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Decision 2011: It’s Crunch Time—What Are the Auguries?

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published April 5th, 2011

It is crunch time for Nigeria and Nigerians in general and the political candidates in particular, for whatever has a beginning must have an end even though this universal truism has literarily been turned on its head with regard to political contests in Nigeria. Nigerians know the beginning of elections but they don’t know their endings because in truth there is no end to Nigerian elections. When the contestants finish with what one might describe as “Stage One,” which is the ballot phase, they transit almost automatically to “Stage Two,” which is the judicial phase where the judiciary does its own “for-warding and back-warding” abracadabra till the beginning of another election cycle in four years to continue the electoral/cum judicial rollercoaster ad infinitum.

Democracy has spawned a “Judicial Cottage Industry” that produces governors and parliamentarians, and sooner or later presidents too for political parties and candidates that lost out in the general elections, but who could afford the price tags or have the right connections to overturn the apple-carts. What shame! That is the cruel fate that has befallen Nigeria’s democracy and to which we are therefore compelled to look forward even in these most troubled rounds of elections.

Yes it is crunch time and the political marathoners have entered the home stretch. The “frontrunners” have lurched themselves forward and have come into bold relief while the faceless “rearguards” disappear into the equally faceless crowds of anonymity from whence they came. Thus by the time this article hits the newsstand the results of the National Assembly elections will have been declared by INEC even with the abrupt postponement of the elections till Monday April 4, 2011, sorry, till Saturday April 9, 2011, in the further rescheduled date as against the original scheduled date of April 02, 2011, due to “logistical problems” that INEC probably could either not foresee nor foreseeable. 

The journey has been tortuous and tortured; full of drama and tension, hopes and fears, all mixed together in the bedlam of confusion. It all began with the giddy declarations of candidacies for the various political offices notably the senatorial, gubernatorial and the presidency in their perceived order of importance. Though I would hasten to acknowledge the importance of all elections in our toddling democracy, I’m primarily concerned here with the presidential election for obvious reasons, because it is the “face-book” of our democracy and all other elections pale in comparison. This was clearly evidenced in the heated and sometimes riotous debates generated by declarations of intents by presidential aspirants and the high-wire politicking that it engendered particularly in the PDP where zoning was made to acquire a life of its own and became the driver of political activities in that party and even beyond.

The declarations of intents to run were, however, followed closely with a cascade of jamborees officially dubbed party conventions/primaries convoked to give concrete expressions to those earlier declarations one way or the other, with INEC on hand to either rubber stamp or upturn the choice of party candidates obviously in deference to interlocutory injunctions handed down by the overly meddlesome judiciary, which INEC had loudly decried as conflicting and therefore unsettling to its own agenda. Who knows, perhaps those injunctions were responsible for the postponement of the National Assembly elections, but don’t quote me. At least Jega did not blame his embarrassing failures on the judiciary this time around. How many more postponements are coming down INEC’s production pipeline since our experience with Jega’s INEC has shown that one postponement begets another and another with no end in sight?

Yet INEC has itself managed to fill its 120,000 DDC machines or whatever was left of the stolen stocks with some 74 million names. Whose names, you asked? Well, some are Nigerians, others are foreigners, and still others are duplicates and multiples of Nigerians probably requiring some sanitation of sorts of the voter register with proper verification. Jega has himself assured that the sanitation exercise had been duly carried out and the voter register has been purged of ghost names that had invaded and occupied its hallowed pages although no one has gone out to verify the accuracy of this claim, which has surprisingly seemingly been taken at face value by the press and the political class. Why so, you asked? Is it because the political class and the media trust Jega so much that his claims are taken as the truth, the real truth and nothing but the truth? Lucky Jega, he seems to have earned their confidence but on the basis of what I don’t know. As for me and many Nigerians though, Jega’s assurances have become red flags indicating that danger might be lurking somewhere at INEC.  

