The year 2007 is fast approaching but the political landscape is still not clear enough for pundits to say precisely what will happen. This article, though based on present facts, does not claim the certainty which readers may wish to share. It is, nevertheless, an effort to find the essential properties that may determine the final outcome of 2007 elections. Since 2007 is about general elections, it is of immense importance to look back and see what the atmosphere was like in 2003. Perhaps from the attributes of 2003 we will have the tools that will help us arrive at an intelligent guess regarding 2007.
The political landscape of 2003 was dominated by the PDP which nominated Obasanjo to contest for the second time. He was a sitting president, and as many have said before the election, never was a sitting president defeated in Africa. So the incumbency factor came into play and the PDP arguably ‘won’ the 2003 election. Essentially, the incumbency factor involves the use of extensive treasury resources to finance campaigns, the use of state personnel (civil servants in bodies like INEC, police, security agents, the military, traditional rulers, etc) and logistics (mostly vehicles) for campaign and to unleash the awesome degree of terror that is necessary for unpopular candidate to win. That is where people like Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police, made his uncelebrated billions.
The second was the preponderance of PDP governors. Their election was cleverly scheduled to hold on the same day with the President’s. Every PDP governors had a stake in the elections, hence his readiness to use every weapon at his disposal to ensure that his party is declared the winner of both seats. Most of the votes that Obasanjo got in Gombe, for example, were due to Goje, whom PDP supporters did not wish to miss. The importance of the governors lies in the procurement of human and material resources for the party at the grassroots level as well as perpetrating whatever dishonesty is required to win the election in their state.
The third attribute of 2003 elections was the unity of the PDP, with the President working along with the Vice President. Then, also, most of the founding fathers of the PDP together with its heavyweights were still in the party. Think of people like Solomon Lar, Audu Ogbeh, Lawal Kaita, Iyorchia Ayu, Rimi, etc.
The fourth characteristic was the appeal to primordial sentiments of regional politics and religion. During the first tenure of the President, he deliberately sat aside and enjoyed watching Muslims and Christians kill one another in the North; he also watched Yoruba terrorist group, OPC, carry out massacres of Northerners in Shagamu, Ibadan and Lagos. In order to win over the political support of the Southwest, he marginalized other ethnic groups in appointments, especially in the federal civil service. All these were useful in courting the sentiments of his ethnic group as well as those Christians who believed that he was fighting their crusade. In the end, he won majority of the votes in both constituencies, in the Southwest as well as in Christian dominated areas of the country. Buhari, the main opposition candidate, on the other hand, was sold by the Press and the ruling party as a Shariah candidate. In Bauchi, for example, Muslim stalwarts of the PDP were going from one church to another with video recorders and generators, showing the speech of Buhari regarding Shariah to congregations of Christians. What a shame!
Then continuity, as the fifth factor that determined 2003 elections. Obasanjo and the governors were seeking for re-election then. So their commitment to the cause was greatest, as men do in pursuit of matters relating to their personal interest. This aside, their continuity also meant continuity of opportunities to the beneficiaries of their first tenures. Such beneficiaries readily supplied billions of naira in addition to those stolen from public coffers. Remember, for example, in a single donation, Dangote alone donated over N200million; so did TY Danjuma and many others. And since men oblige not only for the favor the expect but also for the fear of harm that might visit them, civil servants at all levels and spheres of government were easily coerced into joining campaign wagons of governors and the President.
The sixth was the difference between two major candidates in that election on the issue of corruption. Nigerians had a taste of both Obasanjo and Buhari before 2003. They could recall that apart from that of Murtala, there was not a single regime that genuinely fought against corruption as Buhari’s. The politicians who suffered most during Buhari’s tenure in fact made it a point to extract their pound of flesh in 2003 by refusing to support him. As for Obasanjo, people knew how thoroughly corrupt his regimes have been. And since the average Nigerian elite is cantankerously corrupt, he would naturally side with Obasanjo either by voting for him or refusing to aid Buhari.
Finally, we need to state the undeniable contribution of the ideology of PDP - the willingness to cheat mercilessly and be declared winner at all cost. Its members on election days became rogues, through and thorough. No step was too bold for them to take, just as no relationship was too strong to severe. Nothing, including life, was sacred. Conscience was abandoned for the little and temporary reward of few days.
