Crucial 2018 and nature of Politics to come

President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: BAYO OMOBORIOWO

We are into the leap year 2018, politically speaking. The year would be less than 12 months going by the arithmetic of the calendar of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The frenzy of activities that will characterize 2018 would consequently leave Nigerians with just six months of real governance.

It is really going to be a year of great expectations and surprising manifestations. From the National Assembly through the Presidency and various Government Houses, the tempo of activities would be at fever pitch. New alliances would be forged, old bonds broken as calculations change in the schemes to grab or preserve political power.

Even in the judiciary and political parties, 2018 is going to be a year of ups and downs, with scandals and exposes to undermine and or prop rivals and or lackeys and friends.

However, if the political parties learn to be of good behavior, namely sticking to the rules, the judiciary might be les burdened.

But that would be a tall order given the possibility that the expected motions and machinations within the party platforms would elicit pre-election litigations. Nonetheless, the plethora of mushroom political parties being churned out by INEC may help to curtail the excessive competition for electoral spaces within the parties.

Heat From INEC Crucible
Recently, the electoral commission spewed what could be described as the first wave of heat that would stoke political fever in the parties. The release of the actual timetable for the 2019 election was all INEC needed to jolt politicians from their yuletide and New Year sabbatical.

As happens to students with examination timetable, politicians who believe that there was still time to situate their ambition, especially those anticipating a change of platform, were forced to get serious.

Apart from the timetable, INEC provided what would turn out to be a hidden landmine for some of the registered political parties. INEC has indicated that it would ensure that all the political parties comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act, particularly stipulations that mandate the parties to maintain functional offices in Abuja.

Prof. Anthonia Simbine, who handed out the warning, noted how “at the conclusion of a review of the compliance status of registered political parties in August 2017, 17 out of the then 46 registered political parties had no functional offices in the FCT, while 18 had invalid National Executive Committees…”

The import of that warning is that after the 90 days of grace allowed the affected parties, INEC might begin a process of weeding out some of the mushroom political associations that secured registration. It was ironic that the chairman of Elections and Party Monitoring Committee had to drop the bombshell on a day that the commission was handing over the certificate of registration to 21 additional political parties.

Nigerians would be thrilled to witness a process of deregistration or other sanctions being extended to the spiraling number of political associations seeking registration as political parties.

Although the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had disclosed that four associations that applied for registration were undergoing preliminary assessments of suitability of their proposed names, logos or acronyms, observers of the electoral environment are worried about how the average voter will cope with a long list of parties and sundry logos on the ballot.

There is no doubt that more political parties means more work for INEC, especially in the area of voter enlightenment. After the card reader and accreditation processes the next stage of voting would definitely take some time, that is if the voter does not end up mutilating the ballot in an attempt to make it enter the ballot box.

However, the commission made good its promise to bring certainty to Nigeria’s electoral calendar cycle by designating the third Saturday of February in every election year for the national elections and the state elections two weeks after.

With that development, most Nigerians are now aware that by February 16, 2019 they will be going to the polls to change or retain the president and members of the National Assembly.

The part of the timetable that is sure to alter a lot of things concerns the meetings of political parties, civil society organization, Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) and media organisations. It is possible that from March 14 when the meetings kick off through Monday March 21, 2018, for the grand finale, all attention would have shifted to politics of who goes where and on what platform.

And as political parties are billed to collect nomination forms from INEC in August, it becomes obvious that governance could only take place actively for only six months. Even with the expected movements across political parties, members of the National Assembly at both the Red and Green chambers would begin to post scant attendance.

But in all the calculations regarding preparations for the 2019 general election this year, the two main political parties would have it tough. It is the ability of the two rivals to coordinate and cooperate for internal cohesion that would give clues as to which would get the upper hand next year.

The following are some of the issues that could challenge the resilience of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2018:

APC Ruffled With Automatic Ticket
With the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari indicating a positive inclination to seek a second term in office and one of the leaders of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, advocating against an automatic ticket for the incumbent, the party may not find things easy.

The Chairman of the progressive governors’ forum, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had hinted at the possibility of APC according the president the right of first refusal (ROFR), before Tinubu came out with the negative rejoinder.

