by Stanley Azuakola
April 14th. In exactly 10 months from today, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a president who will lead them from 2015 to 2019. Already, the political climate is heated and in a state of flux. Officially campaigns have not yet begun, but that’s just on paper, as the two major parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), have been having tours and rallies across the country.
The next 10 months will be crucial and with every day that passes, we will get a step closer to seeing who (and which party) will prevail in the all important poll.
Here are 10 questions which most likely will determine how things sway come February 2015.
1. Who will be the APC flag bearer?
This is one of the most crucial questions which must be answered before 2015 especially because we [almost] know who will fly the PDP’s flag in the presidential poll. The APC has a tough call to make – Who amongst the number of men angling to become president will be best suited to take on and defeat the incumbent.
In choosing, the party has to consider all the permutations peculiar to Nigeria like the candidate’s tribe, religion, geopolitical zone, and of course competence and acceptability. Recent unsubstantiated reports from some quarters alleging that the party is considering a Muslim/Muslim ticket in 2015 is already heating causing a stir in the polity. If the party does not get this right, it could all but forego any chance of taking over Aso Rock next year.
2. Then will they stay together after the choice?
This also, is a question which the APC must answer.
The PDP got lucky. The disagreement in the ruling party over the suitability of Pres. Jonathan to run again played out last year and those who weren’t satisfied decamped to the opposition early enough for the PDP to regroup. It is assumed that the members who remained are willing to accept the inevitability of the president’s candidacy.
The APC however will not be as lucky. It has to wait until INEC declares the election season open before it even kick-starts campaigning or choosing a flag-bearer. There would be apprehension in the APC ranks over whether the losing candidates, not just at the presidential level, but also in the states will accept their loss with grace and sportsmanship. However, how the losing candidates react will depend to a large extent on how transparent the primary is conducted? The parties which merged to form the APC were not particularly known for their democratic attitude towards choosing candidates as imposition of candidates was prevalent in their ranks. If the APC manages to stay together after the primaries then they stand a better chance. Otherwise, it’s the PDP that will be smiling next year.
3. What will the courts decide on defection of lawmakers?
The case filed by the PDP against the defection of lawmakers from the party into the APC has the potential to affect the 2015 poll in a big way.
Scenario 1: If the court rules in favour of the PDP and declares the seat of the lawmakers vacant, then a supplementary poll will have to be conducted which can go either way. If a poll is held, it does not favour the APC because there’s no guarantee that all their candidates will regain the seats. In fact if the PDP wins, there is a chance that some of the lawmakers might make a bargain to remain in the PDP fold to secure their seats. Another possibility is that if the PDP wins, it could hinder other lawmakers with plans to defect from going ahead with their plans. For instance, many believe that speaker of the House of Reps, Aminu Tambuwal, is only waiting for the final ruling of the court before deciding on whether to jump the PDP ship and join his friends in the APC or stay put.
Scenario 2: If the APC wins in court, they get momentum at a crucial phase before the poll. They could gain more members as less bold lawmakers will be unafraid to openly identify with them. They will also not have to go through the hassle of preparing for bye-elections and the possibility of losing some of those seats.
4. Who plays the religious and tribal cards better?
It is clear already that the parties, especially the ruling PDP, are ready to do anything to win next year. If playing the politics of tribe and religion is a way to get there, then they’ll gladly do it. Already, surrogates like Reno Omokri, have been playing the religious card, most notably in the Sanusi Lamido saga. The president also has been visiting churches almost on a weekly basis and promised to do that throughout the year. At Bola Tinubu’s 62nd birthday, a retired Anglican Bishop showered the celebrant with the kind of praises usually reserved for a spiritual being.
Also, the PDP also never fails to describe the APC as an Islamic party, a label that the APC is trying hard to ensure does not stick to them.
The politics of tribalism was executed to perfection by Peter Obi’s APGA in Anambra during that state’s governorship election last year and it is expected to be unleashed again by the two leading parties in their various strongholds.
5. Will the war on terror have been won?
With the way things are going and the increasing boldness of terrorist group Boko Haram, it seems unlikely that the war on terror would have been won by 2015. Just this Monday, terrorists set off a bomb in the busy Nyanya area of Abuja killing scores of innocent Nigerians.
The effect of the terror attacks could be far reaching. There are already speculations that elections might not be conducted in some states in the North East of the country due to fears of insecurity. If elections are not held there, it is favourable for Pres. Jonathan as opinion polls show that he has his worst approval ratings in the North East. But then, if the spate of insecurity continues or worsens, the president might lose the neutrals that might get disillusioned with his leadership and feel it’s time to try new ideas in Aso Rock.
The continued insecurity is also going to affect campaigning in the region.
6. Will the remaining PDP ‘rebels’ stay put?
The PDP needs men like Sule Lamido and Muazu Aliyu, the governors of Jigawa and Niger to help its efforts in the core North. But clearly those men are not satisfied. Lamido was a strong member of the G7 governors in the new PDP faction which protested against the president last year but decided to stay put in the PDP allegedly after the EFCC was sent after his sons. After a period of silence from the man, he has recently begun criticising the president again and he is one to watch. Will men like him stay loyal to the end? In this group also is the House speaker who is still keeping everyone guessing about his plans.
7. Where will the power brokers tilt?
Another question to be answered is where power brokers like Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, Aliko Dangote, influential traditional rulers and clerics, and the media will bend to as D-day approaches.
8. Will INEC get its acts together?
Everyone knows that the electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been far from inspiring in the way it has conducted recent polls. From the Imo assembly bye-election which was ruled as inconclusive to the deeply flawed Anambra poll and down to this month’s inconclusive bye-election for Ilaje House of Reps seat in Ondo state, the electoral body has come short again and again. INEC is a major actor in the poll and incompetence or partisanship from that end could spell doom for the election.
9. Whose narrative will the people believe?
The president’s 2011 winning message was about a “man like you” without shoes who despite the odds has become president. He won’t have that luxury anymore. The messaging of the two camps will be key to achieving victory.
The APC so far is adopting a hard-hitting “nothing is working in the country” approach. It is unclear how effective that strategy is and can be. The president will be saying that even though we are not there yet, progress has been made while the opposition will be recalling his campaign promises and saying “you promised more than this.” Whose message resonates the most will go a long way in determining the winner.
10. What will the national conference say?
To be honest, discussions at the national conference so far have almost been depressing as the delegates have spent a whole month out of three discussing the president’s speech and other admin issues and not making much progress. Some Nigerians are already losing faith in the ability of the delegates to come up with something worthwhile at the end of three months. However surprises can spring up.
Since the president has said there are not any untouchable areas apart from Nigeria’s unity, it remains to be seen what will happen if delegates make pronouncements as regards the 2015 poll. What if, like Olusegun Obasanjo before him, Pres. Jonathan has an agenda which he tries to push through the conference? What if delegates agree to an extension of tenure for the president (we have heard some people suggest this)? What if they come up with recommendations that substantially alter the calculations of any or both parties? The national conference is a variable which for now no one knows what it will amount to, but we will continue to watch.