Predicting the Primaries
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
INEC has given registered parties a dateline in January for submitting the names of their candidates for state and federal elections. Our anxieties will soon be over because all parties interested in partaking in the elections have to conclude their manoeuvres and intrigues of primaries before then.
In this article, I tried to explore candidatures within the context of the emerging scenarios in the various camps. I strongly feel that amidst the conflicting web of information reaching the public, writings on the wall have started becoming clear for an average mind to discern the outcome of party primaries and say, with good degree of accuracy, who will be the major contestants in the various elections. At the federal level, I have the strong feeling that Buhari and Obasanjo will be the main, if not the only contenders to slug it out in the race for the presidency. As for the governorship elections, the incumbents will remain, perhaps except for very few.
Lets us start with the PDP, the party which I have always credited with dominating the political terrain in the country. Obasanjo will emerge as its flag bearer, and in all states where it is in power, its governors will emerge as winners in the primaries.
The reasons are simple and clear. The formula of the party makes it almost impossible for any contestant to defeat an incumbent in the party primaries. Giving assistants, advisers, and cabinet members the right to vote is devastating to any opponent of the incumbent. It will in fact be foolish for anybody to contest the primaries against any incumbent governor. Ah, most of the governors have increased the number of their assistants and the like to such a figure that is greater than the total number of delegates from all the local governments in their states. There is no wonder therefore that most of those contesting against the governors have withdrawn from the race under one pretext or another. The fact, however, is that they have already concluded that they cannot win.
Another factor is that even when it comes to the issue of delegates from local governments, I cannot see how the party will agree to enlist a delegate who is opposed to the second term of a governor. The governor has been their breadwinner for the past four years and he is still in a position to promise and deliver them more. Why should they support someone whose fate is still hanging a million miles above sea level? The governors already have their supervisors in the name of chairmen of the caretaker committees of various local governments to various parts of the state. None of them will fail to use whatever spade is in his hands to deliver. And the spades in their hands those chairmen are many!
As for Obasanjo, he will defeat Ekwueme, ‘flat,’ as we say in our colloquial parlance. In fact, if Ekwueme and other candidates were to read this piece, they should accept my advice and find a clever way to withdraw from the race in order to save their faces. Here are my reasons.
One, Obasanjo has the same advantage over them as the governors. He has numerous assistants, advisers, ministers and so on. His opponents have none. The advantage of these officials is not limited to their votes alone. Each of them – money in his pocket, hand and mouth – has a constituency. He will return to his people, mobilize them, assist in their transport, feeding and accommodation during the convention, and ensure that they return with some ‘change’ in their pocket which they will use to solve some of their infinite problems at home...
Two, the party, for whatever reason, has proved to be behind Obasanjo. You can see that from their various attempts to introduce further measures that will prevent threats to Obasanjo’s success during the primaries. Zoning is one such measure. The party can insist on it to prevent people like Rimi and others from contesting the primaries, or at least introduce some doubt about the likelihood of their success in the minds of the delegates.
Three, all the governors, perhaps except one, will work and vote for Obasanjo during the primaries. This is reciprocation to the ‘Anenih formula’ which the party has adopted. It is about six weeks now since Anenih bluntly assured the world that PDP will retain its incumbent governors. The media and other aspirants cried foul. But PDP is a deaf donkey. It cannot listen. Even if it could, it won’t; so it remains fixed where it is, even when it is at the middle of a highway and a trailer is approaching to crush it! Last week, the party dismissed ten of its aspirants, believing that such people are irrelevant variables in the context of the calculations with which it hopes to win the next elections.
Four, there is serious doubt whether the ‘North’, whatever that means, will support Ekwueme. One is that all efforts to get the region to support an Igbo candidate have failed woefully. IBB has tried to get ACF accept the idea of Igbo candidate but the organization has refused. Instead, it preferred the presidential ticket to be left open and to be won on the basis of merit as their advert in this magazine some weeks ago has shown. I therefore doubt if there will be any pressure on any of the governors or ministers in the PDP to betray Obasanjo and support Ekwueme.
