ENGAGEMENTS BY Chidi Amuta
As the organized fanfare of the campaigns wind down, something more potent is about to take its place. The drama and travelling circus of the campaigns will shortly be followed by the ritual of democratic observance. In a little over two weeks, people will queue up to cast their ballot in ritual conformity with democratic routine. Those are the obvious proceedings. The real forces that will determine the outcome of the elections this month are less obvious and perceptible. It is the interplay of unseen forces that will determine the outcome of the elections. Let us call them non-ballot forces. They are already rehearsing in different theatres and may shape the decisive moment.
In effect, we are approaching the moment of non-ballot combinations that could determine the outcome of the elections we have prepared so much for. This may be the hour of a more ancient struggle, the real struggle for raw power. The interplay of underground interests, forces and unintended determinants of real power are sharpening their cudgels for a go at the throne. The summary of the drama of the next few weeks comes down to one supreme question: who will assume occupancy of Aso Rock Villa on 29th May?
It may be distasteful to hint that a democracy with elaborate structures and guided by INEC’ s convoluted processes could be subject to outcomes determined by unseen forces not easily captured by poll projections and intellectual statistical forecasts. But we are where we are. In this place, power ascendancy can be guided by factors that are above the ballot box. It is in the realm of vested interests, received assumptions and unintended consequences that we need to look for the outcomes of the forthcoming election especially at the presidential level.
The contenders are already crawling out of the dark into full display. Kaduna state governor, my friend Nasir El Rufai has a way of being around when power succession becomes subject to unclear schemes and uncertain calculations. Remember his whereabouts when Obasanjo’s succession drama ran into a bump and led to the emergence of Yar’Adua. El-Rufai was on the wrong side of the train and so fled only to return after the demise of Yar’Adua.
Now again, he has fired the opening salvo in what looks like an interesting power transition chronicle. He has openly alleged that there are forces in the Villa who are working against the emergence of Mr. Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as Mr. Buhari’s successor. That proposition is by no means a light one but is indicative of the emerging disquiet in the place of receding power.
Very quickly, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, easily among Nigeria’s most politically engaged First Ladies in recent times, has tacitly endorsed El-Rufai’s contentious submission by reposting the footage on the social media. Apparently rattle and embarrassed by El Rufai’s troublesome claim, the presidency has been dragged into a fray it probably did not prepare for. The presidency has reaffirmed the president’s support for Tinubu as his party’s flag bearer.
Following the Kaduna governor’s stormy claim, speculative fingers have begun pointing in the direction of the Villa’s in-house cabal led by Mr. Mamman Daura, Mr. Buhari’s ubiquitous and meddlesome nephew. Knowledgeable sources see Mr. Daura as the helmsman among the unseen hands in El Rufai’s proposition. There is no certainty of what Mr. Daura and his court collective may have been up to in recent times.
What is however undeniable is that the syndicate did set up an informal parallel clearing house for Buhari’s possible successor prior to last May’s presidential primaries. The narrative is that this is how come diverse persons as far flung as Dr. Akinwumi Adesina of the African Development Bank, Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank and even former president Goodluck Jonathan found themselves paying for APC’s N100 million apiece nomination forms.
Somehow, Mr. Bola Tinubu may have wriggled through from outside the preferred candidates’ list of the cabal. From within the Villa then, it would appear that two clear factions have emerged on the Buhari succession train: the Mamman Daura faction and the Aisha Buhari factions.
But the diversity of unstated interest around the presidential succession election are not restricted to the schemes inside Aso Rock. Norare they limited to the ruling APC for that matter. What is at stake is the ultimate power in Nigeria. Therefore, the other major candidates, namely, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi also come with their own stakes and interests. All of them come with their own bag of factors and interests. This season’ top contenders come loaded with their peculiarities.
First, for the first time in our post military partisan politics, the three top contenders represent an unconscious replay of Nigeria’s tripodal ethnic equation. Tinubu from the Yoruba southwest; Atiku from the perennial Hausa Fulani north and Mr. Peter Obi who gatecrashed to the top of the race is the unexpected Igbo man flying the most nationalistic and detribalized flag. By accident or design, this representation puts on display the familiar stock assumptions of Nigerian politics. Each of them therefore comes with a baggage of deficits, unstated assumptions and supporting attributes.
Secondly, the three candidates come with an interesting mix of religious profiles and undertones. Mr. Atiku Abubakar is an undisguised northern Fulani Muslim. Mr. Tinubu is a Yoruba Muslim with a Christian wife parading a Muslim-Muslim ticket with Mr. Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate. On the other hand, Mr. Peter Obi is an unadulterated Igbo Christian, an unrepentant Roman Catholic. This mix and match of backgrounds of faith and ethnicity is perhaps representative of the Nigerian diversity. The campaign has been all about each of the candidates proving that they can transcend their ethnic and regional identities to be more Nigerian than the others. But the combination comes packed with multiple electoral and political permutations, possibilities, and advantages.
Thirdly, this is the first time in the post military political era that the presidential race is not featuring a war time military hero or general. Therefore, it is the track record of the candidates in previous elective public office rather than the myths of military and battle field heroism that is being invoked in marketing them to the Nigerian electorate. To that extent, none of them is in a position to frighten us with tales of war time leadership and sometimes dubious heroism.
