The incumbency factor in 2003
We have discussed the justification for the president to seek re-election in 2003. Our reasons were simple: that if the President is convinced that he is doing a good job, then he is free to exploit the opportunity for a second term that is provided by the constitution. We have seen that it has been the tradition of past civilian regimes to do so; he will not be the first. What we are actually worried about, as we said last week is the consequences that will follow such a decision if the majority of people in the country are not impressed by his performance during the first term and if in spite of that he turns out to be the winner of the election. His second term then would certainly be unpleasant, and the political climate will be characterized by apathy and disappointment.
Having established that the president is most likely to seek re-election in 2003, today we will be concerned with the possibilities of his success. As the reader will see, the possibilities are strong, as we cannot find an opposition strong enough to defeat him anywhere in the country.
The President has already learnt the essentials that transformed him from a general to a successful schemer in party politics. What is essential in politics is not the means, but the end. I have once mentioned how he made the present party officials become the winners in the last convention. We have seen how he successfully toppled Okadigbo as the President of the Senate. Na-Abba has to retreat to save himself from the emasculation.
I am not unaware that the Awoniyi camp is busy rallying supporter for the next convention. But even if that convention is to hold a thousand times before 2003, the President has at his disposal all that it takes to see his candidates through. If he could win at first instance when he was only a toddler in politics, nothing will make him lose now when he has all the weaknesses of his opponents at his fingertips.
Not all candidates from the North will vote against Obasanjo’s candidates at the convention. Very few will be ready to stand on principles. The majority will be glad to follow the traditional practice of selling their votes and so on, as it happened during the last election, and as it will continue to happen. The factor of money aside, delegates from some states will prefer to remain with Gemade in as much as that will guarantee the power of their ‘saviour.’ They see Awoniyi as a supporter of the ‘Hausa-Fulani.’ Let us not forget that Gemade is full blood Northerner.
That is about the northern candidates. What about votes from other parts of the country? The Southwest will unanimously vote for Obasanjo’s candidate. No doubt about that. The East will do the same, not withstanding whatever their grudges against the administration, for they too are cash and carry, just like most of the Northerners. The minorities of the South-south may agree to vote for Awoniyi, but that remains uncertain. They can vote against him as well. In the end, there is little to convince us that somebody other than an Obasanjo candidate will replace Gemade as the national chairman of the PDP.
Granted that Awoniyi becomes the national chairman of the party against all odds, does that pose a threat to Obasanjo’s ambition in 2003? Will his group be ready and able to field a different candidate and make him defeat the President during the next primaries, if there will be any? Again for the second time, the factors mentioned earlier will come into play, this time more decisively, to see that the President is given a second chance.
In a nutshell, there no light at the end of the PDP tunnel that gives us the faintest hint that there are forces within the party have the ability of quashing any attempt by the President to run in 2003. The present state of the PDP is much to the advantage of the President. If we are looking for obstacles, we should search elsewhere.
Our next logical direction from where we will ordinarily expect obstacles against the President in 2003 is from the other parties, namely APP and AD. But there is a consensus among political commentators that there is no opposition in Nigeria. Our politicians consider politics as a profession. That is where they earn their living. So as soon as elections are over, the opposition is ready to partake in sharing the booty with the party in power. In states where they are not co-opted, they bitterly and publicly complain of alienation. We are therefore not surprised that the former National Chairman of the APP could abandon his party to become an adviser to an APP President. Neither are we surprised that the leaders of AD, like Ige, were glad to be ministers in the cabinet of a PDP government. They usually hide behind the slogan of national unity and other excuses, but we know that the crux of the matter is that their economic inadequacies deprive them of the ability to stand on their principles, that is for those of them that claim to have one.
The result is what we have today. Just less than two years into the first term, the AD has gladly accepted the idea that all parties in the country should adopt the PDP President as a consensus candidate for the sake of ‘national unity.’
The APP has not gone that far, but we are sure that given its weak state it cannot withstand any lethal dose of anaesthesia from the Presidents political physicians. Should it attempt to wake up by fielding a candidate, we are sure that he will be too weak to stand on his foot and put up a fight. I will advise that a coffin should be placed in the ring because the slightest blow from the powerful President, who has all the resources of the nation and its apparatus for power control at his disposal, is enough to throw the APP candidate direct into the coffin. It will then be nailed, and the fight will be over. I hope that the PDP will be wise enough to stage-manage a contest during the next election in this form, if even to show the ‘international community’ that the democracy in Nigeria is not a farce.
But according to Professor Nwabueze in Democratisation, there will never be a true democracy where poverty, ignorance and injustice prevail. Any attempt to do so will only succeed in starting and maintaining a vicious circle of fraud as we have seen in most developing countries. We will not be surprised if our democracy turns out to be like that of Egypt or Uganda. The fact remains that the level of poverty and ignorance has made everybody dependant on government such that once a President is elected into office by whatever means, it will take decades to oust him or his party from power. Nigeria will not be an exception.
There are other parties of course, like the PRP and the emerging NEPU and the proposed workers party. But candidly speaking, Nigerians always prefer to patronise the very people that they know will oppress them. For example, the performance of Balarabe Musa in the Second Republic, which is yet to be surpassed by any of his numerous successors in the former Kaduna State, was not enough to convince the electorate to vote for his party during the last election. The National Electoral Commission is already threatening to disqualify such parties from standing in the next elections. It doesn’t call them to meetings, the clearest signal to their lack of locus in the political equation of the country.
Since the President is sure that the ‘opposition’ will not present an obstacle, has he any source of worry among individuals?