Secondly, it is now common knowledge that Ekwueme is counting on the support of IBB and his people, the camp that has been busy selling the idea of an Igbo candidate for over six months now. However, things have not been going on well for IBB. He could not even get the Awoniyi he supported to be the Chairman of PDP, to his surprise, simply because Obasanjo and the governors colluded to frustrate the process and ensure Gemade’s success unfailingly. This time again, the PDP delegates will be with their governors and their ministers, not with IBB. For this miscalculation, I am afraid that neither Ekwueme nor the Igbos will forgive IBB if he fails to win the PDP primaries again. I pray that they forgive him.
So in the PDP the most important factor is incumbency. The President has it, he has supported the governors and they will in turn reciprocate his kind gesture.
I was among those who once called on the vice-president to contest. Then, I was thinking that the party would be democratic in its primaries than how it has proved now. The writing on the wall must be clear to the VP, with what we said so far, that if he heeds the call of some of his aids and challenged the President in the primaries, that may be the end of his career in politics. He stands a better chance of prolonging it by doing all he could to remain “the briefcase of the President”, as he once described himself. However, no one can assure the VP, 100%, that the president will not drop that briefcase for a better one. He may and he may not. Atiku has been cashing on the loyalty of the Yaradua group. But I doubt if that group is as formidable as the VP thinks it is, or that the President has not broken into that harem at the middle of the night and snatched away some of its concubines. Atiku needs to kneel before the President and plead: “Forgive your briefcase, my lord, for it has sinned. It was the devils work – my aids and people like Tilde – who made me feel I can on my own walk around in the market without the grip of the hand of your majesty.”
Before leaving the PDP let me hasten to observe that Obasanjo has in unknowingly ensured that many senators and members of the House in his party do not return by refusing to do any work in their constituencies. This, combined with the fact that the electorate often mistakenly equate the role of legislature to that of the executive, made it was easy for new comers, whose equal incapacity is yet to unravel to the electorate, to defeat them in many places with wide margins. Poor losers! They are returning to join our wagon of helpless observers.
I will give a positive version of the ANPP, keeping the other perhaps until a later date. This is a quiet party as far as gubernatorial primaries are concerned. Apart from Borno State where the governor has honourably chosen to leave the party for Senator Sherif, other governors and legislators are returning unopposed. There are in fact no formidable challengers from within the party at that level and downwards to warrant any curiosity or stir any anxiety.
Anxiety is up, in the presidential election of the APP. The nation as a whole is waiting for it. Will the party pick a strong candidate who will pose a threat to Obasanjo or will it pick an ‘arrangee’ who will ensure Obasanjo has an easy ride back to Aso Rock? The Presidency and other groups opposed to Buhari will certainly prefer to play the latter. I reserve my further comment on this.
Here, unlike in the PDP, there is no President with plethora of ministers to enjoy the incumbency vote. Precisely, the contention is between Buhari and other aspirants. And the others are many, to the advantage of Buhari, in one scenario. There are about eleven aspirants: at least five aspirants from Southeast, one from South-south, and five from the North. None of them has a chance as bright as Buhari’s. He has the clear advantage of popularity, being one of the best leaders the country ever produced. He also represents a style of leadership that is in direct contrast to that of Obasanjo and his three military predecessors. This has endeared him to many and made him an ideal opponent in the presidential election. Thirdly, no other candidate enjoys a wider coverage of support in the party than him. Etc.
It is doubtful if the party will openly favour any candidate. Both Bafarawa and Lawal, the chairman of the coordination committee, may have their candidates as individuals. But I doubt if they are ready to borrow a leaf from their predecessor in 1999, Senator Mahmud Waziri, or from the PDP where the party will damn the consequences and adopt undemocratic measures. PDP, it is clear to them, has cards they can rely upon in the presidential elections which the ANPP does not have. I heard Bafarawa reiterating that ANPP is a party for all Nigerians. So there is no zoning; every member is free to contest. That was a big effort, for there have been many ‘influential people’ who tried to lure the ANPP leadership into adopting such undemocratic stand, simply to ‘outzone’ Buhari out of the contest.
The party also resisted the advise of a consensus candidate which the same influential people have tried to sell. It has maintained, with Bafarawa swearing by God, that it will stage free and fair primaries, and advising all aspirants to go to the delegates and solicit for votes.
Buhari may not be contesting against ten candidates. Some of them may be convinced to align in order to defeat him. Some will definitely stick to their guns. Few may drop out in fear of wasting their N10 million in a gamble they have never contemplated winning. That is only how much I will divulge. The rest should come after the primaries.
