Of the many political salvoes fired on the Nigerian political scene last week, one that most heralded the shape of things to come was fired by the freshly minted Governor-elect of Abia State, Dr. Alex Otti. Three days after he won the Abia governorship on Labour Party’s [LP] platform, he said in a television interview that he did not win because of the party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi. In his long acceptance speech, which was aired live on television, Otti did not mention Peter Obi’s name even once. It was puzzling because many analysts thought that Obi, who swept all five South Eastern states in the presidential election three weeks earlier, created a bandwagon effect on which Otti rose to power, but the former banker denied it.
Otti said, “In 2015 when I ran [for Abia governorship] under APGA, there was no Peter Obi. And we have it on our record that I won that election. At the time we were joining Labour Party, Peter Obi had not joined. It took a week before he called me and said that he purchased the presidential nomination form and he was coming to Labour Party… Peter Obi is a great addition to our campaign, but I can tell you that we won an election before in Abia without him.”
Several important political messages in there. Otti said according to his records, he won the Abia governorship election in 2015 even though it is outgoing governor Ikpeazu who was officially declared as winner. Either we accept official results or we do not. One cannot insist that he won the last election, when he was not returned, but gladly accept that he won this one, because he was officially returned. What if other losing candidates in the 2023 election continue to insist for the next four years that they actually won this election in Abia but Otti was wrongly returned?
All over the country, we saw this dissonance in the past month in the attitude of the major opposition parties. A party that rejected the results of the presidential election as rigged, nevertheless turned around and celebrated the victory of its Senate and House of Representatives candidates in the same election. Presidential candidates who were busy assailing the February 25 election as flawed were seen warmly receiving their party men and women who were victorious in the National Assembly elections that held the same day and time, by the same INEC, using the same BVAS, the same personnel, the same Electoral Act and the same election guidelines. I thought the two elections should morally swim or sink together. Either they were all rigged, or they all reflected the wishes of voters.
Probably the most telling observation in the governorship and state assembly elections of March 18 was the steep decline of LP. Its presidential candidate won 11 states and Abuja on February 25 but three weeks later, the party won only one governorship election. If Dr. Otti’s claim is true that Obi’s stature had nothing to do with his victory, then LP fell from 12 states to zero in just three weeks. Of the four major parties in the presidential election, LP suffered the steepest decline. I saw figures calculated by one analyst, that its votes fell from over six million in the presidential election to 600,000 in the governorship polls, whereas the total votes of APC, PDP and NNPP only slightly dropped. This was understandable because eight states and FCT did not vote for governors on March 18.
It was noticeable that Obidients did not question their party’s dismal performance in the governorship election nearly as vociferously as they protested the presidential election results. Why? Is presidency the only impactful public office in Nigeria? One can deduce that most Obidients were only concerned about winning the presidency. This is a very faulty premise in Nigerian politics, but not without precedent. In 2003 when INEC registered UNPP and NDP as new political parties, they did the same thing, raised a lot of dust about their presidential candidates Jim Nwobodo and General Ike Nwachukwu respectively, but had no governorship or senatorial candidates in many states. No wonder those two parties soon fizzled out. Elu Pi should learn a lesson from that history, that winning governorship and legislative seats is an important part of preparations for the future, including the all-important issue of “structure.” Although LP propagandists tried to ridicule all talk about structure, anyone could see that lack of structure crippled the party in many regions in 2023 and, despite many odds, it was nationwide structure that saved APC.
If it is any comfort for LP, there was another precedent in recent times. Almost exactly the same thing happened to the defunct Congress for Progressive Change [CPC] in 2011. Its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari won twelve states outright in the presidential election, only for Sifisi to win only one state governorship two weeks later. Umaru Tanko al-Makura, who won the Nasarawa State governorship on CPC’s platform in 2011, could have more justifiably said what Otti said last week, that he did not win because of Buhari. It would have sounded more true because Nasarawa was not one of the 12 states that Buhari won, whereas Obi did win Abia in 2023. Loyal partyman Al-Makura however never said so. Like Obi, Buhari also believes to this day that the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections were rigged and that the first credible election was the one he won in 2015. He said as much on the day he collected his Certificate of Return.
Another aspect of Otti’s remarks also reminds me. In Nigerian politics, there is a certain element of danger for a party’s national leaders when the party has only one or even a few state governors. The party easily falls prey to an upside-down leadership arrangement where the governor becomes its effective leader. He tends to overshadow its national executive officers and its former presidential candidate. Mr. Peter Obi is very familiar with this because that was what happened in APGA. With only the governorship of Anambra for most of its existence, first Obi, then Willie Obiano and now Prof Charles Soludo became its effective national leader. There was this recent interview by former APGA national chairman Chief Victor Umeh, where he said that for years, he pleaded with Obi to hold local government elections in Anambra so that the party will have some more elected public officials, but he refused. In APGA, no one towers above its lone governor [at one time it had two, plus Rochas Okorocha of Imo].
Actually, LP had a state governor in 2008-16, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo. He became synonymous with the party and completely overshadowed its national leaders, until he later returned whence he came from, to PDP. In the 2007 election, Orji Uzor Kalu’s PPA party won the governorships of Imo and Abia, but both governors soon defected back to PDP. It was alleged at the time that it was Kalu’s overbearing nature that drove the men, Ikedi Ohakim and Theodore Orji, out of the party. At least, unlike Otti, Orji could not say that Kalu’s stature had nothing to do with his victory in Abia because he was in fact cooling his heels in prison on the day he was elected governor. There was even much discussion on TV at the time as to what would happen on Inauguration Day. I remember one lawyer saying on NTA that the Chief Judge of Abia State would have to enter the prison and swear in Orji, after which he will gain immunity from arrest and walk out of the cell!
There are lessons here for NNPP, the other party that, like LP, grabbed only one state governorship in the 2023 election. In 2015, departing Kano State governor Rabi’u Kwankwaso played the political gentleman and anointed his two-time deputy governor Abdullahi Ganduje to succeed him. They had a nasty quarrel soon afterwards, so this time around, Kwankwaso plotted the succession more carefully. He anointed his son-in-law and former commissioner, Abba Kabir Yusuf, popularly known as Gida Gida, who won the election on March 18. Again unlike Otti, Gida Gida never said Kwankwaso was not a factor in his victory. Gida Gida got only slightly more votes on March 18 than Kwankwaso got on February 25.
Now, if Kalu was said to be so overbearing that he pushed two governors out of his party, Kwankwaso, from the look of things, is several times more forceful, much more combative and a much more hands-on party leader than Kalu ever was. Nor is he very magnanimous in victory. I saw a video last week where he was saying he could have ordered NNPP thugs to storm the Kano Government House, bring out Ganduje and “eat him like carrot.” Storming the Government House could have meant a lot of dead Kwankwasiyya men. It was true to type because in 2011 when he was re-elected to his second term as governor, Kwankwaso said in an interview that his main regret was that “I defeated [Malam Ibrahim] Shekarau’s boy [Sagir Takai]. I wanted to beat him himself.”
Kwankwaso should tread carefully because Kano has a history of nasty clashes between party leaders and anointed governors. The fall out in the Second Republic between PRP national leader Malam Aminu Kano and Governor Mohammed Abubakar Rimi left a permanent imprint in Kano politics between the so-called Tabo and Santsi factions. A godfather is not safe even with his own son as governor, as the political fallout in Ilorin in 2011 between Oloye Olusola Saraki and his son, Governor Bukola Saraki showed.