Just as had been in the last two decades, I followed the political expedition of Nigeria ahead of the 2019 general elections, and as usual, it’s been action-packed. Nigeria’s locomotion always attain a threshold that make thinkers wonder over and over again – “Are we ever going to change?” if you ask me, I’ll say yes, we are and there are noticeable changes already. The pace for me is what constitutes a bone of contention. In the past – and even till now – focus had always been on two leading national political parties in spite of our multi-party system, but recent occurrences can be said to be altering this narrative. This election season, we have witnessed the emergence of what is now known as a third force. The entrance of Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Omoyele Sowore and Oby Ezekwesili has changed the political dynamics, with the thought of an alternative starting to germinate in the minds of Nigerians.
However, the third force’s greatest setback has been their failure to coalesce and form a formidable alliance that could stand any chance of wrestling for power with any of the political giants – the All Progressive Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Their relevance was enunciated with the declaration of leading Nigerian activists like Professor Wole Soyinka, activist lawyer, Femi Falana, Femi Aborisade and Yinka Odumakin all reaching a conclusion to rather opt for an alternative force rather than either of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari or former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate went ahead to endorse Moghalu for Presidency.
It won’t be an easy inroad for the political tyros though. The drama surrounding the frosty relationship between the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, and its Presidential candidate, Dr Oby Ezekwesili is a pointer to that fact. Unfortunately for Ezekwesili and the ACPN, the INEC says it may be too late to part ways, meaning their marriage of inconvenience may have to remain till after the polls. In various positions, we also have celebrities, like Bankole Wellington, Kanayo O. Kanayo and Shina Peller following the footsteps of Desmond Elliot, to vie for offices. These events have heralded a new political chronicle in the annals of Nigeria’s democracy.
Theirs was by the way though. Basically, this electioneering period was for the leading candidates to test their popularity. Several organizations and individuals conducted opinion polls on who pulled the most crowds. There are controversial forensic revelations that the same set of public attended both rival parties’ campaigns. There were also accusations that the turnout constitutes rented crowd, just like the chairs and tents. It is so disturbing that our campaigns are still this cosmetic and acerbic. People tend to support their candidates small-mindedly with no objective dissection of political opponents. Blood brothers severe family ties, friends become foes, allies become traitors, business partners part ways and share the spoils all in the name of politics. Nothing good comes from an opponent.
I recall that in the course of campaign, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Presidential candidate of the PDP, crossed a huge hurdle in his political aspiration when he once more in his lifetime, stepped foot on the soil of the United States of America. It came as a rude shock to many especially the ruling APC and its supporters. But rather than admit that the Adamawa born politician had scored a political goal – visiting the U.S 12 years after a bizarre sabbatical following perceived fear that he may be apprehended over money laundering charges – the ruling government disclosed plans to demonize him on arrival over his involvement in the misappropriation of Bank PHB slush fund – a shady deal that made the erstwhile bank close shop. It was followed by unsubstantiated reports that the ex-VP travelled as an ‘Aide’ to Senate President Bukola Saraki who enjoys diplomatic immunity that covers his retinue of aides. That position was broadcast by APC campaign media aides and re-echoed by the die-hard Buharists and Buharideens as they are popularly referred to on social media, where supporters and oppositions slug it out brutally with caustic banters, political wits and brutish diatribes. It took a while after before another bombshell rocked the media space, that Atiku and the PDP leadership actually lobbied the US Congress at huge cost to earn a temporary waiver for the PDP Presidential candidate.
Unfortunately, this untoward political narrative severally spawns distraction and derails parties from set goals. This explains why President Muhammadu Buhari’s managers at a time struggled hard to neutralize the re-emerging questions regarding the mental and physical health of the President who is already 76years. Luckily for the ruling party, the opposition PDP had refused to play the age card all along, having realized that the party’s candidate too, Atiku, is 72, the same age Buhari was, four years back when some political die-hard envisioned for him, a death forecast. But PMB’s slip as they disembarked from the stage during the APC Presidential campaign in Lokoja, Kogi state capital re-ignited the poser. It was followed in quickfire succession by the subpar performance at a town hall debate, ‘The Candidates.’ The struggle by the President was so obvious that his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo had to come to his rescue myriads of times. Truth be told, President Buhari responded to all questions put at him, but not with the mental alertness, political pragmatism and astuteness expected of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Being an emerging ardent too, I remember arguing fiercely on twitter with the Reno Omokris’ of this world who claimed that the misstep translates to a collapse. That argument was going my way when distressingly; another footage emerged of the lanky septuagenarian hurriedly bracing himself with a couch as he seemed to trip again in Kaduna. This time, it was more obvious that the rigours of campaign were physically telling. The seeming last straw was the ‘presidential blooper’ in Warri, Delta state. President Buhari, who was to hand over the party’s flag to the Governorship candidate referred to him as “the Presidential candidate.” After three attempts, detractors insisted that the president eventually referred to Great Ogboru as “Governatorial candidate.” To prove detractors wrong, APC influencers pushed a video of President Buhari putting his vocal cord to test, leading a rendition of the National Anthem by his party leadership. That, however, did not help matters as such. In Cross River state, the President raised the hands of Victor Ndoma before party loyalists instead of that of Owan Enoh, the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the state. It was yet another and the opposition couldn’t but cash in. come to think of it, this may be superficial compared to the imbroglio that engulfed the APC in Abeokuta during the Presidential campaign in Ogun state.
All along, these constituted serious PR challenge for the APC tagalongs. Regrettably, the Atiku team that should have taken advantage pulled the rug off its own feet. While he gathered so much political momentum beyond what political adversaries ever imagined, the approach to some issues left a lot to be desired. For instance, it was unimaginable that the Waziri Adamawa would rush back to Nigeria from the US to take part in a well-publicized presidential debate, make the journey, visit the venue, but bungle it all by refusing to participate on the ground that President Buhari was absent. The opposition PDP had so much talked about the debate that you couldn’t have imagined them allow the opportunity fizzle away like that.
Atiku’s action at the time – I think – was short of democratic logic. His presence should be for Nigerians. The debate in the first place was for candidates to personally sell their ideas, let Nigerians feel the stuff they are made up of and not “attack” or query other persons. But our big politicians are self-aggrandizing. They are always nowhere to be found when needed. All they desire is a political jamboree where sycophants and wanderers race after their motorcade, sing their praises from under the scorching sun and cause stampedes in fight for splashed naira notes. It explains why too many political party jobbers will overwhelm a stopgap stage as it happened during a PDP campaign in Kebbi. Like an Indonesian earthquake scene, I watched the stage crumble under the pressure of their weight, bringing them all submerged under. Quite unfortunate!
However, a bright side to this electioneering season is a noticeable drop in the humongous amount lavished on campaign. This Buhari-led government apparently did not give in to prodigality, not even within his ruling party. Yet, we seem still far off from financial prudence, or must politicians sew corresponding native attire for campaign in each of our states with diverse cultures and ethnicity? Must we take pride in rented crowd, financially induce traditional rulers or share money to cronies all in a bid to smuggle our way into their hearts? Evidently, the solution remains a decision to make our political offices less-juicy. This will not just reduce what a political office holder is accessible to; it subtly tells you that governance is no business venture. And if you are not readily poised to serve, you naturally take a bow.
Follow Taiwo Adediran on twitter @adedirantai