In an attempt to answer this question, I would like the reader always to put at the back of his mind the numerous factors that are in favour of the President, including the entrenched poverty in the country, our apathy to ideology and principles, the enormous cost of campaign under the presidential system, the ethnic bias of the electorate, etc. Do we have an individual who is capable of surmounting these problems and standing successfully against the President in the next election?
I am not saying that there is none. There could be few, but surely very few both in fact and in deed. Some people have been mentioning General Babangida as a possibility. I cannot deny that the General has enormous economic resources and the elaborate political network that was responsible for bringing Obasanjo to power. But 1999 was cheap. President Abdulsalami Abubakar was not interested in becoming a civilian president. So it was simply a question of filling a vacuum. In 2003 the incumbent president will be desirous to safeguard his seat.
So if he decides to part ways with the President, could he still be that successful in making himself or another candidate the President? In the first place, I do not believe that Babangida will want to return to power. What I am sure of is that he would like to continue to be a power broker. He will cease any opportunity to fill any political vacuum with a loyal candidate that will guarantee him the quiet possession of his wealth. That is natural. For example in 2008, things being equal, he will no doubt be interested in nominating a candidate. However, there is no reason why he should abandon Obasanjo in 2003 in the first place. Obasanjo has kept his promise: he will not probe Babangida or any of his ministers.
And if Babangida were to abandon the President, the latter has all the machinery at his disposal to quash him. The President knows his screw thumb and he will be willing to press it whenever it becomes necessary. The President also has the human and economic resources of the country at his disposal, and as a General himself, we believe that he will fight to the last drop of his blood. And the blood of a General in power is too plenty to have a last drop.
Still, granted that Babangida will contest, which in my personal opinion defies the logic of power and his personal situation, how many of us would like him to return and create another SAP in addition to the one he invented in 1986 and from which we have been suffering since, or tolerate the corruption and degeneration of the nation and its political institutions beyond what he tolerated, or create another option A4 and June 12 that will take us another decade to unwind? I do not believe that between the two one is better than the other but I will rather make do with the Obasanjo simply because I, as a northerner, will not be burdened with his sins as I am burdened with that of Babangida. In African politics, an innocent soul is not spared the burden of guilt committed by another soul.
Next is the obvious question on the role of the North in 2003. Will it be in a position to stand as an obstacle then? Some people may be quick to answer in the affirmative, banking on the prevalent political ill wind that was generated by the President and which now blows against him in the region. They may not be forgiving, hoping that one-day the President will return to solicit for their votes as he did before. Then they will turn their back on him, thinking that it is enough to guarantee his failure. They have forgotten that in Africa, forgiveness is not required to win an election once an incumbent is running.
They are in for a surprise. Before their eyes the relations of the very people that directly suffered one form of injustice or another in the hands of this administration will cast their votes for the President in 2003. Even the blood of the innocent souls of women and children killed in Lagos, Enugu and Kaduna will be forgotten. They will be sacrificed for ‘national unity’, which will not be achieved unless Obasanjo is allowed to continue. Many agents will be willing to stuff the ballot boxes in his favour. The political leaders that are quiet today over his candidature in fear of our wrath will gradually re-gain their voice. Those of them occupying offices will start singing his song. The polling officials⎯teachers and middle cadre workers⎯have no option but to follow ‘instructions from above.’
I say this with a great feeling of resent. But who will candidly tell me how much does it take to win a Northern vote? It is three: money, ethnicity and threat of victimisation. Nothing else. How couldn’t it be so when the region is ravaged for decades with ignorance, poverty and injustice? With ignorance, people hardly know their rights, and democracy is a game of rights. People do not know the weight that their votes carry. Poverty compels them to sell them to the highest bidder. As for the elite, a contract or a promise of a political office is a good exchange for the economic and political rights of his people. For the common man, his vote is for whoever would present him with a wrapper, a bar of soap, some cubes of maggi, or a packet of detergent. The prevalence of injustice makes the threat of victimisation among people with contrary opinion to appear real. They become silent, regardless of their level of education.
No one will deny the preponderance of these handicaps in the North. With them it will be difficult for the region to unite and vote against Obasanjo. It does appear united today but by this time next year it will definitely be singing discordant voices and conflicting tones. The line will then be drawn between those for and those against the candidature of Obasanjo, things being equal. And people will be surprised at the distribution. For people like me however, we are prepared not to put our hope beyond what is obvious.
The North is yet to fully appreciate its folly for voting Obasanjo into power two years ago. He is now equipped with the might necessary to maintain his power beyond 2008, not only 2003, should he wish to do so. You may think that is spurious. Listen. As I was writing this article, it was reported that the Zambian constitution and that of the ruling party will both be amended to accommodate the ambition of the incumbent present, Frederick Chiluba, to run for the third term, against the current provision for a maximum of two five-year terms. His ruling party has already asked all ministers who are against his ambition to resign. The party has described them as ingrates. Musaveni is there in Uganda, comfortably defying any opposition and claiming to have won over 70%of the votes cast last week. Albashir did the same in Sudan while al-Turabi is behind bars today. This is Third World!
The North must pay a price for its blunder. However, I strongly feel that it is a blunder that was better committed. We have taken our survival and that of the generations to follow too much for granted. Obasanjo is unknowingly granting us the opportunity for self-examination. The longer that opportunity lasts the better. I will not at all be surprised if one of us stands standout tomorrow and shout “Obasanjo tazarce.” They will do it. I am sure.
Nevertheless, we will not abdicate our responsibility. If Nigerians believe that Obasanjo is not performing well they should not fail to vote against him even though as we have seen above his incumbency will be the greatest factor behind his re-election. Every vote is important for the opposition. What is important in politics is not the scheme of winning but the will to stand by the principle of participation. Da rashin tayi a kan bar araha.