President Muhammadu Buhari (R) and Atiku Abubabar
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
The road to Nigeria’s 2019 general elections may not be literally rough but it would be dramatic with reverberating effects.
The actors, actions and rhetoric signpost a race to be shadowed by peculiar issues and others not too common with election cycles in Nigeria.
Like past election periods when traditional factors took the country to the brink, chances are that current narratives may further diminish Nigeria.
It is yet to be seen whether the conversations and events, so far, are capable of edifying the political culture in Africa’s most populous country.
This may be dismissed as a doomsday prophecy, but some determinant elements synonymous with elections in the country cannot just fizzle out so long as Nigeria remains a nation of weak institutions.
After all, Nigeria, like every other country, has its historically-based electoral practices that determine the actual nature of its political system.
For instance, any analogy of elections in the country can be termed incomplete if the influences of ethnicity and religion are wished away.
In the current race, their place has not been displaced by any indicator but Sunday Vanguard observed that they are not key issues.
Going by the mood of the nation, the debate over 2023, performance, sycophancy, insecurity, federal might/security agencies, corruption allegations/role of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, global human development ratings and lip service on restructuring would prominently impact 2019 conversations, especially the presidential race.
Surprising wave of support
Conversely, it is unlike the 2015 race where President Muhammadu Buhari won through a surprising wave of support, economic fears, ethno-religious divisions and overcoming poor perception of his human rights’ record. This time, the indicators observed by Sunday Vanguard will dot the political scene in ways that could pose a new test to those things that bind the country.
In that process, divisions would be exacerbated across the states, just as the prospects of positively shaping the political landscape would remain slim.
To fully appreciate the issues observed by Sunday Vanguard, consider the following:
Anyone thinking that federal might is not an issue in this election cycle probably belongs to those who consider the excessive use of federal power normal.
That line of thought is possibly illusionary since federal power has been a permanent fixture in Nigeria’s elections since the 1964 federal elections which were marked by manipulation.
Writing about that exercise in Nigerian General Elections: 1951 – 2003, Ahmad Kurfi explains:
“In all regions, the campaigns for the elections were characterised by arrests and imprisonment of political opponents by agencies of regional governments and denial of permits to hold public meetings or processions.”
Indeed, findings by Sunday Vanguard also show that the 1979, 1983, 1993, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 polls were no exception.
They were, indeed, tensed as a result of the partisanship of state institutions and actors occasioned by the disposition of incumbent central governments. There is nothing on the ground to suggest that things would be different this time. Nervousness exists across the country over the thinking that the ruling party would perpetuate anti-democratic acts with the power of incumbency. At the Osun and Ekiti governorship elections, the ruling party was accused of using its control over the security architecture to influence the outcome.
Neutrality of security agents
For instance, many journalists, who covered the Osun re-run poll, recounted how security agencies, apart from scaring away voters, intimidated members of the opposition. Observers considered the two scenarios (Ekiti and Osun polls) an affirmation of the fear that the neutrality of security agents is being doubted as 2019 approaches. In the South-South, political activities are already being shaped by accusations and counter-allegations over the alleged use of the police to suppress opposition elements.
Most of the states in the region have witnessed frequent redeployment of police commissioners amid allegations of partisanship.
Many across the six states in the zone are agitated about this and have not stopped seeing it as the major challenge to the prospects of a credible exercise in 2019.
Concerned by the trend, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, recently, fumed that the police and the Nigerian Army have become tools for the ruling political class. The agencies are often quick to deny the allegation, but Sunday Vanguard believes disabusing the minds of Nigerians would be a herculean task. After all, security agencies in Nigeria are structured to naturally play the role of regime protection for any administration. It has been like that for ages; therefore, observers are not surprised that it is an issue now.
As if the 2019 presidential election had been won and lost, talks over power shift have distractively taken the centre stage.
From President Buhari to some top players in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the 2023 rhetoric seems to have become an obsession.
Even the leading opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has a voice in the chorus, though, minimally.
The APC hardly convenes any forum in the South-East geopolitical zone without making such promise, which Sunday Vanguard considers as an attempt at rapprochement.
The seeming fixation on power shift as a bait was considered funny by analysts given the deep-rooted mistrust among the country’s power blocs.
As tempting as the promise is, whether it is strong enough to swing votes is doubtful.
Nigeria’s ethnic tripod
Nonetheless, it is a big issue in the race since Igbo is the only leg of Nigeria’s ethnic tripod yet to produce a President since 1999.
The zone’s only stint at the presidency was the six-month reign of the late Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966.
Had faithfulness to political pledges been a virtue in the country, the zone would have been easily swayed by the promise, no matter where it is coming from. But many outside the ruling party think there are prospects with the choice a former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, as the vice presidential candidate of the PDP.
To them, Obi or, better still, the PDP vice presidency is the surest path to Igbo presidency in 2023.
