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Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it
– George Santayana
Democratic transition in Africa is historically more complex than in other parts of the world. The intersection of politics with geography, ethnicity, religion and other identity markers are major factors in this regard and nowhere is this so delicately and dramatically playing out than in Nigeria, particularly in the run up to the general election of 2015. The manipulation of identity for political ends under President Goodluck Jonathan has been elevated to an art form. The regime of selective patronage over which he presides and the consequences therefrom, aggravates the nation’s fragile unity, unsettles its uneasy peace and undermines its shaky stability. Being the product of the very divisive election of 2011, President Jonathan could have taken a more noble and conciliatory path. He however chose to play on those divisions further by taking public policy to the altar and playing up one identity against another.
At the centre of Nigeria’s transition crisis is the control of political power which, in real terms, equates to the control of power of economic patronage. In Nigeria, probably more than in most countries, political power confers so much economic advantage on individuals and groups, often to the exclusion of others such that the struggle for its control has become, literally speaking, a matter of life and death. Analysis of contracts awarded by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) chaired by President Jonathan made by a Nigerian newspaper reveal, for example, that over half of Nigeria’s N1.387 trillion capital projects under the 2014 budget was earmarked for the president’s geo-political zone. The Niger Delta region got projects worth N639.306 billion, which is more than the total amount of money earmarked for projects in the rest of the five geo-political zones.
Zone by zone, data analysis of federal projects awarded by FEC in 2014 are as follows: South-south: N639.306 billion; South-west: N256 billion; FCT: N193 billion; South-east: N111.3 billion; North-central: N101 billion; North-west: N62.151 billion and North-east: N23.767 billion. It is not by coincidence that the three zones where President Jonathan is likely to get the least number of votes, North-east, North-west and North-central (minus FCT) in that order, account for only 34% or one third of the amount earmarked for the president’s Niger Delta zone and a paltry 13% of the total for the six geo-political zones. It should not surprise anyone if the percentage of votes the president will receive from each of the six geo-political zones averages the percentage of capital projects earmarked for it.
Thus, competition for political power during election cycles tends to be so ruthless and intense not only because the stakes are so high but also because the reward or punishment of losing out can be equally life-changing. It is this zero-sum nature of the competition which continues to threaten the stability and wellbeing of our nation. The fear of losing power and its consequences are currently driving the behaviour of President Jonathan (and the power block which he represents) towards the general election and its possible outcome.
The Nigerian political elite has developed different coping mechanisms to moderate contestation for political power and the tension it generates. The most successful of these, in relative terms, is the zoning and rotation of public offices among ethnic groups, wards, local government areas, senatorial districts, states and geo-political zones. This coping mechanism is, by definition, not what one might call ideal, but it has generally been operable, warts and all, until 2009 when the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and eventually President Jonathan’s infidelity with the arrangement led to its collapse at the presidential level, at least. By the general election of 2011, Nigeria had become so tension-soaked that some analysts began to predict its disintegration by 2015. If events of the last several weeks and months are anything to go by, this prediction may well be on its way to becoming true unless sanity and common sense are allowed to prevail.
Sanity will prevail if President Jonathan, the hawks in his party, the PDP, and the Nigerian military high command allow the 28th March and 11th April elections to hold. Common sense is to support INEC to conduct free, fair and credible election on the new dates and to hand over power to the winner of the election on May 29th. These, given current trends, will require increased vigilance by Nigerians to help INEC overcome its inertia and enhanced pressure from the international community to help the Jonathan administration overcome its fear of losing the presidential election and the consequences thereof. Anything short of this will put the precarious and fragile peace Nigeria currently enjoys at risk or tragically trigger a series of unfortunate events which may lead to a prolonged period of internal upheaval.
At the current state of play, the different scenarios staring Nigeria in the face are not pretty. This is not the kind of promise which democracy holds out in advanced countries. As it is, if the general election holds on schedule, one of the following will occur:
PDP Wins – There are very high expectations from Nigerians that 2015 is the year of “change”. Poll after poll, among which are those commissioned by members of President Jonathan’s team, had indicated PDP will lose the presidential election by a wide margin (and most of the states). If this expectation is not met, it may be because the elections are rigged. A PDP win could trigger street protests and massive public unrest. Already, there is a large movement of people from north to south and vice versa out of fear that the election results may precipitate violence. If this occurs, a prolonged period of instability, a military coup or worse, an attempt at secession by those who have already served notice to that effect may result.
APC Wins – If public expectations and opinion polls are anything to go by, APC is set to win the forthcoming presidential election (and most of the states). Ordinarily, if APC wins the election, it will be expected to take over the federal government on May 29, 2015. However, there are disturbing signs this may not be the case. Although the president has made a public commitment to hand over power to the winner if he loses in a free and fair election, senior PDP and federal government officials have been reported to insist power will not be handed over to a party dominated by Islamic fundamentalists (a euphemism for APC). Again, if the president is to take it upon himself to determine whether or not the election is free and fair, then his public commitment is probably not as reassuring as it seems. Similarly, Niger Delta militants in company with state and federal officials known to be close to the president, have been reported to threaten the country with war if the president loses the election. Many Nigerians believe they have the capability to carry out the threat.