Now, will these seven factors remain effective in according the ruling party the votes it needs to win in 2007, as they did in 2003? In the first place, do these factors still exist in both form and quantity? And if they do, to what extent will they be effective in determining the outcome of 2007?
In some ways 2007 will be similar to 2003. For example, Obasanjo is still in power, though he is handing over to another president. He has at his disposal the personnel – including public servants and thugs – which he used in 2003. For sure, from what happened during the third term debate where he infringed freedom of association of many eminent politicians, the present Inspector General of Police could go the same distance which Tafa Balogun went in granting the wishes of the PDP on election day. Also, the resources are there. The President will not find any difficulty dipping his hand into the coffers of government to procure what he needs to finance a campaign for his candidate.
The governors are also there, as dubious as ever. They will manipulate the nominations of the PDP and rig elections to favor their candidates using, of course, state funds and personnel. They will be keen to install successors who will prefer to bury their corrupt records at all cost. And I doubt if these politicians who rigged the 2003 election have developed a better conscience. They will repeat the same evil whenever the opportunity or need arises, unless they are checked by other factors.
However, what will change the entire equation between 2003 and 2007 is the lack of cohesion within the PDP. 2007 will come and the President, most likely, will be left with only a fraction of governors and politicians who fought his battle in 2003. The third term ambition of the President has caused an irreparable damage in the ruling party. And I am sure, listening to the tone of Atiku on BBC just some minutes ago, the gap will continue to widen in spite of the recent intention of the President to reconcile. Atiku is insisting on dissolution of PDP leadership as a condition for reconciliation. Also, he did not sound positive when he bluntly told the BBC: “Reconciliation will be difficult. Obasanjo does not want to leave and we vie for his seat.” Simple.
Thus the President has lost governors like Dariye, Kalu, Kure, Boni, who delivered their states to him in 2003. No more. He has also lost Ngige earlier in Anambra. The party will get very few votes in Kano where it was defeated in 2003. It will also fail in Taraba, Benue and possibly Gombe. Of course his candidate will not get votes in ANPP controlled states, including Borno and Yobe, whose governors supported third term. Already, there are indications that the party will turn into a ghost when most of its governors and Buhari abandon it for more formidable ones, like ACD.
And things will worsen for the PDP depending on whom it nominates to carry its presidential flag. If it settles for a northern candidate, then the Southwest may shrink back to its ethnic politics and support any Oduduwa candidate that AD or another party may nominate. If it nominates a southern candidate, especially from the South-south, then, like the deceased third term agenda, we will have cause to celebrate its demise earlier than expected.
If the President is banking on using religion, the odds will be that this time, unlike when he competed with Buhari, the kite will be difficult to fly. ACD for example is well received in Plateau and Benue States. Will the PDP then deny the Christian identities of people like Solomon Lar, Ayu or Audu Ogbe?
In 2003, the PDP had monopoly of resources, when compared with the opposition ANPP. But with many governors decamping from the PDP, the PDP will lose a vital source of its funds, and the opposition will benefit instead. Even the balance of terror may reach egalitarian levels.
What we have said so far is that the story of Nigerian politics since 1999 was dominated by PDP. Should the party fail to reconcile with its members who have decamped to other parties, it will certainly find it difficult to win the presidency and the governorship of most of its present domain.
A more dreadful scenario for the PDP is the evolution of parties as strong as the ACD. An alliance between these parties will certainly “fell the PDP elephant”, to borrow an expression from my favorite broadcaster – Usman Mohammed of the BBC. But even if such strong opposition parties decide to go separately, each of them will pull down large chunks of flesh and limbs from the elephant. The beast will have no option but to succumb and fall. Dammmm! And the earth will shake, possibly creating a small tsunami in the Atlantic.
In these respects, 2007, though still uncertain, presents an uphill task to the ruling party that has dominated Nigerian politics for the past eight years, just as it is difficult for us to read ahead clearly. It is an opportunity for Nigerians to make another history, as they did on 16 May, 2006.