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Political Arithmetic Of 2011: The Searchlight On Nigerian Elections And Democracy


02 March 2011

By Abubakar Abba Tahir

The build-up to the 2011 presidential elections has seen a flurry of timelines and deadlines in recent weeks. Among the list were the party primaries to pick the flag bearers for contending political platforms; these passed by, leaving a mixed grill of bitter-sweet memories and experiences from the battlefields.

The searchlight has been beamed more on the contest for the Peoples Democratic Party ticket for obvious reasons. This was mainly because PDP has held forth, in the corridors of power for 12 unbroken years, even if illegitimately, but legally. As a result, it is obviously the umpire that has the advantage that will shape and sharpen the focus of the political spectrum as well as the conduct of other smaller parties. Even though the other parties were of lesser magnitude in terms of the coverage of their activities and volume of impact on the nation, it is likely that in the future, the picture of what lies ahead from an impending alignment and realignment of political forces outside of the PDP would retrospectively make the political space, even more compelling to watch.

What heightened the contest between former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and President Goodluck Jonathan were the diametrical viewpoints which both candidates held for and against zoning the presidency as enshrined in the PDP constitution. The former thought the PDP top hierarchy would be gentlemanly enough to honour an intra-party agreement signed by key stakeholders, including President Jonathan himself. This was the premise upon which ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo flew the PDP flag in 1999 and got 'voted'' into power. At that point northern candidates in the PDP, including the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, were compelled by the national imperative of zoning to step down for Obasanjo. In 1999, the other two contending political parties (Alliance for Democracy and All Peoples Party) went into a pact, which produced Chief Olu Falae (another Yoruba) as presidential flag bearer.

Many even believed that the AD-APP alliance won the presidential election, but Falae was considered too much of a leftist, away from the pro-status quo thought line, which was why his victory was re-allocated to Obasanjo with the connivance of the international poll watchers. It was in the same zoning spirit that Atiku declined to challenge Obasanjo in 2003, even when PDP governors prodded him to do so. He felt there was every reason to believe that PDP leaders would honour the initial agreement for zoning in order to stabilise future transition processes and procedures not only in the PDP, but in other parties as well. This is because the impact of what happens to Africa's largest political party, which rules the continent's largest country, is likely to dovetail into its political siblings down the ladder.

The basis of the zoning imperative was the unfairness done to Nigeria in general and the Yoruba race in particular by annulling the freest presidential election in which Chief Moshood Abiola was almost declared winner. The north felt that the only step that would guarantee national stability was to appease the Yoruba by conceding the presidency to them for two consecutive terms, after which the rotation pentagon would start rolling around the nation again for each region to take its own turn. Ahead of that historic decision there were cries for a sovereign national conference championed by pro-democracy groups and activists, from all parts of southern Nigeria, especially the South- west.

From the second half of the Obasanjo presidency till today the cries have become too faint to be heard, which is an ample testimony to the success of zoning in dousing national anxiety. In 2011 when Jonathan wins, the flames of sovereign national conference will still remain in limbo. But after his term in office, the flames are likely to reverberate. However, when Jonathan fails the upcoming contest for any northern candidate, the drumbeats for a sovereign national conference are likely to start blowing again, especially when the northern candidate in power seeks for re-election after his first term. This is one of the sad realities of truncating the PDP zoning arrangement.

In kicking against zoning, President Jonathan believed that no one knows when his troubled Niger-Delta region will ever have the chance to come close to the presidency again, so why should he back out so cheaply from an easy ascendency to Niger Delta presidency. In this vein, Jonathan and his cohorts in the party, including top northern leaders like Bamanga Tukur, Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, Bello Mohammed, David Mark and Namadi Sambo; all kicked against the zoning agenda. It is understandable for Jonathan to be blinded by the desire to continue as President on behalf of himself, Bayelsa State, the Niger Delta or the broader southern region.

What is hardly comprehensible is the reason why such northern leaders should kick against the legitimate interest of the north, which they all agreed to protect in the first place? It is often said that what goes around comes around. Could they be prematurely digging the graves of their off-spring to the dungeons of regional irrelevance in the future? Are they truly national leaders who wished a smooth rotation and transition of political power at all levels? If not for zoning, why did Jonathan, a southerner serve as deputy to Yar'Adua? Why was Namadi Sambo selected as Vice-President for Jonathan? Why did Bamanga Tukur, a northerner aspire to be PDP Chairman during the Obasanjo presidency? Why is David Mark still the Senate President, not someone from the South at a time when Jonathan is in power? Why did Bello Mohammed serve as Deputy to Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, a southerner?

Even if zoning is not reflected in the nation's constitution, why do we at local and state levels ask for the zoning of political offices? Why did the nation imbibe the concept of federal character in our body polity in the first place? It is obvious that the PDP zoning saga, which has succeeded in re-generating bad blood between the north and the south could have been averted if two most principal northerners in the Jonathan presidency had spoken for it at the initial stage. By virtue of their offices, Senate President Mark and Vice-President Sambo were expected to have risen above their personal ambitions to speak for zoning since both men are top-notchers of the PDP who are privy to the party's zoning formula from Day One.