Over and beyond the unstated factors in the backgrounds of the contestants, there are frightening developments that could affect the very conduct of the elections themselves. Already, systemic darts are being aimed at the elections themselves. INEC has in recent days been compelled to reassure the public and the world that the elections will not be postponed or the schedule tampered with.
An inexplicable nationwide fuel scarcity has overwhelmed the entire nation. As consequence, the pump price of gasoline has gone haywire all around the country with some areas recording prices as high as N600 per litre over and beyond the regulated N180 per litre. This is a clear danger and threat to election logistics. A general election in the whole of Nigeria is a massive logistical undertaking requiring uninterrupted energy, power, and unhindered robust internet network viability.
Official excuses for the nationwide fuel scarcity have ranged from sabotage to smuggling across the borders to the mischief of system ghosts. A presidential task force with the president himself as chairman has been set up with no perceptible improvements yet. Since the president, who is also the Minister of Petroleum, is the chairman of the new task force, failure of the committee cannot easily find a fall guy. But the threat of fuel scarcity to the election remains. Even at the private level, people will need to get to their polling boots and back. INEC will need to move electoral materials to the most remote places by road, air, or boats.
Barely three weeks to the elections, an apparently unplanned and disastrously executed currency change has been unleashed. The entire nation is literally cash strapped. A maneuver that was originally advanced as an anti-inflationary measure became a ruse to check vote buying by wealthy politicians. The sloppy policy has thrown the entire national economy into a tailspin. Majority of Nigerians can hardly find cash to transact their daily needs. To access limited quantities of their own cash, they must pay a premium, thereby worsening the already scandalous inflation situation. Banks are starved of the new notes just as the existing old high denomination notes have been decreed out of legal tender. The spiral impact of possible upheaval is everywhere in evidence. If unchecked, the development could seriously threaten public peace and orderly social and economic life. The possibility of holding the elections could be threatened with a heightened possibility that the emergency powers in the constitution could be invoked if matters get out of hand.
Against the background of the prevailing insecurity across the country, fears remain that elections may be interrupted in parts of the country. In the southeast, for instance, repeated attacks on INEC facilities and personnel in Imo State have raised fears that the elections may be interrupted by violence and heightened separatist agitations. Of course, IPOB, the lead separatist group in the zone has issued a statement absolving itself of threat to the elections.
Similar fears have been expressed about parts of the north like the northeast where remnants of Boko Haram and ISWAP still constitute a security concern. The troubled states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger remain places of high security interest. The possibility that terrorists and bandits in these areas could be determined to disrupt the elections is a matter of course.
Even in states that are not directly subject to terrorist or bandit attack, sitting governors are disturbing the peace. In a bid to monopolize the political space in their states, some governors have lately resorted to draconian authoritarian tactics to stifle their opponents. In Rivers State, for instance, Governor Nyesom Wike has literally garrisoned the state with violent thugs. He has in addition outlawed campaigns by all rival parties in public spaces like stadia, schools, and arenas. His armed thugs have occasionally barricaded campaign venues of rival parties with gun shots and attacks with dangerous weapons. The possibility of reprisal attacks and equally violent responses could plunge the state into anarchy which could necessitate a state of emergency and the postponement of elections.
Taken together, this wide range of circumstances in the national social and economic environment are enough to truncate the best intentions of those who have designed and marketed an orderly democratic transition through a free and fair election. And the possibility of botched elections would open a range of undemocratic possibilities in a bid to ensure national survival and collective security. All informed assessments of Nigeria’s chances with this month’s elections have never failed to factor in undemocratic interventions in government if the elections do not go well.
Even if the elections go well, there remains a fear about the outcome and the possibility of post-election upheaval. The configuration of backgrounds and loyalties among the three major contenders for the presidency leaves room for contentious outcomes. If the ailing Mr. Tinubu wins the election with his Muslim-Muslim ticket, there remains a fear that the Christian population of the south could rise against his victory on religious grounds. His Aso Villa based traducers could also engineer a rejection of his victory for all manner of reasons. Widespread triumphalism among his devotees in the southwest could grate badly on the feelings of other nationalities.
An Atiku Abubakar victory would in the same vein meet with a faith-based series of protests. Against the backdrop of Mr. Buhari’s jihadist antics, the fear that another Fulani Muslim president could deepen existing fears of sectional hegemony and herdsmen violence may spark pan-southern protests and a violent rejection of the outcome of the elections.
On the other hand, a surprising Peter Obi victory would be the most tectonic outcome of the 2023 presidential election. An Obi victory would unsettle some of the assumptions on which the Nigerian federation has existed in the post-civil war era. An Igbo man as president of Nigeria would unsettle the political, security and even psychological comportment of the Nigerian state and society. Christians would rise triumphant just as the Igbos would feel a new sense of inclusion in the Nigerian federation 53 years after an unfortunate civil war.
That outcome could produce unintended resistance and even violent protest in parts of the federation since the fear of Igbo ascendancy is one factor that has continued to unite the rest of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities. For the youth and most urban educated Nigerians, that would perhaps be the most desirable outcome of the forthcoming presidential election. A feeling of real change is likely to sweep through the nation as most people have become enamored of Mr. Obi’s gospel of a new Nigeria in which power is returned to the people.
As Nigerians prepare to troop out to cast their votes, it is best to bear in mind that the factors that will determine the outcome of these elections may lie beyond the polling stations. Incidentally, it is the non-ballot forces at play in a society that determine the quality of its democratic choices.