By Austin Bonny
THE next eight months promise to be filled with frenetic activities for all public office holders, and their support bases. This is to be expected, as the global experience of the year preceding an election year is usually characterised by such frenzy. In other words, or in mathematical terms, 2018 equals 2019. Consequently, calculations and permutations of political possibilities now occupy the public consciousness – everyone wants to make the right and winning moves.
Looking back to how we got here, a lot has happened already in the past 19 years of the adventure of the Fourth Republic. Clearly, the evidence on ground has shown that ours is a nascent democracy and we still have a long way to go. From the May 29 handover in 1999 till date, it has been a mixed fortune for the fledgling democracy, with the positives and negatives fighting for prominence in the scale of things. While it is obvious that we could have fared better, there’s just as much to gain from the negatives as well as the dividends of democracy delivered so far. Mistakes have been made, traitors and self-serving bigots have shown their hands, the people have learnt bitter lessons. With particular reference to the federal setting, all of these experiences are even more relevant to the future because, in the words our elders, the people have now carried oil and water and know which is heavier.
What remains is how the fallout of such experiences will play out in 2019. This is the basis of this prognosis, to draw informed conclusions from the events of the day, mirror them against past antecedents and make calculated suggestions on fruitful alignments for our own people. No one knows it all, therefore I will welcome any debate or critique of my eventual position or conclusions.
A history of sentimental voting patterns
The 2015 presidential election was decided purely by religious and tribal sentiments. While many pro-President Buhari analysts will point to poor performance of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration, and that of the PDP administration before him, the results of that election told a different story. Clearly, the South-South didn’t care about GEJ’s acclaimed poor performance as they went all in for him. Same with the Eastern region. This is despite widespread accusations that the man didn’t deliver any tangible projects to these regions. Still, they voted for him enmasse.
Now, while the South-South and South- East found it convenient to follow GEJ based on the na our person sentiment, the North which benefitted more in terms of developmental projects and political appointmens still went ahead to queue behind PMB for same reasons, with Kano delivering the decisive numbers to push the ‘born to rule’ agenda. The key swing states were not thinking of performance as much as they did religious and tribal sentiments. Politics being a game of numbers, it meant that GEJ needed the South-West to shore up the difference between PMB’s northern strongholds and the numbers he could galvanise from his own south. Failure to do so meant he lost the presidency and the majority which the PDP had enjoyed for 16 years to the APC.
The only presidential elections that have defied these sentimental voting patterns, Abiola’s June 12, 1993 and GEJ’s 2011 ride to power, were later to be annulled or made ungovernable by the elements that would love to perpetuate the status quo.
Sentiments versus Performance
As the 2019 general elections approach, perhaps we will have a situation where the eventual ruling party will be decided more by performance than tribal, religious or other primordial sentiments. While the basis of comparison between the two main parties, the APC and the PDP, is still unbalanced in terms of length of tenure, the masses now have a taste of both puddings. Without any doubt, it’s certain the electorate now have a better idea of which party to entrust their future in their hands. It is against the backdrop of such comparisons therefore that we will make valid inferences from the body language of the different geopolitical enclaves.
Body Language of the regions
Just as it was in 2015, the body language of the regions today sends a strong signal of what to expect in the 2019 presidential election. While there’s no clear-cut opposition candidate on ground just yet, all pointers indicate where each region would go when it comes to deciding who occupies the highest public office of the land and gets entrusted with the management of the fortunes of the land for the next four years.
Below are my thoughts on where each region will go and the key influencers of such directions.
South-South and South-East
– Tribal sentiments
The events of the last three years alone are enough indicators that the South-East and South-South are decidedly going to support anyone other than PMB, and rightly so. The handling of IPOB which eventually led to the harmless organisation being declared a terrorist organisation while killer herdsmen have been more or less pampered and protected by the state, is enough reason to garner protest votes against the incumbent by the people of these two regions. While the gross underperformance of the present administration will play a vital role in the elections, it is the manhandling of the Igbos and the Biafra cause that will play the bigger role in the level of participation to oust the incumbent president and party. This position is further strengthened by the tendency of the main opposition, the PDP, to field a candidate of the northern extraction in the spirit of zoning. The expectation is that more people from these regions will be coming out to vote this time around.
