Could this be Atiku’s last hurray?
Political ideology does not fall from heaven. A political party could be ideological by virtue of the historical circumstances that gave birth to it. Of course, a political party could also transform into being an ideological one by virtue of the policies, albeit consistently, pursued by its leadership. Our political parties in Nigeria are relatively young, not least because of the short span in the consistent existence of our democracy.
In my book Party Coalitions in Nigeria, I delved into the history of ideological perceptions in our society – the perception of one group being “conservative” while the other is “progressive”. Even when these perceptions have been abused and subjected to political opportunism by political practitioners, they nevertheless guide how the future of party competition in Nigeria could shape.
Those who have endeavoured to interview potential voters in the just concluded 2019 Nigerian presidential election, would probably have observed that many Nigerians perceived the competition between our two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as a contest between the “poor” and the “rich”. There was this assumption that the former was fighting the “looters” of the national treasury while the latter sought to entrench the privileges of the tiny minority at the very top echelon of society. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the PDP, was alleged to have said he would enrich his friends as well as grant amnesty to those indicted of corruption, while his promise to privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was seen by many as a ploy in that direction. The rather supportive statements for the so-called opposition parties by seemingly meddling diplomats of privileged nations presented Atiku as more or less the preferred candidate of foreign interests.
The 2019 presidential election itself was fairly close in quite a number of states. This closeness suggests the two political parties are becoming entrenched and more competitive and this could mean political leaders would never again take Nigerians for granted. Atiku Abubakar mounted an impressive challenge against the candidate of the ruling APC, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. These two giants share same affinity, making it easily predictable that the influences of religion and ethnicity would be minimal in the election. The argument for a rotational presidency in Nigeria, especially by this writer, is that the scenario presented in this contest would help to “cross-cut” Nigeria’s deleterious cleavages, thereby helping to produce a more acceptable outcome in elections.
Be that as it may, the outcome of the 2019 presidential elections which favoured President Buhari, would, in retrospect, not have surprised an astute student of Nigerian politics. The South-East and South-South regions of the nation were acknowledged as bastions of PDP support. That Atiku Abubakar profited from these regions was not unexpected. However, the South-Western region tended towards the APC, ensuring a superior outing for Muhammadu Buhari in this region.
The North, where both contestants hailed from, was assumed to be the main “battle ground” in the election. Discussions with Nigerians from that region – the “Core North” – indicated to this writer that Buhari of the APC would maintain an historical support bordering on hero-worshipping in the region. More than his rather affluent and sophisticated rival, his perception of being a man of high integrity and modesty would seem to resonate with the dominant culture of the people. It is therefore hardly surprising that Buhari proved himself to be the authentic leader of the region over and above his rival.
The 2019 presidential election was generally acknowledged to be peaceful and transparent, except in violence-prone areas where there were serious issues. There was general apathy, resulting in abysmal low voter turnout. However, the collation of results in the 36 states of the federation was supervised by highly-regarded Professors and Vice-Chancellors of Nigeria’s universities. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, would appear to have shown great class and professionalism in his job, as well as great eloquence in his presentation of electoral situations to the World Press and observers, local and foreign. These officials, in my honest opinion, did reasonably okay in difficult circumstances. Nigeria’s democracy is relatively young; there should be great optimism for its future.
One had thought Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would gracefully accept defeat and congratulate Muhammadu Buhari on his not-too-surprising victory. That he has not done so, opting to go to court instead, can hardly be a plus on his dogged political career and history of seeking to be President of our nation. Of course, age is not on his side, and the presidency could be shifting to the South in 2023; that Election 2019 could be his “last hurray” might be cause for anxiety and desperation.
•Akinola is the author of Rotational Presidency and Party Coalitions in Nigeria, among other books. He wrote from United Kingdom
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