BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
Nigerians are entitled to a sense of relief at the outcome of the 2015 presidential election and the All Progressives Congress (APC) deserves its own sense of exhilaration. Nigeria and Nigerians are quite an unpredictable lot in their potential for virtue and vice. The latter has prevailed where and when it is least expected and unwarranted, whilst the choice of the former astonishes us when a hundred and one excuses are readily available to choose a contrary option.
In the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, General Ibrahim Babangida has been living with the rebuke of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Haven romped in glamour, pomp and ceremony for eight years of undiluted dictatorship he managed to reconstruct the last plot of the drama of his rule into a tragic crescendo and anti-climax.
Fast forward to 2015 where there was ample time, opportunity and motive to pre-empt or sabotage the outcome of the presidential election but President Goodluck Jonathan deliberately took a contrary course of action. Where we were all prepared for an anti-climax, he seized the initiative to pre-empt the inevitable until death do us apart wrangling between wielders of dubious victories and sore desperate losers.
Beyond the appreciation of this sacrificial mentality, the political costs are heavy-not personally for Jonathan but for his political constituency and the sustainability of Nigeria’s delicate political equilibrium. Ostensibly, what took place on Saturday, March 28 was nothing more contentious than a ruling party losing and accepting defeat by the opposition party.
However, beneath the euphoria of a seeming model of a successful civilian to civilian; ruling political party to opposition party, transition, lurks the dark outline of a political upset with far reaching ramifications and unintended consequences. The general pattern of the outcome of tomorrow’s countrywide governorship elections would confirm or disconfirm the worst of the fears of the incipient political disequilibrium that ensued after the presidential election.
From here on the first stress test of the Nigerian political system is the durability of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the exchange of its role from a ruling party to the opposition party. Consciousness of this challenge requires the formulation of a response directed at the arrest and containment of panic and disintegrative impulse. Accustomed to the patriarchal cuddling of the federal government, the PDP, like any pampered child, had become commensurately complacent and unprepared for any sudden reversal of fortunes-which survival requires inner fortitude and forbearance.
In a large measure, the PDP is a victim of its own origins. It was preconceived not as a political party but a nationalist movement. The precursor, G34, was a protest nationalist pressure group against military dictatorship in general and the ambition of General Sani Abacha to perpetuate himself in power, in particular. After the twin deaths of Abacha and Chief Moshood Abiola, it subsequently graduated into the role of being the vehicle of conveying General Abdusalami Abubakar’s snap military disengagement from power and handover to an elected civilian government agenda to its destination. Winning the 1999 presidential election was really a shoo-in for the PDP.
The two factors that sustain political parties in Nigeria are largely the power of incumbency and ethno regional mobilisation. The two parties that initially contended with the PDP were the All Nigeria Peoples party (ANPP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), whose core element was Northern/Muslim and Yoruba irredentism respectively. These two parties, in their dynamic development and political miscegenation, today, constitute the nucleus of the APC.
The South-west faction of the APC was rooted and sustained by a blend of attenuated pan-Yoruba nationalism, propaganda and the increasing power of patronage that grew from the unbroken retention of Lagos State to the spread over the other Yoruba states of Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti (until October 16th 2014).
Rightly or wrongly, there had been an increasing and persistent animus over political power dispossession by the Muslim North dating back to 2003 and it dramatically intensified at the death of President Umaru Musa Ya’Adua and the subsequent continuation of the Jonathan incumbency from 2011.
Whatever maybe his other virtues, no objective observer of the Nigerian political space in the past 30 years can successfully contest the validity of the perception of Buhari as the rallying symbol of a defiant (Muslim North defined) ethno-regional irredentism. This much was emphatically restated in the regionally skewed, lopsided pattern, of voting in the last presidential election. In the same breadth and in the face of so much critical consensus, it is difficult to argue against the proposition that he has earned the reputation of a moral disciplinarian that straddles his inclusive subnational and national identity of a Nigerian Fulani Muslim.
Those who know him pretty well and are in a position to write an authoritative testimonial on him, President Olusegun Obasanjo, for instance, tended to attribute most of his negative perception as misperception. The president-elect himself laboured to make the point during his campaign routine that he was largely misunderstood in the parochial personality profile that he was seen to have projected. Well, providence has granted him a centre stage opportunity to reveal himself in the admirable colours he has been painted by his admirers and more accommodating critics.
The political disequilibrium we earlier spoke of borders on the emergent inability of the PDP to endure as opposition party-in so far as the party is lacking the power of incumbency and the anchor of a strong ethno-regional redoubt. Not quite, at least, not in the realisation of the near 100 per cent victory it posted in the South-south and the South-east zones-roughly corresponding to the old Eastern region. And herein lies the dilemma. What is the capacity of this region to endure in opposition-autonomous of its more status-quo favoured siblings in the WAZOBIA tripod?
The civil war syndrome and the post-civil war power politics is such that has defined the victorious North/South-west (civil war) alliance as dominant Nigerian powers. Before now, the political equilibrium of Nigeria had devolved on a productive tension between the North and the South-west and not on an extensive collaboration and cooperation between the two. If this active collaboration endures, it will invite the disintegration of the opposition and set Nigeria firmly on the path towards one party dictatorship.
There is however a chance that the internal contradictions within the APC will eventually result in implosion and reverse this trend. The more scientific and political stability predictor is for Nigeria to recapture the inherently balanced federalism framework that precludes the potential of the centre to lord it over its supposed coordinate federating units in the first place.