By Chidi Chima
Wednesday’s confirmation of Musiliu Obanikoro as minister by the senate has given the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a 2-1 lead over the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the series of duel tagged “battle royale” ahead of the March 28 presidential election.
APC had won Round One of the bout in November 2014 when it successfully resisted PDP’s attempt to remove Aminu Tambuwal as the speaker of the house of representatives following his defection from the ruling party to APC.
APC took a 1-0 lead through Tambuwal
Suleiman Abbah, the inspector general of police, had declared that Tambuwal was no longer speaker because of his defection, promptly withdrawing the speaker’s security aides.
Initial attempts by Tambuwal to reconvene the house were resisted by the police, which teargassed and barricaded the national assembly complex, although some lawmakers successfully scaled the gates to gain entrance.
With APC carrying a one goal advantage into the general election initially slated for February 14 to 28, 2015, Sambo Dasuki, the national security adviser, landed an upper cut on behalf of the PDP – insisting that the dates for the elections were not realistic.
Dasuki equalised for PDP, making it 1-1
He had first said, in far away London in January, that the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to distribute the biometric voter cards to over 25 million Nigerians meant it was no longer realistic to hold the elections as scheduled.
However, he later added that the ongoing operations against Boko Haram in the north-east meant there would be shortage of security forces for the elections.
Despite protests by APC both locally and internationally, INEC moved the elections to March 28-April 11, barely seven days to the polls, thereby giving the PDP victory in Round Two.
Tied at 1-1, the next round of the super heavyweight bout moved to the renomination of Musiliu Obanikoro, a prominent PDP figure in the south-west, as minister by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Obanikoro has given the PDP a 2-1 lead
In what was a clear case of muscle-flexing before the general election, the APC vowed to block his confirmation by the senate because of allegations that he helped in rigging the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti state.
Whistle-blowing website, Sahara Reporters, had reported that it was in possession of an audio tape recorded by a military officer and appearing to prove that key PDP figures in the south-west, including Obanikoro, colluded to use the military to manipulate the election in favour of the PDP.
APC senators promptly moved to halt the confirmation of Obanikoro as minister, but at the second attempt, it appeared the PDP had done its home work properly, blocking all attempts by the opposition lawmakers to stall the screening and confirmation.
Obanikoro, himself a former senator, was just asked to take a bow and go – a privilege for former senators – rather than face any rigorous questioning.
Although the PDP is leading 2-1, there are at least five more rounds to go – the fourth round being the fate of Attahiru Jega, a professor of political science, who is a subject of intense speculation over his tenure.
Round 4: Will Jega go?
PDP supporters have been very vocal in canvassing his removal on the suspicion that he is working for the opposition, while APC has warned Jonathan against removing him before the elections.
Jega’s tenure ends in June, but this has not stopped claims and counterclaims over the legality of asking him to proceed on terminal leave three months to the end of his tenure – which would be a day after the presidential election.
No electoral boss has been removed in the middle of an election in the history of Nigeria, and President Jonathan has said he has no plans to create that record.
Round 5: Will there be a presidential debate?
In Round Five, the debate over a presidential debate is also raging. While PDP surprisingly wants a debate this time around – having boycotted all debates with the leading opposition parties since 1999 – the APC is surprisingly shying away, alleging that the questions will be leaked in advance to the ruling party.
The party also said because Muhammadu Buhari, its presidential candidate had been subjected to personal attacks in recent times, there was no chance of a debate.
There are no indications that Buhari will take part in the debate, meaning the PDP may lose this round.
Round 6: Will card readers be used?
The use of PVCs and card readers for the 2015 elections will decide the Round Six of the bout.
The PDP has openly voiced its opposition to the smart card and electronic devices – which are presumed to be rigging-proof – while APC has been supporting it.
Cases are already in court to stop INEC from using them for the elections, but from all indications, INEC may go ahead with its plan despite the hiccups and challenged faced at the test-run on Saturday, March 7.
Round 7: Will soldiers be deployed for the polls?
In the seventh round, the possibility of the deployment of soldiers to provide security on election day is also a big bone of contention.
Supporters of PDP are rooting for military presence, but the opposition is completely against it, alleging that soldiers may be used to intimidate its own supporters as well as rig the elections in favour of the ruling party.
The Ekiti audio tape saga has further given the opposition the ammunition to oppose military presence, but it seems from all indications that soldiers would be deployed for the polls.
Final round on March 28: Winner takes all!
The final round of the bout – and the only one that REALLY matters because it is winner-takes-all – will hold on March 28. That is when the presidential election will take place. Goodluck Jonathan vs Muhammadu Buhari. Incumbent vs Challenger. Do not adjust your set…