Jonathan’s Failing Re-election Scramble Ahead of 2015 By Maigida Johnson
“Elections are two clear years away yet the collision of vaulting personal ambitions is over-heating the polity and distracting the onerous task of governance,” Senate President David Mark lamented on June 7. Mr Mark was trying to diffuse rising political tensions and the subsequent security implications for the country. Following on June 9 was a warning, and threat of sanction, from the Independent National Electoral Commission. But in reality, two years to the polls in any political cycle is far from being the lifetime Mr Mark would have us believe. It might as well be two weeks. As things stand, the build-up to the 2015 election has effectively begun. And going into the 2015 vote, President Goodluck Jonathan’s political capital (if any left) and the skill with which he handles current security challenges will determine his re-election. Whether the six-year single term proposal under the current constitution process will be applicable, or not, to the present elected executives remains a debate for now. But in the effect it doesn’t, the stage is gradually getting set for a thrilling contest in 2015.
The last few months has seen the ruling People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, roiled with conflicting interests and ambitions amongst party members and stalwarts, particularly amidst speculations Mr Jonathan will seek a second term in office. The long-simmering power struggle between Mr Jonathan and his perceived opposition within the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, came to a head on May 24 when 35 adult men and chief executives of their respective states supposedly re-elected Governor Rotimi Amaechi as chairman. But hours later the results came into dispute as a group of pro-Jonathan governors led by henchman Godswill Akpabio alleged a vote rig. Mr Amaechi’s challenger Jonah Jang of Plateau, flanked by a dozen other governors, was declared winner.
Although Mr Jonathan is yet to publicly declare to run for re-election in 2015, he has intensified moves to shore up his shaky power base within the PDP, mainly amongst the governors who, as a group made up of influential, independent-minded and ambitious governors, are most likely going to be the king makers. Mr Amaechi’s victory at the NGF elections was a major political defeat for the president, considering that the PDP has 22 governors in the NGF. It signified an open defiance to Mr Jonathan but most significantly, it eroded priceless political capital that will make pushing through with key reforms like the Petroleum Industry Bill even harder. Although Mr Amaechi was swiftly suspended to save face, the damage had already been done. While the power struggle within the PDP continue unabated as we head into the 2014 presidential primaries, the merged coalition All Progressive Congress, or APC, stand to profit the most if the appropriate political dexterity is applied. And most especially if they can rein in General Muhammadu Buhari whose recent interviews and comments have done nothing but harm the coalition’s chances of breaking the country free of the PDP’s 14-year stranglehold on the presidency. However Mr Jonathan can make up for lost ground if the on-going military operation in the northeast, occasioned by the emergency rule, to end the Islamists insurgency can yield tangible results.
The Boko Haram insurgency weakens Mr Jonathan’s political standing and capital and raises downside risks of his re-election bid going into 2015. A likely outcome from the military operation is that Boko Haram will be driven underground for a few months. Given Nigeria’s porous borders, the sect will regroup and resurface and probably target attacks to parts of the north that are more closely integrated with the political economy than the north-eastern fringes. Clearly, security will be a deciding factor in the outcome of the 2015 vote. The reality is that elections in Nigeria have never being about the people. It’s a contest for the control of power and the country’s oil wealth by a corrupt, selfish, and aggrandizing political elite. As the build-up to 2015 continues, the country faces three separate but easily connected security risks that will continue to feed on existing political, regional and sectarian tensions. First is the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. Secondly, is an escalated political stakes as a result of attacks by Islamists in areas that are already hotbeds for sectarian and ethnic violence in the north central states. While the on-going military operations in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, Boko Haram’s spiritual home, may seem to have curbed the insurgency, recent ethnic and sectarian violence in Gombe, Taraba, Benue and the Ombatse killing of scores of policemen in Nassarawa within the last six weeks underscores elevated security risks in the country’s middle belt.
Thirdly, is the security threat the Niger Delta poses should Mr Jonathan be sent packing out of Aso Rock Villa before his first term expires or if a re-election bid is perceived to have been thwarted political foes. The president’s kinsmen including elder statesman Edwin Clarke and former warlord Mujahid Asari-Dokubu have threatened violence in the event of any of the aforementioned scenarios. Kingsley Kuku, head of the government’s Delta Amnesty Office, puts it rather subtly, alluding that the peace hitherto in the delta that has allowed energy companies boost oil output will not be guaranteed if Mr Jonathan isn’t returned in 2015. And he’s probably right. Security in the delta, home to Africa’s largest oil industry, has improved, at least superficially, since the advent of Mr Jonathan’s administration. But it has come at a price, literally from pay-outs to ex-warlords who were granted state pardon under a half implemented government amnesty program to rebels in the creeks.
On the face of it, there are no direct connections between the Islamist insurgents in the north and the militants in the creeks but when analysed with perspective, they are both clearly linked to the zero-sum regional struggle by politicians’ for power and control of Nigeria’s oil wealth. This rivalry will continue to play out in the PDP as one faction, usually from one region, is pitted against another. Even the APC will not be spared of these conflicts if, or when, it eventually comes on board and into national dominance. The prospect that Mr Jonathan loses the PDP ticket or the presidential vote in 2015 will surely undermine peace in the delta as any president from outside the region is likely to face resurgence in attacks that led to significant oil output disruptions between 2006 and 2009. For Mr Jonathan, the outlook is grim going into the 2015 elections. Even if the president wins the power struggle within his party, he is likely to face some defections by key stalwarts, both at the national and local levels, to the opposition coalition which will greatly weaken the PDP. At best, he will be left with a ragtag party to challenge for re-election and this might send the presidential vote into a runoff for the first time in the country’s history as he might be unable to secure the minimum requirement of victory in two-thirds of the 36 states to win at first count.
Some may argue that PDP has weathered similar internal strife in the past and will overcome the current turmoil to ward-off the oppositions’ challenge. However, this time around the opposition has a two and half year head start to firm up alliances and rally their base. The PDP’s 14-year failure to fight corruption, rising poverty and youth unemployment has disillusioned the people. The days of PDP dominance are fast waning. And it has been aided by an increased political awareness amongst the educated youth and a recently emerging intellectual activism spurred by the social media. These have helped to broaden and deepen the discourse about the future of the country. As Mr Jonathan continues to make a mess of his scramble for re-election, having expended huge political capital with little to show for it, for the first since the return to civil rule in 1999 the opposition coalition have a realistic shot at snatching the presidency. They will need to institutionalize real internal democracy in their ranks, articulate a vision that will appeal to a broader national base and back it up by putting forward credible candidates the people can easily rally around.
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