Which got me thinking: Shouldn’t the nation take to the advice of former US President, Ronald Reagan, who told his countrymen and women not to simply trust the Russians when they claimed to have drawn down their strategic nuclear stockpile as negotiated in disarmament talks between both nations, but to “trust but verify”? Those three words were all Reagan asked his people to take to heart and give effect to in relation to the former USSR: “trust but verify”. And those words couldn’t be more germane and applicable to Nigerians than now, faced with a man like Jega that is wobbling and fumbling his way through our electoral territory seemingly with a broken compass that is always pointed in the wrong direction.

Yes folks, some Nigerians and foreigners too are doubles and multiples that could manifest themselves in two, three or more places at the same time to vote with all the vaunted inbuilt security features embedded in INEC’s data capturing machines. Those security features have turned out to be mere digital decorations to fool the nation. This INEC, under Professor Attahiru Jega could not claim to have bested the records of his predecessors, in particular, Professor Maurice Iwu’s in giving us a credible voter register, both in terms of numbers registered, the accuracies of the data captured in the DDC machines, and overall credibility of the register as a whole. In other words, the nation did not get maximum value for its money, (N87bn). And INEC should have some explaining to do because it is not enough to dump the blame on politicians alone. Electronic voter registration may not have been his idea since it was begun under Maurice Iwu before now, but it was its baby this time around. Therefore INEC’s failure to deliver on this could not properly be blamed on the politicians. The buck should stop at its own desk otherwise there would be no responsibility and accountability anywhere in the system. Blaming the judiciary, politicians, vendors, security agents and everybody else but itself amounts to passing the buck and dodging responsibility and accountability on the part of the leadership of the agency. 

Even so a nation determined to go to the polls; not just going to the polls but going to the polls and getting it right could not be held back by a discredited or faulty voter register. And so enters the presidential debates, the first of which the PDP candidate who doubles as the president of the country absented himself on the ground that it was not organized on a national platform but on a rather elitist, closeted, private platform not otherwise accessible to the generality of Nigerians, and the second of which the opposition candidates who attended the first summarily boycotted on the ground that the PDP candidate had absented himself from the first.

Hmm! Quite interesting, isn’t it? If you asked my opinion on the reasons advanced by the candidates for taking themselves out of the debates, I would say straight away, that pre-election debates do not matter much because they do little or nothing to change the mind of the electorate that is already made up anyway. For example, Senator John Kerry defeated GW Bush in all but one of the three debates in 2004 with one ending in a tie, but Bush the debate loser proceeded nevertheless to trounce Kerry the debate winner in the presidential election. Besides, pre-election debates are not part of the entrenched political culture of the nation but a recent innovation probably introduced in the aborted Second Republic when the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), defeated Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), and proceeded to win the election, not on the basis of his debate victory however but on the basis of his widespread popularity and acceptability across the board.

This was continued under the OBJ administration and spilled into 2007 elections that produced late President Musa Yar’Adua. But it has been limited in scope to just one debate by presidential candidates leaving out the candidates for other elections. That is not to say, however, that pre-election debates are not necessary or welcome, but to put matters in some context. No doubt debates have their place in a democracy, and they should be encouraged. Participation in pre-election debates affords the candidates a chance to present their plans to the electorate in real time, and the electorate or at least of part of it that is tuned in, all things being equal including PHCN’s good behavior, a chance to assess the candidates in return. However, it is all voluntary and never mandatory. If for nothing else pre-election debates offer immense entertainment value to the nation and should be absorbed into the bloodstream of the nation’s democracy as part of her democratic rituals.

Candidate Jonathan’s reasons for not attending the first NN24 debate seem plausible couched as they are in patriotic and populist terms. This writer wholeheartedly subscribes to the notion that presidential debates should be handled by a national rather than a private and parochial platform with a foreign element. It makes absolute sense to hold these debates under a national as opposed to a parochial platform if for nothing else but for the sake of patriotism, more so as there had been precedents set in the past to guide the exercise. It is not tidy to have every group organize presidential debates. If they want to do so they should move to the states to organize debates for gubernatorial and house elections. With that said, courtesy demands that the Jonathan campaign should have informed the organizers ahead of time that he would otherwise not be favorably disposed to attending. To this, however, Jonathan himself has further explained that there was a “communication gap,” between his campaign and the organizers. And I would take him at his words. The reasons proffered were great, but their communication to the organizers was botched. No big deal.

