By Amir Abdulazeez
When President Obasanjo carelessly picked Goodluck Jonathan to serve as Umaru ‘Yaradua’s potential Vice President in 2007, little did we know that the politics of choosing running mates would later become complex and problematic. The death of Umaru, the ascension of Jonathan, the surprising emergence of Namadi Sambo and Patrick Yakowa becoming the first Christian Civilian Governor of Kaduna State would all combine to later add more relevance to the politics of running mate selection. In 2014, APC had more headaches picking a presidential running mate than the presidential candidate himself. It took them so much time and effort that one thought they would organize a new convention for that purpose.
Today, the Muslim-Muslim ticket debacle is the bane of Nigerian political discourse. While clamouring for fairness and balance, which are needed for a fragile system like Nigeria’s, we should also remember that from 1999 to date, no religion can claim any net gain from this Nigerian version of democracy. Ordinary followers of all faiths have been victims of bad governance, even pagans. We have suffered so much that if a pagan/pagan ticket will eradicate insecurity, fix the economy and bring development while being fair to all interests and affiliations, we should allow it. Therefore, the choice is between searching for solutions and satisfying sentiments; we seem to favour the latter.
A section of public commentators and spectators are already suggesting a walkover for Atiku Abubakar in the 2023 polls. That is the biggest complacency I have ever seen in contemporary Nigerian politics. How can you be facing a ruling party with almost 65% of political stakeholdership in the country and be expecting to have a walkover? Atiku is an institution, but his successes in the last two PDP primaries are more financial supremacy than political dominance. That aside, barring a Buhari-like scenario, Atiku will make a good president. He is perhaps the only fully independent candidate with a clear and accessible blueprint since 2007. In 2011, he had a better manifesto and approach than President Goodluck Jonathan; he only lost the PDP primaries to the power of incumbency. By the way, what happened to the Jonathan 2023 candidacy?
From 1992, this is Atiku’s 7th attempt at the Presidency, with 2019 being his closest to success. Many believe 2023 is his year, and so many apparent factors call for optimism in his camp. However, two fundamental things may haunt Waziri; (in)consistency and (un)popularity. Buhari and Tinubu are successfully reaping the harvests of consistency and perseverance; they stuck to opposition politics all their lives. Atiku should’ve remained in opposition when he decamped to Action Congress in 2007 or should’ve stayed in the ruling PDP when he decamped back in 2011. Ambition had kept him running from one place to another, making him neither establishment nor anti-establishment. The second question is whether there is a single state in Nigeria in which Atiku can secure one million votes or more in 2023? I hope we all remember Dr Rabi’u Kwankwaso’s 3-K States theory?
Tinubu’s boast in Ogun State over his role in the emergence of Buhari as President needs some revisiting and clarification. To avoid doubt, Muhammadu Buhari did not lose the 2003 presidential elections; it was brutally rigged to return Obasanjo for a second term. 2003 will easily enter the list of the worst elections in modern world history. In 2007, the results of the presidential election were simply written, so we can’t even call that election not to talk of who won or lost. I have never relied on 2003 and 2007 election figures for research or serious analysis because they are primarily fabricated. The 2011 elections were relatively fair, but at least 40% of the vote was rigged, written, or inflated, especially in the South-South and South-East.
In the circumstances like these, we cannot comfortably declare Buhari a loser of all the previous elections he contested and only became a winner when he met Tinubu. Although 2015 was indeed the weakest version of political Buhari, it was confirmed that he had lost hope and that the APC merger spearheaded by Tinubu was what brought him back to life. But it is also true that so many other factors other than Tinubu contributed crucially to Buhari’s victory. One major one was the abysmal performance of Goodluck Jonathan. One, however, is that, without Tinubu’s support, it would’ve been near impossible for Buhari to emerge APC flagbearer against the financial powerhouses in Kwankwaso and Atiku.
This brings us to the argument that access to public funds is why some candidates (not aspirants) are stronger than others. Supporters of a particular presidential candidate even claimed that if their man had equal access to public funds, he would be better than certain candidates. This is laughable; a debate like this will take us nowhere. Just campaign for your candidate and persuade people to vote for him. If we are talking about the abuse of people’s trust and the utilization of our commonwealth for personal political development, none of the prominent politicians in Nigeria will come out clean. So, let us not deceive ourselves and others.
Where are our smaller political parties who had spent most of their last four years fighting INEC over deregistration? This is a reasonable amount of time they would’ve spent coming together to form a strong bloc. In case we don’t know, 74 of them were deregistered for failing to meet the requirements to continue to exist as political parties. About 10 to 15 of the currently existing will be due for deregistration by this time next year. Instead of them to consider merging to form a decent alternative, they’ll rather hang on only to be fighting a legal survival battle with INEC next year. As the strongest and largest intellectual organization in West Africa, I don’t even know why ASUU is yet to form a political party or adopt any of the smaller parties to set up a path towards satisfying their own demands all by themselves instead of waiting and hoping for a hopeless Federal Government.
Why is nobody talking about the enormous task ahead of the next president, whom credible international reports suggest will have to use 100% of his revenue in servicing (not repaying) debts by 2024? To execute projects or even pay salaries, the next government may have to borrow further. Nigeria is in trouble. We are drowning in the ocean of foreign debts. Meanwhile, we are concerned over a presidential candidate’s religion more than his ability to bring us out of this mess. Buhari has failed because Jonathan had built a solid foundation for that failure. Now he has built a worse foundation for his successor. The possibility and danger of the next president, irrespective of his affiliation and preparedness to economically be worse than Buhari, is imminent. May God help us.
All of the political dynamics of today are closely related to 1999, some a bit earlier. Suppose you have not directly experienced Nigerian political development from 1999 with a mix of some pre-1999 historical knowledge. In that case, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to connect specific dots that you see today. Extensive and intensive reading may help, but politely interacting with veterans will do better. Unfortunately, social media, where most of the political debates occur, is dominated by youths who knew little or nothing pre-2011 and don’t invest significant time in reading but trying to engage or even confront the same veterans that would’ve been their best opportunity at understanding the genesis of the current situation.
There are some visible changes in Nigeria’s socio-political spaces, although not new but have taken a different twist from the previous. The renewed order is the attempt to criminalize certain political choices against others. Between 2014 to 2018, discourses were dominated by hate, campaigns of calumny, fabrications and outright abuse. Today, political promoters are trying hard to make it appear that only their candidates are good enough, and any other choice is treason. This is extremism. Let’s be careful, everything is a matter of opinion, and everyone is entitled to his.