Nigeria: Highs and Lows of Nigerian Politics

President Muhammadu Buhari.
29 August 2018

Perhaps there are low points in build-ups to momentous events in our politics that confuse simple folks who expect the tempo to rise inexorably to crescendo. If there are, they may be what's popularly referred to as the calm before the storm. It is also possible that Nigerian politics has established firm laws in its character that are not easily discernible. These are about the only possible explanations for the absence of intense activity, and even some panic, in the manner key issues and developments that will determine the historic contests of 2019 will be settled. If this is the calm, it does not appear to cover up much in matters that should, strictly speaking, be part of the storm. Unless, of course, if events are following set patterns that are difficult to dislodge.

Let us start with the virtually comatose opposition to President Buhari's APC. Anyone will be forgiven for thinking that the PDP has already conceded victory in the elections to the APC, the way the President is basking in the glory of being the sole fighter in the ring. A few weeks ago, a delayed stampede out of APC was shaking the ground from under the feet of that party. A botched coup against the leadership of the National Assembly hinted at a desperate ruling party, costing it large numbers of fairly neutral observers. The appearance of other evidences of panic and an all- out war on Senate President Bukola Saraki earned the latter a huge backlash of empathy and even a grudging admiration as an escape artist of some repute. APC's generals called the troops off into a stand-off, and then....nothing. PDP failed to capitalize on a favourable series of events, including important unforced errors. Except for the 2015 elections, the PDP may be guilty of committing the folly of its previous oppositions, which thought the sins of incumbency were enough to give them victory. It wastes valuable time sitting on its tainted hands, thinking how it will deal with poor image, a battery of aspirants and an opposition that may win another election for doing nothing better than having no effective opposition.

Two things are going well for President Buhari without a finger being raised by him. He is running down the time against an opposition which is barren, schizophrenic and weaker than him. The other, related to the first, is the impression that no one has the personal integrity to dare stand against him and win. Here is a President whose health is obviously a national liability; who governs by exercising the most minimal level of leadership and who has a most pronounced aversion to changing anything he has done, or has had around him in the last three years. When you hear murmurs that the Lawal Daura saga is threatening to take more casualties among his tiny circle, or when a walk to his home from the mosque is spun as evidence of his good health, or even when his party protests loudly that its statutory obligation to inform INEC of its planned congresses and Convention is made public, you know that his party is not exactly fine-tuning its game because elections are around the corner. It almost feels as if the APC's opposition is captive of the law that no elected living president ever serves for four years.

You have to look outside Nigerian politics for excitement or real movement today. Even the hate speech which raised temperatures in past contests now sounds so lame. Imagine Femi Fani-Kayode being written a polite letter of invitation to offer explanations to the police for some political comments he allegedly made. In less than a month, the APC will not surprise the nation with the endorsement of President Buhari as its candidate. He will reel out highly-disputable achievements for which he will ask to be trusted with another four years. The PDP will be so engrossed with its own selection processes and damage control that it will not be in the front row of his critics. It is most unlikely to surprise the nation by nominating someone outside the ranks of Atiku, Saraki, Kwankwaso or Tambuwal. It will then have three months to re-invent itself, demystify Buhari, put forward a credible governance programme and withstand a vicious onslaught from the APC for daring to ask for the country back after only four years. You would think the PDP is waiting for some miracle that will transform three months into three years?

Perhaps all the exertions in the last few weeks involving defections, blockades, sackings, threats of impeachment and damage control have taken their tolls, but there is actually no lack of serious turbulence. APC Senators are becoming wary of being foot soldiers in a battle that may not guarantee them choice spoils. They are being primed to engage and remove Saraki as Senate President, but the signals that they will be guaranteed automatic tickets by the party are confused and in many instances discouraging. They will want firm, actionable guarantees from President Buhari and RSM Oshimhole, before they offer service that the long queues of aspirants for their seats will be told to go sit down. It will be difficult to do this with many governors digging in against some Senators, and spoiling for fights to test who calls the shots between them and Abuja(read: Buhari).

The PDP is sitting on its own powder keg. Any one of its leading contenders for the presidential ticket could damage the party in the manner of his emergence. The party's crises management capacity is virtually non-existent. If it had one, the many issues waiting to explode over presidential and gubernatorial candidature, disputes between powerful stakeholders that could cost it victory in many parts of the country and issues that are keeping potential defectors to it away should have been resolved. Its Senators will watch very closely to see how the politics in the National Assembly plays out. If Saraki survives an APC onslaught and runs a stable Senate, and Dogara defects to PDP, they may not defect to the APC. They will, however, run to the door in numbers if the PDP's muscle in the federal legislature is weakened, and pitch tents with APC, particularly if they get both respite from prosecution and guaranteed tickets. Watch out for some high drama and unwritten laws in this area.

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