THE ROCKY ROAD TO THE PRESIDENCY

THE ROCKY ROAD TO THE PRESIDENCY

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The events in Nigeria since January 2023 are pushing me to believe that ‘morning does not show the day,’ and hard times induce wistful thinking and unrealistic, possibly unrealisable expectations. I am tempted to say God forbid (Olorun ma je) and, for emphasis, wave my left hand around my head. Will my wish prevent an ‘annus horribilis’ that is insight? Perhaps not so because its foot soldiers are adroit and in high places. They are not just in high places; they are also highly placed. Everything in the political firmament points to an ominous year. Even on a normal day, shouting ‘Happy New Year’ was tongue-in-cheek. God have mercy.

It is tempting to compare the 2023 election with the 1993 election. The dramatis personae and styles differ, but some people allege the goals are similar. In 1993, thirty years ago, the transition programme was to be concluded with the Presidential election. Arthur Nzeribe launched the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) from the blues. In 2022, Godwin Emefiele launched the redesign of the Naira for ostensibly noble reasons. The whole economy nose-dived, occasioning widespread public groaning gaspingly. It is a perfect example of how disastrous an excellent plan implemented by a novitiate can become. Good intentions earn only poor grades in the world of performance. A poorly implemented excellent plan gets the public to wonder whether it was based on a foundation of good intentions in the first place. A mismatch between plan and implementation creates an ambiguity of intentions, which tends to be resolved with suspicion. That suspicion is both real and normal and is often resolved in the socio-political context of each individual’s existence. Policies must be calibrated in times like this because timing gets more important than time. Although a lie is a lie, even in Latin, a lie in the morning may have a different reception than when told in the evening. The cashless policy is insensitive because of its wrong timing and shoddy implementation. The administration is as easy as A B C for those who know A B C. First, President Buhari, who has the grace of a 96-month presidency, should not have introduced a policy of great seismic change about five months before his exit election. An administrator should be concerned about the sustainability of any policy that should go down as a legacy. The administrator should therefore avail himself of some time to nurture the policy because it is unethical for you to bind the hands of your successor. That is the rationale behind the “Lame Duck Principle” in administration. President Buhari’s administration is already far into its lame-duck period. This is the time for consolidation.

The above hints are even more advisable for the Governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, who lost the garb of technical neutrality by showing interest in the highest political office, which is the Presidency. As a sitting Governor of the Central Bank, his decision was a professional miscalculation and ethically in bad taste. He should have followed the example of Dr Clement Nyong Isong, who only had a shot at a political office after his retirement. The expression of interest and the withdrawal raise pertinent questions about his moral eligibility to initiate any policy about vote buying. He should not sit in the comfort of the Central Bank to fire shots at the people who ‘defeated’ him in the race for the primary. This situation brings several questions to come to mind. First, would he have recommended or initiated the cashless policy if Emefiele had emerged as the flag bearer of the APC? Second, at what point, pre or post-the APC primary, did it cross Emefiele’s mind to launch the policy? Third, why is it so difficult to resort to an exit option for a policy that has turned out to be wrongly timed, wrongly headed and anti-people? Finally, whose interest is served by disobeying the Supreme Court’s judgement? This disobedience of the Supreme Court order is one too many. It is a dangerous precedent and a gross violation of the Constitution. We know, by and large, the answers that will be given to these questions, and we also know that every answer has a reason and reasoning consistent with the trajectory of this piece of punitive idealism. This is a policy that can harvest more cadavers than COVID-19 in an instant and has a high potential for creating a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, oblivious to the empathetic cultural tendency and the volatile sensitivity of the Nigerian electorate, the policy protagonists, by default, are prone to create the proverbial underdog with all its consequences. In competitive politics, caution, moderation, and circumspection are strategic watchwords. Political canalisation, as a strategy, is too sophisticated for political novices who are in a hurry for results. It is an apprentice hunter that lays an open ambush. Enduring political plants must be planted early under enabling political agronomic conditions. This is why it is considered unwise to do a pedicure on the day of departure for travel.

The politics surrounding the introduction of the cashless policy is an example of the character of the presidential campaign. An election is ideally similar to a job interview where the candidate seeks to extol their background, experience, competence and all as a perfect fit of the job specification and requirements. The candidate is not required to talk about the ‘incompetence’ of other candidates that he may need to learn. Y waste quality a candidate would only waste quality time and even underscore himself by playing the employer’s role. A smart candidate does the best self-packaging, asserting that all his endowments are custom-made for the job. By doing that expertly, he may thus, without naming names, succeed in ‘disqualifying’ other competitors. In a multi-member election contest, negative campaigns may reduce the vote of the attacked opponent without necessarily adding to the vote of the attacker because the voter still has a choice. For example, eighteen candidates contest for the Presidency on February 25, 2023, and a negative attack on one candidate still leaves seventeen choices open. It is, therefore, more time and vote efficient for a campaigner to concentrate on himself. The most rewarding campaign strategy is self-concentration rather than the denigration of other candidates.

