If the hangovers were the type that one feels after a revelry or binge with friends after which one is reluctant to go back to work the next day, it would not have mattered much.
That is because excessive alcohol intake can be taken care of by engaging in quick detoxification, and being not keen to return to work can be cured by a reality check of fear of being fired from the job or suffering income loss if one’s boss is fair enough to make absence from work a loss of pay for the period of absence.
But the hangover being suffered by Nigerian politicians after the party primaries for the 2023 general elections that were held mostly during the month of May and the first week of June is much more than that.
That is especially true for the presidential candidates of the two major political parties—the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP—who are now grappling with the dilemmas triggered by their emergence in the persons of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, BAT, in the case of the ruling party at the center, APC, and Atiku Abubakar, AA, in the case of the main opposition party, PDP.
In light of the irksome uncertainties in the camps of the presidential flag bearers of the aforementioned main opposition parties, it is clear that their candidacy is fraught with technicalities that are disruptive to the tradition, as their emergence represents a major paradigm shift in the annals of Nigeria’s political office contestation at the presidential level.
Traditionally, if a presidential candidate is from the north, usually Hausa/Fulani and a Muslim, the running mate is often someone from the south—gbo, ljaw, or Yoruba. That has been the case since 1979, when Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Muslim and Hausa/Fulani from Sokoto state, was paired as presidential and vice-presidential candidate with Dr. Alex Ekwueme, a Christian and an lgbo from Anambra state.
Ditto for Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba Christian from Owu in Ogun state, and Atiku Abubakar, from Adamwa state, who held the Presidency and Vice Presidency from 1999 to 2007, not to mention Umaru Yar’adua, a Muslim Hausa/Fulani from Katsina state, and Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Otuoke Bayelsa state presidency and Vice Presidency, 2007-
Even under military rule, pre and post-1979 return to democracy, with Shagari and Ekwueme at the helm of affairs as President and Vice President, the military dictators were sensitive enough to observe and respect the delicate ethnic and religious lines by balancing the ethnic and religious fault lines required to keep our country on an even keel.
Having set the stage by putting things in perspective, let us dissect the hangovers that are being suffered by both BAT and AA, who are clearly the presidential front runners in 2023, and dwell a little on the other threats posed by the fringe parties and their chances, or otherwise, of having a shot at calling the shots in Aso Rock Villa next year.
Beginning with the APC, where the seeming political miscalculation during the June 6-7th APC convention, when things presumably careened out of control, following the underestimation of APC national leader, Bola Tinubu,’s capacity and ability to literally pull a chestnut out of fire by becoming the presidential candidate of the APC, against all odds, and which is one of the causes of the debilitating hangover.
As a consequence of that unforeseen development, for which the APC was clearly unprepared, it is now dealing with the hangover of swimming against the tide of finding a running mate that would compliment its candidate as opposed to threatening the chances of the party or even endangering the unity of our country. That is basically because a Muslim-Muslim ticket, which appears to be the best option open to BAT, by all measures, seems to be an anathema in light of the current dissonance level between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.
That point is driven home by the media statements being issued by various Christian groups and even a Muslim interest platform that have expressed aversion to such an arrangement at the presidential level. Significantly, over the weekend, a group known as Nigeria Democracy Defense Watch, (NDDW) led by one Ahmed Ibrahim Adamu and Otunba Adeniji Adegoke, wrote a letter to President Buhari suggesting that “a Muslim-Muslim ticket may portray Nigeria as an Islamic and sectarian nation.”
It may be argued that the late Moshood Kashimawo Okikiola, MKO Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim like BAT, contested for the presidency under the SDP in 1993 by pairing with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, another Muslim from Borno state, and won.
But the level of ethnic and religious animosity now prevailing in our country, manifesting in extremes, was absent in 1993.
In fact, the unusuality of a Muslim-Muslim presidency may have been the critical, but the unannounced, reason why the election was thought to be the fairest of political party elections in Nigeria was annulled by then-head of state general Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB.
As it may be recalled, lBB had indicated in the numerous media interviews that he has granted in nearly 30 years after the sad event of June 12, 1993 election annulment, that it was done to assuage the anger of members of the military-perhaps his kitchen cabinet who were opposed to the development. Hopefully, IBB will reveal exactly the identity of the officers that were opposed to his allowing MKO Abiola’s victory to be upheld and their reason for being so resolute about it in his memoir, if he eventually writes one or authorizes one.
It needs to be brought to the fore that, in uncanny ways, the June 1993 annulment of the presidential elections won by MKO Abiola by IBB echoes January 6, 2020, attempted annulment of Joe Biden’s victory as president of the USA by then-president Donald Trump and which is currently being investigated by the congress of that country. The parallel lies in the fact that the then incumbent president, Trump, tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to overturn the election victory of Biden via pressure on Vice President Mike Pence and members of Parliament to deny Biden’s victory by using the statutory endorsement and validation by parliament to invalidate the result. But for the existence of robust institutions of democracy in the USA, Trump would have had his way in the manner that Babangida successfully annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, which MKO won.
