By Godknows Igali
In Greek mythology, the hero-warrior Achilles was exceptionally strong and was considered invincible. At birth, his mother had dipped him in the mysterious River Styx which made his body insulated from penetration from any weapon, apart from the tiny piece on the heel of his leg which she held during that act. Most often in life, there is always the proverbial point of weakness which, if not conscious of, could be the source of doom. This, unfortunately, was the fate of Achilles, and our political actors need to watch that delicate part in the last few hours before the polls.
As the D-Day for Nigeria’s presidential election beckons, the sky still remains cloudy with regards to having an accurate guess of who will wear the victory medallion. The vicissitudes and physical exertion of the campaign season, the unparalleled financial exertion, the demand of innovative strategizing, and not the least, keeping up with the rules of the game have kept the ante quite high for all stakeholders.
Unarguably, no Nigerian election, since 1959 and perhaps 1979, has been that difficult to call with predictable exactitude as this. Irrespective of our personal idiosyncrasies, the main leading candidates all have their strong points and clearly verifiable records of national service and application. The other factors, such as ethnicity, geopolitics, media and communication outreach, and demographic underpinning in various ways, equally seem to be working to the advantage of individual candidates and their political aggrupations
HOW ARE THE OLD GUARD FAIRING?
For example, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has a whopping advantage of controlling the federal government with all the paraphernalia of state power. Though, openly leading campaigns for his preferred candidate, the flagbearer of his party, a weighty politician, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former Lagos State Governor, the President has nonetheless reiterated to Nigeria’s voting population to discard fealty to party and vote for the best candidate. Gladly though, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari had in no few occasions voiced his commitment to free and fair elections. Added, the decision of the Federal government, through currency redesigning on the eve of the election to demonetize the voting process, which in recent times has become the most insidious abuse on the country’s electoral order, though shabbily implemented, has further affirmed his commitment to free and fair polls. So if APC strategist rely on any supposed federal might, they may find themselves in the Waterloo!
But then, with 23 of the 36 states being controlled by APC Governors, it would obviously be foolhardy for any credible analyst to take the APC for granted. This is more so as Nigerian Governors are somewhat domineering, in some case even imperious within their states and therefore capable of mustering a large amount of influence on voters. Virtually every serving governor maintains significant political structures and networks that they can unleash at any time. It is ill-omened for the party to enter election day with seriously cracking walls of its house.
But then, APC with such strategic advantages must watch its guards. In human history, not once or twice, but quite recurring, the mighty have fallen. In the last election in the USA, then populist President Donald Trump, with his “making America great again,” lost to the Democrats after just a tenure in office. What about Kenya? The political dynasties which Uhuru Kenyatta and Rahila Odinga belonged are entrenched like impregnable fortresses for 60 odd years. But in 2022, erstwhile Vice President William Ruto, jumped ship from the erstwhile ruling Jubilee Party and brought down the old order with his redacted United Democratic Party (UDP) becoming that East African country’s leader. The APC can not rest on its oars until in this last bit of the race.
On its part, its protagonist, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with a great public servant and entrepreneur, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, maintains a record as the country’s longest reigning political clan at the federal level. It dominated the country’s current Fourth Republic and ruled for 16 uninterrupted years until its unimaginable electoral defeat in 2015. The nearest to it in terms of longevity in office are the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) both of which dominated the First and Second Republics at federal level for 8 and 5 years respectively. It had previously declared itself the largest political party in Africa, swearing to have the capacity to rule Nigeria ad infinitum.
The PDP, more than any other political group, has unprecedented national spread. Although it has been out of national power now for nearly 8 years since 2015 and its sub-national spread shrank from 28 to 14 states, its national spread and appeal is still overwhelming.
The question, however, is, can this wide dragnet of the PDP translate to votes after its relegation to number 2 status? This question becomes relevant when it is realized that it has, in the past few years, lost much grounds to other political actors. For example, in virtually all the country, the ruling APC has made significant incursions that can not be ignored. Let’s not forget that even in an ultra conservative enclave of PDP such as Bayelsa State, the APC in 2019 produced an elected Governor, until the finger of God, through the Supreme Court, reversed things and now have the “Miracle Governor” from the PDP in place. Same for Imo State, where the converse happened as a duly elected PDP governor was ousted by the instrumentality of the Supreme Court of the land. Let’s not also forget that in the same deep south, the erstwhile PDP Governors of Cross River and Ebonyi, as well as the immediate past PDP Governor of Akwa Ibom have all crossed over to the APC. In neighbouring Delta State, a major political gladiator, the current Deputy Senate President and 5th citizen of the country, hitherto a PDP member, has since jumped ship to the APC and is waging a proverbial battle of titans over Governorship of that state.
These are all mighty men and have great followership. PDP has to watch its flanks.
The biggest challenge, which PDP can still unravel, is the resurfaced internecine fractricidical fight. In 2014, when the party had an internal fight during the reign of former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, some hawks within the establishment openly canvassed that each of the five Governors who were termed rebellious had only “one vote” each. Against advice, they saw no need for reconciliation, no matter the price. The PDP has to remember that each of the same worrisome number five governors controls large swathes of votes. Anyone regarding them as irrelevant are doing the party great disservice. Fortunately, where there is a will, there is a way. Often, stooping to conquer, even at the last minute, could unleash gains. PDP must not allow this number “five” to hurt the chances of the party during this election.
THE CHALLENGE OF FRESH BLOOD.
Much intriguing, in this election, we are seeing a departure from the old dictate, as new frontiers are being seriously broken.
