Nigeria is in a long political year expected to culminate in general elections by February 2019 should all things remain equal. It is a year that begun perhaps since March 2017 when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) first gave a hint as to the dates on which the general elections would hold in 2019.
Between March 2017 and now, a number of events have happened and as anticipated, various statements have been made – going from questionable expressions of confidence about political victory to the mundane and ridiculous statements that muddle up the issues.
The present government formed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) has understandably performed incredibly below the very high expectations it created in the hearts of many Nigerians in the run-up to the 2015 elections. The administration has in particular failed to holistically pursue the delivery of its key promises such as fighting corruption and tackling insecurity.
While it appears to have found some rhythm in managing the economy, albeit painfully late in doing so, the APC government has been complicit in shielding its allies fingered in numerous corruption scandals that have fenced it in. It has also criminally neglected its duty of guaranteeing the security and welfare of all Nigerians by showing a lacklustre attitude to preventing the loss of lives to rampaging attacks by Fulani herdsmen in various parts of the country and the Boko Haram islamist sect. Worse, for unknown reasons, the government has condoned genocidal attacks by refusing to arrest or prosecute suspects linked to terror attacks even when plausible hints as to their whereabouts have become public knowledge.
As many Nigerians lament the dire straits the nation has found itself and the continual loss of hope in a system that appears to be more deliberate at stifling opportunities for growth than propelling them, a question annexed from biblical expressions becomes apposite: where shall the people’s salvation come from?
In the aftermath of the 2015 elections, a number of citizens made commitments to keep the new government on its toes, a promise some have made their best attempts at keeping. Certain groups focused on specific issues such as the rescue of schoolgirls abducted from Chibok community in Borno state (BringBackOurGirls), ending police brutality (EndSARS), and removing constitutional barriers to youth participation in politics (NotTooYoungToRun) have been consistent in engaging the government. Erstwhile singer, Charles ‘Charly Boy’ Oputa also made some impact with occasional interventions through his ‘OurMumuDonDo’ assemblage while Innocent ‘TuBaba’ Idibia and other entertainers have at different times mobilised to pass different messages across to government.
Notwithstanding the attention that meets the varied forms of speaking truth to power online and offline, the stark reality remains that the most potent way of causing a change in government policy is by formulating those policies which can best occur by occupying an executive or legislative position. It therefore suggests that since the present government is not fulfilling the yearnings of the people, it will be productive to oppose that government in as many ways as legally allowed and most importantly through the polls. The existence of a viable and acceptable opposition to the present government is however a cause for concern.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nearly went into a coma after losing the 2015 presidential elections. It momentarily felt like its existence depended on holding power at the centre. It crumbled into factions led by Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi, both former governors of Borno and Kaduna state respectively. The impasse was however resolved by a Supreme Court decision in July 2017 which recognised the legitimacy of the National Working Committee (NWC) led by Makarfi. That judgment paved the way for the convention at which Uche Secondus emerged the national chairman. At about the same time, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar rejoined the party from the APC. However, aside the political hullaballoo, not much has proceeded from the PDP in terms of policy options to address the present challenges of the nation for the party to be considered a serious opposition. It appears the party is merely preparing for a power tussle in 2019.
In the absence of a virile and structured opposition party, individuals within the PDP like Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and Senator Ben Murray-Bruce as well as outliers within the APC like Senator Shehu Sani and I daresay, the president’s wife, Aisha Buhari have called to question the steps taken by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. These individuals are however of doubtful political value should the question of unseating the incumbent need to be answered. Fayose for instance in September 2017 declared his intention to run for president but many simply took it as a comedic effort.
Relentless warhorse and former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has recently returned to his famed writing ways, releasing an acerbic letter in which he adjudged President Buhari as having failed to provide the kind of leadership Nigeria needed and advising him not to run for a second term. Obasanjo has gone further to launch a group called the Coalition for Nigeria with many of his younger allies now seemingly positioning themselves as potential saviours to be deployed by the group to redeem Nigeria, one of them being former Cross River state governor, Donald Duke.
It is doubtful that Obasanjo has the requisite political capital to sway popular votes in anyone’s favour. His altruism is even much more in doubt just as that of his brother general, former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida who has similarly written to condemn Buhari’s possible aspirations for a second term. Knowing the past actions of these men that have been grossly incompatible with democratic norms, it will be foolhardy for anyone to join whatever movement they are currently championing without nursing the fear that they may only have hatched a plan to return to perpetuate themselves in power through their proxies.
Notwithstanding the doubt about the altruism of the Obasanjos and Babangidas, it is evident that Buhari has let down many who believed in his ability to stir the nation to the path of accelerated progress by taming corruption and allowing bright ideas dictate policy direction.
Buhari’s former running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare only stopped short of denouncing him completely in a recent nationwide broadcast and has hinted at vying for the presidency himself but like all other relatively new faces on the political scene, the absence of a viable opposition structure makes such aspiration a tall order. Although not entirely impossible but all the same more improbable than probable.
Buhari himself repeatedly lost the presidential election notwithstanding his huge personal following in some of the most populated states in the country. It took the amalgamation of three seemingly regional parties to realise that dream in 2015. One must then wonder what the fate of such other movements as the ‘Red Card Movement’, ‘Running for a New Nigeria’ and ‘Third Force’ will likely be in the absence of more charismatic leaders with clear intentions to run for the 2019 presidential poll.
Truth be said, when one narrows down the political options for Nigerians to APC and the PDP, one is not unmindful of the existence of at least 58 other registered political parties but reality also demands that one considers whether any of these parties have the ideological, organisational and financial wherewithal to contest a national election. One of the more determined evolving parties, Kowa Party has made recognisable attempts at giving the PDP and APC a challenge at the Edo governorship poll, the Ikeja local government council election and the Ilesa East council election but was muscled out on each occasion and just like it obtains in the bigger parties, it has also had to contend with intra-party squabbling that for instance resulted in not being on the ballot at all for the Ilesa East council poll.
Fela Durotoye has been prevaricating about his plans with ‘Running for a new Nigeria’ and while we wait for time to reveal the truth, it is not hard to understand that fighting a bigger enemy requires more tact and adequate preparation than what is currently on display.
After taking a review of the many options available, it is easy to surmise that there is really no third force as of February 2018 which is ready to unseat the APC government and dislodge the PDP from retaking Aso Rock. Those identifying as such are only recycled components of the establishment parties seeking to flourish outside of their soil.
A few persons have opined that independent candidacy may be the way out and while the Nigerian Senate has included that option in the constitutional amendment process that is ongoing, the experience of Kowa Party and other smaller parties provides an insight into the logistical challenges an individual seeking to run on his own strength and resources will likely contend with.
Durotoye may for instance be able to organise his campus groups into campaign clusters if the constitutional amendment process is completed before the elections but there is no guarantee that he will be able to mobilise enough votes to make a major impact at the polls.
Perhaps, fresh and viable alternatives within the current political framework will emerge in the days to come, time will tell.