The North – Performance and Loyalty
Close to the 2015 elections, it became clear that the North regretted succumbing to the bandwagon of the sentimental storm which saw GEJ getting a fair share of the spoils of battle in that region and successfully dividing votes in the stronghold of his principal opponent, Buhari, in 2011.
They did everything possible to correct that mistake and eventually took the power back. Whether the insurgency in the North East is a direct fallout of how bad they wanted it is an issue for another discussion.
In 2019 however, the deciding factor of where the north would go now goes beyond tribalism and religious sentiments. Like other regions, the north too has also seen the hand of the incumbent and his party and also have a basis to compare with previous administrations. With the shenanigans of party squabbles and defections out of the way, it is now obvious that the unity of purpose that saw the likes of Kwankwanso and Atiku, political heavyweights in their own grounds, to queue behind PMB in 2015 is no longer there. Now, it is a question of where the loyalty of the northern electorate will go between PMB and the eventual arrowhead that will be produced by the new northern alliance. Such loyalty will be based on ethnic affiliations and performance review of the present administration in relation to the past. It is a broken North.
The West – Performance, Religion and Resource Control
Even though GEJ got the South-South, the South-East and bit parts of the North last timeout, a resounding “No” from the West in 2015 meant he had to share votes in areas which offered him a stronghold in 2011. With the Jagaban and Buhari getting in bed, 2015 was a different ball game and GEJ lost. The deeper implication of this is that the West always hold the aces. While the pointers of which direction they would go come 2019 are not as clear as in 2015, the performance factor will play a big role. The historical precedent is that the West have always seemed to get along better with the North. On the one hand of what drives such affinity, there’s the issue of distrust for the Eastern agenda which dates back to Awolowo. And then there’s the binding cord of the country, crude oil, over 70% of which is in the South-South and over which there seems to be a “Wazo” consensus that the control of this resource should not be presided over by someone from that region. And then of couse, there’s the issue of religious affiliations – the bonds of the shared Islamic faith seems to be stronger than those of the common challenges faced by every Nigerian irrespective of what part of the country they come from.
As things stand, the west is still largely undecided. Even though the Jagaban, the galvanizing force of western politics, has pledged his loyalty to the incumbent, the fact that things are falling apart within their party tells a different story of how such a pledge could be part of a subtle game plan. Whatever happens between him and the incumbent, it is clear that the strength of the coalition that brought the APC into power is no longer there, leaving the PDP as the force to reckon with. But it is not yet uhuru for our great party – precepts and lines must fall into places.
Implications and Imperatives for Our People, the East
Against the background of the foregoing, what must the PDP do to regain lost grounds? What must our own Eastern people do to ensure that the bitter experience of marginalization and ethnic indignity meted out to us in the past three years do not continue into the future? The answer to these two overriding questions is simple: align with the ace holders. The imperatives of such alignment cannot be tampered by age-long acrimony over a civil war that’s left more scars than stars in the eastern skies. Moving forward therefore, we must adopt the no permanent enemy stance and strike strategic alliances with the West. As Lord Baelish rightly noted in the epic series Game of Thrones, “everyone is an enemy and everyone is a friend”. The objective is to know what works for our common goal of “Never Again” to the incumbent and the unbearable Fulani agenda.
Internal Democracy is Key
Our party cannot afford to make the mistakes of the past again because there’s renewed interest in our internal democracy practice by the electorate now and the whole world is watching. We must allow the will of the people to reign supreme in the choice of candidates we put forward and the credibility of such candidates should never be a matter of debate. Because of what is at stake, party bigwigs must sacrifice their personal gains for the greater good. We cannot have the rancor that undid us in the past and which has characterized the now ruling party to be in the way we conduct our affairs – to beat them we must do better than them.
In the final analysis, victory is the only one inevitable conclusion for the PDP and our people as we move closer to renegotiating who serves our great nation as president through the ballot box in 2019. However, this will only possible if we read the body language of the other regions well and make the right alliances, because in the end, politics is a game of numbers and alignments. With the return of the prodigals and the bridge-building efforts of our national executives, I see us taking it back. It can be done.
•Mr. Bonny, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.