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Between the campaign for continuity and change

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NOT much has happened to reduce the widespread uncertainty, suspense, and fear of violence and the prevalent sense of inevitable doom around the March 28 presidential election, now only about three weeks to D-Day.

   However, the election’s postponement by six weeks from the original scheduled date (February 14) seemed to have offered some truce and thawed the charged temperature. The election umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is using the interlude to put its house in order. Political contestants are doing more face-to-face campaign tours.

   The election already stands out as one of the most divisive to be held in the country; indeed, one that has brought out the lack of national spirit on how to move forward.

   In some respects, holding the national elections of Presidential and National Assembly polls first (March 28) before the States elections of Governorship and States Assembly polls (April 11) has both good and bad sides.

    If the Presidential polls are successfully held – successes meaning the polls were generally adjudged as free, fair and credible (including that the displaced voters/communities particularly in the North East over Boko Haram insurgency were to participate without let or hindrance), the political heat would be greatly thawed. And other following polls may well be largely hitch-free.

   Here, however, is the catch: Which party and its candidate emerges victorious? Is it the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its flag bearer, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who is seeking a second term in office or his main opponent, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, who had had three shots at the presidential race, and he either wins this one or his retirement from active politics is undisputedly imminent. 

  Much of the electorate appear still deeply concerned that “only the presidential may be held” and that the attendant “violence and mayhem” during and after the election is likely to be such that other polls may be put on hold, if not worse. 

   There is however a growing optimism that the elections could well be held with little, or without the feared degree of violence and anarchy. Gradually, especially following President Jonathan’s unwavering stance that elections must not be taken above the unity and stability of the country and that winning an election is not worth the blood of any Nigerian, more and more prominent Nigerian are joining the train to pray and speak for peace.

   In any case, pre-election violence resulting in a high number of political killings has engendered a balance of terror situation, in which the two main rivals, PDP and APC have demonstrated enough desperation and hunger to give violence for violence, and deploy thugs for thugs.

   And so, particularly if the election comes through to be adjudged free and fair, violence may not be to the extent and spread as feared. 

 Jonathan and failure of Zoning/Rotation

Although it is not the first time that the nation’s electorates have had to choose between two leading Presidential aspirants, this contest is presenting an unfortunate divisiveness as never witnessed before, in this country and President Jonathan’s second and last term as permitted under the country’s constitution, if he snatches victory, may well be more about Nigeria’s future than individual personal interest. 

   His emergence as President occasioned by the death in office of his superior, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, at once symbolizes the unanticipated failure of Zoning/Rotation, particularly the absence of a prior agreement as to what happens in the event of sudden death of a serving President. 

   Political leading lights and their support cast from most of the country’s regions had met, discussed and incepted the PDP basically to set-up some kind of all-interest, all-embracing platform capable of ensuring the survival of democracy by keeping the country united and the military in their barracks, agreeing to rotate national executive offices on North-South basis. 

   But they had not considered an eventuality like the death of a sitting President.  

   Coming in through the novel Doctrine of Necessity, Jonathan had started-off as some child of circumstance, a marked man, especially from the standpoint of the far North who had felt robbed, being denied the full complement of their Presidential slot in the PDP – under the informally agreed formula for rotating the President between North and South.

   After the one year and about five months during which he served out Yar’Adua’s first term of four years, Jonathan’s first full term beginning in the 2011 election featured something of a nose-to-nose electoral confrontation between the far North on one hand, and South and northern minorities on the other – from which he garnered a resounding victory incidentally over Buhari – the same rival who had run previous races like an independent candidate using platforms that lacked structure and cohesion but showing his popularity in the North.

    Buhari’s APC candidacy is therefore basically on the sponsorship of far North (Hausa/Fulani, North West, North East). The zone’s successful alliance with dominant political forces of the South West– an alliance of the country’s two largest political blocs – has only served to enable him ride on a rugged, better-oiled machinery backed by a formidable propaganda machine that has turned him over-night into an electable candidate – one seen as presenting Jonathan with a stiff challenge.

   The country’s politics had always had a North-South hue, while the element of two leading/rival presidential contestants seemed to have come on stream, not necessarily at the inception of the Presidential system in 1979 during which the Northern-controlled National Party of Nigeria (NPN) ceded the first kick at the Presidency to the North, with Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto State as first civilian executive President, but more in the “little to the right and little to the left” set-up of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida..

