Limits of political fronterism in Nigeria
THERE is a growing thinking in influential circles of Nigeria’s ruling politic-al party that the consolidation of the party’s victory in the 2015 general elections can be guaranteed only by a systematic and relentless expansionist agenda. By this thinking, the ruling party must strive to take control of some critical states that are currently governed by other political parties. The ruling party’s influential thinkers have surveyed the country’s geo-political map and come to the realisation that the oil resource-bearing states are under the control of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the erstwhile ruling party. These states include Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, and Abia.
How it reached the conclusion is uncertain. But the impression is gaining ground among the apparatchiks of the ruling party that their non-control of the oil-producing states enumerated above is a national security issue. My guess is that framing it as a national security issue is intended to mask the real intention, which is how to mobilise resources for, and triumph in the 2019 general elections. This is against the background of the role that Rivers State played in the formation, financing, and operation of the ruling party, whose electoral fortunes might have been impaired without a steady flow of resources for the electoral contest not only at the national level but in some states as well.
By formulating its partisan game-plan as a national security issue, there is justification in mobilising all relevant institutions of state, as well as all arms of government, in addressing the “national security issue.” Thus, the planners in the ruling party seem to have identified the low-hanging fruits that can be quickly harvested. These low-hanging fruits can be seen in the outcome of the election petitions filed in the governorship elections in most states controlled by the PDP. In this wise, it is becoming obvious, even to the blind, how the Election Petition Tribunals are giving wildly differing judgments on petitions that have virtually similar facts.
While petitions filed by the governorship candidates of the PDP are being dismissed, those filed by candidates of the ruling party against PDP candidates are being upheld in a manner that leaves even the most broad-minded jurist flabbergasted. In this sense, we can see how, willy-nilly, the judicial arm of government has been somewhat co-opted into the ruling party’s expansionist agenda disguised as a national security concern. With the exception of Delta State, witness for instance the Tribunal judgments in the governorship election petitions in Akwa Ibom (where most of the results were annulled and a partial re-run ordered), and Rivers (where all the results were nullified and a total re-run ordered within 90 days.
An immediate reaction to the foregoing examples would be that they are decisions of courts of first instance, and that those who are dissatisfied with the outcome are entitled to appeal. The counterpoint here would be that the law is an ass. Appeal is highly technical, and at that level, a case already decided by a lower court is not reopened again with witnesses and evidence. In other words, an appeal is not a trial. Thus, an appeal can be lost on a technicality, as was the case with Emeka Ihedioha, the PDP candidate in the Imo governorship election, whose appeal to the Supreme Court was recently thrown out on a technicality, which sealed his fate.
What one can deduce from the planned expansionism by the ruling party is that its thinkers have been linear in their thinking, failing to take along other current and volatile occurrences in the country. Boko Haram has inflicted deep wounds on Nigeria, and the cost will be borne for years to come. Whether we see it as a joke, or merely the flight of fancy of a fringe group that does not have the support of the majority of the Igbo ethnic group, the Biafra idea is rising with protests swollen by larger numbers of demonstrators. It just might take one ugly incident to change the tone and colouration of the current pro-Biafra protests and then the country could be faced with a groundswell of agitation whose end result no one can safely predict.
Besides, the South-South feels wounded by the turn of events following the 2015 general elections. They went out to vote, but they lost out, because the majority carries the day. Since the advent of the new government, the trumpeting of corruption against the previous government has been perceived as persecution of their kith and kin, rather than a nation-wide cleansing. It would reach a point, and we might begin to hear again that, after all, the resources come from their zone, and that they cannot be against their sons and daughters who served in the Federal Government. Here, the scenario reminds me of what happened in the case of the recently deceased Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, former Governor of Bayelsa State, who was treated as an Izon hero, notwithstanding that he was impeached, tried, convicted and jailed for corruption, in addition to the seizure of some of his properties. If the people of the South-South perceive an onslaught by way of expansionism by the ruling political party, how would they react, considering that most are still now licking their wounds from the loss suffered during the presidential election of 2015?
For a number of reasons, the ruling party would need to apply the brakes, and rethink its options. Since 1999, Nigeria has never been a one-party state, and that is not about to change. Tried as they could, the PDP could never capture all 36 states. Expansionism, as conceived by the new ruling party, is the new synonym for capture, as the PDP used it when they were in power. It implies impunity, disdain for the rule of law, the summoning of state resources and institutions for an invidious end; it means ultimately subversion of the will of the people. But it also sows seeds of anger and discord. If we are struggling to quench the Boko Haram fire, why start another fire in another zone? Can the ruling party in such circumstance deliver on its electoral promise of security and jobs? Can the economy grow in conflict? Answers to these questions rebound on the inherent responsibility of the ruling party to safeguard the nation by restraining abuse of power, in this case, an expansionist agenda.
My final word on this matter is to leave some food for thought. In the 2003 elections, the PDP planned a sweep of the South-West states. Through a combination of guile and barefaced rigging, the PDP won the governorship election in all the states, except Lagos. The PDP could have deployed similar tactics that saw to its success in other South-West states, but opted to apply the brakes, because, on a cost-benefit analysis, the cost of trying to take control of Lagos was overwhelming. Some of those who were on either side at the time in 2003 are today in the same ruling party at the national level. Let them review the 2003 onslaught, and ask what lessons there are to learn today. If they were sincere, they would overrule the current thinkers of the ruling party, and ask them to back off from their dangerous expansionist game-plan.
• Bala, a peace and conflict analyst, writes from Malali, Kaduna