Now that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, says the voters in Ondo State have preferred APC’s Akeredolu over PDP’s Jegede, it would appear safe to indulge in a whole pile of speculations that I had been waiting to ventilate.
After the predictable loss of Edo State a few weeks ago, Ondo was to settle a number of begging questions which are at the heart of the struggles to win and keep some territories before many epic battles related to 2023. We can dispose of the less speculative questions, such as whether INEC is improving its management of stand-alone elections.
Edo was an anti-climax for those who thought all punches will be allowed to settle arguments over the dominant character of Edo politics. It must be true that there are elections that are very difficult to rig, even with the combined powers of a bent electoral manager and a legion of field influencers. Ondo was always going to be a closer call, Edo having buried a few ambitions long before the elections.
In any case, field fixers had a field day in Ondo buying votes, but on the whole, you could say that INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, has improved his case for renewal if those responsible for it think he can at best remain substantially neutral in 2023.
There are a few more fairly incontestable matters arising from Ondo. Elections mean a lot more to elected leaders than the security of citizens. Close to 40,000 security personnel spent a few days in the state to create the impression that the government is very serious about stealing mandates.
On the day the elections held, thousands of people were marching in towns and cities against police brutality and criminality. In the few days that thousands of security personnel spent in the state, only God knows how many villagers up North were invaded, robbed and raped by bandits, or how many people were kidnapped across the country. It is now safe to assume that power is the only goal of politics for our politicians, not the quality of governance.
There is also disappointment for those who had hoped that an option to PDP and APC can be procured for Nigerians. The votes in Ondo suggest that our people are still captives of two parties that have so little to distinguish between them, that governors can change parties a few weeks before elections and still win, and seemingly popular politicians can be rejected if they attempt to ride to power on unfamiliar platforms.
From this point on, we move to the interesting realm of speculation; so feel free to disagree. To start with, whose victory was Ondo? No, not the re-elected governor, but the camps that have emerged to make the civil war in the South-West APC a low-intensity conflict until Edo. Edo was said to be the prize for the forces that are ranged against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and was secured with considerable internal subversion from a region with a considerable stake in his failures to be a sole landlord. It is a tussle with considerable risks for all parties.
How much ground can APC lose to be able to establish that it is not the exclusive playground of the Jagaban? At what point does it become self-inflicted damage to the young(er) Turks bent on re-making the political framework of the South West without the footprints of Tinubu?
Presumably, both camps will claim credit over Akeredolu’s victory, although some identifiable hands shown in the contest. Tinubu will heave a sigh of relief and claim that APC is solid enough in the South West to support his ambition. His internal opposition will be content with a tough victory because a loss of Ondo will substantially alter the balance of forces against all camps in the long term. PDP will rue a loss, but its performance will give it the confidence that the South West has preserved its basic character: friendly to APC, but not hostile to PDP.
There are bigger stakes in the outcome. If APC is only precariously balanced in the South West, what are the chances that the region can lay a credible claim to the right to field its presidential candidate for the 2023 contest? Both Asiwaju and his formidable opposition rely on two major reasons why the presidential ticket should go South West. One, it can lay claim to evident loyalty to the party.
Two, it is South, and in all probability, a Southern candidate will be fielded by the party. The only question is: should it trust an aging and internally-weakened Asiwaju with the ticket, or go for self-proclaimed bridge-builders, people who want to change the basic character of Yoruba politics? The latter worry is that Asiwaju could fail to get the ticket, and the region could fail to get the number two position as well.
Asiwaju would appear to be in a weaker position than this rainbow opposition. He is substantially caged in a fraction of the South West, and in spite of his reportedly stupendous war chest, governors in the region and even Abuja are reportedly matching him and are uncomfortable with the prospect of a retreat of the Yoruba to a regional island.
Ondo could be cold comfort for Tinubu if the stories that Abuja is contemplating fielding a serving minister from the South East or even President Goodluck Jonathan as APC presidential candidates are anywhere near the truth. His sharpened instincts should advise him not to discountenance the rumour.
Sourcing an APC candidate from the South East could be credited as unusually sharp thinking on the part of the presidency. It could be the seal on a relationship that has not bubbled with warmth recently on the part of President Buhari and may confirm rumoured disquiet and discomfort by many people close to the President over the prospects of a Tinubu presidency.
For those who oppose him in his own backyard, preventing him getting the ticket is a major goal, but the biggest goal is a Yoruba candidate who can unite the South West and convince the rest of Nigeria to trust him with the presidency. The Jonathan angle sounds too much like poor fiction, but it could serve the objective of hinting at how far Buhari’s people want to take the ticket away from the South West.
The basic question to ask is the degree to which Ondo helps the design of the South West to be substantially involved in post-2023 Nigeria. At this stage, you have to ask how much the state of the whole South West aids the clamour for a Southern president in 2023. If it has designs to partner with the other two Southern zones to build a solid alliance that should convince the North to hands-off the presidency in 2023, those designs are not visible.
Competing with the South East and South-South for a Southern president will leave it open to greater damage and substantially at the mercy of Northern politicians and voters. No Southern candidate on any platform will make much headway unless he has huge support from the North.
The problem is, most Northern politicians and voters show no inclination to cede their right to compete and support a Northerner for the presidency in 2023. Beyond the polite suggestions from some politicians that equity and national survival make a strong case for rotation in both parties, as well as dire threats and frightening scenarios over what will follow a failure to engineer a southern president in 2023, very few people bother to consider the reality that all Nigerian voters will have substantial freedom regarding who to vote for, and many may not be impressed by arguments that their votes must go to pre-determined candidates.