of the APC national executive were Muslims. Foolishly, the APC even rationalized its earlier plans for a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket on the pages of the newspapers.
However, the vice-presidential candidacy of Babatunde Fashola would prescribe a Northern Christian as APC presidential candidate, for the simple reason that Fashola is a Muslim. The emergence of a Northern Christian as APC presidential candidate would open many doors closed to the APC politically. In one fell swoop, it would dispel all notions that the APC is the political arm of the Boko Haram because the last thing the Boko Haram want is a Christian president.
Changing of the guard
APC fools no one by talking power shift and then touting people like Buhari and Kwankwaso as its presidential hopefuls. How does another Hausa-Fulani president of Nigeria speak power-shift? This is Atiku’s bargaining-chip; that power needs to shift from the North-West and the North-Central to the North-East. Unfortunately, apart from supposedly having a fat war-chest, Atiku is not sell-able as president of Nigeria. He has tried before and failed woefully. In any case, Atiku is a Muslim. There is need for power shift in the North from Moslems to Christians in defiance of Boko Haram threats.
A Northern Christian as APC presidential candidate will achieve this. It will make the party more attractive in the predominantly Christian South, where voters may be dissuaded from voting for a Northern Muslim president in this era of Boko Haram insurgency. It will also open the APC to Northern Christian votes which might not be forthcoming otherwise. It must be pointed out that there are far more Christians in the North than many realise. Adamawa, Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau and Taraba all have majority Christian populations; while Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kogi, Kwara and Niger have significant Christian populations.
For the APC to have even a look-in in the coming presidential elections against an entrenched PDP, it needs a fresh slate from the political has-beens of Atiku, Buhari and Kwankwaso that it is still currently touting as its presidential hopefuls today. To be truly progressive, the APC must not just talk progressivism, it must walk progressivism. A Northern Christian presidential candidate will definitely give political backbone to APC’s progressive pretensions; neutralising the damage done by its earlier suicidal plans for a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket.