Politicians, Citizens and the Agony of Decision Making, By Jibrin Ibrahim
As the political class accelerates its activities in the coming weeks and months, the Nigerian voter is also clearly in a painful process of decision-making. The Buhari administration has not delivered sufficiently on its promise of improved security, more jobs and a successful war against corruption. It would therefore have great difficulties campaigning for re-election.
Party primaries are just over three months away and at times like these, I almost sympathise with politicians because they live in deep agony. They ask themselves serious questions. What is the best pathway to my ambition of becoming president, governor, legislator and so on? Can I make it through my present party or do I seek a new platform? Do I have to kill my strong opponent or is there an easier way of getting him away from my ambition? Have I stolen enough money to lubricate my path to power or do I have to secure a godfather to provide adequate financial power, violence-producing resources and connections to security agencies to distort the peoples’ choice? What final sources of extortion can I engage in to increase my financial war chest? What are the most powerful spiritual and occult forces that I can get to facilitate my pathway to power?
Such questions are being posed today for the simple reason that the basic reality of Nigerian politics is that the worst elements in our society – the crooks, the swindlers, the daftest and the most selfish constitute the majority within the political class. We are therefore paying the penalty spelled out by Plato that when the good ones refuse to participate in politics, it’s the others that govern them by default. Ultimately, Nigerian citizens have to change their attitude to politics and seek the best amongst themselves to take up the challenge of political competition. Such a transition would begin to transform politics into an arena of service and welfare provisioning for the people.
The current political terrain is uncertain. The country is mired in violence and people are being killed all over the land on a daily basis. Criminality, rural banditry, cyclical atrocities between herdsmen and farmers, kidnapping and insurgency are taking their toll on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians. The injunction of the Constitution that the state should provide for the security and welfare of Nigerians has become a meaningless slogan. On the political front, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has failed to deliver on its promise to redress the situation. The former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) remains a failed brand that cannot offer an alternative vision of hope and redress. It is in this context that many concerned Nigerians started reflecting over and seeking a third force that can offer the hope of redress to the people.
The concept of a third force arose in a political context in which Nigeria has moved from a one-party to a two-party dominant system and the transition has not produced the dividends of democracy. The third force is therefore conceived as the political party that could break into the arena of the gang of two, displace one of them, and hopefully take over power in 2019 or 2023. The third force, in a way, reflects the concern of ordinary citizens to go beyond the limited political choice between the bad and the worse that Nigerian voters face. As my good friend Oby Ezekwesili puts it, the time has come for Nigerians to show a red card to both the APC and the PDP. The lamentations over the lack of political choice in the country are massive, but there is no clarity on what platform would take over the relay?
As we move towards political party primaries starting in August this year, the political class is posing some probing questions. The first one is what has happened to the political coalition that brought Buhari to power? To what extent does Buhari still maintain the fanatical support he once had in his core northern base?
WhatsApp became a major platform on which millions of Nigerians complained about poor governance and demanded for a new political force that would be committed to good governance. Last year, at least three of these lamentation groups made the transition to convening physical meetings and eventually transited into organisations that took the decision to act rather than just lament. It was during these meetings that the idea of coming together to establish a third force in Nigerian politics emerged. These groups include the Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM), which was the first to use the Third Force label and is led by Olisa Agbakoba and Jaleel Tafawa Balewa. Another group that originated from WhatsApp is the Revive Nigeria Group under the leadership of Aisha Waziri Umar composed largely of young people who have not been previously politically active and who wish to become change agents. Datti Baba Ahmed also leads a third group and has launched his presidential campaign.
The idea of the third force has essentially been scuttled by General Olusegun Obasanjo who basically took over the idea from the people who had been midwifing it and turned into his personal agenda, or should I say vendetta, of dealing with APC and PDP, because they are no longer listening to him. His approach is different from the original one. He set out to collect corrupt old politicians from both the APC and PDP, who have a problem with their party leadership or have no political future in their parties and get them together to place whoever he chooses as our next president. His third force, therefore, has no new ideas or actors. It is simply a vehicle for him to replace the two parties he had sought to control and failed.
As we move towards political party primaries starting in August this year, the political class is posing some probing questions. The first one is what has happened to the political coalition that brought Buhari to power? To what extent does Buhari still maintain the fanatical support he once had in his core northern base? Would the rediscovered love between him and Tinubu still produce the additional votes from the South-West political machine that is required and would he be able to deploy it to get Buhari re-elected?
You cannot have Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal, Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Dankwambo and all the others agree to one man only becoming the sole candidate. Without a sole candidate against him, the possibility of re-election of President Buhari becomes bright again.
The former ruling party, the PDP, appears to believe that the possibilities of shifting coalitions are real and is therefore hoping that it could emerge as the only credible alternative to Buhari’s APC that can guarantee the political class the type of goodies it provided during its 16 years in power. The PDP is hoping to benefit from the present conflicts in the North-Central zone that are pushing their voters to mobilise against the Buhari administration. The most important question that would arise in that context is whether the Nigerian voters’ would accept to vote for the PDP knowing as they do how the party ruled and ruined the country. The PDP remains a damaged brand. Many within the political class believe that the third force is not dead as an idea and could work under one condition – by reproducing what the APC did in 2014: Get many governors and leading politicians to walk out of both the APC and PDP and congregate in a new platform. The SDP is being proposed and currently meetings are holding every night to organise the reconstitution of the party system.
There is no guarantee that the idea would work because too many politicians are afraid of taking the political risk of trying a new platform without guarantee. The fear is based on the fact that those lining up against Buhari are too many and too ambitious to remain in one formation. You cannot have Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal, Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Dankwambo and all the others agree to one man only becoming the sole candidate. Without a sole candidate against him, the possibility of re-election of President Buhari becomes bright again.
The reality on the ground today is that genuine political alternatives are not yet on the table. Nigerians are being offered a reconstitution of the same politicians. As the political class accelerates its activities in the coming weeks and months, the Nigerian voter is also clearly in a painful process of decision-making. The Buhari administration has not delivered sufficiently on its promise of improved security, more jobs and a successful war against corruption. It would therefore have great difficulties campaigning for re-election. The PDP would not find it easier to campaign as memories of its 16-year bad governance remain strong in the popular imagination. The third force that might emerge is not a new force that might propose a political alternative. Should Nigerian citizens accept more of the same?