   Unfortunately, Babangida annulled the 1993 presidential election won by the businessman and philanthropist the late Moshood Abiola, an act which in effect aborted the” natural” rotation of the Presidency from the North to the South, in an election that Abiola, the SDP candidate defeated his NRC opponent even in the latter’s ward in Kano. That election is rated the freest and fairest ever conducted in Nigeria.

   Till date, the belief remains strong that the country had, by that act, lost a golden opportunity. Had the Abiola administration been incepted, it continues to be argued, the country could by now be spared much of ethnicity and “you-chop-I-chop” endless struggles between North and south over the Presidency.

   And so, one of the problems faced by the electorate in this election is the fight-to- finish division, where the PDP which has ruled for 16 years is essentially pleading that “the devil you know is better than the angel you are not exactly sure of” (continuity), while the APC, powered by the far North backed South West dominant political forces are demanding “voting out PDP at all costs” (change).  

   The PDP had literally lost its flanks when a significant class of Northern politicians, some of them among the most astute and calculating around pulled out and went to join and strengthen the APC to wrest control of power from the party. From the end of the far North, the region can no longer afford to stay out of the Presidency. 

   Maybe, had Jonathan taken to his first term in office like a one-term President, going all out to tackle the security challenges facing the country, especially the nearly one-year-old Boko Haram insurgents’ kidnap of over 200 female students from Chibok community in Borno State (North East) and damning the power play within the PDP to introduce more changes than he has done and fight corruption more resolutely, his bid for second term could conceivably have been less contestable.

  Even so, sections of the electorate still preferring and swearing by his “modest” performance than buy into the APC campaign for change and its candidate, Buhari, messiah “rescue” mission, argue that Jonathan’s second tenure, if he wins, may be “markedly stronger” than his first, if only from “the baptism of fire,” he has received characterized by persistent dismissal of his administrative style and content as “weak” “clueless” government by impunity” and so on. 

   Such is the fierceness of public criticisms of his performance both inside and from the international community, particularly in the areas of security and fight against corruption that he is literally under the gun to deliver, if he gets second term. In any case, a second term President is difficult to bully or be subjected to political blackmail.

  His critics at home have sometimes been fair and at others downright provocative. The North were out for him from the word go. Had he been drawn out to confront his traducers who were coming after him in a seemingly disguised plot to destabilize and derail the administration, he probably wouldn’t have even gone near his perceived “little or nothing” achievements, which his critics readily dismiss as “ordinary run of government business.”

    He seemed to have survived the onslaught by his overall peaceful and gentlemanly disposition, which seemed to have energized his critics the more. Sometimes the attacks were so vicious and cursing so plain that he once confessed that he is the most abused President Nigeria ever had.  He even made the matter worse when, in a fit of self-encouragement, he had claimed that at the end of the day his accomplishments would stand him out as the most achieving more than his predecessors.

Jonathan in the storm

THE President’s second term campaign seems founded on seeking to convince the electorate that he would do better if given a second chance. By contrast, his main rival, Buhari’s case, backed by powerful, very efficient and relentless propaganda, especially by the social media, seems made comparably easy. 

   Try as it could, the PDP could never match, not to talk of overtaking the APC on the social media, especially on the Facebook community where Buhari’s supporters can often been found nowadays issuing “we know you” warning to his critics in some parts of the country.

   The APC enjoys a lavish relationship with the social media. Buhari’s victory in the March 28 election is pursued with stony resolve while Jonathan’s bid is contested with stubborn resilience. Nothing PDP or the Jonathan campaign team throws at APC and Buhari had tempered some sections of the community’s combative spirit or softened its tone of persistent ridicule. 

   The Buhari campaign team can count on the social media to cancel out any mud thrown at their candidate by the Jonathan campaign team.   It was alleged that, had the Presidential election been held on February 14, the social media would have commenced announcing Buhari leading Jonathan while voting is in progress.

   From the standpoint of the APC propaganda, Jonathan stands no chance against Buhari anywhere in the North except in a few minority states, something that the election may well largely contradict. Take Sokoto State for example:  In 2011, Buhari running under his Congress for Progressive change (CPC) had swept the polls bettering Jonathan who received less than 40 per cent of total votes cast.

   Now, although the State Governor Aliyu Magatakarda Wammakko and his supporters defected to APC, Jonathan is ticked to make at least 25 per cent votes owing to the factor of Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, a former two-term governor of the state and Senator Abdallah, the PDP governorship candidate.

