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By: Law Mefor
 Published November 30th, 2010
“Men of the future must not only understand their past but also the forces that forge the present.”
- A philosophical thought

With the north pulling off the consensus candidate stunt, the 2011 presidential race has dramatically narrowed to President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari. Of course there are other candidates but lack of firm political structures and requisite huge capital gives such others less than outside chance in this peculiar race. Unless the votes will not count, on May 29, 2011, any of these three men stands a more than a fair chance of being sworn in as Nigeria’s president.

Many have given it to the president for the incumbency he enjoys and for the fair-weather character of the Nigerian politician, majority of who are AGIP - any government in power. But many more emerging forces are beginning to eat deep into whatever this incumbency means, thereby throwing the race wide open should the presidents’ strategists remain complacent. 

What many saw as naivety of president’s men was their insisting that achieving consensus among major northern candidates was not plausible and worse still, their reported celebration of the emergence of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, ostensibly as a weaker and preferred opponent. To wish away this caliber of man - a bull and a foremost prodemocracy fighter, who stood up to Obasanjo in the apogee of his power - is truly the height of political naivety if indeed the president’s men celebrated it.

In the face of all this, the nagging question that has just reasserted itself is: can Jonathan be the first incumbent president to lose in Africa? Apart from an increasingly independent INEC that may not lend itself to manipulation, many  other factors that could blight the chances of the president to retain power beyond May 2011 appear not to be   within his grasp any longer. And many more odds are stacking.

It is all about the growing and diametrically opposed desire of the north to the President’s ambition to finish their term in office that was started by the late Yar’Adua and truncated by his sudden death. There is no doubt that this desire yielded a northern consensus candidate in the person of Vice President Atiku Abubakar. And that is also why the region carries on as if it is make or mar all-out war which will now move to the next level of the struggle - mass coalition - with the aim to deliver the much needed bulk votes that will place Atiku in a better stead than the president.  For the PDP primaries, it is a delegates’ election. But the damning question remains: will the average delegate from the north be elitist enough to resist the sway of the regional rallying cry?

There has always been the debate on whether we still have a monolithic north. Whereas it may not be correct to say that the zone is still intact as it was when it was ‘Jamer Mutanin Arewa (One North, One People)’ under the enviable leadership of Sir Ahmadu Bello, it will equally be wrong to say there is no longer any northern consensus. The region just proved it wrong with the emergence of Atiku. Come to think of it, every region in Nigeria has had occasion to rally for a common cause, the north being most consistent and most prolific, followed by the west.

Yes, the minorities of the north motivated by the likes of TY Danjuma, Solomon Lar, Jerry Gana and many others, are struggling to free themselves from core northern domination and assured the president that the region is already in the kitty. Though this effort has yielded much fruits, it is still not uhuru. The current reality is that in an election to decide a today’s Nigerian President, the Middle Belt is likely to go the other way. Yet, the mid region is never in a position to take everything away or be decisive in who governs Nigeria in a democratic process. In the Second Republic, for example, NPP of Azikiwe won Plateau State, NPN won Benue and PRP won Kano, and yet Shagari still emerged President with nearly the entire south going either UPN of Obafemi Awolowo or NPP of Azikiwe.

As I once wrote on the same matter, unless he fights much harder, whereas incumbent Jonathan may win in majority of the states if not in all the states, he may still not win the race ultimately. How? The Electoral Act gives 2 basic conditions for the emergence of the President: (1) the candidate shall score 25% of votes cast in 24 states and (2) lead with a simple majority. A closer look will show that there is no state in the north that will not produce 25% of votes for a northern consensus candidate, including Benue and Plateau. Fair concentrations of Muslims in all states of the north and those sympathetic to the zoning logic will always ensure this. They may be in minority in some states but there and their number growing with each passing day.

What is more, such candidate, spotting a southern vice, can also easily win 25% in  5 more states in the 17 states in the south to make up the first constitutional requirement i.e. 20 northern states if you add the FCT, which is considered a State by the Electoral Act for the purposes of electing the President, plus 4 from anywhere in the south. It then means that winning 25%   in 24 states will not be a problem to a northern consensus candidate as well as for incumbent President Jonathan.

If this is the case, it then means the problem will occur more for the President with the second lawful requirement, which is scoring a simple majority.

The other fact is that the consensus factor may well go beyond the PDP primaries   if Jonathan gets the PDP ticket ahead of Atiku. Indeed, this may as well be the time for ANPP/CPC/opposition coalition to rise and shine if it succeeds in making Buhari its arrowhead where Atiku fails to get the PDP ticket.

