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Beyond May 29: Buhari’s body language and future of APC, PDP

By Akpo Esajere
25 May 2015   |   12:49 am
WHEN it comes to change, there is no knowing how it will happen or what form it would take. The transformational phenomenon – a revolutionary tonic that drove the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s historical success in the recent general elections must be the party’s main worry as it prepares to take over the reins of government at inauguration a little over a week from now on Friday, May 29, 2015.

Buhari-Assembly-CopyhaWHEN it comes to change, there is no knowing how it will happen or what form it would take. The transformational phenomenon – a revolutionary tonic that drove the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s historical success in the recent general elections must be the party’s main worry as it prepares to take over the reins of government at inauguration a little over a week from now on Friday, May 29, 2015.

Waiting in the way is the usual Nigerian style of doing things –the tunes played by politicians, and how the people sing and dance to, and dance with them.

It is specifically recognized in the Constitution, in various forms, in particular as Federal Character. Down in the street, it is more commonly called “Nigerian Factor.” Some even angrily refer to it as “prisons of Nigeria’s birth” or “hangovers of 1914 amalgamation.”

It partly played out in the Presidential election. The coalition of the Hausa/Fulani, also called the far North, and the Yoruba Southwest oiled the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, and his party’s victory.

Other zones and their states contributed. But the two groups, which incidentally, command the country’s largest population figures, are the “seniors” or “main investors” in the electoral partnership. Behind this, is the basic propelling force: far North, constituted by North East and North West, insistence that power has to return to the region.

Then, there was other groups’ electorate (especially key North Central states like Plateau and Benue) added desire to have a change of political leaning and vote for the replacement of the incumbent government.

All this actually worked together, leading to the peaceful outcome of the polls that has now caught the world’s fancy. Again, it is how it works in the actual votes cast in the respective states: politicians would rather call it produced.

When it comes to sharing of offices, posts, positions and all, trust politicians or their leaders and godfathers to argue, “What did you bring to the table?” or “how many votes came from your state?” It goes without saying that, the Southeast and South-South, which did not support APC, but voted the rival and defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates would be worsted: they have no bargaining chips.

Political impact of block votes Large votes, all of which were well above one million, were produced from Northwest states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Jigawa, Kebbi, and Zamfara.

But for the Boko Haram insurgency that had ravaged some of the states of the Northeast, millions of votes would have come to the APC as well from the zone’s states, especially Borno. Even so, Buhari and his party harvested most of the votes there.

It is the important point Kano State out-going Governor and Senator-elect; Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso sought to make with a series of paid adverts; that his state produced for Buhari and the APC 1,903,999, the single largest among the 36 states.

Buhari and expected Change Thus, it would be sticky for Buhari whose fourth and successful run was consummated by active support and collaboration of a backing cast of the elite political class, based on public perception of him as one to rely on to save Nigeria, especially from ingrained corruption.

He is rated as “hateful of corruption as if the hate was God-given to him,” and “he only in the country can do something about it.”

An interview he granted a columnist of a National Daily obviously on personal recognition about two weeks after he won the March 28 Presidential election gives an idea of how Buhari’s mind is working about it, particularly the enormity of the job before him and how he intends to go about it.

An excerpt of the conversation: “It has reached a point that Nigerians have had enough, and the majority truly yearns for a country that is well run, an economy that is structured and buoyant, a military that is capable to defend their country, the judiciary the ordinary man can repose faith in, institutions that are structured, disciplined and patriotic… “…A lot rests on leadership.

People take cue from leadership, its body language, the matching of its utterances with its actions, its transparency.

Nigerians are not by any yardstick different from human beings all over the world. “And I will not accept that we are doomed to remain backward, undisciplined, unproductive, corrupt, for life. No. “For a start, I will declare my assets publicly from day one, and I am asking my deputy and cabinet ministers to do likewise.

If you can’t abide by that then you don’t take the position. Then, after that, the eyes of the world will be on you and your dealings to see by how much your declared assets have astronomically multiplied while in office.