   Wali and the APC governorship candidate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal appears set to have a real fight. Although Tambuwal is ticked with an edge, Wali, doesn’t look like one over who Tambuwal would have a work over. Tambuwal, married Wali’s younger sister, was Wali’s assistant as Senate leader, like Wali hails from Tambuwal local government. Tambuwal is unlikely to whitewash Wali in the fashion asserted by sections of the pro-APC media.

   Take another example: Kaduna State. It had been a PDP state. Vice President Nemadi Sambo hails from there. Although he is rated as unlikely to pull more than modest punches among the state voters, the State Governor, Muktar Ramalan Yero who is seeking first term in office having been serving out the first term of departed Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa who died in a plane clash in 2011 in Bayelsa State, is not seen as going to stand idly by.

   Buhari is poised to sweep Kaduna, it is reported, and the APC governorship candidate, fresh-face Malam Nasir el-Rufai is believed to be banking largely on the APC presidential candidate’s awesome popularity in the state to hit it at first try.  But it remains to be seen whether or not Jonathan’s outing in the state would be a non-event.

   The North is fascinating in this contest. In three previous elections, Buhari, an idol of the Northern talakawa (masses) to whom he owes his huge popularity in the North has not exactly enjoyed the support of the region’s political class. Especially in the North East, younger elements under the PDP who were aspiring to attain power at the highest level and had repeatedly bunked Buhari’s Presidential forays, are now in the APC backing him in what seems a desire to acquire power first through him before other interests would follow.

   Which is why it is strongly speculated that if Buhari wins the election, a clique of northern politicians may give him tough time, particularly in the area of repositioning the economy by fighting wastage and corruption.

   The APC propaganda also easily gives the South West roundly to Buhari, whereas the situation on ground is unlikely to be the exact case. Take Lagos, the inimitable birth-place and life-blood of the APC as well as the veritable temperature of Nigeria’s electioneering: the element of alleged indigenes’ simmering dissatisfaction with control and dictation in the APC is seen as likely to make the going a bit more difficult for the party this time around.

   With a record administrative performance by out-going Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola began by his predecessor Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the APC governorship, candidate Akinwunmi Ambode stands in a good stead to overcome the supposed strong challenge believed likely to be marshaled by the PDP candidate Jimi Agbaje.

   But the Presidential contest in Lagos seems a different kettle of fish. There may be no whitewash for either Jonathan or Buhari. Jonathan is likely to pick-up at least 40 per cent votes. The South West is not clean-cut for both APC and PDP. It promises to be a veritable battleground.

Who takes the presidency?

The Presidential campaign has been devoid of dept in the debate of issues and strategies, particularly how the candidates intend to pursue their programs and policies if elected. The campaigns had featured essentially plain electoral speeches and political promises and assurances, most of which are usually left unfulfilled after election.

   Take a major issue like fighting corruption on which both Jonathan and Buhari have spoken. There is a school of thought that the most feasible way to approach the malaise in this country is to gradually reduce the power and functions concentrated on the Federal Government, including cutting down on its institutions, agencies and government functionaries. 

   The Justice Idris Kutigi-led 2014 492-member National Conference, for instance, resolved so. For example, the body proposed a reduction in the sharing of funds in the Federation Account. Specifically, it recommended the cut down of allocation to the federal government from 58% and more to 42.5 per cent while states and local government share is upped to 35 per cent (from 23 per cent) and local governments 22.5 per cent from 18 per cent.

   It advised among others that the number of local governments in a state should not count as a criteria for revenue allocation; the President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo-political zones of the federation and not more than 30 per cent ministers outside the legislature; that the legislature should be part-time and that Local governments should no longer be third-tier while states should be free to create as many local governments as they desire. It scrapped the state-local government joint Account.

   The APC opposed the convocation of the Conference and did not participate. Meanwhile implementation of the Conference resolutions is the main plank on which Yoruba leaders under Afenifere endorsed Jonathan for second term. 

     On his part, Buhari in a speech at Chatham House London said there is no confusion as where he stands corruption. “Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed into my administration. First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only. Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political influence. But I must emhasise that any war waged on corruption should not be misconstrued as settling scores or a witch-hunt,” he said.

   Which of the two approaches should voters support: Jonathan’s expressed readiness to implement the confab resolutions or Buhari’s personal charisma and determination to build a new Nigeria from which corruption and other economic wastages shall be a thing of the past?



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