Election 2019: ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’

The popular idiom above which l have adopted as the title of this piece would likely ring true next year in Nigeria as the political class and the electorates prepare to go into another general election in February.

With the level of despondency now pervading the polity, we don’t need an expert to enlighten us on how disappointed Nigerians are with the state of insecurity of lives and property as well as the debilitating hunger ravaging citizens across the country.

Applying the hue and cry around the country as a barometer during this year’s May 29 democracy day, most Nigerian voters believe that they were short changed by politicians in 2015.

The alarming level of anguish by citizens across the political divide is corroborated by the statistics from NOI Polls which indicates that president Muhamadu Buhari’s approval rating has dropped to 41% from the initial Olympian figures of 80% at inception of this administration.

In an article widely published during APC’s one year anniversary in 2016 titled “Buhari Campaigned In Poetry, 12 Months On, Governing In Prose ” a slogan attributed to former governor of the state of New York, USA, Mario Cuomo, l tried to make a case that the ruling party was reneging on the promises made to the electorate during its campaign for office which it won in 2015.

Even the APC itself has disclaimed some of the promises by arguing that they were crafted and published by people or organizations sympathetic to its course, but without its approval.

So more or less, unwary voters were sold a dud and if you like, some of the electorates were fooled by the deceptive message of APC support groups. Against the backdrop of the principle of “Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me”, and given what they know now, would Nigerian voters allow themselves to be fooled a second time by voting for APC in 2019?

In defense of its inability to keep some of the fantastic promises made, the APC claims that the incredible propositions such as bringing the naira exchange rate to N1-$1 and reducing fuel pump price as well as ending the regime of petroleum subsidy (which are obviously mere fairy tales) are being hindered by corrupt people from the opposition party who are fighting back.

They also argue that those fantastic promises which sounded like sweet music to the masses did not have the imprimatur of then candidate and now president Muhammadu Buhari and the APC secretariat.
In deference to the principle of benefit of doubt, its not fair to be bellicose about the past. So voters may choose not to be too hard on president Buhari and the ruling party for being very high on promises and too low in performance.

But as the 2019 general elections ramps up and February date for presidential polls looms large,most pundits are beginning to have clear optics (based on promises kept or undelivered) about whether the present occupant of Aso Rock villa will likely remain there or relinquish the keys to a new occupant.
One of the initial threats to the present Aso Rock Villa occupants was the so called Third Force or the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM.

Disappointingly, the buzz about the Third Force-the much vaunted alternative political forum, was fizzling out so fast that the hope of many optimists who saw it as the real game changer was looking as if it would be dashed.

The dissatisfaction stems from the flourish with which it was launched, after which the initial momentum wasn’t sustained as its activities became underwhelming.

Thankfully, its recent decision to pitch its tent in the African Democratic Congress, ADC camp has brought some respite to real change hopefuls who were feeling disappointed. For instance, it’s plan to rally another 30 political parties into joining its fold appears like a mission impossible but it will certainly boost its political fortunes if it accomplishes the feat.

In any case, it is the nature of politics for new entrants to experience teething problems. It may be recalled that the coalition of political parties tagged CNPP and driven by the former governor of kaduna state, Balarabe Musa never saw the light of day.

It also took several failed attempts at aligning (2007-2011) for the Buhari and Tinubu political marriage to be effectively consummated in 2013 before culminating into the defeat of then ruling party,PDP in 2015.

Going by the setbacks referenced above, from this present time to February 2019 scheduled date for the general elections, the ‘Third Force’ now morphed into ADC is constrained by time to go through the mandatory evolutionary process in order to be fit enough to create any tremor in the 2019 election.

Although, it is unlikely that the ADC would clinch the presidency, it might make significant impact in 2019 by wining a couple of governorship positions and getting a few legislative seats at states and federal levels to gain a foothold and remain relevant till 2023.

That’s assuming it continues to work as hard as it’s currently doing by mobilizing other smaller parties with a view to galvanizing them into a single party with more potency.

In the light of the foregoing, the Third Force or ADC can be said to be a party of the future which could get a foothold and relevance in 2019 at local and state govt levels in order to make significant impact at the presidential level in the 2023 elections.

The optimism is premised on the belief that, at that time, ADC can successfully field a presidential candidate that can defeat any candidate that would be brought forward by the APC. That’s because the party’s candidate would be a fresh candidate just like ADC’s since the incumbent (assuming Buhari wins again and PDP disintegrates) would not be eligible for another term.

Ominously, the ascendancy of the ADC would likely be accelerated by the demise of the PDP which should have become a torn on the flesh of the ruling party, APC, but remains dangerously impaired and looking like a toothless bulldog by design or default.