Abiola was adjudged the winner but was denied the crown.
As a country that believes in engaging in post mortem of events in order to avert future occurrences, the Congress of the USA is investigating the June 6, 2020, invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump insurgents who besieged the Congress hall and unleashed mayhem on congressmen and women while in the process of endorsing Biden’s victory. Right now, the inquisition is being carried out in the full glare of Americans via live television. Unsurprisingly, that was not the case with the June 12, 1993 annulment in Nigeria and one of the reasons Africa is referred to as a “dark continent” and why, indeed, Nigeria is still in the doldrums and even deemed as a basket case in the comity of civilized countries.
That being the case, how June 12, 1993, happened has remained a mystery and subject of conjecture, as I have just done by speculating that non-acceptance of the Muslim-Muslim presidency by some influential military high command members may be an unsung reason.
For the sake of emphasis, had we as a nation known what informed the decision by LB and his kitchen cabinet to annul the June 12th presidential election via a public enquiry whose report was made public, perhaps it would have been legislated against and maybe Bola Ahmed Tinubu would not be caught in a similar web today.
And our country’s leaders’ lack of interest in looking at the past experience with the June 12th, 1993 debacle to enable them to chart a better future in our presidential elections may be attributable to the fact that the sad event occurred under a military dictatorship that is opaque, as opposed to a democracy that is transparent. Worse still, even where a panel of inquiry is set up to examine the cause of such an aberration, the reports are swept under the carpet. Take the Oputa Panel Report, for instance. It is an investigative panel set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 to investigate human rights abuses from 1984 to 1999 when Nigeria was ruled by both General Ibrahim Babangida and then General Muhammadu Buhari, military head of state, from 1983-85. The panel of enquiry headed by the late justice Chukwudifu Oputa, with bishop Hasan Kukah as secretary, wrote a report that never saw the light of day. Hence, our country failed to undergo a reset in the manner that Rwanda witnessed a rebirth after its ethnic cleansing tragedy in 1994.
Apart from the challenge of both the president and his vice being of the same faith, which appears untenable given the prevailing circumstances of religious disharmony in our country, which has been elevated to a frightening level in the past decade or so, and which is like an albatross hanging over the presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the minimum educational qualifications for a president is another major cause of indigestion in Tinubu’s camp.
Both of these factors—Muslim-Muslim ticket palava and minimum certificate imbroglio—are the reasons the winner of the APC presidential primaries has been unable to consummate his victory nearly one month after he won it.
Evidently, his inability to appoint a substantive running mate, hence he exercised the option of nominating a place holder in the person of Ibrahim Masari from Katsina state, does not augur well for his presidential ambition. But in the prevailing circumstances, he needed to beat the INEC deadline by buying time while trying to figure out the intricacies of ethnic and religious realities that define our politics, and since the Place-Holder concept lends itself, he settled for it, albeit temporarily.
The Place-Holder, which is an option that Tinubu exercised, has thus entered into the lexicon of Nigerian political actors as it is now a popular line of action in the political space as other presidential candidates (not the PDP) have copied the innovative concept pioneered by the inimitable Bola Tinubu, who is best known for his sagacity, having been the one who institutionalized deputy governors as political neophytes, having learned a bitter lesson from his hard fight to fend off his first deputy, the politically savvy Kofoworaola Bucknor, who allegedly bent on impeaching him. It was Tinubu who also changed for good the concept of Local Government Areas (LGAs) to Local Council Development Authorities (LCDAs) after winning a landmark legal battle against then-president Olusegun Obasanjo. So, it is to his credit that the concept of creating additional local councils by states has now become standard practice.
By contributing another feature like the Place-Holder concept that is currently a fad in the political milieu, Tinubu has by and large become another touch bearer in that respect.
It is against that backdrop that BAT, who has issues with the academic certificates that he submitted or did not submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has become another source of tension and talking point, attracting the attention of Nigerians from the mosques, churches, barber shops, and market squares to the online social media platforms dominated by the youths, as they animately and passionately debate what the future portends.
The question now is, would Tinubu, who given the fact that he has successfully fought numerous political battles-University of Chicago certificate scandal as Lagos State Governor (1999-2007) and narcotics racketeering indictments in the USA during his sojourn in the Diaspora, as recently reported by Bloomberg, survive the current bogeys-Muslim-Muslim ticket, to which he will likely resort at great risk and minimum educational qualifications quagmire in which he may be compelled to present his primary and secondary school certificates to avoid being disqualified?
