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Political power in Nigeria (5)

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
01 February 2023   |   3:00 am
According to Collins English Dictionary, the rule of thumb means, “a rule or principle that you follow which is not based on exact calculations, but rather on experience”.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu PHOTO: Twitter

According to Collins English Dictionary, the rule of thumb means, “a rule or principle that you follow which is not based on exact calculations, but rather on experience”.

It is distinctly applied here politically to mean the sovereignty of the electorate. It has two natures: independence and dependence. It is an independent variable at the abstract level, and a dependent variable at the practical level because, for sovereignty to triumph, several factors must be present. These factors, by no means exhaustive, include the electorate, party structure, alliance, identity, media, and money. I shall examine each of these factors in what follows.
The electorate, in other words, the body of voters, is the boss of democracy in a free and fair election. The number of registered voters and their party affiliations can greatly determine the electoral outcome in a majoritarian system based on the number of votes polled by candidates. If the registered number of voters is widespread and party affiliation is known, it is possible to forecast the electoral outcome. The record of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put the number of registered voters at about 93 million for the 2023 general elections. So, to determine the electoral outcome, one needs to look at the distribution of this figure across the six geo-political zones in the country. There is a caveat: the party affiliation of these voters being unknown, it is quite difficult to conclude the outcome of the election. Hence, we can only arrive at a general conclusion by merely considering regions with larger numbers of registered voters and their political affiliations and inclinations. 

In a democracy, political parties are the engine room of the process. Thus, the structure of a political party is an asset. A party without structure and a defining ideology can hardly pass for a political party in the real definition of the phenomenon. Political parties in Nigeria have been ad-hoc in nature, in the sense that they do not have fixed ideologies and enduring structures. They lack what Liu Shaqui calls temperance, in other words, discipline, and are characterised by what Charle Ehiedu Aniagwu, has called ‘politics of Jumpology’, a situation where political actors move from one party to another without the mediation of principles and ethics. To be sure, parties are special purpose vehicles (SPVs) for politicians of the Fourth Republic (See Edwin Madunagu, The Guardian, February 15, 2007). Party structure matters and rabbles are no substitute for structure. As Kwame Nkrumah noted long ago, the organisation decides everything. So, those with functional organisation structures are bound to maximize electoral capital. 

Way back in 1848, Marx and Engels laid the basis of alliance formation for parties in their The Communist Manifesto. They tutored that alliance by the working class should be based on programmes. A multiparty system is germane for alliance formation. The history of political parties in Nigeria is replete with alliance formation, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) in the First Republic, and the Progressive Party Alliance (PPA) in the Second Republic. Though it has been driven by a winning impulse than a programme, it does matters. It can be struck by political parties with interest groups other than a political party. The newspapers have been awash with alliance talk between the Labour Party (LP) and New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) without a definitive outcome. And the emergence of the G5 within the PDP has been a distraction for the party. For good or bad, the alliance formation will affect the fortune of parties that can weave alliance with interest groups or sister parties at the end of the day. 

The identity factor weighs up on the scale of electoral projection. It has micro-elements, namely, ethnic, religious, and ideological among others. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country, and ethnicity has been a major factor in its politics. The country is this deadly scourge. To put it differently, there is no fundamental transformation of the identity question. Thus, it matters in electoral calculations. Going by the regions, the Kanuri of the northeast for instance are likely to vote for a Kanuri candidate; Yoruba, a Yoruba candidate, with a foreseeable transition from Emilokan (it is my turn) to Awalokan (it is our turn). This applies to other groups in the country. For example, the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Umar Farooq Umar, and Alhaji Sani Zango Daura, former Minister of Agriculture, who urged Northerners to vote for their own in the forthcoming elections, expressed this current. It, however, earned a riposte from the elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai to the effect that the remarks were “not only divisive, unhealthy, but outdated” (see Vanguard, December 29, 2022, To be sure, candidates are already mobilizing their ethnic bases for electoral capital. Implicit in the analysis is the fact that ethnic factor may not play out as simplistically outlined, others, such as alliance does count. A religion which is an identity issue will play a role given the accentuation of this factor by the administration of President Buhari through deliberate ethnicisation and religionisation of appointments into public offices. Sections of people of the Middle Belt and the South do not trust the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC presidential candidate. The statements by Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, and Yakubu Dogara, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the effect that a Muslim-Muslim ticket was an insult to the Northern Christians is significant (see for example, See Punch Newspaper, July 13, 2022, This will have obvious implications for APC. Nevertheless, Bola Tinubu, with a wife who is a pastor in the vineyard of the Lord, chose his running-mate based on electoral calculation—to court the northeast votes. Perhaps, coming to grips with this fact might have swayed the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese to tell Christians to vote their conscience (see ThisDay newspaper, The politicians of the Fourth Republic are not enamoured of ideology—for the most part, they share a warped capitalist orientation in policy formulation.

This is why Peter Obi can insert himself into the Labour platform without espousing a working-class ideology. On religion, in retrospect, it can be said, it was not over-politicised in the June 12, 1993, presidential election that was based on a Muslim-Muslim ticket, MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. The tragedy of Nigeria is that it has always missed historical opportunities for nation-building in preference for sheer power. The future lies in the understanding that Nigeria belongs to all of us without domination of one by another, or of all by one.

While offering insights into “the concept of hegemony and theories of the media”, John Downing observed that “The Media, then, are an integral part of the institutional-ideological complex of capitalist rule, a part of the development of the ruling class in alliance with other classes’ (see The Me

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has revolutionised the information space, nudging it into an overload. Information overload undermines meta-narratives to the detriment of a clear vision of our world. Using internet tools, the public sphere is bombarded with all sorts of information. This has been used effectively in electoral politics to pass information, facts, or fiction, about candidates and their policies to the electorate. This has implications for decision-making on the part of the voters.

The leading candidates have been reduced to tropes by their cyber warriors. The ill-health narrative is tied to Tinubu; sleaze to Atiku; no- structure to Obi; among other slurs. In an appeal to the international community, the outgoing administration pushes a storyline of bequeathing a legacy of free and fair election to the country. These, for sure, will affect the cognitive scope of the voters, and ultimately how they vote. But it is to be noted that not all voters are digitally empowered to be fed with post-truths, that is, repressed objectivity.

The democratic process in Nigeria today is highly monetised; money plays a great deal of role in it. The prohibitive fee for party nomination forms alone disempowers aspirants for elective offices. Many observers of liberal democracy, especially the presidential system, have noted that it is expensive to run. This fact plays into the corruption web in the Nigerian system and cascades down to the electorate impoverished by the contradictions of a failed governance complex. In this respect, poverty is weaponised. 

The recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report on the rate of poverty in the country shows poverty is widespread. Those who have money exploit this vulnerability and buy off votes with cash to swing electoral outcome thereby undermining the agency of the voter. President indicated that the redesigning of currency and withdrawer limits are meant to reduce the impact of money on the electoral process.

However, the impact will not be meaningful; it is a wild goose chase. As Bismarck Rewane quite rightly observed in his analysis of the CBN policy, money isn’t just cash, goods are also money. Money is just an expression of value, so if you give someone, a car, fan, TV, etc. it is still money. Hence, politicians would always have their way in terms of material and monetary inducements of voters. The talk of the town is that account numbers of voters are being sought by political agents for compromise of their autonomous will. The victim in all this is the rule of thumb. Next week I shall look at the prospect of “no election’”
Akhaine, Ph.D. (London), former general secretary of the Campaign for Democracy in Nigeria, is a Professor of Political Science and visiting member of the Guardian Editorial Board.

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