By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times —Winston Churchill,1874-1965
IF it is not such a sad reminder of the depth of mediocrity and the contempt with which our political leaders treat our democratic process, it would have been amusing watching leaders of the All Progressives Party, APC, get all excited at the defection of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to their party. As tradition allows, the man who received majority of votes on a political party platform walked away with the peoples‘ mandate and joined the side his supporters helped him defeat.
It is not illegal, but if politics has moral standards, this practice will be the equivalent of the man who sells his father’s house and then moves in with the buyer as a squatter. To be fair to Governor Umahi, he has joined a long, distinguished line of politicians who see politics in purely personal terms, and party members and voters as disposable irritations. There are very few politicians in Nigeria today whose entire journey has been made in only one political vehicle.
Governor Umahi says he defected to the APC to protest against the injustice of his party, the PDP whose presidential ticket has never been zoned to the South-East zone. This zone, he protests, has supported the PDP since 1999, but had never had its presidential ticket zoned to it. He is not moving to the APC for any reason other than to protest this injustice. His former party disagrees. It says he has a strong personal reason for defecting to a party which can barely feel the ground in his zone: he has his eyes on a possible APC presidential ticket.
His new party is not waiting to count how many people from his state he will deliver for baptismal in a region bursting with grievances but stubborn in terms of looking at new options. It is not showing signs that his arrival has raised more questions on its claims that it is not a party of a Northern leadership on its way out, and a handful of politicians from the South West who are already showing signs of a bruising battle over a ticket no one is sure will be secured by anyone in the region.
Governor Umahi is either exclusively privy to a secret or an optimist with no equal. He says he knows that PDP will not zone its presidential platform to the South East. It is possible he also knows that APC will surprise the long-suffering people of the South East by offering them its ticket. If PDP does choose a candidate from the South East, Umahi will not sip the champagne, and few people will remember his sacrifice because he will be in a party that will have its own problems in the zone and with Nigerians.
If Umahi’s new party does not zone the ticket to the South East, few people will remember his name, not to talk of the possibility that he could win a Senate seat. If both parties poison his zone with wealth of two tickets, he will be in the midst of the scramble with a valid case that he offered to be the sacrificial lamb. That may not count for much in a region that is replete with quality and tested politicians who have remained slightly more loyal to their parties.
Umahi’s defection hints at the enduring tradition in Nigerian politics that values such as party loyalty and respect for rules are only useful if they serve an individual’s interests. The party he has just left has raised the standards of disregarding rules to the status of the Holy Grail, and much of the stress beginning to show in many camps is evidence of popular knowledge that nothing is sacrosanct.
No politician in the PDP will hang his ambition on the certainty that the rotation principle in the party will be respected in 2023. Before 2015, it had suffered such injury from desperate politicians that the party’s bleeding from fights around it contributed substantially to its defeat.
In Port Harcourt in 2018, 12 Northerners lined up to be selected as flagbearer. Southern PDP politicians salivated at the prospect that it will be their turn in 2022. They started to lose sleep when they began to hear rumours that the zoning principle was being re-interpreted to mean that someone from a region must win and exercise power before the other region smells an opportunity to field a candidate. The ghost of President Jonathan’s desperate effort to disown the principle was also being invoked to suggest that the principle of rotation had died from anemia caused by bad faith and desperation of politicians.
Threats of dire consequences that will follow the refusal of both parties to cede tickets to candidates from any of the three zones in the South do not appear to have impressed some powerful Northern politicians or voters. A few of APC’s bigwigs have suggested that it will serve the interest of justice to have a candidate of the party from the South. These voices are being drowned by a torrent of indignation at the mere suggestion that the party will dare field a candidate from the North.
There is a particularly strong sense of entitlement to the ticket from the South West, but the region is being seriously damaged by a civil war. There are also strong cases being made by other Southern zones that it makes better politics to plant the party in lands that will nourish it with appreciation and certainty that it will have life after President Buhari ceases to have any political relevance in the country.
If you have read this far, you may have noticed a number of key players missing. One, in the Northern voter whose choices irrespective of decisions of politicians will have a major influence on which candidate wins, irrespective of his identity. The Buhari administration would leave only one lasting legacy in the country, but particularly North: that leadership is vital, and voters must be wary of voting into power people like him who ride on false mystique and see power as an end in itself.
Two, is the absence of options to the PDP/APC stranglehold on the nation’s lifeline which will make a case for competent leadership that will run the country in a manner that addresses poverty, insecurity and distrust. The third is the silence on sensitive matters such as restructuring the country before new leaders emerge and reinforce the old order. Finally, the worry that without a decisive shift from the past, the two dominant parties may run the country aground in their attempts to ride it before the next elections.