Given his track record of successfully navigating political stormy waters, his supporters believe that BAT, like the proverbial cat with nine lives, will triumph because the current ill wind will eventually blow away.
On the part of the main opposition, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Turaki Atiku Abubakar, since his emergence as the flag bearer on May 28th, there has arisen more or less an anarchic situation of a stunning proportion.
It started with the party going against its presidency rotation policy, practiced since it was born in 1998/99 and embedded in its constitution. The rotation pendulum was not allowed to swing south as expected, believing that an opposition party may be more compelled to leverage a winning formula and candidate with the best chance of winning than party dogma. Instead, a more pragmatic approach of building on the momentum of about 13 million votes already gathered by her presidential candidate in the last presidential contest in 2019 was adopted. To some extent, unlike the unforeseen circumstances that threw up Asiwaju Tinubu as the presidential candidate of the APC, the emergence of Abubakar as the PDP’s standard bearer can not be said to be unanticipated.
That is further underscored by the fact that the party debated and agreed to throw its presidential candidacy open instead of rotating it exclusively to the south, as it should have, all things being equal.
Like the quagmire afflicting the APC, which looks like a catch-22, by not respecting the party’s presidential rotation agreement, the PDP has left a bad taste in the mouth, not only of PDP members from the south-east and south-south zones, which are the party’s stronghold but also of the middle belters who have been vociferous along with Ohaneze-lgbo sociopolitical group, PANDEF-Niger Delta platform of the same hue with Ohanaze and Middle Belt Forum, MBF, a north central state political forum, who are thumping their noses at the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Further muddying the water is the fact that Nyesom Wike, the current governor of Rivers state, who is from the south-south zone, also contested for the presidential ticket and ended up as the first runner-up to the winner of the contest. He already feels sore because some fellow governors of his party from the south betrayed him. But, worse still, he has subsequently been passed over as running mate to Atiku Abubakar. Denying Nyesom Wike a consolatory price as Vice Presidential candidate, in light of the fact that he has been the major pillar of support for the PDP since it lost the presidency in 2015, has gaslighted the party, which at this point in time, should have been taking advantage of the cul de sac that the difficulty in choosing a Vice Presidential candidate poses to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presidential ambition. But instead, the presidential candidate, Abubakar, is struggling to glue together the party, which currently seems to be in tatters.
It is unfortunate that a combination of the PDP leadership’s current actions and inactions, as well as the burden of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, who has been so bellicose by relentlessly labeling his former second in command as corrupt without proof, and Bloomberg’s equally excoriating report about allegations of financial malfeasance in the United States against Turaki Abubakar, of which there is no proof of conviction of any crime against the PDP president,
Again, there is solace in the fact that Atiku Abubakar, who is a veteran of several presidential contests at both the party primary levels and as the candidate of his party in presidential elections in 2019, has proven to be a goal getter. In a recent press statement, he has vowed to mend the broken fences within the party, just as the BOT chairman of the party, senator Walid Jibrin, has recommended a high-powered diplomacy shuttle to Port Harcourt involving both the presidential candidate and his running mate, Nyesom Wike, who has been let down by the party that he invested a lot in building in the past seven (7) years. Reportedly, both the APC and Labor Party are seeking Wike’s hands in a political marriage.
Hopefully, Atiku Abubakar will not treat the need to forge a common front before 2023 by applying a healing balm to the wounds of those whose ox was gored during the vicious battle fought during the party primaries with levity in the same way that Goodluck Jonathan allowed the PDP to collapse in 2015, by engaging in foolish pride in not seeking rapprochement when critical stakeholders were jumping ship.
All things being equal, would Turaki Atiku Abubakar be luckier this time and prevail in the impending 2023 presidential contest?
Given the prevailing political dynamics in our country whereby citizens are disdainful of the horrendous level of insecurity of lives and properties, as well as the unprecedented level of hunger and starvation stalking the land, which can best be characterized as an extreme state of anomie, the presidency of Nigeria is for the PDP and Atiku Abubakar to lose, if they do or do not get their acts right early enough. And the handwriting is already on the wall if the massive defections from
If the APC to PDP in Sokoto and Katsina states, as well as across the country, is anything to go by,
Aside from the dissonances in the two major parties—the APC and PDP—in their quest for the 2023 election due to configuration challenges imposed by ethnic and religious differences, there is another threat.
And it is the Labor Party, LP, energized by the ex-PDP presidential candidate who decamped, Mr. Peter Obi, who is now a wave-making presidential candidate of the LP, and the Nigerian National Political Party, NNPP, founder and presidential candidate, Dr. Rabiu Musa KWAKWANSO, that the APC and PDP should be watching from their rearview mirrors.
