by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, are you still in doubt that the race towards the 2015 Presidential election has started in earnest? Please, perish the notion. The campaign has crept in on us like a thief in the night but it is now in full bloom. Never mind the feeble groans and grunts of INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who is only allowed to bark but cannot bite in reality. He enjoys my sympathy as a decent man who has landed a job bigger than him. All the bungled elections have only been righted by apologies and promises of better operations in the nebulous future. There is not much he can do in a nation where leaders wield the power of God and Satan at once.
We have less than one year to go and by now we ought to engage in sensible discussions and dissection of what to expect. This is more so because, Nigeria has become a besieged nation with the level of unprecedented wars of attrition going on in different parts of the country. In the North, we have Boko Haram running wild without restrictions. In the South, we have audacious kidnappers and militants kept at bay with billions of Naira in gratification. The ruling party, PDP, has been at the centre for 15 years. By next year, it would have spent a total of 16 years and billions of dollars to boot. Not much has shifted or changed or improved since that fateful day on May 29, 1999, when the military handed over power to one of their most trusted bosses, General Olusegun Obasanjo.
The more we spent on power, the bleaker our lights became. The more we spent on roads, the more they were riddled with giant potholes or face total collapse, or as the mighty Ministry of Works sometimes puts it, “Road Failure”! The more we pumped into supposedly educating our kids, the faster their education deteriorated and they became semi-illiterates. The fatter our defence budget has grown, the bigger the assault from criminals and terrorists has exploded. Not many communities can boast of drinkable water. The army of our unemployed youths is the biggest on the continent, not on account of our huge population but because we have refused to downgrade the exorbitant lifestyles of our professional politicians, whose permanent employment we only seem to be concerned about. We can go on ad infinitum reeling out our litany of woes but it has become a cliché and a bloody waste of time, energy and resources.
In any normal democracy, the people would have long voted out PDP, as a grand protest against a malfunctioning political party and an under-performing government that has kept that long in the saddle of power with little or nothing to show for it. More useful and purposeful governments have been sacked and discarded in other climes for less. But ours is a peculiarly abnormal situation. We are all guilty of operating in the jungle and it has become almost impossible to see that hope in the horizon. Not that the opposition parties have done much better but they have offered some glimmer of hope in truth and reality. It would be uncharitable not to salute the modest efforts of some of the wiz kids who form the nucleus of APC today even if they are not perfect. Collectively they are likely to push Nigeria forward because of their cosmopolitan outlook. PDP has refused to jet out of its ultra-conservative cocoon. If it had made that extra effort to give something little back to a country that gave it so much there would have been perhaps no major opposition today. But the party was comfortable in its fool’s paradise and never dreamt a day like this would ever come. The recklessness of our leaders is what has again drawn Nigeria closer to the abyss.
In the middle of this terrible mess, Nigerians are just hoping that something or anything at all can still be salvaged and repositioned before it is too late. It has become too obvious that Nigeria is precariously sitting on tinderbox and a lot rests on how we conduct or misconduct ourselves in 2015. Our survival would depend on how sober or desperate the contenders choose to be. On the part of most Nigerians, all we can do is pray and watch as events unfold. Saints are not going to descend from heaven to rule over us. It behoves us to find some of the manageable demons who can perform better than the incompetent ones we’ve been stranded with. Such is the reality of our sordid predicament.
Where do we then go from here? As things stand today, President Goodluck Jonathan has virtually been drafted and adopted as the PDP flag-bearer. I don’t see and can’t picture any other candidate emerging from the shadows to upturn this particular applecart. The President himself has assumed the role of an unchallenged candidate by going all out to dare his would be opponents to an early duel. Notably he is not challenging anybody within he is own party. He knows they have all accepted the inevitable! It is the opposition he brazenly confronts. Unfortunately, while APC is still trying to sort itself out and put its house in order, President Jonathan has embarked on a marathon campaign in a most aggressive manner. From what I can decipher so far, his campaign is going to be fought on several fronts. It is for you to determine for yourselves whether these fronts are productive or not.
The first is to throw loads of cash into the race. Admittedly, all over the world, including America, the avowed bastion of Democracy, money is heavily needed to galvanise people and materials into action. The crowds that gather everywhere our President goes are products of heavy mobilisation. Some of them are pros who move from one rally to the other, no matter the party involved. They are loyal to whoever can pay the cash at that moment. For them, it is a lucrative job that comes at periods like this and they have to maximise time and profit.
