By Azu Ishiekwene
THERE is no greater evidence that Nigeria’s political elite are cut off from citizens than the disconnected, cold portrayals in the news headlines. While citizens are fighting existential battles – skyrocketing prices, insecurity, striking doctors and rising unemployment – politicians are busy fighting over party chair.
They are worried about where the next president will come from, and also the size of the red carpet for Nigeria’s most cringeworthy political rolling stone, who returned to the ruling party last week with a baggage of mush.
The two groups – the political elite and citizens – are in two different worlds, oblivious of each other’s existence, yet pretending to share a common fate, which from the headlines, you can tell is a farce. Of course, for humour’s sake, it is important who becomes the chairman of any of the two main political parties in Nigeria: the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. But in the scheme of things, it is party members, and not the larger public, that get to choose their chairmen.
And even within the party, we have seen from the history of the two main parties, one of which has produced an average of 10 chairmen in the last 20 years, that it is the moneybags, the godfathers or those closest to the core of power, who determine who becomes chairman and how long.
It doesn’t matter what the party’s constitution says, the godfathers have the last say. What’s more? They can suborn the judiciary to do their bidding, if necessary. Yet, news about the internal crisis of the two parties have dominated the headlines as if our lives depended on it.
The ‘ruining’ party
At inception, the APC promised to be a different party. In fact, it rejected being called the “ruling party”, saying that as a token of the new politics of change, it should instead be referred to as the “governing party.” But after six years in power, APC is worse for all the hubris we despised in PDP. It barely convenes statutory meetings, has had no substantive chairman in one year and four months, has no functioning BOT, and is run by a cult.
Yet, in the midst of the existential problems facing Nigerians – millions who cannot get medical care because doctors have been on five straight weeks of strike, insecurity, rising food and energy prices and hundreds of professionals lining up at embassies to migrate – we are inflicted with daily news of how the broken political parties cannot put their houses in order.
Politicians do. And since journalists think we can throw the whole bunch of them out in the next general elections less than two years from now, isn’t this a good time to be interested in who gets what party position, after which we can then decide who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari? I laugh. That’s a fool’s game, a bloody waste of ink no matter the acres of space the press devotes to it. Take the presumably settled matter of where the next president should come from, for example.
I say “presumably settled” because it is not settled. Since non-party members cannot decide for the political parties who their candidates should be, it is naive to assume that the current Southern sentiment about producing the next president is a settled national question. It is not, and here is why.
Within the APC, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, one of the main legacy parties, is in a very weak position. Its influence has been corroded by ambition, ego and greed. It’ll need a miracle to survive its current misery. The other faction, the Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, has the upper hand. It is almost certain that the CPC will choose APC’s next flag bearer.
And if, for example, the opposition, PDP, decides to field a Northern presidential candidate as it did in 2007 and in the last election, perhaps with a South-Easterner as his running-mate, the CPC wing of the APC may, in response, field a Northern candidate, with any of the numerous South-Westerners cuddling their tailcoat as running-mate.
That may sound far-fetched since all current front-runners for the party chairman are from the North. But whoever thought that the current acting chairman and Governor of Yobe, Mai Mala Buni, would combine the offices of governor and party chairman for 16 months! And also, with the desperate ongoing recruitment of political castaways into the APC, who’s to say what the endgame is?
One of the lessons of Buhari’s election is that a candidate does not need significant votes from the so-called tripod of roughly North, South-East and South-West, to emerge as president. Twice, Buhari won the presidency in spite of slim support from the South-East (less than seven percent the first time, and 19 percent the second time) and marginal victory in Lagos, the vote bank of the South-West, in the last election. Until the figures in the voter roll are challenged, re-vetted and approved, they’ll still form the basis for the next election.
The worsening farmer-herder clashes and the sectarian violence of the last few years have heightened tensions and resentment in the Middle Belt and Kaduna. But the impact of the clashes on the electoral map of the North, or the country as a whole, remains to be seen, especially if the National Assembly succeeds in blocking electronic transmission of results.
So, far from being settled, the idea of where the next president would come from is still a very open question. This is not what some people like to hear, especially with the recent vitriol by Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, that heavens will not fall if a Northerner succeeds Buhari. It’s harsh, but true.
Power is not given; it is taken. And however hard done by leading Southern politicians may feel about potentially getting the short end of the power stick yet again, the truth is that the North still holds the aces. It controls the levers of power and has also maneouvered itself into a position where it has the final say, within the party, about Buhari’s successor.
The CPC will field a Northern candidate for the APC if it chooses to. If push comes to shove, however, it would decide which Southern candidate will get the ticket.That explains the back and forth with former President Goodluck Jonathan. He remains a wild card.
How will that play? On the face of it, Jonathan is eligible to contest for a second presidential term. But having taken the oath of office twice – once after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua and the second time in 2011 – can he take it a third time? Who benefits if the APC wins with Jonathan, but loses in a post-election legal challenge?
Or is there a remote chance of APC Northern governors leading a Southern candidate to the edge, and just like PDP governors did to Jonathan in 2015, switching sides and paving the way for the Northern PDP presidential candidate at the last minute? We’ll wait and see.
Crux of the matter
What interests me as a non-party member is not who becomes the next chairman of any of the main political parties or how their flagbearers will emerge. There’s nothing I can do about that. My concern is the poor record of the ruling party in the last six years in almost every area where it promised change, and also why it thinks it should continue in power beyond 2023. Its own ministers have said corruption has lurched from brazen to quiet stealing. But believe me, except you’re going about with muffled ears, corruption under this government has not been so quiet.
A report by Matthew T. Page for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published in 2020, and entitled, ”Dubai property: An oasis for Nigeria’s corrupt political elites”, says 800 Dubai properties linked to Nigerian politically-exposed persons are estimated to be worth well over N146 billion.
The report reads like the who-is-who in the corridors of power. As for insecurity, it has been repelled from major city centres to highways and remote villages. Swathes of the Northern parts of the country remain infested with banditry, leaving governors bereft.
Like a bad coin, all the previous boast about degrading insurgency is stuck in the hands of its propagators. The South-East is experiencing something worse. It is besieged by government forces that are supposed to protect it, and haunted at the same time by outlaw groups that claim to protect citizens from government forces.
Sure, infrastructure has received more attention than at any time in recent memory. But we’re still counting the cost in a loan binge, shifting deadlines and tardy deals that have almost exhausted the charity of the Chinese Santa Claus.
I’m hard-pressed to brush aside these concerns just for the mere entertainment of who becomes the next party chairman or how this or that party decides its flagbearer. We’ve seen this too many times before and it’s all sound and fury, meaning nothing! If politicians knew that they would be punished for the record they leave in office, they’ll be careful who they choose to carry their flag. And that, my friend, is the crux of the matter.