The Year of Emblematic, Zero-Sum Politics

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong suggests that there may not be any major restoration in the Nigerian political entity in 2020

It may seem odd, but much of what is going to happen on the political scene in 2020 will have symbolic ties to individuals and groups in the country. As can be seen, the first major disruption in the early days of the year revolves around two persons, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara state and the immediate past President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki. This occurrence does not leave much optimism that politics in Nigeria will become issue-based any sooner. Rather than dig deeper into clear-cut concerns that may advance the future of Nigerian democracy, the principal characters and commentators are busy throwing melancholic jibes that further befuddle the imagination of the public.

Many are saying that to really understand what is going on in Kwara right now and the anxiety over the malicious tendencies of the governor, one has to go back to 2003: The year, Bukola became governor of Kwara and Gbemisola (who is now Minister of State for Transportation) became the Senator representing Kwara Central. They were supported by their father, who had the political soul of Kwara firmly in his grip. On three previous occasions, Abdulrazaq had lost in contest for different political positions to Saraki. In 2007, Saraki won a second term as governor, stopping the ambition of Abdulrazaq who was the governorship candidate of the defunct Congress for Positive Change (CPC).

In 2011 when he contested as senatorial candidate for Kwara central senatorial district and in the 2015 election when he again contested the same Kwara central senatorial district on the platform of the PDP ticket and lost to former governor Saraki. There is a school of thought that takes the Abdulrazaq versus feud back in time to the late 60s when the late patriarch of the Saraki family, Dr. Olusola Saraki, a medical doctor, took over the political control of the area that later became Kwara, relegating the influence of the father of the incumbent governor, Abdulgafar Folorunso Abdulrasaq, who has the distinction of being the first lawyer from the North and the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) from Northern Nigeria.

Again, there is no sign of a superlative restructuring and rebirth in 2020. Much of the political conversation will continue to be about persons and, sadly, not on topics. So, there will be a lot of discussion about the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 Presidential election, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Senator Bola Tinubu, leader of the secession-seeking Igbo group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and the like. Instead of debating the merits or disadvantage of some impending and prevailing crises, many instances of unfairness and inequality and generally, national politics, Nigerians have become ensnared by the antics of selfish politicians.

The rally of close to 40 political parties with the main opposition party, PDP as arrowhead under the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) does not have the moral energy to fire the ambition of future-oriented politicians that can pool its dynamism to upturn the status quo. Perhaps, they should listen to Atiku Abubakar’s treatise on building a stronger party (that can snatch power from the APC). If equation for the 2023 national elections are considered, Abubakar will be 77 years in that election year, when many expect him to make another bid for the presidency. Rather than relish the suggestion, Abubakar has demonstrated that he is one of the greatest Nigerians insistent on a future every Nigerian can claim his rightful place. His recent call on members of the PDP to concentrate on strengthening the main opposition platform before the 2023 election stands him out of the crowd of public office seekers.

Abubakar’s message which was published on his verified Twitter handle, again, demonstrates the dilemma which social media has imposed on the global society. Whether we like it not, social media is forcing on us some kind of reform which follows a general configuration: A public official or celebrity is in charge. He controls what is in the public space about him and can generate a discourse by issuing a terse statement, which the media and the general public is left to place in context.

Gone are the days of the unresponsive public official. Social media has empowered everyone. The result is an overwhelming outpouring of information. Herein lies the irony, as many of these materials are fake! Since Nigerians do not exercise caution in sharing unverified videos and other controversial materials, with implicit ability to offend, all interested parties are watching what will happen to the proposal from Senator Mohammed Sani Musa on Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill (a.k.a Social Media Bill), which according to the sponsor, is aimed at guiding the users of the internet with a view to curbing fake news and ensuring sanity on the social media.

Sure to generate as much interest in 2020 is the closely related bill by Senator Abdullahi Sabi for a National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech. Already, there is a test case with the arrest by the Department of State Services of 32 year-old, Kabiru Mohammed, alleged to be the mastermind of the fake video purported to be that of a wedding between President Muhammadu Buhari and two female ministers.

The conflicts over separation of powers in democracy have been apparent since Nigeria returned to civilian administration in 1999, largely because the executive one arm of government tends to dominate the legislature and the judiciary, and therefore abuses its powers. The year 2020 will mark the first full-stretch time of these present leaders in the three arms of government. Many Nigerians believe Buhari was instrumental to the emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly; Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. The President also appointed the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad.

In the coming days, there will be clear politics centred on zero-sum issues of national interest, relating to a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. It will be interesting to see if Lawan and Gbajabiamila will lead the federal legislators to subsume the powers and relevance of the legislature in the name of supporting the executive. As things stand, it is difficult to erase the ‘rubber stamp legislature’ image which many Nigerians have marked on the Ninth National Assembly, assuming that it is passive and compromised, without giving it a chance to see if it will abandon its statutory function of checks and balances on the executive. One area that the independence of the federal legislature will be put to the test is how it handles the amendments in the electoral law, which stakeholders agree will guarantee more transparent elections.

With the average Nigerian politician, the judiciary must always do its bidding, otherwise it has conceded. The PDP welcomes the ruling of the courts only when it is in its favour. The APC also displays a similar character. The two major political parties are quick to appreciate the judiciary as the last hope of the common man when a judgement goes their way. Accusations and counter-accusations on who is manipulating the judiciary continue to fly; either way. However, officers at the temple of law; both on the bench and at the bar have admitted that there are corrupt elements among them who need to be shown the door.

