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Silent grumbling shaping northern voters’ slant

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
04 February 2019   |   3:45 am
If there were any caveat about analyzing or forecasting the probable outcomes of the forthcoming presidential election, it would be this: Do not mind the atmospherics. Some pundits seem to be looking at two flexible indicators as they attempt to frame the likely scenarios and voting patterns for the presidential election. These elastic indices include…

Nigerian opposition presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar (R) waves during a campaign rally at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna on January 24, 2019, ahead of Nigeria’s general elections of February 16. (Photo by Sodiq ADELAKUN / AFP)

If there were any caveat about analyzing or forecasting the probable outcomes of the forthcoming presidential election, it would be this: Do not mind the atmospherics.

Some pundits seem to be looking at two flexible indicators as they attempt to frame the likely scenarios and voting patterns for the presidential election.

These elastic indices include the 2015 tally in the contest between former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari as well as crowd enthusiasm and turnout at current political rallies.

A significant point of departure in the impending electoral contest from the Jonathan presidency is the fact that quite unlike the near unanimous desire of the north to have the presidential seat returned to the zone, this time around, the prominent candidates are from the north.
However, going down to the grassroots, it is easy to notice the seething anger among the electorate in the north, especially among the downtrodden who are their numbers.

Although most northern youth seem comfortable with the return of premium political power to their region, they appear nonplussed as to the net return from that position to their state of social wellbeing.
After a tour of the north, which is considered to be home to a greater percentage of registered voters, it is obvious that northern electorate are divided on such issues as President Buhari’s performance in office, capacity for economic rejuvenation, as well as security and national stability.

Security/national stability
WHILE Nigerians from the southern part of the country accuse President Buhari of concentrating Federal Government appointments in the north, most northerners express worry that things are not moving well in their region.

The refrain among young men and women in Kano, for instance, is that abu ba ya tofia (commercial activities are not moving) as they complain about how things stand in the country.

But among the three broad subdivisions of the voting population, including the almajirai, educated young people and the elite, the increasing spectre of insecurity is a source of common worry. They wonder how, despite the President’s military background, the military under his watch could not stem the tide of incessant attacks and killings that have made life unpalatable in the region.
The president is also said to be favouring the Northeast geopolitical zone at the expense of other geopolitical zones that make up the north, just as Christians in the same Northeast maintain that Buhari has continued to marginalise them in terms of appointments and government patronage.
  Some of those who accuse the president of religious bias against Christians in the Northeast point to the travails of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, who they allege did not do anything different from what the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, has also been charged with.
On a bolder relief, instead of commendation, the president is blamed for the deep-seated division and inter-ethnic hate among the diverse groupings in the country, a development they said has helped to envelop the country with much apprehension as the general election draws near.
A strong issue is also being made about the religious sensitivity in the north, which has brought about a new dimension to the latent denominational differences between the various Islamic sects in the region, especially between Sunmi and Izala.   
Economic/social revitalisation

THE popular sentiment among the masses in the north is that the Buhari administration ushered in hunger and penury despite the much talked about Anchor Borrowers’ Agricultural initiative.       

Most of the distraught young persons, especially those without basic education that have been living on free income from politicians say they do not understand why Buhari is canvasing that when he becomes president he would take away extra vehicles from wealthy individuals that have more than one vehicle and leave them with just one while the rest would be distributed among the poor.

Such grandiose but unmet expectations of utopian welfare system or socialist redistribution of wealth are prevalent among the poor masses in the north based on the mythical rehash of Buhari’s years as a military head of state when warehouses were broken and essential commodities distributed to the people.
Perhaps, it was out of being overwhelmed by those massive and lofty expectations from his administration that Buhari seemed to have been lost for six months after his inauguration.

Unwittingly, in the campaign to defeat Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, Buhari and the leaders of All Progressives Congress (APC) built castles in the air, as they churned a manifesto of utopian programmes.  
APC and President Buhari have been trying to push back on the many unmet expectations on the grounds that the preceding administration squandered all the huge accruals from oil in the past 16 years.

But somehow the people do not seem to see the nexus between their present socio-economic condition and the argument of wasted years.

What is not lost on the people is why the president did not do any tangible thing for six months only to wake up six months to the end of his four years to talk about TraderMoni just because he wants another four years in office.
As the northern electorate remains confused by the lack of cogent explanations and clear outline of what President Buhari could offer if elected for another four year-term, the masses remember the years of PDP without concrete assurances on how the better life promise could come ab
out, but it did.
Again while the post-convention and primary election controversies and crises dog APC’s campaigns, the PDP, which enjoyed a magical comeback, does seem to offer vibrant competition.

Candidates of the opposition party have not been pushing, as hard as if they are hungry for votes should do. 

