Several months before 2015 general elections over three years ago, many factors shaped the narrative the. It appears 2019 presidential polls will also have defining variables.
Ahead of 2015 presidential elections, handlers of then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with then president Goodluck Jonathan were upbeat about winning, considering the way they deployed enormous resources, for both online and offline campaigns. But that did not stop other political parties from rolling out their strategies. However, two things that remain historic feats, and which led to another page in PDP’s 16-year rule were the merger of legacy parties - defunct ACN, CPC, ANPP, a section of APGA and the nPDP that gave birth to the now ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which defeated the all-powerful PDP at the polls.
The second issue was the revolution at Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Mr Attahiru Jega which introduced Card Reader, a portable but potent machine that served as an antidote to rigging. With these and other issues relating to economy, security and international perception among others, the tide for the first time in Nigeria turned in favour of the opposition.
2019 is inching closer and come October this year, barely seven months from now, most political parties would have showcased their presidential and other aspirants. Political analysts and other pundits are already looking at some variables that would rule the 2019 elections. Here are the main ones:
Geopolitics is variously called rotation of power, power shift and zoning arrangement. Unconstitutional and unwritten as it is, the arrangement which found its way into the country’s political scene in 1999 has become part and parcel of Nigeria’s political system. In 1999, the arrangement was done to appease the Southwest following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election reportedly won by late Mr Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
Hence, PDP fielded Mr Olusegun Obasanjo and Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP) sponsored Mr Olu Falae. The presidency was zoned to Southwest where the duo hailed from. It then became a tradition that from the presidency to governorship, senatorial, House of Reps, State House Assembly, chairmanship and councillorship, powers are being zoned from one area to the other. It has been embedded in the system and on several occasions, failure to adhere to this unwritten rule had led to frictions, and even defeat of powerful politicians.
For now, the two major political parties, APC and PDP have zoned the presidency to the North. They have achieved in suppressing the urge of many contenders from other zones. The situation is the same with many of the 68 registered political parties. This is a big lesson because analysts believe that the jettisoning of the arrangement in 2015 played a key role in the defeat suffered by PDP’s candidate, Jonathan.
Mr Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna) said the zoning of the presidency to the North is strategic for both the ruling and the opposition parties, but quickly added a caveat. “For the APC, the party didn’t zone it to the North, they simply zoned it to Buhari first and his geo political zone is secondary,” he said. “PDP zoned it to the North for two reasons: First, they realized the tragedy of fielding a southern candidate in 2015. Secondly, their new calculation is that it is only a northern candidate that can effectively challenge Buhari,” he said.
According to Sani, “Zoning is not constitutional but a political reality that a candidate’s geo political identity play major role in his chances of winning. It is an indication that people still vote along regional lines.”
A Kano-based political strategist, Abbati Bako, said a zoning arrangement would affect the flavour, interest, confidence and hope of the people in western-type democracy. “[Zoning] is undemocratic, an infringement of other interested contestants in democratic governance and again, is a violation of one of the principles of democracy,” he said.
Also, Executive Director, Friends in the Gap Advocacy Initiative (FGAI), Mr George Oji said the arrangement was not against the country’s constitution. In an interview, he said through the policy of zoning, minority interests are protected from the political tyranny of the majority since democracy is always all about the supremacy of numbers.
“The question is, does the zoning policy not contravene the constitutional rights of the citizens to vote and be voted for? The simple answer to this is in the negative,” he said.
“This is because zoning is usually a loose and convenient form of arrangement; which does not preclude individuals from going ahead to contest or vie for any of the elective positions, notwithstanding the zoning policy of the parties,” he said. “This is why in the past, a number of politicians have gone ahead to vie for the office of the president, even when that office was zoned outside their political regions by their parties,” he said.
“For instance, the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan of Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) in the 2015 presidential polls by the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressive Congress (APC) was attributed in part by political pundits to the non-adherence by PDP to the party’s zoning policy,” he said.
That notwithstanding, while PDP has many aspirants from the three geo-political zones, the case in APC is different because those angling the presidential seat are in a dilemma - extremely circumspect in their aspiration. The only thing that would make them come public is if Mr Buhari says he will not go for a second term. If he does, that is when the real drama in APC would erupt. Already, politicians in the North-East and North-Central are complaining that the presidency is not the “birthright” of the North-West.
Insecurity dampened the popularity of then-ruling PDP ahead of the 2015 general elections. But most importantly, the April 14, 2014 record abduction of 276 girls from GGSS Chibok in Borno State did the greatest damage to the image of the PDP. It was the reference used to describe the Jonathan administration as inept, by both local and international media and prominent people. The fact that the then administration fought Boko Haram fiercely did not redeem its image as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign kept reverberating across the globe. APC campaigners found in the Chibok abduction, a potent point to sway voters to their side.
However, with the latest abduction of 110 girls from another school in Dapchi, Yobe State, APC is now in a similar quagmire.
“It is a big minus for APC,” said Salihu Bakari, a retired army officer who is now a security expert. “The President Buhari administration must get the girls to have the courage of approaching voters next year; the same set of people used the Chibok girls’ saga during the 2015 elections. Yes, they brought back some of the girls at a huge cost but here we are again back to square one; nearly an equal number have been taken away,” he said.
That fearful symmetry aside, there remain the more glaring security challenges like kidnappings nationwide, farmer/herder clashes, banditry, and so on. This will make the issue of security one of the most potent in 2019.
