With Atiku and Obi, Nigeria’s Political Space Lightens Up
by Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR.
The drab Nigerian political environment has lightened up. The expected ‘unexpected’ happened. Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria was elected at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries held in Port Harcourt recently. It looked like this was never going to happen. Not just that this was the fifth attempt of Atiku to become the presidential candidate, but so much obstacle was put on his way by seen and unseen forces. As if those forces were not strong enough, the competition became even stiff in his new ‘old party.’ For the first time in the history of PDP, there were 12 solid contestants, each who could easily have become a formidable presidential material.
Indeed, the choice was a very tough one for the party. The party was very conscious that the country was looking up to it to produce a formidable candidate that will square up with President Muhammadu Buhari who has received endorsement from 15 million All Progressives Congress (APC) members to stand as the party’s candidate for the 2019 elections. Talking about 15 million APC members reminds me of the video I recently watched of one Mr. Biggi who was trying to commit suicide by hanging on a plantain stem.
A lady, perhaps, his wife was trying to dissuade him from taking his life. “Mr. Biggi, what is your problem?” “How can APC say that 15 million people voted for the President at the party congress, when they were only 7000 delegates at the convention? It then means that in the election, they will announce that 100 million people voted for Buhari.” Is that all Mr. Biggi? Please do not kill yourself,” the woman pleaded. I responded to the video by saying that Biggi was not serious. If he wanted to commit suicide indeed, why would he choose to hang from a plantain stem? Nevertheless, Biggi made his point. Not a few Nigerians marveled at APC’s 14.8 million voters for the President at the primaries. Another commentator in another medium concluded that APC was only preparing our minds. I did not quite understand what he meant by “preparing our minds.”
The PDP primary, as I said, was keenly contested. The venue for the convention which had earlier been decided upon was reopened leading to some controversy. Luckily, this potentially divisive issue was settled. Then the gambles as to who would win the day intensified. On Saturday/Sunday 6/7 October 2018, the PDP organized what has been dubbed the freest and most transparent primaries. Some, however, argue that given the allegations of delegate buying, how free could the election be? Others counter that delegate buying or vote buying, which has become part of Nigeria political culture, is a common denominator and therefore, cancels itself out as a significant determining factor.
When the results were released, most Nigerians were pleasantly surprised that all the twelve distinguished contestants accepted the verdict without as much as a grumble. This is unusual; as in Nigeria’s political culture, no one loses elections fair and square. Again, this seems to be an evolving trend with PDP. Since President Jonathan set the record of accepting defeat without a whimper, it seems that a new culture may well be on its way. Chairman Uche Secundus and leaders of PDP deserve some commendation for this great feat. Maybe PDP has learned some lessons! This contrasts sharply with the situation with APC primaries. Virtually all the primaries except for the 15 million-man affirmation of the President were enthralled in major controversies, though the 15 million votes announced has itself generated debates across the aisle.
Indeed, the way some of the primaries were conducted made many Nigerians very sad. In Lagos gubernatorial primaries, the chairman of the electoral committee sent to conduct the elections announced that no primaries were held. But three hours later following consultations with Abuja, the man shamelessly announced the results of an election which he had said never held. In Imo, the ‘militant’ national chairman announced to the world that the results submitted by two factions of the electoral committee were fake giving credence to my earlier question: is Nigeria a fake nation or a nation of fakes? The chairman of the electoral committee announced the result of his own elections in Abuja instead of in Owerri where the election was supposed to have been held citing security concerns. The secretary of the committee and other members sat in Owerri and wrote up a new set of figures that favored Governor Rochas Okorocha’s son-in-law.
After the governor went to see the president, a rerun was ordered, which was boycotted by one faction, giving Okorocha’s faction leeway to return Uche Nwosu. The story is similar in many states and in Zamfara, things were so bad that even this INEC had to rule APC out of order, virtually foreclosing the possibility of APC fielding candidates in the 2019 elections. I believe this is only a bluff by INEC as it is certain that INEC would be over-ruled by Abuja. Indeed, APC made a real mess of its primaries that the President’s wife Aisha could not keep her cool. In her characteristic forthrightness, she blasted APC for rigging its own primaries.
This is really painful as it has already begun to taint the credibility of the 2019 elections. With Ekiti and Osun elections still fresh in people’s minds, the sanctity of the 2019 election results is already being put to test. Every well-meaning Nigerian must be praying that this APC government will conduct national elections that will not produce fake results. They must aim at equaling if not doing better than PDP’s performance in 2015.
Atiku’s victory has brightened up the political space. Nigerians now have a lot to talk about in beer parlors, social media, radio/TV houses, markets, motor parks and in offices. There are excitement and animation in the polity. For and against. But within one week of his emergence as PDP presidential candidate, Atiku has hit two bull eyes. First, he got President Olusegun Obasanjo to support his candidacy. This is a most significant accomplishment, almost like a miracle. Since 2003 when Atiku as Vice President threatened to displace Obasanjo prematurely but later reneged after Obasanjo “prostrated” for him, he has been at daggers drawn with Atiku. He has painted Atiku with the brush of corruption and has done everything to demonize him. Despite several apologies by Atiku and several visits to Obasanjo’s hilltop mansion, Baba Iyabo had refused to forgive.
As recently as one month ago, Obasanjo reiterated his opposition to Atiku ever becoming the President in his lifetime, even saying that” God would not forgive him if he forgave Atiku.” But within one week of winning the primary, Atiku has mobilized all the resources – human, material and spiritual to make Obasanjo to swallow his words. That is certainly not a mean achievement and perhaps exemplifies Atiku’s character as a man who will not give up on any problem and who knows how to mobilize forces to move mountains.
The second bull was the choice of Mr. Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State as his running mate. Truly the South East has great men and women who could pair with Atiku but to be true, none beats Peter Obi. Peter is a tested hand who gave a sterling account of himself as the governor of Anambra State. His landmark achievements in Anambra remain visible and audible. He was an effective governor. He was prudent and remained ‘human’ in and out of office. Peter belongs to that rare class of state governors who governed well, brought development, security and peace to their states exhibiting the highest levels of prudence and efficient resource management. Today, Peter is very well respected and regarded not only in the South East but in most regions of Nigeria as a politician with integrity.
Yes, his opposition to the second term of the incumbent governor of Anambra may have rubbed off some of his cult following in Anambra state, yet he remains perhaps the most popular and well-respected past governor in the Southeast. Therefore, the choice of Obi has been acclaimed all over the nation and there is a consensus that given his private sector background in banking, business and investment he will prove a very capable Vice President and will ably help the president manage the economy if they win the election.
Therefore, it is looking to me like the Nigerian political equation, which in one of my recent dispatches was described as difficult to balance, now looks solvable as the number of variables has declined, while constants have increased. Yes, we have so many other presidential candidates from the newer and smaller parties, great people like Dr. Kingsley Mughalu, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Sowore, Fela Durotoye, Donald Duke, Dr. Mimiko, Prof. Jerry Gana etc, the 2019 presidential elections may just be a duel between Buhari and Atiku.
The third force, of course, could play the role it played in Osun. Nevertheless, it is too early to predict the outcome, but it will be a real fight. As long as INEC avoids the predicted and predictable shortcomings and boobytraps, the first real political contest between an incumbent President of Northern Nigeria extraction and another candidate from the North promises to be a real derby and may turn out to be quite decisive for the future of Nigeria.