Williams: Dangers In Starry-eyed Election Predictions

WERE Nigeria to be as advanced as some Western countries, where democracy has thrived for centuries; where electoral contests are not as warlike as we have here, one would have ignored the spurious polls being churned out by parties with regard to the February elections. Of greater concern is the outlandish postulation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which gleefully awards to itself states it, purports to have acquired, but just waiting to harvest in two weeks’ time. And the question is; if the predictions turn out not to be so favourable, what would they do?

   Not that forecasts are bad in themselves, if they have a basis in social science and an unbiased reading of today’s realities. Forecasts may be the very recipe for post election crisis if they are delusional and tantalizing, failing to capture the details of voter attitude and pristine traditions. If politicians are not cautioned to moderate their campaign field excitements, it might be difficult to contain them when election results do not favour them. 

  For instance, it was the delusions of former times that led to the destructions and post election crisis of 2011. Those who are familiar with the template will recall that it was when the reality of the election result became far removed from faulty projections of politicians that the option of violence was put forward. The political climate in 2010 was frightening and the language of engagement reflected high level of desperation. While in places like Akwa Ibom, rival camps did not have enough confidence in themselves to meet at the polls, thereby resorting to violent blighting of state infrastructure, in other places, it was the absence of sporting spirit that led to killings and wanton destructions.

  The trend was like this: when huge votes from Kano State had been announced, there was jubilation in the camp of the major opposition, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But when votes from other parts of the country began to offset the tables, violence set in.  If in a contest people refuse to enter with open mind of head or tail, they may get embarrassed when the results are announced and begin to resort to self-help. The point is to remind all, particularly the opposition not to count their chickens before they are hatched. The bogus allocation of states to themselves and their strong belief that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be defeated hands down has no basis in serious contextual analysis of the 2015 elections. There could be a new paradigm after the elections, and that we have to cautiously wait and see.

   It is the same way that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is pounding its chest in spite of glaring displacements it has suffered all over the place. Coming from no less a person than the tested political warhorse, Chief Richard Akinjide, former attorney General and minister of justice, the promise that the party will win in 25 states does not capture the details of its losses since 2011. We do not see the basis in the assumptions of the two frontline parties, just the usual unbridled optimism of party faithful. 

   In the count down to the United States’ presidential election of 2012, president Barack Obama was swimming seriously against the tide. Ever so forgetful, Americans had put behind them the huge liabilities Obama inherited from the previous government of George Bush, which had embarked on the costly voyage to degrade Sadam Hussein and other virulent Islamists abroad. The result was such that America was in huge debts, while the domestic economy was in the red. It was Obama who spent his first four years trying to clean up the mess and restore hope. The American social system was prostrate and unemployment figures were embarrassing. But the US mainstream media and their conservative friends did not give Obama any chance of reelection. 

  Added to that was his lackluster outing in the first presidential debate where Mitt Romney, candidate of the Republican Party had the upper hand; Obama did not show signs of returning. But when the elections had been concluded and the results were steaming in, Obama’s clear lead was mesmerizing for the opposition. But thank goodness for the advancement of Americans. Romney did not wait for the last returns before he congratulated Obama and there was peace. Even though some ultra roughnecks threatened to secede because Obama had won another term, they never made real their threat. They were jokers.

  What did it for Obama if one may ask? The man was connected more to persons outside the mainstream than the Republicans, who puled the city crowds and got carried away. Obama policies touched the hearts of more of those who are struggling to reach the middle class. The demographics did it for Obama, not the city crowds.

  Return to Nigeria of 2015. The opposition has concluded that it had won an election that is still two weeks away. Their body language is that president Jonathan is on his way out. They have gone to town repeatedly with maps detailing how the elections will be lost and won. There is nothing wrong with all that, except that there is already a mindset that might not yield to any other development except victory. That, to me is a formula for chaos.

  There is no doubt that the PDP has lost weight and momentum, which is to be expected of an aging workhorse that is not replenished. Those who use the party to win elections and access government have not taken time to nurture and nourish it for greater successes.  They did not put in place a corporate governance framework to instill discipline and reward loyalty. The PDP has suffered bloodied nose, but is not out yet. It is thus, foolhardy on the part of the opposition to pronounce itself victorious without putting on the table the other facts of the Nigerian Federation.    

  As for the crowds, which appear to be in favour of the opposition, observers have commended this, which has added colour to the game. Without this, the PDP would have continued to take the people for a ride. Yet, it is not the victory sign we have been waiting for, because we had seen huge crowd that did not count. We saw huge crowd in Ekiti, preparatory to the June 2014 governorship election. It did not count for the ruling party in the state because the PDP won by a wide margin.  Observers noted that the elections were free and fair largely. What that means is that we must be wary of crowd that could dissemble.

   Again, the presidential candidate of the APC, GMB has always been a crowd puller, particularly in the North. With the combined resources (finances and population) of the legacy parties, we did not expect anything less, in terms of crowd. We expected huge crowds in Lagos and Port Harcourt, in addition to the traditional ones from the North. But let no one get carried away because there are millions of voters who cannot abandon their jobs to embark on sweaty adventures all over the place. And it is likely that this latter crowd is the more discerning and pensive, the type you cannot lure with sachets of pure water.

  If you permit me, I will volunteer to say that what the opposition should target is how to narrow the margin of the 2011 presidential results, which put the PDP several millions ahead. And the way to begin is not to live in fantasyland, but to realistically plot the map out there in battlegrounds, not from newsrooms. 

  Take Southwest for a start; what has changed between 2011 and now to make the opposition think it must win landslide? It is true that a lot of people have been shut out due to the management style of the Jonathan government, like the miserly access to electricity. But many here, particularly in Lagos have seen some positive moves to expand the economy through new policies in oil and gas, transportation and agriculture. It is not likely that all voters here will be in a hurry to disengage the current template. Here, the major item on the table is the economy and what 2015 will bring to expand it. This is a more discerning cosmopolis and those advising politicians should tell them the truth.

  Other parts of the Southwest may not turn out the way some crystal ball gazers have predicted, because some old sentiments wont go away in a hurry. Like was noted earlier, the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections of 2014 failed bookmakers and nothing dramatic has happened to change that template. If anything, there will be enough for the two frontline parties to harvest. Starry-eyed predictions of landslide for any party in Ogun, Oyo and Ondo will be outlandish. The forces are equal and balanced for the presidential election.

  South-south is where we should even exercise more caution. The fact that there are two opposition governors here does not mean that the PDP has gone to sleep. The people should be permitted to own their sentiments. 

  In the North-central, apart from Niger, which had shown early signs of breaking from the PDP tradition, many here would still prefer to break with the old oligarchic traditions of the North. So, caution should be the final word.

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