Unfortunately, both men failed to rise to the occasion at a very crucial time when their voices were needed by their home region, on whose platform they rode to their current positions. Of course, Sambo did not want to offend the political sensibility of his boss because he desires to remain in the presidential saddle so that he could be president in the future. Unfortunately the result of that selfish decision could not allow him to comfortably travel to his native Kaduna at ease because there were no security guarantees for his trip home. Despite his anti-north stance, Sambo at some point once boasted to be the natural leader of the north by virtue of the Vice-Presidential office he occupies to represent the northern quota.

Incidentally, when the north needed him to speak for it at a critical time when the issue of zoning was being hotly debated, he turned a blind eye. On his part, Senate President Mark who equally rode on the political pedestal of the north and had been basking on a shaky political mandate from his constituency also decided to speak against zoning to retain his parliamentary seat. This is clearly typical of the double standards, which Nigerian leaders are noted for because back in his home state of Benue, Mark has always spoken for zoning. He feels that his Idoma ethnic group has often been unfairly marginalised by the domineering influence of the majority Tiv population, and hence his staunch support for the creation of Apa State.

Jonathan and his cohorts may have had their way in the PDP primaries, but not without fundamental political and security implications for the future of Nigeria's staggering democracy. If PDP delegates at the primaries were true representatives of their people and they actually voted according to the wishes of their people, why are we having backlashes in some places? Why have the so-called PDP governors who voted against the north such as Murtala Nyako, Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Shema, Danjuma Goje, Danbaba Suntai, Gabriel Suswam, Aliyu Doma, Isa Yuguda, and others suddenly stopped speaking on the convention anymore? Why is it difficult for Sambo to peacefully travel home to register himself as a bona fide Nigerian voter?

How do we avert all this for smooth presidential campaigns to start, especially in most of the critical northern states where majority of the people feel short-changed in the PDP presidential primaries? If three months to presidential elections a sitting Vice-President can hardly visit his home state, what security guarantees do we have for Jonathan across the north where PDP delegates were threatened to either vote for him or their governors will be at risk of being implicated in high-profile scandals, using state apparatus? Of course it is easy for Jonathan to apply presidential powers in dousing flames of crisis to whatever extent, wherever it exists, but is this the kind of tense political atmosphere Nigerians need to operate an exemplary and mutually beneficial constitutional democracy in the 21st century?

Clearly, the PDP seemed to have shot itself in the belly by failing to internalise democracy and rather hosting pervasive arm-twisting of the popular will, which has always been Nigeria's political bane. One wonders the velocity of freedom and fairness in a show in which Nigeria's longest-serving Vice-President and the second biggest individual employer of labour in the country could fail to win votes from at least half of the delegates from his home state.

I wonder how a subsisting case in court regarding the tenancy of embattled party Chairman, Dr. Nwodo, could have been delayed for a ruling to be given less than 24 hours away from the scheduled PDP convention. Even if there were no apron strings attached, the world was tempted to believe that Dr. Nwodo had issues with the Jonathan candidacy. Of course that seemed to be the case because Nwodo initially spoke for zoning the nation's presidency to the north. That was the same reason, which made the Jonathan group to kick out Chief Vincent Ogbulafor earlier as PDP Chairman. If both Nwodo and Ogbulafor stood for zoning in the collective interest of the nation and in a strategic move for an Igbo presidency by 2015 or thereafter, their kinsmen in Igbo land were blinded from that thought line for decades.

Each time there is a political transition Ndigbo will rise to high heavens telling the world that it was their turn to produce the nation's next President. If not, some Igbo leaders either acting for themselves or for the South-east seem to threaten that heavens will fall on Nigeria and the Biafra rebellion will have to resurrect. Unfortunately the Igbo as a political bloc had always exhibited a painful lack of political capacity to subsume selfish interests for the larger good of the Igbo nation and not the good of the land. Sad also was the collective move by the South-east leadership of the PDP to pass a vote of no confidence on their son (Dr. Nwodo) if he did not resign the PDP chairmanship. That is also not in the interest of the Igbo nation because the easiest route to securing an Igbo presidency is when the Igbo bloc supports any party that fields their kinsman as presidential running mate.

On two consecutive occasions, Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari had done so for the Igbo (2003 & 2007) but they turned their back on him. In 2007, Atiku Abubakar run with Senator Ben Obi but they also refused to play ball. And during the Jonathan era, now or later, the Igbo are the farthest to the presidency, but they don't seem to give a damn, because what matters to them seem to be today, not tomorrow. In this case, the Yoruba and the Hausa will continue to dominate the political landscape because of their superior strategy for political consensus and accommodation. By massively working for Jonathan, the Igbo nation has indeed shot itself in the tummy once again, because no one knows when the South-east will come close to taking charge of Nigeria again, because even the Senate Presidency has to go to the Yoruba under a Jonathan-Sambo dispensation.