“The institutions for checking against corruption will be strengthened and well-funded and headed by like-minded incorruptible people.

When Nigerians believe in the leadership and, in the system, things will start to change and roll spectacularly. “I believe in Nigeria, and I believe majority of Nigerians want a change for the better.

I believe that when they see a leadership that is open, transparent, progressive and purposeful, Nigerians will support any action or step to reorder the system and structure without necessarily bringing the roof down on everybody. “I agree that the legislature issues need to be addressed and urgently.

I will support a unicameral system and I will support a reduction in size and remuneration and even the executive…..the job at hand is for everybody to do.

We will all have to join hands and heads to bring the change we all want about….” Reward for political investment A major problem posed by politicians today is taking politics and public office as investment, nothing more.

A big challenge before the APC and, specifically, Buhari, therefore is how to “take care” of “sponsors” of his election, as well as reward his kinsmen – his primary support base – and zones, states, and personalities that “fought” for him, while, at the same time – (he had better handle this one with care!) ensuring “acceptable” equity and balance, even with zones and states that did not vote for him.

Anyway, Buhari had better be drastic with calls for reward; if not, the story could never be far from the same. For instance, he could start with twelve ministers to cut costs and to gradually increase the number.

After all, although there is a constitutional requirement under Federal Character for all 36 states to be represented at the federal level, there is not enough for everybody. Past Presidents have had to manipulate (‘play politics”): some will get more than one, some the “plum” slots, some won’t get – accounts for the ragging winner-take-all politicking.

After all, the 450-member 2014 National Conference, the nation’s most recent effort to restructure the federation, recommended not more than 18 Ministers. The APC didn’t believe in it and didn’t, as a party, participate. Buhari’s kinsmen at the talks, and well before, have never supported a lean government.

On the contrary, they had championed a bloated one, which they had controlled, and are back in control. Buhari is thus expected to stage some form of rebellion against his kinsmen and the establishment. Senate President Out there at the National Assembly, it is already a well-heeled political war in the APC, even more emotionally charged than in the time of defeated PDP.

For while the PDP operated mostly with a prior zoning arrangement, the APC, which is seeking to govern, not rule like the PDP, has to navigate with both zone and who gets what at the same time.

Buhari elects to go “due process” according to his spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, last week.

For public consumption, the statement could mean the President-elect will not openly scheme for any particularly candidate or would support, on Thursday, June 4th when the 8th session of the federal legislature convenes, anyone the legislators vote for in their Chamber, playing by rules.

Not this President! And here is how one of Buhari’s predecessors, still alive and kicking, was said to have done it in the case of the election of a former Senate President, whose election papers the courts regularized only moments before sitting, thus getting caught up in traffic. Senators had gathered that afternoon in the Chamber.

It is the first business, possibly the only business of the day – the very first outing. A call came from Aso Rock to the Clerk of the Senate, the organizer of business at this stage, to delay a while because the nominee for the post (not his nominee) is delayed arriving Chamber.

Buhari doesn’t have to do it that way. However, if the APC has to convey right from take-off that it is “no longer business as usual” the President-elect had better let his party and the Senators “know” (that is “hit the ground running”) that he is for either a Senator Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State or a Senator Ali Ndume from Borno: takes care of the Northeast.

The reasons are obvious: The National Assembly (both Senate and House of Representatives) have a ranking convention, which taken as a whole, only any of these two, who have been legislators right from the Reps and have never been state governors should get the nod of their colleagues.

Leave it for survival of the fittest and they don’t stand a chance against any of the former governors, including Senators Bukola Saraki and George Akume, both two-term former Governors, powerful politicians in the Senate, and now determined to add Senate President to their already fat CV. The former two would have found already whipped to underdog, even in the media.

Ordinarily, all of them are eminently qualified in terms of zonal/state participation, legislative experience and even outstanding or glamorous antecedent. However, the two are set apart by not being former governors.

No state governor in this country – who claimed extra official largesse in the form of Security Votes – could ever be accepted by Nigerians as “clean” and Buhari and APC had better err on the part of parliamentary culture here or risk starting off on a “compromised” note.