But would Jonathan’s absence at the first debate be valid reason for the opposition candidates to gang up to “boycott” the second debate? I would leave that to the judgment of the readers. But if you asked me, I thought that was altogether puerile and childish. I wouldn’t even call tit-for-tat as some commentators have done but scoring an own goal for literarily vacating the stage for Jonathan to strut his stuff before a national and international audience.  It is even more distasteful for the opposition to have insinuated debate rigging on the part of the organizers, as usual without proofs of any kind whatsoever but by their mere say so. That was the lowest of the lows. Such grotesque, unsubstantiated and outlandish charges would have landed these candidates in deep trouble if they had been made in a more civilized, rationalistic and saner clime where hard facts are sacred and respected more than raw emotional hemorrhage and unremitting verbal diarrhea.

While attendance was entirely voluntary as indicated earlier their advertized reasons for absenting themselves have shrunken their statures to those of little minds and grumpy candidates because their reasons were couched neither in noble nor in patriotic terms as did Jonathan’s. Tit-for-tat should never be found in the territory of real or aspiring leaders but in the province of avengers and sadists. It was a tactical blunder that resulted in a public relations disaster even if they do not appreciate the niceties of public relations in those parts. They did themselves in and I would blame it on their public relations teams.

They needed these debates more than Jonathan who is getting all the publicity due in part to the power of incumbency which generates free publicity for him in his official duties. And publicity is the lifeblood of political contests, the more the better, and that’s why candidates and political parties spend huge sums of money on publicity related activities. It’s a no brainer. The opposition candidates started well by embracing the debates, which, by the way, they had been calling for all along with the Jonathan camp appearing a little dodgy at first fearing that it would be turned into mud-fest rather than issue based, to which the opposition charged that the president was afraid of what I don’t know. Now, who is afraid, if fear was the reason? It’s unfortunate that they allowed childish sentiments to becloud their reasoning and quit the stage when it mattered most—a national platform that could have provided an ideal forum to cut into Jonathan’s commanding lead in the opinion polls. If they had been excluded by the organizers like they did to Kris Okotie they (opposition candidates), would have cried foul and brought down the ceiling on our heads, but they took themselves out of reckoning and silenced their own voices so close to the D-Day when their voices should be loudest and clearest. For candidates who started their campaigns so late that it was like an afterthought the debates could have been used to make up for lost grounds at least to fulfill all righteousness. By quitting the stage for Jonathan they had symbolically quit the presidential election and unwittingly returned Jonathan to Aso Rock un-opposed. That is the symbolism depicted in their action. Yes even politics has its own symbolism too. They couldn’t have wished for a worse outcome.

Now, there is a lot of idle chatter over possible presidential election runoff being seemingly promoted by opposition elements in the media. The idea being pushed into the public domain is that the presidential election will be stalemated necessitating a run-off in which the opposition candidates would stand behind one of them to face Jonathan. Why Jonathan and not somebody else in the crowd? It’s reality setting in. Well, such idle musing is in and of itself an admission that the opposition candidates cannot stand against Jonathan in their own right individually. It’s a good thing though that some realism is finally creeping in albeit belatedly after all the cluelessness. However, such realization should have informed party mergers or some kind of working arrangement not after but before the National Assembly elections. Doing so after those elections could be too little too late since the results of the election would most certainly create bandwagon effects in favor of Jonathan with a sense of inevitability setting in.

By the way, who has been doing the strategic thinking for these parties? It appears the opposition has been mired in tactical rather than strategic thinking in its war games with the PDP. This writer would therefore advise the candidates to bury such thoughts for the reasons adduced and use the window provided by the postponement of the elections to retool. Doing it after the NASS election will not work, at least not with the kind of commanding lead Jonathan presently enjoys in the opinion polls, which is likely to hold steady, all things being equal. The opposition candidates have put on their thinking caps too late in the day when the war is all but won and lost. The debate was the last card for the opposition to unsettle this equation if at all but being clueless as always they squandered the opportunity. 