Within the context of those contending stands, especially the overzealous grandstanding by Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Nasir el-Rufai, to raise a combative third force within the party to ensure that Buhari is rewarded with an automatic ticket, the centre may not hold for the party.

The implication of those disparate positions is that the long-delayed mid-term convention could hold in an atmosphere of high temperature that could boil over in the attempt to have a person from the Southeast step in as national chairman to succeed Chief

John Odigie-Oyegun.
Although immediate past Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole is believed to be the best man for the job, the plan by Presidency insiders to humour the Southeast with the position could raise internal frictions.

Based on Tinubu’s insistence that the party avoids “repeating the PDP mistake” of handing out an automatic ticket, the president’s close confidants, suspicious of the former Lagos governor decided to look to the southeast, even mooting the idea of replacing Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

But how far the insiders could go without the support of the Southwest is hard to fathom, especially against the speculation that the zone may be forced to throw up a rival presidential aspirant from the middle belt, otherwise known as the North central geopolitical zone.

In concert with Amaechi, who has just been returned as Director General of Buhari’s second term campaign organisation, el-Rufai is said to be unsure of Tinubu’s support for the president’s second term. It is believed that Tinubu’s demand for an open presidential primary is to stonewall an attempt to railroad the president as APC’s flag-bearer.

However, there are apprehensions within the president’s inner circle that such an approach could give room for aggrieved party faithful to requite the president with a possible shocking defeat at the hands of a Christian aspirant from the north central.

Those fighting against automatic ticket for President Buhari are said to be doing so to deny some governors and members of National and State Assemblies such “undemocratic privileges.”

Against this chequered background, it could be seen how the issue of ROFR would test the resolve and internal cohesion of APC. And joined to the pending convention, 2018 may be APC’s equivalent of PDP’s 2013, that threw up the nPDP at the mini-convention.

PDP And Ghost Of Micro-zoning
At its Port Harcourt national convention on May 22, 2016, PDP leaders zoned the party’s presidential slot to the north. The decision to zone to the amorphous north was made analogous to the zoning of the post of national chairman of the party to the entire south.

However, when the Supreme Court cleared the legal cobwebs obfuscating the authentic leadership between Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff, the PDP national caretaker committee fixed December 9, 2017. At the buildup to the convention, demand for micro-zoning the position of national chairman to the Southwest geopolitical zone became an issue.

While the Southwest contended that fairness and equity demanded that the zone should be considered, having not been privileged to occupy the position since the formation of the PDP, the South/south countered that it has been bearing the brunt of funding the party.

At the end of the day, the popular sentiment was that the party needed an experienced hand to pilot the affairs of the party in addition to the perceived disunity and wrangling within the Southwest. Despite all the back and forth arguments from entrenched interests, the call for the micro-zoning of the position to Southwest was rebuffed.

With that the bogey of micro-zoning was temporarily arrested, but what is making the rounds in the north where the presidential ticket has been zoned, is that some presidential aspirants would wake up the issue during the party’s primaries.

While some interest groups are calling for the zoning of the presidential slot to the northeast, others insist that the emphasis should be on selecting the right candidate to fly the PDP flag in 2019.

The Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jubrin, alluded to the silent campaign for micro-zoning of the presidency when he told journalists that the party was searching for a credible candidate to win the presidency.

The tricky aspect of the clamour for the micro-zoning of the presidential ticket is that supporters of some of the aspirants who hope to be running mates or for other personal political benefits are behind the subdued campaign. Those influencing the idea include those interested in appointment such as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the event that PDP wins the 2019 election.

The north has its ways of settling a clash of ambitions, especially for positions zoned to the region. But supporters have started attaching values to the potential aspirants in order to tilt the balance in their favour.

For instance Senator Ahmed Makarfi is being tipped for stabilising the party; former Katsina Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema is being sold as the best bet to take the electoral battle to APC’s backyard. Former Minister of Education and governor of Kano, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and current Governor of Gombe State, Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, are being pushed for their track records of achievements in addition to level-headedness.

To know that such gladiators like Sule Lamido and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are also in the race for the PDP ticket would give a bird’s eye view of the nature of politics that would unfold in PDP this year.

And while the two giants grapple with their internal contestations, other political platforms, including the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Accord Party (AP), United Progressives Party (UPP) and Advanced Peoples Democratic Party (APDA) among others, would be struggling to present the illusive third leg.

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