The National Conference is also a very smart move. It is a wonderful way to mop up a lot of the politicians and herd them out of their domains into one central location. I pray that it is no more sinister than that. The National Conference serves three major purposes. First, some of those who have gone into virtual oblivion have been resurrected and would be grateful for the opportunity to keep busy in Abuja. Two, while engaging in hot arguments, they will leave the President to concentrate on campaigning unhindered. Three, the President would have easier access to most of these putative leaders and call them to over whenever their services are needed. The other elites in their midst will continue to delude themselves that there is no alternative to the National Conference. When tomorrow comes, they would realise their futility in the non-enforceability and probable impracticability of whatever decisions are reached. By that time, the elections would be knocking and then to thy tents O Israel. I’m sorry if I sound cynical. Someone whose child was killed by a witch sees every woman as a suspect.
The third arm of the campaign is religion. President Jonathan’s strategy is to amass and appropriate and monopolise Christendom as his catchment area. His mission appears to be to create a skilfully and methodically packaged battle of wits between Christians and Muslims in particular. Of course he completely neglects or ignores devotees of other religions. They are simply insignificant in the scheme of things, or so it seems. However, we all know where most politicians are reputed to go in the dead of night! Anyway back to the festering use of religion as a veritable campaign tool by the President. He has been going from church to church, courting his brethren and letting them know he is the one who can protect them against the rampaging defenders of the Islamic Faith as they claim. Interestingly, the Faithful that he seems to be fraternising with for the most part are the Pentecostal churches and their leaders. The mind boggles. For now, it seems to be working but no one knows for how long. I will explain what I mean shortly. The PDP seems to be hoping that APC will make the mistake of risking a Muslim-Muslim ticket like Chief Moshood Abiola did in 1993. That is all President Jonathan needs to turn on the heat of religious rivalry and bigotry.
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Next is ethnicity. The people of the South South will insist on serving out their two terms under Jonathan. It does not matter to them that this may be technically impossible, as some cerebral lawyers advocate, on the basis that it is claimed the Constitution does not allow a President to be sworn in three times and that a President cannot serve more than two terms. According to the senior Counsellors, if Jonathan runs and wins next year, he would have been sworn in three times and also serve a total of three terms and nine years. This case promises to be very interesting whenever it eventually gets to the Supreme Court. The Ijaw Nation in particular is not ready to listen to any legal jargon that would eliminate Jonathan by subterfuge. Their indignation is anchored on the belief that their region is the goose that lays the golden eggs. If power is taken away from them, they don’t know when it will be their turn again. The principle sounds tenable.
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But the APC is bound to counter with the argument that ethnicity and religion are the reasons Nigeria remains chronically underdeveloped and that performance should henceforth form the bedrock of our political activity and vision. Of course, this won’t be absolutely practical and in the short run may not hold water. It seems to me that APC itself would have to play the ethnic card to counter Jonathan. Its candidate would naturally and most definitely come from the North West or the North East or North Central where it is hoped more votes would come to over-run the regions where Jonathan is strong namely South South, South East and North Central or the Middle Belt. This looks good on paper but it would depend on the choice of candidate to run against Jonathan. If the candidate remains Buhari, the same results are likely to be repeated as that of 2011. But if the elders of the party play and behave like true statesmen and decide to field their younger members, this is likely to ignite a passion and frenzy in first time voters without which it would be impossible to defeat Jonathan.
As presently constituted, APC is blessed with a lot of superstars from every zone. In the North West, it has Muhammadu Buhari, Nasir El Rufai, Uba Saidu Malami, Sokoto Governor Aliyu Wamakko and Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso. I won’t be surprised if former Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and House of Representatives’ Speaker Aminu Tambuwal join APC anytime soon. From the North East are Atiku Abubakar and Murtala Nyako, Nuhu Ribadu, Mohammed Marwa, Borno Governor Kashim Shettima and others. In the North Central, it has arrow-heads in Bukola Saraki, Nassarawa Governor Tanko Al-Makura, Kwara Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and others. From the South West is Bola Tinubu leading all the Governors minus Olusegun Mimiko of Edo, Segun Osoba and a host of other unsung heroes of the Pro-democracy movement. From the South East are Governor Rochas Okorocha, Chris Ngige and others. From South South, APC has formidable members in Rotimi Amaechi, Adams Oshiomhole amongst others. APC parades some of the brightest materials in Nigerian politics today.
How APC makes progress would depend on how the party unites against a common enemy and blends the strong human materials they have. It can be the unifying party that Nigerians have been praying for, if it properly harnesses the talent and spiritedness of the seeming strange bedfellows that have joined forces to liberate our country from a debilitating past and a potentially destructive future.
I will continue the search for potential candidates against Jonathan next week and the issues that are likely to affect the results at the end of the day. Please stay tuned.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dele Momodu