The second important requirement of a political campaign is the concentration on issues and programmes. The rationale is that it is a programme that the candidate turned officeholder will implement when he gets to the office. It is programmes that mandates are based on. Only candidates with a programme stand in a void, just as a journey without a pre-planned destination is a journey to nowhere. In the short run, the officeholder without a programme may erroneously assume he has a political ‘carte blanche’ but not so. A candidate’s programme provides a yardstick for measuring performance in the office. The absence of such a yardstick creates a yawning vacuum that puts the officeholder at risk because the electorate is left free to assess him by any standard. Ideally, the election provides a politically literate candidate with a golden opportunity to set a programmatic standard for the electorate from a reasonable assessment of the real needs and goals of the constituency. To a large extent and guided by the political environment, the candidate designs the political tasks for implementation. The tasks must be realistic, appropriate and rewarding to the electorate. The candidate must not set for himself tasks that he cannot achieve either because of the dearth of logistics or because he does not believe in them. In spite of the fact that programmes are voluntary and self-set, Nigeria needs to be more active with un-kept political promises. An un-kept promise is an invalidated mandate which runs down the political capital. Yet they go unpunished by the electorate. Dr Arif Hussein of the Department of History, University of Ibadan, in the 1970s argued that politicians are responsible for raising and dashing hopes. They operate a competitive bidding system in which politics are fantasy. They also set in motion a revolution of rising expectations, the outcome of which can only be rising frustrations. Whether our political parties are objective and competent enough to give us candidates remain. Our political parties have yet to prove that two heads are better than one. They are too overly political for executive selection. I find it difficult to disagree with my agronomist friend who complained that the parties always present the Nigerian electorate with a choice between Satan and Lucifer. Even in the party preference for Lucifer, it often goes for General Kutu Acheampong’s tortuous political contrivance of “election by selection through consultation”. That reminds me of what the Nigerian local “Food is Ready” Joint calls “Round About”. You need an interpreter to know what it is. Nigerian political parties eulogise the same as ‘concensus candidate’. This often happens because our political parties fail the simplest test of a political party, the body of politically like-minded people.
Not so Nigerian political parties. Three of the four frontline candidates for the Presidency are political divorcees, some of them twice or thrice and counting. Political tourism is fashion. A sophisticated electorate will be hard put to follow the political transitions. Only Bola Tinubu has remained in the same political lineage with different strategic nomenclatures. A saying among some Nigerian people that if anybody urinates on one spot, it will foam is in support of political consistency.

Without a professional poll, one can hazard an educated guess using the following parameters: Manifesto/Promises, Proof, Name Identity, Party Clout and Grassroot Popularity. On the grounds of the manifesto, all candidates produced a manifesto of varying standards, credibility and applicability. The Nigerian electorate needs to be literate enough to assess the manifestoes critically. The proof of the quality of the manifesto can only be gleaned from the previous performance. Bola Tinubu scores highest on the grounds of sustainability and public testimony. Peter Obi stands low on the grounds of sustainability and public testimony. Atiku Abubakar scores very low, as evidenced by documentary testimonies of critical actors. Kwankwaso, a populist, is relatively grounded in his catchment area. Name identity is critical to elections, although it is not a stand-alone factor. The associated value content is equally critical. Atiku Abubakar is a household name being Vice President for eight years and having contested the Presidency on two previous occasions. Bola Tinubu also has a high-name identity, having been Governor for eight years and a member of the Nigerian governors’ Forum for the same number of years. His national identity may be a little less than Atiku’s, but perhaps not quite so qualitatively, having been connected with federal administration for another eight years. Peter Obi also has a high-name identity, having been Governor for eight years and a presidential running mate in 2019. Kwankwaso has the lowest name identity with considerable depth in the catchment area. Candidates stand to benefit from the social standing of their parties. Both the PDP and the APC have produced Presidents before. The APC is currently the incumbent party.

Bola Tinubu has displayed political acumen in avoiding the Algore dilemma by acknowledging his party without headlong identification with it. This would have been his biggest albatross. He has carefully managed his relationship with his Party Chairman, who preferred a consensus candidate to him. Atiku Abubakar’s conflict management skill is less definitive and successful. He was overwhelmed by the G-5. Peter Obi of the Labour Party has no problem with the party. Until Peter Obi, Labour was relatively unknown. Both the Party and the candidate are just getting to know each other. Peter Obi will bring Labour Party into greater political light. The NNPP will similarly enjoy greater visibility with Kwankwaso. The grass root popularity of the candidates varies widely but is developing. The election will prove the prevalence.

The 2023 presidential election is critical for three critical reasons. First, it will prove whether the electorate endorses the North-South rotation of the Presidency because this is a contentious issue in the election. Second, it will show the salience of the incumbency of a political party at the end of the tenure of the President. Third and very crucially, it will answer the question of whether a candidate can be absolved from the poor political performance of his party in office. Fourth, it will also show the competence of the Nigerian electorate in handling the split vote. This is particularly crucial in the G-5 States. How well can people vote for the candidate of one party for President and vote for the candidate of another party for Governor?

Opinion Written by : 

John Ayoade, mni

Emeritus Professor of Political Science,

University of Ibadan.

 

 


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