In the normal course of human progress and development, the forthcoming 2023 general elections ought to be our finest moments so far. In assessing our journey towards 2023, some valid assumptions must be made in line with what we have achieved. We have 23 years of democracy under our belt. Civilian leaders have supervised the conduct of seven general elections from 2003 to 2019. They count for something, as in evidence that our politicians have progressively weaned themselves from making a mess of eating yam pottage.
With their ballot paper, the ordinary citizens of this country have effected personnel changes in Aso Rock, the state government houses as well as the national and state legislatures. It is evidence that despite the gra-gra by the politicians, the people are the repositories of political power. They give power to some and deny it to others democratically. We did not get it right all the time, but we moved on. We made mistakes; we learnt from them, and we applied the lessons in the management of our democracy since 1999.
We imbibed some of the nuances of this popular but difficult form of government. We have learnt the rudiments of the best practices in democracy. We should be sauntering along the boulevard of democracy, happy that our past is past, and the present shows the promises of a greater future as we tend and water the rose bushes of democracy.
Thanks to Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, a man committed to enhancing the integrity of our national elections, the national assembly has effectively blocked the major loophole in our electoral system. The 2022 amendments to the electoral act will make every vote count because the electronic transfer of votes will make it impossible for vote swapping, the major source of rigging in which many an election result disagrees with the announced results. And the votes did not count.
We should be on a roll. But we do not appear to be. Moments of anxiety are building up, conjuring fears of the past over taking the progress we have made towards credible, acceptable, and respectable conduct of elections and election results.
It seems to me that the politicians are bent on dragging us back. They are fouling the atmosphere in a primitive struggle for power for its own sake and ignore the fundamental purposes of government and good governance. They seem determined to rubbish our democratic credentials. The way they go about it makes you wonder if in their idle moments they spare some serious thoughts for a nation facing clear and obvious existential threats and requires sober heads and a civil tongue to give hope for the present and the future. Time for cheering news in this depressed and despairing climate of insecurity. We hear none.
We are used to the usual brickbats of often baseless allegations and tendentious counter-allegations among our politicians. After all, politics is a competitive game in which politicians legitimately indulge themselves in misinformation, disinformation and outright lies to score points with the public. Each party tries to rubbish other parties. They make us laugh only to cry. At the best times, our politicians have had problems with eating roasted yam with palm oil without turning their expensive traditional wears into a patchwork of red and white spots.
We appear to have reached that point even before the campaign season kicks off next month. The prospects of worse things to come in the name of political campaigns should not only make you tremble but churn your stomach. You cannot believe everything you read in the social and mainstream media but there is no denying some truth in the stories of mass decamping, the to-ing and fro-ing from one party to another that characterises our national politics. I see it as an obvious indication that the roots of internal democracy in the parties are on the surface, not deep in the ground. Grievances and the aggrieved take centre stage. We still have a lot of work to do to sink the roots of democracy into the soil.
What I find really troubling since the parties concluded their primaries nearly three months ago is that because of bitterness arising from them, the leaders and the members of the political parties indulge in internal self-sabotage in an act of vengeance. They see nothing wrong with anti-party activities. It may be all in the game, but it is also a disservice to the cause of our democracy.
If Peter Obi has not suddenly surfaced and become the new youthful face of our politics, the 2023 general elections would be a straightforward contest between APC and PDP, the two largest parties. Both of them have been in the ring twice – 2015 and 2019. This will be their third time. Both of them appear impregnable and believe that they will reduce the other political parties to playing a supporting role. Nothing, of course, is so sure in politics.
APC, being the ruling party, has much going for it. It has held power for more than seven years. Whatever anyone might say, those years could not be written off as failures. The party has a heavy war chest, and its presidential and governorship candidates can ride on its ability to re-market itself on its achievements in the past seven years of calling the shots from Aso Rock and the majority of the state government houses. It feels sure that those records will guarantee its renewed tenancy in Aso Rock.
On the other hand, PDP, is poised to exploit the vulnerability of APC and market its sales pitch on the basis of the latter’s non-stellar record, as in a run-down economy, overwhelming insecurity and the emergence of centrifugal forces bent on tearing the nation into pieces of itself under a president whose aloofness is inimical to a national dialogue on issues that trouble the various sections of the country.
Both parties are bogged down in internal crises of self-sabotage and may or may not lose their comparative advantages in the contest for power. But something always gives. APC’s Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket is haunting it with lies flying about like unguided missiles. Yoruba leaders and supporters of Senator Bola Tinubu’s presidential ambition were reported this week to be protesting the Muslim-Muslim ticket. As I write this, there were reports of a similar demonstration in Lagos. It came as a huge surprise, but it tells you that APC and PDP have much to lose from a poisoned political atmosphere.
One cannot ignore some tendentious news plants in the media. One of these current wild speculations has to do with an alleged plot by APC governors to remove the national chairman of the party, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, and replaced him with a Christian. Again, the religious card came from nowhere but the fertile imagination of internal saboteurs. There is no such ill-conceived move on the cards of the party. Still, the speculation makes disturbing reading. It is not impossible that some leaders of the party are behind this plant. Their objective is to sow discord and cause disaffection. This sort of thing helps the weeds to grow in the path of democracy.
PDP is also reaping the wind of internal self-sabotage. It is embroiled in induced internal crises with some of its leading members like governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, nursing the wounds of personal disappointment, and are driven to act like the dog in the manger. If Wike cannot become the vice-presidential candidate of the party, it might as well content itself with being an also run at the end of the day.
Wike, after losing the presidential ticket of his party to Atiku Abubakar, expected to clinch the vice-presidential ticket. It did not happen. It was a painful double loss. He is naturally aggrieved. You cannot blame for fuming and becoming both petulant and delusional. He refuses to be appeased. With everyone beating the path to his door to either placate or woo him, he is convinced that the fate of the party in 2023 is now in his hands. Maybe and maybe not. The crises of internal self-sabotage in the party are centred on and around him. A man like that with a deep pocket does not lack supporters.
A week or so ago, there were pockets of demonstration against Senator Iyorchia Ayu asking him to resign as national chairman of the party. There was no basis for this demand because Ayu has not been found wanting to warrant it. The fact is that from the dawn of civil rule in 1999, our political parties have been burdened with aggrieved men who feel cheated enough and feel bad enough to wish to destroy their parties or part ways with them.
Crises are endemic in political parties in developing countries. No one is naïve enough to expect our politicians to always play by the rules. But what is at stake in the forthcoming general elections is much more than winning or capturing power. The fate of our nation is tied up with those elections.
Agbese can be reached via Email: [email protected]