The lacklustre attitude of the Igbo towards political cohesion is a major reason why Buhari is unlikely to pick an Igbo running mate again in the unfolding alliance among opposition parties. Since the key players are Buhari's Congress for Progressive Change and Nuhu Ribadu's Action Congress of Nigeria, a Yoruba running mate seems more feasible. Whether or not this alliance works, the chief loser will be Ndigbo because the highest they will get under a Buhari presidency will be the Senate Presidency.

In a Jonathan set-up, even the Senate Presidency is most likely to elude them for the Yoruba. In that arrangement the Igbo can only settle for the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

No doubt the result of the last PDP jamboree has created several likely scenarios in Nigeria's political spectrum for the unfolding months ahead of the 2011 presidential ballot. The first is the difficulty for the ruling party to form the next government owing to pervasive polarisation in its ranks between the pro-zoning and anti-zoning camps. The pro-zoning group is likely to move in full swing against a Jonathan presidency even if it means costing the PDP the so-called presidential polls. This is especially so when they close ranks with core opposition parties in a major alliance. Proponents of the anti-zoning agenda would stand in limbo for some time, regretting the unwise move they took in disrupting, distorting and distracting Nigeria's easy transition formula to political power. This will sink even deeper if the ruling PDP loses the 2011 presidential election.

Many state governors are also unlikely to return because of their initial sell-out stance in favour of Jonathan. Any CPC-ACN alliance, which fields a Yoruba presidential running mate, is likely to form the next government. Even though many believe that Buhari should concede to Ribadu in the race for the alliance ticket, I think otherwise because of Buhari's superior experience in midwifing the nation to enduring security, stability and prosperity. I agree with Dr. Aliyu Tilde that Ribadu is by all standards of measurement, one of the first four most pragmatic, most unrepentant and most unblemished apostles of anti-corruption in Nigeria, who fought the cankerworm from the depth of their hearts. The others were Murtala Muhammad, Tunde Idiagbon, and Muhammadu Buhari. It is obvious that out of the four, Ribadu is the only civilian. His love for moving the nation to the next level has never been in doubt. I think when placed one-on-one with Buhari vis-a-vis the need to tackle the nation's problems from the perspective of experience and expertise, Ribadu should concede to Buhari for now. In this regard, I wish to humbly disagree with Tilde that Buhari should rather be the one to concede to Ribadu.

Since it is an alliance, their two parties are going into, Ribadu should prepare to understudy the Buhari phenomenon at the presidential palace and learn from his experience, so that he can take over in four years. This is more so since the pillars of zoning have been crushed finally by the Jonathan team. With enough money, it is possible to buy anything from the market square, except experience. No matter how much money one has, he cannot find experience on display for sale. Nelson Mandela's age never stood against him in repositioning South Africa to the shores of equality, stability, and prosperity. These have always been the slogans of Buhari ever since he started governing people.

One fundamental decision President Jonathan took that is likely to alter the political arithmetic in the 2011 presidential polls away from business as usual is the appointment of a leftist academic as INEC chairman. Resulting from the charade called PDP presidential primaries, I am not sure that Jonathan is still comfortable with Jega's appointment at this point. In the past, INEC and the police force are the two most critical tools deployed to rig elections for the incumbent. Even in Aso Rock no one is sure that it will be business as usual during the upcoming polls.

Be that as it may, in a largely heterogeneous country like Nigeria zoning must be seen to come to stay for political stability to endure. In this struggle, countless sacrifices have to be made by everyone from all regions and backgrounds. This is the more reason why Nigerians should at this point think more critically about the future of their nation, and not the features of an electoral win or loss. That is a fundamental reason why country men should rise against a very inciting text message currently going round in mobile phones across the country in, which an Abuja clergyman, the Reverend Chukwuma Nwabara of Living Faith Church, Kubwa, has asked his congregation not to vote for someone other than a Christian candidate. In the sermon the Reverend Nwabara also declared that the north would not smell the presidential seat for the next 20 years.

If this is true, it is disheartening and dangerous for national stability and cohesion to flourish in a land held back for 50 years by corruption, ethnic polarization and religious intolerance. Should that therefore mean that the decision by the north to voluntarily abdicate the presidential stool in 1999, to create space for southern candidates only was conceived, promoted and executed by northerners outside of the Muslim faith alone? Were former President Ibrahim Babangida and Vice-President Atiku not the arrow-heads, who drafted an unwilling Chief Obasanjo from prison to presidency where he ruled for eight unbroken years? Is Nwabara's sermon further testing the foolishness of northern delegates in Katsina (for example, a predominantly Muslim state) to have voted 100 percent for Jonathan in the last PDP presidential primaries? In any case may the souls of zoning political offices and federal character in Nigeria rest in perfect peace!



Mr Tahir (abbatahir@gmail.com) - is a former Vice-Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos State Council.

 

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