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all. When we take a critical look at the political landscape with particular reference to the presidential election we find that it has shaped up to be battle between one southern based candidate under the PDP platform and a plethora of northern-based candidates under different opposition parties going it alone with the southern-based candidate maintaining a commanding lead in all three pre-election public opinion polls conducted so far. Having failed to forge a working relation the reality is that these parties are working against one another at the polls and not just against the PDP even though they have refrained from attacking one another and have reserved all their fireworks for the PDP. It makes no difference.

There is no doubt that the PDP is a much hated political party in the land having been in power for 12years with little to show for it in relation to the resources at its disposal. The fact of the matter is that the PDP cannot run on its records because it hasn’t achieved much other than the GSM revolution. All other things like NIPP, Railways, refineries, health and educational reforms and rehabilitation of facilities are still work-in-progress that are yet to be delivered and therefore cannot be reckoned with by the electorate at this moment in time.

That should be music in the ears of the opposition if the opposition was a real one and not the opportunistic and clueless opposition that it has turned out to be. Under normal circumstances therefore PDP would have been dead meat for the vultures. But circumstances are never normal in those parts of the globe. On the contrary circumstances are always abnormal. There is nowhere this abnormality has manifested itself more poignantly than in the failure of the opposition to come together to confront the PDP as one and settle their differences later. As always, and as earlier predicted in my previous articles, all talks about party mergers and working relationships have collapsed like a house of cards before they got started largely due to irreconcilable differences, which is euphemism for ego trips. More than anything else, this singular factor has ensured PDP’s continued hold on power since 1999 and there is no indication whatsoever that 2011 will be any different. The party itself has declared that it would rule the nation for 50 years before relinquishing power for the opposition. With an opposition like this the PDP could rule for eternity. It has happened in some countries including the US where opposition parties were shut out of power for decades not years, and Nigeria has joined their ranks.

There is yet another abnormality that conduces to PDP’s continued dominance of the polity. What is it? You guessed right. Zoning! Every major ethnic group wants to taste presidential power in Nigeria. Those that have had it want some more of it, and those that have never had it want it badly, and the PDP has cunningly dangled that bait before them to look up to, which no other political party has done. Every major ethnic group has therefore invested its political capital in the PDP and regardless of the storm that the tweaking of the zoning formula had generated in the PDP the party has wisely maintained that the policy remains, alive and kicking. Those were not my words but the exact words used by the Chairman of its BoT, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, at the grand finale of the Jonathan/Sambo presidential campaign in Abuja. The party’s NEC said that previously at its 12th meeting, which gave Jonathan the green light to contest.  Those words uttered before the crème de la crème of the party in Abuja were meant to send a clear message to the major geo-ethnic groups that their hopes of getting to the presidency lie in and remain with the PDP as the other political platforms are too parochial, regional and puny to deliver for them.

The message being subtly delivered is that PDP alone provides the national platform for the actualization of the presidential ambitions of not just the candidates of the party but the geo-ethnic groups as well. No ethnic group or individual that hankers after the presidency wants to take itself or himself outside the PDP constellation. Its reason why people like Abubakar Atiku backpedaled from the ACN to rejoin the PDP. It’s reason why Ciroma’s NPLF made PDP and PDP alone its business, because it couldn’t care less about ACN, CPC or the ANPP, for all they are worth. The north or elements thereof, that currently feel betrayed by Jonathan’s candidacy have nowhere else to go but stick it out with the PDP.  The South/east that is starving for the presidency has nowhere else to turn to but stick it out with the PDP. Ditto for the South/West because the opposition parties have refused to grow themselves into national platforms and those like the ANPP that began as national platforms have shrunken into regional secret conclaves. Short of mergers and acquisitions, the opposition parties would have to individually grow their parties to equal the size of the PDP in both numbers and geographical spread in order to be in a position to countermand and neutralize the effect of PDP’s zoning bait. But that is not going to happen overnight either, leaving the PDP to rule the waves as far as your imagination takes you. As indicated earlier, the party itself has put out a timeframe—50 years! No thanks to clueless opposition.

And here comes the Jonathan factor. Although PDP is a much hated party, most Nigerians see Jonathan as a reformer and one who has been untainted by the sins of the party he leads even though he is at home with certain of the leaders of the party that many Nigerians love to hate. Jonathan has managed to carve for himself a separate image of a genial personality; a caring and loving president who is out to remake the party in his own image, which is markedly different from its unflattering image. The conduct of the party’s presidential primaries have helped to promote this new image which the opposition parties have been unable to match as their party primaries were nothing to write home about. Even as they castigate the PDP they themselves have no records of their own to run on when it comes to democratic practices and the PDP has left them way behind in the dusts in the department of internal democracy viewed through the prism of the party primaries.

Smart Nigerians see all these happenings regarding the utter failure of the opposition parties to lead by example rather than by mere platitudes and criticisms of the ruling party. And the Justice Salami scandal has not helped the image of the more vociferous segment of the opposition parties particularly the ACN whose governors in Edo, Ekiti and Osun states are now derogatorily referred to as “Judicial Governors”, that is to say, governorship positions acquired through the judiciary rather than through popular votes, which has the veneer of illegitimacy, at least for their critics and there are millions of them out there. That is a stigma no democrat would want to acquire let alone a political party aspiring to national leadership. Jonathan’s total obedience to the rule of law even while the judiciary was clearly being used to dismantle the PDP in the South/West has not been lost on Nigerians as well.

All these and more have left the opposition candidates attacking the PDP itself more than Jonathan himself who is the party’s flag bearer and perforce ought to bear the brunt of their attacks. Attacking Jonathan would not yield any appreciable political advantage for the opposition parties due to his clean image and his style of leadership, coupled with his reformist agenda. And attacking PDP itself has not yielded much electoral advantages either due to the undemocratic predilections of the opposition parties. The only noticeable line that has been overused is the bland allegation of rigging plans by the PDP which is more imaginary in nature than real since no concrete or any proofs are supplied to back up the allegation. And what is more, the fact that Jonathan had promised to deliver on  free and fair election this time around as an article of faith and has been hammering on that promise consistently seems to have rendered alleged PDP rigging plan charges less credible and completely out of place under Jonathan’s leadership. And that is why the opposition seems to have been stuck in the mud with the polls having their candidates trailing Jonathan far behind.

All the above identified factors are working together to undo the opposition and deliver Aso Rock to the PDP and Jonathan. But there is one other factor that has proved quite decisive and that relates to the fielding of multiplicity of presidential candidates against Jonathan in the Northern parts of the country. It is the dumbest thing for the north to split its votes among four presidential candidates with the rest of the country taking a different path more or less. True Ribadu of the ACN might get some votes in parts of the South/West particularly in Lagos state, which is hugely populated. But Lagos state is the most cosmopolitan state in the nation with many migrants from other ethnic groupings that might not have much to do with Ribadu, much less other parts of the South/West. This was made evident in the ACN presidential campaign rally in Lagos where Fasola and Tinubu’s names rather than Ribadu’s rented the air. In almost all of the ACN’s presidential rallies, Tinubu’s image loomed larger rather than Ribadu’s, who is the actual party candidate. That must be troubling and Ribadu is not the leading candidate in the North either. He can count himself out of the South/Eastern and South/Southern votes for sure. That he can take to the bank, I assure him. And even if he gets all the votes in Lagos state which is a tall dream, he cannot make any headway with that nationally, because of the splitting of the northern votes with Buhari, Shekarau and Jonathan.

For all his grassroots image Buhari is in a much worse shape in the Southern parts due largely to his despotic antecedents while he was military head of state when he sent many of the governors in that region to jail including Michael Ajasin, Bisi Onabanjo, and I should add for good measure Professor Ambrose Ali of then BENDEL state, all of whom eventually died in prison while he left his kinsmen in the north off the hooks.  Indeed Buhari is bad news and quite toxic in the south compared to Ribadu not only on account of what has been related above but on account of his religious bigotry and his violent disposition. His choice of a southern Christian clergy has more than cemented that image which he is battling to run away from. Putting a Christian mask on his religious bigotry is not at all a clever strategy. He overdid it by going for a pastor rather than just a Christian with sound political experience and followership. His choice of running mate betrays total condescension and an attempt at running away from his own records and it shows. 

In a twist of irony Buhari’s strengths of grassroots popularity in the northern parts lies his weakness nationally because his supporters are being perceived as a bunch of religious fanatics and that’s why his rallies have been likened to “religious crusades” rightly or wrongly. This is made worse by the fact that he lacks institutional organization on the ground with his party being so young that party governors could have provided.  Of all the presidential candidates Buhari is the only one without the institutional backing of party governors and governmental structures to help him. He is more or less like a political orphan.

There is yet another unseen factor that will undo Buhari most decisively and that is the Shehu Shagari and the Ibrahim Babangida factor. These two influential northern power brokers both have axes to grind with Buhari. Buhari it was that overthrew the Shagari’s government in 1983, just three months into his second term and aborted the Second Republic and then NPN zoning arrangement that could have brought the presidency to the South/East with Dr. Alex Ekweme as his VP then or at least to the south in general. Buhari is the last person Shagari would endorse. He has instead endorsed Shekarau in his place. And IBB it was who overthrew Buhari in turn. Although Buhari was the injured party in this case the fear of Buhari taking his pound of flesh on IBB when he gets to power stays the hands of IBB in supporting Buhari’s presidential ambitions. That helps to explain why IBB endorsed Ribadu instead of Buhari with the preachment of allowing the new generation to rule, to further rub it in. That endorsement and the statement were directly aimed at Buhari and no other. In view of the zoning sentiments, IBB could not be seen to openly endorse Jonathan but it is clear to me that he is in fact doing just that behind the scene. Did he not congratulate Jonathan after his victory at the PDP primaries? That is the most he could do publicly but his Niger state governor, his political son who was supporting him is already in the Jonathan camp. What does that tell you? So much for Buhari, he is going nowhere even in the North. He may even lose Katsina his home state just as Abubakar Atiku lost Adamawa his home state in the PDP primaries. Politics is a strange game.

The ANPP candidate, Ibrahim Shekarau is in a better shape than Buhari in that he has ANPP governors to help out with the votes. He seems to have done well in office too going by media reports. At the NN24 debate he was reported to have done pretty well besting Ribadu and Buhari. But he is still a paperweight and little known in the southern parts of the country. Besides ANPP is no longer the ANPP of yesteryears but a walking corpse whose body has been decapitated. There is no question, however, that he will take Kano state the largest state in the north handily, and perhaps parts of Kaduna and elsewhere in the north, including Sokoto state with Shagari’s endorsement. But that’s pretty much it.

All of the above leaves one with the inescapable conclusions that Goodluck Jonathan is the candidate to beat. The die is cast and the presidency is his to take. The only obstacle that had been standing in the way of Jonathan has been the zoning issue which has been handled in some way even though there are still some lingering feelings of disapproval in certain quarters in the north which cannot be wished away or underestimated. Therefore some uncertainties lie ahead in that regard.

With that said it is unthinkable to expect PDP governors in the North going for re-election to work at having a president of a different party at the center. That would amount to shooting themselves in the foot. It is true that governors do not necessarily control the streets, but their influence cannot be denied in their respective domains and the PDP has commanding control of the states that should help elect Jonathan. If for nothing else, having Jonathan working against the governors since presidential election precedes gubernatorial election in the order of election is not an option. It is in their interest therefore to work for Jonathan’s election. That is not rocket science but pragmatic, survivalist realism. 

However, Jonathan’s public pledge of doing just one single term of four years in office and his reported refusal to commit himself in writing to cede the presidency to the north at the end of his term as allegedly demanded by the Mallam Adamu Ciroma’s NPLF group should help to assuage those ill-feelings in the north and at the same time help to re-assure the South/East zone that he has not sold out to the north. The president should be commended for standing up for the constitution rather than allowing himself to be led by the nose. Whoever told the Ciroma people that the president has the authority to unilaterally cede the nation’s presidency to any geo-political zone must be kidding. For the avoidance of doubt that is a decision for Nigerians and Nigerians only to make, zoning or no zoning. When the nation comes to that bridge it will devise the means of crossing it and still hold together in one piece not in pieces.  Long live the Nigerian nation. Happy polling!

From the stable of –Cutting-Edge Analytics-- More than a Blog, It’s a Learning Experience!

Franklin Otorofani is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst.


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