It would have been a positive score in advance for President Jonathan if he had succeeded in keeping the north divided by keeping Saraki, IBB and Gusau in the race. Though in politics anything can happen, ours remains a guided democracy and a vivid poverty-stricken environment where money will continue to play a decisive role for a long time to come. Yet, monetary inducement may play second fiddle if the northern delegates are made to understand that this election means their survival.

The other debilitating factors against Jonathan are the subterfuges of the PDP governors and the pariah status of the PDP that is forcing a growing number of Nigerians to desperately seek an alternative.

Other damaging factors that may also play larger-than-life roles and give opposition some upsetting and unexpected impetus, as this presidential campaign gathers momentum are many uninspiring and unpopular policies which the presidency is toying with since Jonathan took full charge of the nation. Some people say fuel queues have disappeared but the president is said to be thinking seriously of increasing the fuel price. The persisting artificial scarcity (most filling stations now sell from few pumps) is said to be in anticipation.  The other is the return of external borrowing shortly after the nation managed to exit Paris Club and its other external creditors. The CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi and minister of finance Akanga have both taken a swipe at Atiku Abubakar for raising these issues as well as his lamentation on depleted foreign reserves when he was unveiled as the consensus candidate. But they are, no doubt, some of the issues that will determine the presidential election if it ever has anything to do with issues and policies.

Perhaps the biggest time bomb is workers strike for a new pay structure.

Concretely, Nigerians need security, food, water, schools, roads, and more importantly, electricity. Till date, the specter of the absence of steady electricity supply has refused to go away. The president must deliver especially on power if he hopes Nigerians will take him seriously over his desire to continue in power and go to stand in the sun and rain to register and vote to ensure it.

Even his Niger Delta people would want to know what the President has done with the Amnesty Programme bequeathed by Yar’Adua, which hasn’t progressed fantastically, to tell the truth. The return of MEND and shooting battles in creeks are no positive scores for the president. Many have said that keeping in line with promises made by the late president when he set up the Ledum Mitee Technical Committee on the Niger Delta Crisis, President Jonathan would have long issued a white paper of its findings and gone far in its implementation. This hasn’t happened and there appears to be no hope it is going to happen.

The real battle may be at the interparty (general) elections should Atiku fail at the PDP primaries. What is likely to happen is that the north will move the same support to Buhari and by then, through further coalescing, ANPP/CPC/Labour party and many more would have joined either side and ANPP and Labour appear amenable to the Buhari cause.

The one factor known to be capable of  giving it to the north in the final analysis is the consensus factor and it is already in place. The main idea is to deliver a minimum 70% of its core votes to one candidate and this can happen since the region has succeeded in prevailing on the big candidates to drop their ambitions in favour of one anointed candidate – Atiku Abubakar. 

The truth is that simple majority votes come through majority registration, majority voting and bulk delivery. These factors are in short supply in the South. Voter registration exercise is never fantastic in the South, especially in the South East followed by the South South and then South West in that order, whereas in the north even the disabled, the blind and the cripple, will struggle to register, vote and follow through.

The prediction that there shall be a greater number of voters to register in the North than in the South is therefore merely stating the obvious. This is not to say that the north has higher populations, but in the matter under reference the region posts a healthier frontier with equally stronger chances of pulling together up to 70% of its votes through consensus, with weaker chances of the south achieving the same.

What is more, since INEC cannot declare results greater than the number of registered voters, whoever is in a position to garner a simple majority of these votes shall carry the day even if he does not lead in majority of the states.

Atiku Abubakar and Buhari are all worthy opponents. With the active support of the gladiators who have agreed to step down in mobilization of funds and votes, President Jonathan may be kissing Aso Rock goodbye sooner than his supporters can imagine. The fact is that the much orchestrated  Jonathan’s incumbency factor can help him only to the extent that it stops the north from reenacting a consensus and delivering a bulk vote to one of their own since the majority of registered voters and those willing to vote and follow through will be in the north.

As it stands today, President Jonathan is walking a tightening rope and tilting the weight in his favour in weeks to come will heavily depend on many of these factors and perhaps more as handled by his strategists. He certainly needs the good luck that propels him now more than ever before if he indeed hopes not to fail where all despotic African leaders have succeeded – succeeding themselves!

· Law Mefor,  author and journalist, is Director Center for Leadership, Social and Forensic Research, Abuja.234(0)803-787-2893;

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