2015 Elections: A Preview

The next general elections in Africa’s most populous nation will be most interesting. Nigeria’s two major political parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  and the All Progressives Congress (APC), will surely square up to each other in the presidential contest.

In the PDP, the picture is becoming clearer. President Jonathan is the “sole” candidate “adopted” and “endorsed” by the ruling PDP hierarchy. Jonathan will soon come out to formally accept and declare his interest. He will contest. All other aspirants in the PDP have shelved their idea to challenge him in the primaries. In fact, most of them are now eyeing the seat of Vice-president Namadi Sambo as an alternative or a stepping stone to the presidency.

In the APC, the situation is not very clear. Former head of state Gen Muhammadu Buhari has indicated interest to be given one more chance to contest for the presidency. Former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has also come out to contest for the APC presidential ticket. Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso is also interested in contesting for the presidency under the APC. Imo governor Rochas Okorocha is also being mentioned as a possible APC presidential candidate in 2015. There are others. Arriving at a consensus candidacy will be difficult in the APC – and that would be its undoing.

Meanwhile, this is happening against the background of a most destructive insurgency war. Nigeria is more divided than at any other time in its history including the civil war era. And the gap between the rich and the poor is widest. Poverty rate is highest; unemployment rate is highest; infrastructure and power deficit is highest. Ostentatious living by the elite who flaunt their ill-gotten wealth is now common. At the time Obasanjo handed over to Yar’Adua/Jonathan in 2007, there were only about 20 private aircraft in Nigeria; now there are over 250 and still counting. Owning a private jet, like getting an oil block, is now a status symbol. Corruption is alarming now, as people steal to meet up with the Joneses.

When the PDP governors “endorsed” Jonathan for the 2015 presidential election, the assumption was that the governors have control of their states. This is far from the reality. There are very few governors who control even 20 per cent of their states electorally. Many of them cannot even move freely in their states as they are always in Abuja, the nation’s capital, trying to show their “loyalty” to the president. Not many will be able to “deliver” their states to their party.

The centre of the insurgency is in the northeast, particularly Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. In many of these places, voter cards have not been issued and many people have been displaced. That means a large number of potential voters are going to be disenfranchised. There is no law that says there will be partial elections in Nigeria whereby some will vote and others will not, in a constituency. Thus, there is a big problem there. In fact, an effective campaign cannot take place in these places most affected by the terrorism challenge. This must be taken into account unless the nation is ready for time-consuming and de-legitimizing litigations from the fallout of the potentially inconclusive elections.

The coming presidential election will also be largely determined by where the south-western states cast their votes. If the outcome of the 2011 election is anything to go by, it would be said that the southwest would be indifferent when the Yoruba do not have much stake in the contest. In the last election, except for Osun State, all the others abandoned their party during the presidential election, which paved the way for the PDP to get the requisite percentages and geographical spread that enabled the party to win. It appears they will be heading towards the same route. This is because nobody will be bought twice. You only need to buy an agent once.

There are two APC states in the south-south: Rivers and Edo. Rivers is very strategic, since it is the most important state in that region politically due to its voting strength — almost thrice that of Bayelsa, its neighbour – and, economically, because of the highest revenue it gets from the federation account, being the largest oil-producing state in the country. Edo is also very strategic, being a major historical and cultural centre of an ancient kingdom that has many people who have played and are playing key roles in the development of the nation. But election in that region is never free and fair. It is determined by balance of terror. Besides, this is the home region of the president and Rivers is the home state of the first lady. It will be interesting.

Yes, there is an APC governor in the southeast, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, the state with the highest population in the southeast, but it appears the southeast, regardless of party, always votes in one direction. APGA is an appendage of the PDP and all the elite of that region think their best bet is to stick with the PDP in the hope that some of them would be getting the best deal personally. Of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, it is the Igbo that are solidly behind this government of their fellow “easterner” regardless of its performance. Thus, unless there are some unforeseen contingencies, the southeast will still be a region that no one will die, be sick or be absent in the coming election. Almost all will eventually vote for one party.

In the northern states, for sentimental reasons, some people will go with the party at the centre; and, for monetary reasons, some, including so-called elders, will also go with the government of the day. There is anger, there is bitterness and there is frustration due to unmet expectations of the people, especially the youth, and the excruciating poverty afflicting the majority. How this can be turned into huge electoral asset is the challenge facing those who want change.

However, it must be mentioned that, since the 1960s, there has been no other time that Nigerians openly talk about dismembering the nation for everybody to go their separate ways like now. The various components have so much contempt for one other. Anarchists have taken over the centre stage. Rational discussions have given way to irresponsible talk and inflammatory statements by tribal jingoists and religious bigots.

The elite who enjoy most in the country, however, do not want this. The southern elite enjoy the huge land and big mansions in the cities of Lagos and Abuja especially, which they cannot get when there is no Nigeria. The northern elite enjoy easy oil money from the federation account and some even have lucrative oil businesses. So they do not want to lose this privilege which would end if there were no Nigeria. Will this equilibrium hold?
–    By Abba Mahmood

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