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The early arrival of 2019

By Sam Ohuabunwa
11 December 2017   |   4:16 am
As 2017 run’s to a close, Nigeria’s political environment has begun to rumble and bubble, perhaps too early for my liking. Activities are picking up with frenzy.

Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

As 2017 run’s to a close, Nigeria’s political environment has begun to rumble and bubble, perhaps too early for my liking. Activities are picking up with frenzy. Political parties are re-strategising and politicians are re-aligning. Abubakar Atiku just resigned from All Progressives Congress (APC), classifying it as a one-man party which is an opinion shared by many within and outside the party. Some say it is a two-man party broken into two-Buhari for the North and Tinubu for the South. People have criticised Atiku for moving too often from party to party and Atiku has defended himself that as a democrat, he gravitates to the party with the best democratic credentials at any given time and secondly that he has a mission to accomplish for Nigeria and he will use the best political platform he can find to attain it. He seems to have rediscovered this platform in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

There have been speculations as to whether President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) will seek a re-election. Two weeks ago in Abidjan, he seemed to have indicated his intention to run. This is in character, as PMB has tended to announce much of his policy options and critical decisions from abroad. For example, his famous 97/5 per cent rule was announced from abroad. Last week he resent this signal from Kano where he granted pardon to 500 prisoners. And with that indication, the equations and permutations begin to assume new variables. There are rumbles of mass defections from APC to PDP.

Some APC governors especially that of Adamawa State are said to be in a state of quandary. There are rumours that Senator Kwankwaso and his red cap disciples are planning mass defection to PDP. If that is true, I am hoping that the umbrella will be large enough to accommodate them along with Shekarau’s followers. The PDP convention held last weekend to elect a new chairman was already causing a lot of stir and may further polarise a party that is in dire need of healing. I have in the past given free advisory to the party that it needs a paradigm shift to regain the confidence of the voting public. It truly needs to reinvent itself. And what I saw on parade did not quite inspire hope. But that is the way of Nigerian politics – no logic, no rhyme and anything can go, though the recent Anambra elections destroyed some of the myths of Nigeria’s political culture.

This early arrival of the political season raises a few issues. The first is that it looks like the odds are against many incumbents, both at the federal and state levels. If you check around, there does not seem to be much that the incumbents can boast of. Nigeria is just coming out of recession. There is still plenty of hardship in the country forcing some Nigerians into untimely death in the Mediterranean Sea or into slavery in Libya. Many states are still unable to pay salaries as when due, despite many rounds of bail out and a few are just coming out from the courts. So it will be easy for opposition candidates to take advantage of these apparent slow (I am deliberately avoiding saying poor) performances across the board, disparaging the incumbents and regaling constituents with hyperbolic claims of how they would have done magic! If we waited till mid 2018 for example, perhaps the records would be better. That is perhaps.

The other critical issue that arises is the impact on the economy. The worrisome aspect is that for the Federal Government and indeed for many states, it is dangerous to shift focus from governance to politics at this time. The economy though recovering remains in a tough situation and deserves to have all hands on deck. Perhaps, this was the reason the President had been apparently reluctant to show his hand concerning 2019. This may also be part of the reason the last meeting of the leadership of the APC failed to declare their stand on the second term opportunity for PMB. Now that he seems to have been “forced” to indicate his interest, I am worried that things may go awry for the economy. And my worry may not be far-fetched. The recent action of the government against Intel which has now resulted in many firms withdrawing from the Onne Free Trade Zone may not be completely shorn of partisan political considerations. Atiku has fired the first shots and reactions have followed.

However, the positive side of this development is that money will begin to flow to the communities. The meetings, conventions, caucuses, rallies, etc will bring cash to the communities. To be sure, the people need all the cash that can flow from the political class especially at this time. Also the appointment of delegates, agents and coordinators to the different political parties and the different contestants will create jobs for some of the boys. Therefore some hitherto idle youths will find opportunity for some income. In a country where unemployment and underemployment rate in the youth population is close to 50 per cent, anything that can create some form of employment in a positive sense will be salutary. Some of the youths currently forced into deviant behaviours – kidnapping, armed robbery, economic migration or sex trade – may redeploy to political assignments.

But when all is said and done, our political office holders must resist the temptation and pressure to abandon governance and plunge head on to political manoeuvring. The tenuous recovery of the economy requires concerted and dedicated implementation of the economic recovery and growth plan. Divided attention this early in the electoral cycle will be gravely injurious. I am just thinking aloud!

• Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR,