By Obi Nwakanma
The political climate is full these days of storms, and it is about time. Nigeria’s General elections are only about six months away. There are stakes already in the outcomes, and anxieties over the fairness of the coming elections. Many Nigerians have seen auguries in the two last elections in Ekiti and Osun. They were hard fought, BUT there were allegations of “monkey hands” seen in the results that were declared. First, Ekiti was overwhelmed with Federal might. The results were said to be manipulated to favor the APC candidate.
The last election in Osun was a disgrace. The PDP candidate was, according to many reports by local and independent election monitors, very clearly robbed of electoral victory in the most brazen yet of electoral heists recorded so far. The opposition PDP is currently contending these elections, but there does not seem to be much organizing steam in the party to move the needle so far to their favor in Osun, legal objections aside. People just vote and go home to sulk if their votes are stolen. Parties do not put in place failsafe mechanisms that would defend votes cast either for them or their opponents. Legal objection is great, but the strategic gathering of facts, and evidence, and stats by parties to prove their cases are inadequate.
These normally depends on a well-organized party operation. And this is the sore point for me of politicking in Nigeria. Parties are poorly organized. Party bureaucracies are badly staffed. Party platforms, platform pledges and commitments are not made very clear to voters. There is only Rice-and-beans politics. There is very little civic engagement and voter participation activity that goes on after elections to deepen voter awareness of crucial issues. The growth and fortunes of these parties are often dependent on the so-called “money bags” who determine the direction and purpose, and therefore the obligations of these parties to the voting public. Because of very weak bureaucracies, and weak field operational capacities, parties have very little political intelligence to work with. Policy frames are ill-defined. There are very few Nigerian intellectuals involved in these parties or engaged by them.
Expertise from universities, or membership or participation in the broad strategic process by intellectuals which should smoothen the rougher edges of party politics, provide capacity to state policy and political philosophy is absent, and the result thus is that there is a deep gulf, a black hole in fact, between state policies, party policies, and the visioning acumen necessary for nation-building. The result these past twenty years of the transition to the Fourth republic is that Nigeria has largely been left in the hands mostly of political hacks and clowns like the Zebrudaya of Douglas House, somewhere east of the lordly Niger, who has put the plumes of the Ozo on madness. The nation suffers from this kind of madness. But here we are again.
The parties have woken up to another quadrennial electoral season. Elections are in the air, and these parties are once more in what the famous enfant terrible of Ibadan politics of the 1950s, the irrepressible “Penklemes,” Adegoke Adelabu, would describe as “ebullition.” The APC has nominated the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President, Mr. Yemi Osibanjo, to carry its banner into the presidential elections. The ball is clearly now in the court of the PDP, which has been in opposition these past four years. The party sees an opportunity to reclaim the presidency after its loss to Buhari and the APC nearly four years ago.
The current presidential field for the PDP is made up of politicians from what we normally call the North. Aminu Tambuwal, current governor of Sokoto state and former Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, from the North West. Others also from the Northwest region include Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano state and currently a senator of the republic, Sule Lamido, former Foreign Minister and former Governor of Jigawa state, Attahiru Bafarawa, former Governor of Sokoto state, and Datti Baba-Ahmed, current senator of the republic representing Kaduna state, which also has Ahmed Maikarfi, former Governor and senator from Kaduna who also served as PDP’s transitional Chair, who righted the course of the party in a very critical post-election moment.
From the North central are David Mark, former Military General, Governor, Senate President and current senator of the republic – a veritable “ex-this and that,” who comes with both the experience and the will of the Middle Belt (North Central) to shift the base of presidential power, with Bukola Saraki, current senate president from Kwara who has also thrown in his hat into the ring, as well as Jonah Jang, a former Air Force officer and former governor of Plateau state. From North East, is Aminu Turaki, a lawyer, former Minister of Special Duties and later Minister of Labour in Jonathan’s administration.
There is Ibrahim Dankwabo, current governor of Gombe state, and of course, Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President, from Adamawa.
There are many factors at play, and chief of which is electability. Who, among these men has the weight to challenge Mr. Buhari in the North? We often tend to still see the North as some monolithic voting bloc. But this is not true, and has never been true. Many southerners tend to forget that Kano and Zaria were solidly liberal cities with traditions of radical politics. Also, Nigerians today often forget that the most popular party in Nigeria up till 1966 was the NCNC.
As a matter a fact, the results of the 1959/60 independence elections, showed the cross national spread and strength of the party, so much so that if Nigeria had been a presidential system, the NCNC would not have needed to form an alliance of parties in 1960 to govern. Here is the table of votes recorded by the parties in 1960: the NCNC won a nation-wide vote tally of 2, 594, 577 accounting for 34% of total votes cast nationally, winning 81 seats in parliament. It was followed by the Northern Peoples Congress NPC with 1,992,364, representing 26.1% of the votes although it won 134 seats, and the Action Group won 1,922, 179 votes, representing 25.2% of the share of votes cast in that election winning 73 seats in parliament.
The Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) won 509, 050 votes with 8 seats. Looking at the statistics, it is quite clear that in terms of the popular votes, the NCNC had the field. It beat the closest opponent by 602, 213 votes. In fact, if the NEPU votes, NCNC’s allies in the north was added, the nationalist party had 3,103627 in its docket. And a lot of the votes came from the North. But for the manipulations of the colonial government, and the voter suppressions in large swaths of the North, it would even have been more.
The National Party of Nigeria, built upon NCNC’s coalition strategy in 1979, sewing together old affiliates of the NCNC, the NPC, the AG, and the UMBC, to create a pan-national strategy. This is the true architecture of Nigerian politics and demography. Serious coalition building and strategy will ensure the critical outcomes for these parties. Very clearly, the APC is banking on a retention of a block vote from the Southwest. But as the voter patterns suggest, the Southwest of Nigeria is up for grabs. Lagos is very likely to shift to the PDP if they organize properly, and secure the votes cast.
There is a huge, very significant, tide-changing population of South-Easterners and Western Igbo for instance, and others from the South-South region resident in the South West, as well as a ground swell of South Westerners opposed to the APC, who have long established stakes outside of the current “Tinubu machine.” These groups have often been ambivalent in voting in local elections, but the situation is changing. PDP’s strategy if it wishes to pull off a win in the South-West will be to appeal to them but organize a very ambitious get out the votes operation.
The Igbo vote in Lagos is a game-changer, by all indications. It seems clear that three candidates are at the top of this pile for the PDP, and many bets are on Atiku Abubakar or Bukola Saraki. One thing working against them however is the disenchantment among party loyalists that both Saraki and Atiku betrayed the PDP and could not benefit from their disloyalty to the party. But Atiku carries a lot of weight. Saraki too, through his and his father’s network, has a lot of friends in the East. But there may be a surprise in the form of Ahmed Maikarfi, former Governor of Kaduna state, who used his time as transitional committee chair of the PDP, to build up party loyalty among the key players in the party, or even Turaki, who certainly has leverage too. There is also a lot of whisper around Dankwabo.
PDP’s strategy will surely be to divide the votes of the upper North, by pitting the North West against the North East, and carrying the North Central handily. The East and the South-South are solidly PDP, and that is Buhari’s weakest link. Whoever takes the old East, given the current architecture, wins this election. PDP is set to take its Vice-President from the South-East, and that adds a distinct coloration to the fight down south, with APC’s Vice Presidential candidate coming from the South-West. It is shaping up to be a possible battle-royale!