Unpacking the 2019 Elections

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

As a concerned citizen and student of Nigerian politics, I was relived at the emergence of former Vice Atiku Abubakar as the main contender with President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 presidential elections. The relief is on account of the immunity of their shared Northern (Fulani) Moslem identity against the potential of presidential elections in Nigeria to assume violent ethno regional fractiousness. The big elephant in the room of Nigerian politics is its vulnerability to negative identity politics-the tendency of political mobilisation to approximate the cleavages of ethnicity, religion and regionalism. This development was of course not an accident. It was derived directly from the zoning principle that preemptively alternates the Nigerian Presidency between the North and South-thereby precluding a fraught situation in which the North is arrayed in opposition to the South in political contest and conflict. It also serves as political insurance against inadvertent political marginalisation that may result from the coincidence of the majoritarian rule advantage with regional dominance and monopoly of power. It meant that the loss of either candidate in the election will not culminate in the winner-takes-all syndrome for the region of the loser. And to that extent will be less prone to a precipitate situation for violence-fuelled by regional sense of loss and deprivation. And again, to this extent, it has worked just as the doctors prescribed. Then it all began to go funny and awry-as illustrated in the under-listed subtitles

Hypocrisy of the International Community
Prior to the election, the indication was that the international community (championed by the United States) was going to hold the Nigerian government to account in a similar manner to the vigilante role it played in the 2015 elections. Perturbed by this projection, Governor Nasir el-Rufai had literally raised hell in warning the emissaries of the international community to put emphasis on their personal safety rather than any sense of fidelity to their mission. While the results of the elections were being progressively transmitted and it seemed as if the PDP candidate was going to carry the day, the Political Adviser to the President issued a panic mode statement targeting the international community.

“Our attention has been drawn to the trend of international foreign missions and observer groups buying into the false propaganda and fake results being tweeted and put out by the opposition party and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. We note that the EU Mission, United States Embassy in Nigeria particularly and even for a brief moment the President of France, has been involved in this unfortunate activity despite the call of well-meaning countries like China and Russia, that Nigeria’s elections should not be interfered with. Foreign missions are hereby warned to desist from further interference and engaging elements that seek to destabilise the peace of Nigeria.”

In the end, both the hopes of the Nigerian opposition and the fears of the Nigerian government were equally dashed by the preemptive, see no evil, speak no evil manner in which the international community rushed to endorse the results without entertaining any doubt on the improbability of the votes returned from the Buhari sanctuary states of Kano, Borno, Yobe; acknowledgement of revelation of underage voting displayed on Channels Television and the bullion vans making the rounds in the homes of APC warlords. It was a teachable moment for me. And I was tutored that-if looking the other way, while the APC run rampant on the elections, was the price for the short term political stability of Nigeria, it was a price they were more than willing to pay.

Rediscovery of Unrestrained Northern Hegemony
Commenting on the shellacking that President Goodluck Jonathan received in the 2015 presidential election especially in the kingmaker states of the far North, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso taunted the rest of us that the results had passed on the intended message on the fate that awaits any presidential candidate who had failed to learn the lesson that the fear of the North is the beginning of wisdom in presidential elections. But those who sow the winds have a manner of reaping the whirlwind. In 2019, it was the turn of Kwankwaso to learn the lesson that he needed to upgrade his thesis to ‘the fear of an incumbent Northern President is the beginning of wisdom for Northerners who want to remain as kingmakers’-with specific regards to the humbling of Kwankwansiya in Kano State.
When the birds whispered to me that, regardless, Kwankwaso was getting set for 2023, I was momentarily nonplussed. Whatever happened to the observance of the stabilising instrument of zoning? And then I took another look at the spreadsheet of the INEC sanctified result of the 2019 election and got the message. In further perfection of the original thesis of Kwankwaso, the capacity attributed to the North to make and unmake in any national election has spiked beyond imagination.