The Labour Party, being led by former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, based on its ideological foundations, is perhaps the oldest autuchnotous political vanguard in Nigeria. From the days of late Pa Michael Imoudu (1902-2005) and the demarche to have workers and people focused political parties started, the pioneers achieved exceptionally impressive success and helped achieve independence, alongside the centrist cum Conservative political groups. However, in 2002, what we know today as Labour Party sprouted as one of the main upshots from the erstwhile Party for Social Democracy. After the 2003 General Elections, it formally changed its name to the Labour Party. It is, therefore, not an upstart, but a solid institution with deep taproots across the country. Besides the LP is the political wing of the Nigerian Labour Congress, which became an umbrella organisation of over 1,000 unions in 1978, So this political arm, like all wings, has well streamlined cross-sections across the country.
Even more spectacular is the fact that the LP had been able to galvanise its support base under Peter Obi amongst the younger population who by the way, constitute more than a third of the 93 million registered voters. In what appears like Arab Spring, the LP has created wide acceptance of “Obidient” Nigerians as representing the yearning for a new paradigm shift for political change in Nigeria with hopes of national rebirth.
The tremendous inroads made by the LP from relative obscurity make it a credible contender for the plumpy presidential position. However, the party, like a sapient games-man, must realize that its adversaries are old foxes with solid tentacles. Besides, most of its “Obidient” followers are urban and suburban dwellers and relatively scanty in the majority of the rural areas where most voters are resident. In other cases, some of the crowd who attend LP’s public rallies like those of the APC and the PDP are the proverbial “Roman Mob”; they tend to follow all and do not seem to genuinely belong fully to any. The party needs to use the period before touchdowns to follow up on its supporters to ensure that they come out to vote.
The situation with the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) under veteran politician Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, and even the SDP led by Prince Adewole Adebayo, take the same pattern as the LP in the parts of the country where they maintain their forte. For one, NNPP has a robust standing in the North West and North East and amongst the “talakawa” around the country. As well, the coterie of the other political parties all totalling 18 have all filed candidates of great national exposure and taken the campaigns with the greatest level of serious mindedness. It will, therefore, be expected that each of them have continued to go the extra mile to sway the opinion of voters. Another advantage that these smaller political parties have is the fact that most of their presidential candidates are much younger candidates. This has considerably influenced their capacity to correlate with younger voters and also apply technology, especially ICT on social media. It will, therefore, be full hardy to ignore this collection of smaller parties, all of which have their own levels of appeal and followership.
What can still be done, therefore, is for leadership of most of these parties to see how they can webb some levels of working together and alliance among themselves or with any of the bigger parties. This can make them to be a part of any winning slate and help form the coalition in the next governments both at federal and state governments.
It will be totally ill-advised for any of these parties to think it is yet uhuru, but consider how to work together. All over the world, smaller parties work together to win elections and form governments together.
ARISE, OH COMPATRIOTS!
The hallmark of democratic governance is the ability to participate in elections. This is both for the candidate and the voting population. According to 36th American President Lyndon Johnson, “The right to vote is the right without which all others are meaningless.” This, according to him, is due to the fact that “it gives people the right to control their destinies. ” For an election that has very high stakes and topmost expectations, Nigerians have great opportunities to change the course of the country’s future for good. Nigerians would, however, need to watch out for some signposts both as it pertains to the candidates and their sponsoring political parties. Amongst other things, it’s important to:
– critically review the character and personae of the candidates in question,
– critically review the achievements, performance of the individual in previous public service, or involvement in corporate Nigeria,
– the contents of the individual and political party blueprint for the development of the country or the constituent part,
– in particular, fixing the economy and thereby creating jobs. If the economy is fixed, it will be easier, tackling insecurity, fighting corruption and improving the social and material well-being of people, and
– undertaking major constitutional changes that will bring about devolution of power, fiscal federalism, and entrenching of good governance and rule of law.
The highest point in any democratic process is the ability to conduct elections as this is an investment into the future of any people. It is the veritable instrument by which the people express their voices and map out a journey into their future. Hence, Abraham Lincoln, rated by many as the greatest American president ever, once said, “the ballot is stronger than the bullet”. The way the political leaders of any country can know what matters most to the people and how the people feel most at any time about where they are and where they want to go, is through their participation either as candidates or as responsible voters in any given election. Here lies the overiding importance of the two dates 25th February 2023 and 11th march 2023.
Seen in its entirety, all stakeholders have to brace up their resolve for national rebirth as we all approach the terminus. Even 24 hours is a terribly long time in changing the fortunes in a highly competitive election, such as the two dates ahead of us. The political parties and their candidates should, therefore, not relent in crossing their t’s and dotting there i’s, rigorously, up to the last minute. In particular is the need, where necessary for some of them to finalize discussions among themselves with a view to settling internal squabbles, building alliances and coalitions and taking last minute steps to reach the hitherto unreached, especially in the villages and rural communities where the majority of the voters are.
In like manner, the electoral arbiter (INEC) and the security community have to be on a greatest amount of vigilance and watchfulness, as the tendency by some of the actors to resort to last minute desperate actions would not be discountenanced. Since the stakes are very high, the voting population itself, perhaps more than most previous elections will require to show the highest level of discretion and patriotism in ensuring that the actual proclivities of political influence such as ethnicism, religion, language and party affiliation are placed as secondary. The mood and mode of Nigeria’s Election 2023 are overridingly must be the competence, credibility, and character. These are virtues on which the Nigerian voting population can not afford to derogate from this time around.
Dr. Igali is a retired Ambassador and an award winning writer.