Would Atiku serve for one term?
The plan is simple: Should Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, serve for one term as he was quoted to have said, whoever is his vice could succeed him. But would Atiku serve one term?
Privileged information at the disposal of Sunday Vanguard suggests that such belief may have been responsible for the revolt against the former governor’s nomination by some Igbo politicians supposedly positioning themselves for the 2023 presidency. In the South-West, 2023 is also among the factors driving some 2019 permutations among power brokers. The body language of some major players of South-West extraction in the Buhari administration has not implied that positioning for 2023 matters less to the zone.
For the 84 million registered voters in Nigeria, what seems to matter most is security. No one should be deceived that government at all levels have greatly performed the primary function of providing security. The country is challenged by various forms of insecurity that include Boko Haram insurgency, killings by herdsmen, kidnapping, banditry, ritual killings among youths and armed robbery. These security issues have intensified in record manners, suggesting that they could be exploited for political gains. Besides, the insecurity in the land could impact the ability of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to deliver credible elections. The observation by Sunday Vanguard is in agreement with the commission’s recent revelation that prevailing insecurity is a threat to a successful conduct of the polls.
Therefore, from now up until February 2019, one of the key questions among voters is: Who is more capable of ending the alarming insecurity?
Before the 2015 general elections, no poll in the country had been overwhelmingly decided by performance in critical areas. Though some still dispute reports that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan lost as a result of the failure in security, others think it contributed to that historic defeat.
The same scenario is playing out on larger scales, as President Buhari is believed have under-performed in most areas.
In fact, this is the major issue since many Nigerians believe they have not fared better in the last three years.
On the streets, ‘for this Buhari time’, is a common phrase which illustrates the difficulties of these times. It further expresses the frustration of the common man in a country the World Poverty Clock, a website that monitors real-time progress against poverty globally, said an estimated 11 million jobs have been lost under Buhari’s leadership. The same platform revealed that Nigeria has overtaken India as the world’s headquarters for “extreme poverty.”
Key Performance Indicators, KPI, show that the administration is still struggling to fulfil the 171 promises it made in the build-up to the 2015 elections.
Though modest gains have been recorded in agriculture, infrastructure, and counter-insurgency, the economy is still struggling, the cost of living is high, the minimum wage is worthless, energy availability remains a challenge, the business environment appears unfriendly, while Nigerians are more divided along ethnic lines. In sum, performance is one of the evaluative elements that could shape the 2019 discourse.
Corruption allegations/anti-graft war
Corruption allegations against some candidates vying for various elective positions are already dominating the 2019 conversations. Various parties, especially the APC and PDP, regard it as a weapon against political opponents. The presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku, is receiving bullets in that direction over unsubstantiated claims that he was barred from visiting the US. The PDP, on its part, does not fail to highlight corruption allegations against officials of the Buhari administration. Notwithstanding, there is apprehension that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is regarded as partisan, may be used to do the bidding of the ruling party. The fear was heightened by the commission’s activities in Benue State following the state governor’s defection from the APC. The same played out in Akwa Ibom State where officials of the state government are reportedly being hounded, in moves alleged to have had the blessings of the Presidency. Chances are that similar actions could be extended to other opposition figures. The mistrust about the commission’s intention is so real that its recent decision to monitor the funding of campaigns is seen as an attempt to stifle the opposition. Apart from the fear that the commission would be biased in doing that, it was argued that the EFCC lacks the power to do so.
The practice whereby parties and candidates buy votes in elections is as old as any other electoral vice in Nigeria. A decade ago, Michael Bratton, in his piece, Vote Buying and Violence in Nigeria Election Campaigns, observed: “Almost one out of five Nigerians is personally exposed to vote to buy and almost one in ten experiences threats of electoral violence.” The pattern has taken various alarming forms since the last Ekiti governorship election won by the APC, making it a major issue in the build-up to 2019. No party is free of the allegations as they are all disposed to it. At the moment, the ruling APC is facing a barrage of criticism from various quarters, over claims that its TraderMoni programme is another form of vote-buying. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, under the scheme, is currently distributing N10, 000 each to traders across the country.
However, the level of poverty in the country contributes to making vote-buying attractive to potential voters. And there is no likelihood of decline despite INEC’s lamentation that it could lead to violence during the general elections.
Global human development ratings
Nigeria’s growing poor rating in global human development issues is a source of anger to those, who agree and disagree.
The generally mixed reactions have reflected in the conversations around the elections.
Being ranked as the global poverty headquarters, the country with the highest inequality among its citizens, highest contributor to infant and maternal mortality rate, 16th least peaceful country, and 6th worst countries for doing business in Africa are issues of consideration to potential voters. Sadly, instead of driving the electioneering discussions, especially among the candidates and parties, pedestrian subjects tend to be more attractive to them.