On their own, both parties and their candidates pose no real threat. But combined, they can constitute a real danger to both the APC and PDP missions to Aso Rock Villa in 2023.
To be clear, while I do not see a path to KWAKWANSO being a running mate to Obi as being speculated, it is not impossible that both parties may agree to pool resources together in support of either of both political party’s candidates, especially for the presidential election.
An even greater threat is a combination of all the opposition parties apart from the PDP against the ruling party, APC.
That would be reminiscent of what happened in 2013/14 when four opposition political parties collapsed their systems into one platform-the APC, which they were able to leverage in ousting the PDP after 16 years of holding sway as the ruling party at the centre.
Currently, there are activities geared toward making such a political phenomenon happen again. And such possibilities should not be discounted or dismissed because there is already proof of concept demonstrated by the gang-up and APC’s ability to oust the PDP in 2015.
Nothing stops that positive history from being re-enacted in 2023 because it does not need to take another sixteen (16) years for it to happen.
Whilst it is not yet known whether any of the two major parties would woo the smaller parties with a view to merging with or subsuming them into their fold in the manner that the big banks took over smaller ones in the wake of banking consolidation in Nigeria in the last decade, it is unlikely that any single party, APC or PDP, would rule over Nigeria without a coalition with other political parties. And that would be a positive development for democracy in Nigeria since the president in 2023 would not have the sole authority to allot all the strategic positions to his kith and kins or members of the same faith as him, which is presently a sore point and a major reason the unity of our country is teetering and on the brink.
In the event that the party that ultimately wins the presidential contest rules in partnership with one or two smaller parties, such as LP, NNPP, APGA, PRP, YPP, etc., strategic posts would be shared equitably amongst the partners.
That is because these micro parties, which are fast developing sturdy roots in their local catchment areas ethnic or religious enclaves-would be formidable local forces, unless the behemoths like APC, PDP, and, to a lesser extent, LP and NNPP, ahead of the 2023 presidential polls, absorb them.
All said and done, authorities should do well to define what minimum educational qualifications to be eligible to become president of Nigeria entail. At the launch of my book, Becoming President of Nigeria, At A Citizen’s Guide on May 10th, the keynote speaker, Professor Mike Ikhariale, noted that, contrary to popular views, the minimum educational qualification for a president of Nigeria is not a first school leaving certificate, but no certificate at all. All that is required is the ability to comprehend and speak English, and that would be determined by INEC, not any law court.
Making that clarification would spare Nigerians the anguish of constantly being bombarded with the question of what the minimum educational qualifications of a presidential candidate are. It is a challenge that the incumbent president, Buhari’s candidacy, also threw up in 2015 and 2019. I would not be surprised if that matter that dogged Buhari’s presidency is still in court.
That APC’s candidate, Bola Tinubu, is also currently being wracked by that malaise is simply because it is a nebulous rule that the National Assembly, Nass, can make clearer in the manner that the lacuna was created by not handing over to then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, when President Umaru Yar’adua, of blessed memory, suddenly passed away on active duty without officially transmitting power to his second-in-command. Although it was temporarily solved by the Doctrine Of Necessity, it has subsequently been corrected permanently by an act of parliament which makes it automatic.
By the same token, the Muslim-Muslim presidency conundrum is also a Tinubu nightmare. That is despite Kaduna state governor, Nasir El Rufai’s experiment with that configuration in his state, where both he and his deputy are Muslims.
And as we all know, Kaduna state is the ground zero for ethnic and religious conflicts and the leading state in death tolls and human carnage arising from violent clashes. Who knows, perhaps the tragic event in that state was a direct or indirect result of the political configuration at the governorship level in that once peaceful state.
As an antidote to the Muslim-Muslim ticket miasma, perhaps it would help if all the strategic posts such as President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, etc were to be put on the table for bargaining upfront. Maybe there would not be so much hullabaloo about a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket. From the get go, Christians are allotted positions that would enable them to checkmate the executive arm of the government if it attempts to become aberrant. That is assuming the current polarization of our country along ethnic and religious lines does not ebb but persists.
Similarly, if the rotation of the presidency that was hashed out during the 1994/5 general SANNI Abacha convened constitutional conference were to have been embedded in the 1999 constitution by any of the various National Assemblies from 1999 till date, it would not have triggered the bad blood now roiling the rank and file of the PDP for not adhering to its rotation principle.
Curiously, both the Nasir El-Rufai committee report on how the APC can move forward and the Bala Mohamed committee set up by the PDP on the future of the party made recommendations on how our beloved country can have a rebirth.
How and why our leaders have chosen to ignore those monumentally useful recommendations beats me hollow.
Then again, is that not why it is often said that politics is a very complex game?
Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.
To continue with this conversation, please visit www.magnum.ng