In the area of Rule of Law, there is not likely to be a marked change in 2020. Public office holders; the rich and powerful will continue to act with impunity as long as there is no punishment. The set of legislation which governs Nigeria, largely appears to be for a section of the society. But for the influential, there is no check on their conduct. Under the rule of law, no one is above the law. The rights of the ordinary citizen, including his life and property are often not protected or guaranteed. In 2020, the old rules of politics, which promotes might over rights, will remain since Nigerian politicians do not see their time in public office as an opportunity to serve.

Agitation for restructuring of the federation on one hand and the push for complete autonomy of the local government on the other hand will continue with a stronger vehemence in 2020. The current monthly revenue sharing formula which allows the federal government to take the biggest piece of the proverbial ‘National Cake’ of 52.68 per cent has been roundly condemned by many stakeholders. The 36 states take 26.72 per cent, while the balance of 20.60 per cent is shared among the 774 local governments.

President of the Igbo Youth Movement, Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko thinks 2020 offers a wonderful opportunity to the leadership and political elite of Nigeria, to rise up and do the needful: urgently begin the process of reconstructing the polity in order to whittle down excess power at the centre and devolve same to the federating units via a new people’s constitution.

He thinks this can be done through, “A bipartisan, respectable committee of eminent and patriotic leaders who should begin the process of a holistic restructuring of the polity.” He said the New Year “should be a season of stock taking, reminiscing and ruminating on development strides of the First Republic and the unwieldy rigmarole of today. The untidy and unjust unitary system has destroyed cohesion, enthroned nepotism, prebendalism and hatred from the oppressed peoples, which in turn has given birth to everything evil dominating the land today. The hunger, poverty and criminality ruling the land today are only signposts of a dysfunctional unitary structure imposed on the country by the military. Corruption, unemployment, disequilibrium and calls for revolution are direct consequences of ignoring reality for too long.”

The year started with a kind of surface dressing progressive reform that scratches the surface of restructuring. Last week, the six states in the South-west announced a joint security outfit, ‘Amotekun’, which would commence work on January 9. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State disclosed this in his New Year message, saying the outfit would complement the efforts of the regular security agencies.

Known as the Western Nigeria Security Network, he acknowledged the limitation of the outfit. “The fact remains, however, that criminality cannot be totally eradicated even as we are working meticulously at reducing it to the barest minimum in Ekiti State, and the evidence is there for all to see and acknowledge that we are making steady progress. Since we are not an Island, we are working with neigbouring States to strengthen our security architecture,” he said.

January 25, 2020 is a very important on the calendar of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The day has been set aside for 28 rerun elections. The election petition tribunals constituted to try cases arising from the 2019 general election had received 807 post-election petitions, out of which 582 were dismissed and 183 withdrawn by petitioners. Out of the remaining 42 cases, 30 were decided for rerun, while 12 were ordered to be issued certificates of return.

The electoral body said the 28 reruns were a fallout of court-ordered rerun elections that have yet to be held across the nation.

INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, noted that “There are 28 court-ordered elections still outstanding, which are distributed across 12 states of the federation. The breakdown comprises one senatorial district out of 109; 12 federal constituencies out of 360; and 15 state Assembly constituencies out of 991. In many of the cases, elections are to be rerun in only a few polling units.”

But the big two that everyone is waiting for this year are the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. Already, the polity in both states, particularly, Edo is on fire from multiple crises among the political parties.

QUICK FACTS:

* The first major disruption in the early days of the year revolves around two persons, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara state and the immediate past President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki

Bukola Sarak

*To really understand what is going on in Kwara right now and the anxiety over the malicious tendencies of the governor, one has to go back to 2003: The year, Bukola became governor of Kwara and Gbemisola (who is now Minister of State for Transportation) became the Senator representing Kwara Central

*There will be a lot of discussion about the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential election, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Senator Bola Tinubu, leader of the secession-seeking Igbo group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and the like

*The rally of close to 40 political parties with the main opposition party, PDP as arrowhead under the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) does not have the moral energy to fire the ambition of future-oriented politicians that can pool its dynamism to upturn the status quo

Atiku-Abubakar

*Atiku Abubakar has demonstrated that he is one of the greatest Nigerians insistent on a future every Nigerian can claim his rightful place. His recent call on members of the PDP to concentrate on strengthening the main opposition platform before the 2023 election stands him out of the crowd of public office seekers

*A public official or celebrity is in charge. He controls what is in the public space about him and can generate a discourse by issuing a terse statement, which the media and the general public is left to place in context. Gone are the days of the unresponsive public official. Social media has empowered everyone. The result is an overwhelming outpouring of information

*All interested parties are watching what will happen to the proposal from Senator Mohammed Sani Musa on Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill (a.k.a Social Media Bill), which according to the sponsor, is aimed at guiding the users of the internet with a view to curbing fake news and ensuring sanity on the social media

*Sure to generate as much interest in 2020 is the closely related bill by Senator Abdullahi Sabi for a National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech. Already, there is a test case with the arrest by the Department of State Services of 32 year-old, Kabiru Mohammed, alleged to be the mastermind of the fake video purported to be that of a wedding between President Muhammadu Buhari and two female ministers

* The year 2020 will mark the first full-stretch time of these present leaders in the three arms of government

*In 2020, the old rules of politics, which promotes might over rights, will remain since Nigerian politicians do not see their time in public office as an opportunity to serve