Besides, the APC must watch out for out-going Senate President, Senator David Mark and his party PDP.

A scorched snake is not the same as killed. Mark, in Senate since 1999, the highest legislative officer in the last two consecutive sessions of the parliament, highly regarded, having conferred a cognitive measure of stability on h the legislative arm and the out-going executive arm of the defeated government, is well liked by Senators. Here, Buhari would have to shun niceties, move and “put APC in order” as not to risk a punch that would spoil the fun for the new governing party.

The opposition set-up in Reps in which Aminu Tambuwal’s (now APC Governor-elect in Sokoto) Speakership the ending House session, masterminded by the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, no longer exists, except in the Reps where APC raked a working majority.

In the Senate, PDP, going in united with 48, to a divided APC with 60, is dangerous for the parliamentary battle. Next Speaker Here, two zones – Southwest and North-Central are said to be in arraignment.

And it promises to be a fight-to-finish with possible political repercussion, unless either of the Northeast or North-Central gets Senate President, in which case, the other settles for Deputy Senate President.

Even more so, as former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, an APC foremost chieftain is believed to want it for his South West base, and is further said to be sponsoring outgong House Minority Leader, Femi Gbajiabiamila from Lagos. Tinubu, credited with nominating Vice-President-elect, Prof Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), is likely to stir the hornet’s nest.

It will be intriguing how the Northern caucus of APC delegation to the Reps will react to “one man nominating and commandeering,” as they are likely to view it.

Furthermore, with Buhari from Northwest (Daura, Katsina) and Osinbajo from Ogun (papa Awo’s Ikenne), the APC could find itself in the PDP pathway.

The APC risks a reverse re-enactment of the PDP mishap of Tambuwal, who, along with his Deputy-Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha Southeast (Imo), up-staged the PDP zoning formula, setting off a political fire, whereby the Northeast, initially earmarked to have Deputy-Speaker lost it; South-South, (“a minority zone for that matter”) pocketed President, while Northwest (“that zone again!”) enjoyed both Vice-President and Speaker.

The Southwest (a majority for that matter) was denied – “robbed” to some, and “we are reduced to slaves in our own country” to others, causing an uproar in the zone that was to add momentum to APC’s rhetoric for working with the North, and to successfully move the zone into politics at the Centre.

It, of course, goes without saying, that this galvanized and greatly enhanced Buhari’s penetration of the Southwest and modestly improved his votes in the Southeast and South-South where he had usually been turned down.

PDP and bouncing back Depending on how Buhari and APC handle the big issues, it is early in the day to determine the fate of the two leading political parties, especially the PDP: having held power for 16 years, its structure built originally as unity platform, with an outlay of national followership, will not perish overnight.

The APC had better play it smart, and reduce to the barest minimum, the predilection to seek reward for political investments on electoral victory.

Had the party lost the election, chances are that it would have unraveled to complete disintegration, and the leaders/founders of Legacy Groups that formed it, would have returned to their bases altogether than continue to trade in what in the Nigerian context would be dismissed as a jamboree.

The APC, formed less than two years ago, essentially saved its neck, successfully wrestling power from the PDP at one go.

Without a candidate of Buhari’s popularity, especially in the North, APC can’t be said to stand any chance against the PDP any time soon.

And so, the PDP could not be cast aside in a hurry before the next election in 2019, although this depends on how the APC plays it.

Here is something that must be read as a warning to politicians particularly those of the APC by the PDP stalwart and out-going Senate President, Mark, that, his party adherents must not regard opposition as a death sentence.

Mark describes the role of opposition as strange to the PDP clearly in the sense that the party was accustomed to winning. But it is a match and there will be a return leg.

“The role of opposition is strange to us but it is not a death sentence. We should be ready for the challenges. We are prepared to play a credible opposition. I believe the nation and indeed Nigerians would be the best for it. The failure of yesterday should be a lesson for a better today and a triumphant future,” he says.