The AD will wait until after the primaries of the PDP. If Obasanjo wins the ticket of the PDP, AD will not field a candidate. They will rather align with PDP, or to put it more precisely, choose to work for their incumbent tribesman, than come out with another who will reduce his chance of winning the presidential election. If – and this ‘if’ is very unlikely as we have seen – Obasanjo loses the primaries, then, as one of the fallouts of that loss, AD will overnight punish the PDP by presenting a candidate who will deny it the block votes of the Southwest. That will be in addition to the punishment that Obasanjo will mete on the party – denying it incumbency.
The old parties will dominate the scene in the forthcoming elections, at all levels. New parties are very unlikely to make any impact in 2003. Most of them will try to align with one of the old ones. For example, if Balarabe Musa is serious about his support for Obasanjo, we expect his PRP to align with the PDP. For a doyen of progressive politics, that will be the steepest retrogression, with y at infinity and x at 0.
It is now clear that even NDP and UNDP have been unable to garner support from the Nigerian public. This is partly because people see them as creations of Babangida, “a cross” which Saleh Jambo, the leader of UNDP, was frank enough to confess that “they must carry.” Calling the cross suggests that the NDP and the UNDP may fail three times as did the career of the first cross (Peace be Upon Him).
Last week, the Weekly Trust carried a cover titled “IBB’s Game Plan.” I disagree with their entire analysis. It is surprising that a paper like it cannot see clearly the ongoing decline and fall of the IBB empire, to borrow from the celebrated title of Edward Gibbon. The influence of IBB has been declining since he left power in 1993, except for the one year tenure of Abdulsalami. No doubt IBB was powerful as a Head of State and President for reasons we have mentioned in our earlier discourses. But once out of it, and without an ally like Abdulsalami who put government machinery at the disposal of IBB, virtually all IBB’s calculations and intrigues failed, especially within the present PDP.
IBB, in spite of what Kabiru Gaya said, will not run in 2003. I have said it before and I will say it again, times without number. One, it is against his material interest. Two, it is against his nature to undertake a real contest because he will stand the risk of self-demystification. I cannot see him running against Buhari, a popular candidate and/or Obasanjo, an incumbent. Moreover, Obasanjo is a strong ally against whom IBB has promised never to contest in an election.
The most likely thing to happen is that IBB will make NDP and UNDP swallow their pride and back Obasanjo, especially if Buhari emerges as the flag bearer of ANPP. IBB is closer to Obasanjo than he is to Buhari. In fact, as I have once said, IBB’s candidate is Obasanjo. Events since Buhari joined politics have clearly shown that he will need the assistance of IBB in 2003 as much as he will need that of Obasanjo.
Finally, hardly will NDP or UNDP succeed in procuring a credible candidate from the North neither one who will defeat Obasanjo nor another who will be ready to go down in history as the mercenary who subverted the chances of Buhari. Marwa for one, contrary to the report of Weekly Trust and some other journalists, will never do this dirty job.
The other new parties will only be successful in serving as bottlenecks against the administration of a smooth transition. They are right now insisting that INEC’s timetable is inimical to their constitutional rights. If we listen to them we are going to end up in anarchy. They should rather face the challenge before them, of going to local governments and states and gather people that will support them at the grassroots. Each of them should map out localities where it is likely to make an impact, particularly at the local government level and secure its chairmanship. One or two may even aim at defeating an incumbent ANPP governor or so. There is a small window though, by which the parties may also sit, watching and waiting for any aggrieved aspirant to jump in from the PDP or ANPP primaries. But, nothing more. 2007 should be the goal of those among them that survive the harsh Saharan weather of opposition politics.
That is my idea for the primaries. I am not 100% sure that everything will work out this way. It is not an indulgence in the unseen but an effort to discern the future, using common knowledge. God knows best. Whatever it is now, the situation in the dominant parties will be known in the next two weeks, and in all within a month. Then you can say whether I was accurate or not. Then, also, we can go forward and start talking about the general election, about what forces are likely to work in favour of this or that candidate, and possibly, even predict before hand, the occupant of Aso Rock, come May 29, 2002.
In fact, as I have once said, IBB’s candidate is Obasanjo. Events since Buhari joined politics have clearly shown that he will need the assistance of IBB in 2003 as much as he will need that of Obasanjo.