3. Tribal factor
Tunde Salman, Convener, Good Governance Team, in an interview with our correspondent said the tribal factor is one of the principal variables that often define political contestations in most electoral democracies, especially in the African context. He said the issue of primordial sentiment, which political science rightly termed “Secondary contradiction,” such as ethnicity and religion consideration, usually explains the patterns of voting behaviour in the context of Nigeria’s electoral history over the years.
“This is not to say primary issues such as management of the economy, high unemployment, level of poverty or insecurity, anti-corruption etc. don’t play much influence in our electoral behaviour. Rather it means more often than not, our electoral or political debates have always been underscored by tribal and ethnic consideration which more than often dovetails to religious sentiments. That will also most likely shape the forthcoming general elections in 2019,” he said.
The tribal factor cannot be pushed aside in Nigeria. The factor is so important that the constitution has to make provision for the adoption of federal character principle in the appointments into federal ministries, departments and agencies. Pundits say the issue is so serious that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) considers the spread of party officials across various geo-political zones during the registration of political parties, while political parties also respect an unwritten zoning arrangement.
Twenty five years ago, religion did not play much of a role because late M.K.O Abiola, a Muslim Yoruba politician from the South West and the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election under Social Democratic party (PDP), went to the polls with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, another Muslim diplomat-cum-politician, Kanuri by tribe from Borno State in North-East Nigeria.
“Nobody played the ethnic and religious card then,” said Mr Aliyu Mohammed, a cleric from Bauchi. “Abiola and Kingibe were massively elected based on merit,” he said, adding, “But you cannot try that now, no political party would go close to that kind of arrangement in today’s Nigeria that is sharply divided among primordial lines,” he said.
Adamu Yusuf, a political scientist said while religion remains a factor, “denomination is also a big deal in our electoral system.”
“These things are not good because corruption and ineptitude have no boundary, you have corrupt Muslims and Christians and you have Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba leaders that are inept. Religion is only used to cover up. However, one thing that is certain is that people would continue to use them not only in 2019 but until such a time when our democracy matures,” he said.
5. Youth bulge
No doubt, the direction of the youth will be among the major factors that will determine the outcome of the 2019 general elections. Many of the Nigerian youth currently bear the brunt of the economic hardship and unemployment in the country. So, the soaring population of the youth whose number on the voters register seems to be huge is already an attraction for politicians. Many of them are reaching out to the youth population who seem to spend more time on the internet and make use of social media.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar laid credence to this point in December last year when he left the ruling APC for PDP. He had, while announcing his formal defection, said that, “I am speaking to you today on Facebook Live as I want to reach as many of our young people as possible as I have an important announcement to make about the future of Nigeria. As it is you, our youths, who represent the future of our nation, I have found in my travels across the country that whenever I get into conversations with young people their number one concern is whether they will be able to get a job for without a job they have no means of sustaining themselves or begin a family.” He went on to also answer several questions from youths through his Facebook page. And for now, it seems to have clicked.
However, Salman added that the political importance of youth had increased through the agency of #NotTooYoungToRun. He said, “Undoubtedly, the engagement of young people is a critical issue since the demographics of the youth cannot be discountenanced. However, how organize are the youth to constitute an important single voting block to sway the election in its favour or in support of pro-youth candidates and political parties?”
“Put simply, how effective is Nigeria’s youth participation in politics? For me, isn’t just about youth inclusiveness in politics, it’s also about a positive change to make Nigeria works. Perhaps, this is why pocket of efforts to build youth competences in leadership and political participation by some civil society organizations and development partners is a right step, but its needs coalescing for effectiveness.”
Since Nigerian politicians are notoriously dismissive of youths and the crucial roles they play, this is one factor that will be interesting to watch as we roll towards 2019 steadily.
6. Gender Issues
As usual, analysts say gender issues may also dominate discussions in the runoff to the 2019 general elections, as women advocacy groups will double their efforts to lobby for the female folk vying for elective positions. But the issue may have little influence on the outcome of the polls since there appears to be lack of coordinated effort among women despite their huge voting population. This weakness has made the Nigerian women to always seek special consideration from stakeholders.
Last year, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Aisha Alhassan, suggested the use of electoral gender quotas to boost women participation in all elections. She spoke in Abuja at the national secretariat of ruling APC during one of her advocacy visits to political parties on behalf of women in preparation for the 2019 elections.
Alhassan said Nigeria faces an urgent need to “fast-track” political participation of women and increase in the representation of women in parliament and other decision-making organs to produce results that adequately reflect a genuine commitment to the principles of equity in all its ramifications.
The minister, however, noted that in spite of the point that Nigeria has not yet achieved the target of women equality, especially in political participation, the conduct of party primaries and support of women candidates in the 2015 elections had inspired Nigerian women. She said the APC, other political parties and institutions responsible for women involvement in political leadership positions in Nigeria should make women’s wings within political parties to be part of the political party decision-making structures.
Salman also expressed doubt regarding whether the area of gender concern would be a factor based on documented evidence. Nigeria, like most developing countries, he said, has challenges in mainstreaming gender and empowering women into national development priorities, including the political space despite the fact that women constitute about half of the population. “Following from these empirical findings, I don’t think gender will play much significant influence in the 2019. Having said that, it is important that we create space for increased women political participation in Nigeria through sustained advocacy,” Salman said.