Run off or Inconclusive Election – Unlikely as it may seem, the possibility of a presidential election without a clear winner cannot be ruled out, especially if PDP’s rigging machine is allowed to enjoy a free reign. An election without a clear winner will suggest PDP and APC are equally strong, a situation which may trigger a crisis-ridden run off and the possibility of a violently contested outcome. This may result in a stalemate and the possible inability of INEC to proceed with the 11th April poll as planned. If the general election collapses or if it becomes inconclusive, a period of prolonged instability and violence may result.
One of the Candidates is Disqualified – There are at least six cases in court, two seeking the disqualification of the PDP presidential candidate and four seeking the disqualification of the APC candidate. Speculations are rife that a particular judge has been procured to do the hatchet job of disqualifying one of the candidates. If this happens, it would not be the first time in Nigeria the courts would be used to stop an election from taking its natural course. Disqualification of any of the candidates, even at this late hour will not, theoretically speaking, prevent the election from taking place but the consequences for Nigeria’s democracy will be dire, to put it mildly. It is unlikely the “winner” of such an election will take office on May 29th.
On the other hand, one of the more disturbing possibilities is that the general election as scheduled may not be allowed to hold. Many Nigerians do not believe the reasons advanced for the postponement of the election and entertain the fear that the postponement is a prelude to a more sinister plot to extend the life of President Jonathan’s administration without going to the polls. Among the scenarios that could unfold are:
The resident Invokes Section 135 Of the 1999 Constitution – Section 135 of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:
“If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in sub-section (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any time.”
The inexplicable failure of the Nigerian armed forces to contain the advances and atrocities of Boko Haram and the rapid seizure of territory by the sect, using weapons abandoned by our troops, had given rise to speculations that President Jonathan would rather extend his tenure by using insecurity as an excuse than hold election in 2015. This speculation gained greater momentum because Boko Haram’s successes were increasingly coinciding with the approach of the election. Then, in September 2014, Senate President David Mark, an influential member of President Jonathan’s kitchen cabinet, made a Freudian slip. Mark was reported to have said: “There is no question of election. It is not even on the table. We are in a state of war”. The statement had, naturally, attracted widespread condemnation. It is, therefore, not surprising that the rescheduling of the general election by INEC on grounds of insecurity had raised a red flag and reinforced the fear of tenure elongation.
It is reassuring that the Nigerian armed forces appear to be on the offensive in the last few weeks and reports of recapture of lost territory are now making the headlines. But war, being what it is, what if the six-week extension requested by the military to roll back Boko Haram does not achieve the desired results? What if Boko Haram regroups, launches a counteroffensive and forces our military to retreat? That would be very unlikely but not unusual or unheard of in a war situation. Will the election hold under these circumstances, considering the reasons given for the extension in the first place? Will this give President Jonathan the excuse to invoke Section 135 and extend his tenure by six months in the first instance as many Nigerians fear? If this happens, there is no doubt APC and most Nigerians will reject it. The crisis that will ensue may eventually have to be resolved on the streets.
Interim Government – Although President Jonathan had categorically ruled it out, powerful administration officials and vested interests outside of it are busy at work trying to abort the general election and put an interim government in place. By its nature and by precedent, an interim government in Nigeria will be short-lived and may be replaced by a military regime within a short time. This will definitely attract the interest of the international community, as military coups are no longer in fashion. It is also possible the international community could intervene before a coup takes place in the manner it did in Côte d’Ivoire. Howsoever this situation is resolved, the possibility of a downward spiral cannot be ruled out.
One of the Presidential Candidate Dies Unnaturally – There is a very slim, if improbable possibility one of the presidential candidates could die in an accident or in circumstances that could lead the public to suspect foul play. A PDP governor had raised a storm last month by suggesting General Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, could die if elected before the end of his term. Since then, this theme of death has remained a strain in the PDP campaign. Some fear this may be a preemptive alibi to “arrange” the death of the APC candidate before, not after, the election. If this happens, the election is not likely to hold and the nation may be plunged into chaos and a prolonged period of instability. This was how Rwanda’s slippery slope got out of control and how the actions of a few desperate politicians got the nation on its way to large-scale genocide.
None of these scenarios needs to crystallise. Nigeria had made a worthy investment in democracy in the last 16 years and is entitled to reap the fruits of its investment. However, the politics of the last six years have placed this investment in jeopardy. If Nigeria’s investment in democracy fails to bear fruit, it will not be the first time this has happened. Nigeria is still paying the price of the failed election of June 12, 1993. It will be more than tragic if we fail to learn from history and allow what happened two decades ago to repeat itself.
- Mr. Ibrahim is the National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
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