There is no doubt that funding has been an issue, especially with the ruling APC using the anti-graft agencies to stalk potential donors and political investors that could ordinarily have thrown some money in support of the candidates.

Even the old method whereby high networth contractors and businessmen contribute to the campaign funding of frontline rival parties has been minimal or absent.

However, the sluggish look about the campaigns could be traced to the incidence of vote buying, as the big parties seem to be conserving funds for late pitch with voters.

Referendum on Buhari’s performance
EITHER because they have not been well communicated or the paltry nature, many of the northern electorate that voted with enthusiasm for President Buhari and APC in 2015 displays a sort of languor whenever the issue is raised about who to vote for in the forthcoming election.
Despite the massive throng of people at campaign rallies by the political parties, voters’ preferences go deeper.

In making up their minds on who to vote for among the presidential candidates, many people think President Buhari has not done much to deserve another term, pointing out that his health condition could be responsible for that.
Concerning the fight against corruption, most people who said they have collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) said although they have been hearing about the fight against corruption, they don’t understand how it has helped to ‘repair’ the economy. 

While it is obvious that much public enlightenment about government’s policies and programmes have not been undertaken by government agencies, political parties have not fared better.
Voters recall how Buhari said he has never been as sick as he was when he travelled on a long medical vacation to London and his disclosure that the doctors advised him to eat properly and sleep plentifully.

Northern electorate recall those statements and feel that those pushing the president to seek another four years in office are not doing so for the interest of the north, just as they said it would not augur well for their region for them to encourage a situation similar to what happened in 2010.
President Buhari’s wife’s disclosures that her husband is no longer in charge of government activities and that two powerful persons have commandeered the execution of powers in the presidency contribute to the silent conservations about the coming presidential poll. 

Yet some northerners, especially the elite, express worry about the PDP presidential candidate’s promise to restructure the country. They worry that it would affect the fortunes of the region, stressing, however, that the reality of northern legislative majority would check any adverse policy proposition to tinker with the political structure of the country.
It is also among the elite that complaints are rife about the lack of clear actionable plans for sustainable development in the region in the Buhari Presidency, particularly policies that address challenges of abject poverty, skill acquisition, neo-natal and maternal health and out of school children.
The look on faces of most northern voters suggests a deep desire for clarifications on what President Buhari has achieved in office.

It is evident that the common people are confused, as they prepare to elect a president to pilot the affairs of the country in the next four years.
A notable Emir confided in The Guardian that unlike the southern part, the north does not make noise on critical issues of national politics. He disclosed, “as we speak (late December 2018) those people you see running around chanting slogans still see the election as between Buhari and Jonathan, but a few days to the election they would be told where the wind is blowing.”
Nevertheless, the typical belief that northern votes determine the ultimate outcome of Nigeria’s presidential election might not hold true this time around.

The dynamics of voting in the region seem to have been greatly altered by the aftermath of 2015 election and APC’s governance style and politics in the past four years.

Demographic revolution
WHEN he signed into law the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill, President Buhari jokingly pleaded with young voters to delay its activation till 2023.

But that admonition seems not to have cut any ice because in the course electioneering for the 2019 polls, there have been many manifestations that defy further wait.
The Nigerian political economy has shown an urgent need for recalibration and the old order seems not to be providing plausible panaceas.

Add to that, events in other democracies have young persons elected into office, with new knowledge driving leadership and governance innovations. 

Furthermore, the appearance on the scene of some promising young leaders including Omoyele Sowore, Fela Durotoye, Madam Oby Ezekwesili and Prof. kingsley Moghalu, helped to introduce a new dimension to the country’s democratic experience.
Signs of a possible demographic disruption in the forthcoming election emerged recently when a northern youth group, the Northern States Christian Youths Forum for Peace and Equity (NCYFPE) endorsed the presidential candidate of Young Progressives Party (YPP), Professor Kingsley Moghalu ahead of the 2019 general election.
In a letter titled ‘Letter of Endorsement,’ signed by its national president, Apostle Paul Adamu, NCYFPE described Moghalu as the most qualified candidate and “a consummate grassroots personality, God-fearing man with courage and stamina that steam from a trained mind.”  
While stressing that they have strategised effectively to deliver millions of votes of Christian youths from the three northern geo-political zones to YPP, the group reiterated: “There is no candidate more qualified to be President of Nigeria in 2019 than Kingsley Moghalu, whose experience, sound orientation and fierce commitment to democratic ideals put him head and shoulders above the rest.”

Similarly, Middle Belt stakeholders endorsed the presidential candidate of Peoples Trust (PT) Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, saying that President Buhari has failed to justify their support for him in 2015. 

The final word on this year’s general election would be how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) delivers the verdict of Nigerians through a transparent, credible, peaceful, free, and fair process.