Entered Dr Junaid Mohammed
A few years ago when it seemed the health crisis of the President may follow the precedent of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and prematurely revert the almighty Nigerian Presidency to the South (in the Goodluck Jonathan model), Dr Junaid Mohammed went out there, front and centre, warning speculators of such fantasy to perish the thought. He would countenance nothing short of the zoning entitlement of two full terms for the North. I once got carried away and swore that honesty and fidelity was second nature to the medical doctor. It turned out I knew little of him afterall. The man was even boasting of connections to the CIA and KGB. Now that Buhari is reasonably set on spending his two terms, Junaid Mohammed has slightly but significantly shifted the goal post on zoning.

“I don’t want to hear about this equity and justice, that is sheer nonsense. You can say it is time for my people. We will not vote for you and let’s see what happens. I said it in one of my statements, look at the way the people of the South-east voted during the last election; they have a humongous collection of votes and they all voted for Atiku, and they expect somebody to come from his own area to vote for them. Look at Ohanaeze, how they are duping people; they collected millions from Atiku. Let us see 2023, by the grace of God, which candidate they want to produce. Look at what the Afenifere said that next time it would be a Yoruba person. Their understanding of rotation is between the North and the South-west, or North-west and the South- -west. That cannot be. Now the contradiction, which they invented about zoning and rotation, has now collapsed, and now they are looking for lies to tell to deceive us.”

De-Legitimation of the South-west APC
“The 2019 election is our own. We are not looking at 2019 but 2023,… If we get it in 2019, Yoruba will get it in 2023. Because if we don’t get it in 2019, we may not get it in 2023 and it may take a very long time to get it. We need to look at tomorrow and not because of today. What we are doing now is for tomorrow and not for today. What I know about Buhari is that he is an honest man. What he says he will do, he will do it.” –Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Within the context of national unity and integration, it is illogical and contradictory to deny priority to the South-east zone in the race for the Nigerian Presidency in 2023. And I personally deem it immoral (to the extent that emphasis on morality is consistent with politics) for the South-west to actively pursue any such ambition at the expense of the zone. Now you can see how Junaid Mohammed has cynically exploited the expression of such ambition by the South-west APC to discredit zoning altogether and to demonize them as liars and selfish lot. Beyond the open and express ambition of Osinbajo, no secret is more glaring than the ambition of Bola Ahmed Tinubu for the same position. This runs against the historical current that it is mostly easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for kingmakers to become king. If the views of Junaid Mohammed are consistent with the prevalent subterranean power politics opinion in the North, then the Yoruba presidential aspiration has become still born and set up the hopefuls for maximum ridicule. As you can see from the excerpts above, the promise of this expectation was the peg on which the campaign for the APC presidential ticket was hoisted in the last elections.

Competitive Sycophancy
God sparing Buhari’s life, he is going to experience a countrywide phenomenon of competitive sycophancy, the likes of which this country has never before witnessed. There is going to be such a fierce competition for his attention that he may probably rue the day he decided to seek second term in office. As the economy gets worse and 2023 looms so will he come under severe pressure from economic mendicants and rent seekers; and political jobbers and warlords of various descriptions. In the race to be seen as catholic than the Pope for instance, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) leadership has bested the Sultan and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to genuflect and pay obeisance before his throne. I might have missed many in this category on account of protecting my sanity-by being carefully selective in what I read but I stopped short when I chanced on Paul Unongo. According to the 84 years old Middle Belt politician

“I think in the whole history of Nigeria, we have paid lip service to anti-corruption except the man called Buhari. It is only during Buhari’s time that I saw hundreds of thousands of naira seized and displayed on television and people touched them with their hands”.

“And the man told us that he was going to concentrate on three areas, security, economy and corruption. He said he will beat Boko Haram and he will regain all Nigerian territory back and he will drive them out of existence, he did.” I searched in vain for any reference to the lamentable security situation in the Middle Belt.