It is heart breaking to contemplate the notion that if the current spell of political witchcraft that has shackled the former ruling party, PDP is not dispelled by an equally savvy wizardry via charismatic leadership, the party that its one time chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor boasted will rule Nigeria for sixty years, would likely disintegrate before 2023.

And if that happens, there is very strong likelihood that most of its members that would like to remain relevant in politics would cross carpet into the ADC.

It is based on the assumptions outlined above that l’m tagging the ADC a party of the future.

Now , a lot of analysis of the impending election have been based on president Muhammadu Buhari and APC’s track record of governance in the past three years. The prevailing sentiment amongst the politically conscious is that the performance has been manifestly below expectations. However , the critical masses that vote are in the rural areas and they are more often than not politically naive. So they may not be as sensitive to non delivery of campaign promises by the APC as their counterparts in the urban centers . It is based on such premise that John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the USA and one of the country’s most charismatic presidents reminded his compatriots about what the 3rd USA president, Thomas Jefferson, (1801-9) once said about the ignorance of voters . According to him, the ignorance of one person in a democracy impairs the security of all. But if the people are enlightened generally , “tyranny and oppression of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day”.

Incidentally, that comment made over a Millennium ago in the USA applies to Nigeria today.
In the light of the foregoing, politicians should be engaging the electorate with a view to enlightening and encouraging them to vote with their hearts and not their stomachs in 2019.

In any case victories in elections are not based on sentiments alone, but mainly on the efficacy of the strategy applied to win by both the incumbent and opposition. One of which is that there has to be a strong narrative of a societal ill which the parties must strive to stigmatize each other with in order to be able to brand it a public enemy not fit enough to continue to steer the ship of state or unentitled to take over.

As an opposition party, APC did that successfully by branding the PDP a cohort of thieves. It reinforced its claim by raising dust with the alleged fraud in NNPC (unremitted $40b or so ) revealed by then CBN governor, now Emir of Kano, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

So far the main opposition party, PDP has been unable to make such a case against the APC.
Contrary to the political capital that then opposition party, APC made out of the alleged NNPC fraud in 2013/14, the PDP now in opposition has been unable to capitalize on the alleged illegal award of contracts in excess of $20b by NNPC GMD, Maikanti Baru without due process, (as revealed by minister of state petroleum, lbe Kachikwu) and other financial malfeasance by the establishment to give APC a bad name so that it can be punished at the polls.The PDP has also not been able to make the case that it is the APC’s three prong agenda of fighting corruption, insecurity and economy in that order of priority, instead of putting the resuscitation of the economy first that is largely responsible for the economic recession that the country is currently recovering from.

Ideally, the ruling party should have concentrated on putting the economy on even keel, especially as it was coming to power at the time that crude oil price, the economic main stay of Nigeria was on downwards spiral.As opposed to saving the economy the establishment concentrated attention on fighting corruption which is energy sapping and inherently anti growth.

Owing to the uncertainty generated by the economic policies deemed to be out of tune with global reality, investor apathy kicked in resulting in capital flight to safety and recession of 2016 which was more or less an own goal. As PDP is unable to make the case, the narrative on the street is that it is PDP’s economic mismanagement that triggered recession in 2016.

The truth is that bereft of any development plan until the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP was hashed out two years into the tenure of the present administration, the inaction or lethargy combined with dwindling crude oil price accelerated the sinking of the economy into doldrums. As Nigeria does not operate in an autarky but as a member of the comity of nations with clear economic linkage, it also did not help that there was no cabinet until six months into the 4 years tenure of the govt in power.

However, with a weak opposition, that failed to successfully capitalize on the leadership gaps earlier highlighted, the APC as the present occupant of Aso Rock villa seat of power and holding sway in 24 of the 36 governors lodges across the country, already controls over 70% in terms of sphere of influence .
Conversely, the PDP as a badly fractured and dying party controlling only 10 states and whose integrity plus brand are highly damaged by previous abysmal record , don’t possess the mettle to sail into Aso Rock villa successfully in 2019.

As such, next year’s election looks like a cherry waiting for the APC to pick again.

In as much as most political indices tend to be making election 2019 look like a walk in the park for the ruling party, however the initial flashes don’t necessarily mean that the impending contest is a slam dunk for the APC and Nunc Dimitis for the PDP. The foregoing assertion stems from the fact that there is no certainty in politics as situations and circumstances can change faster than the English weather.

The above observation is underscored by the simple fact that although the PDP is in shambles, deep down the APC is equally in disarray.

The assertion above is justified by the fact that of the 24 states that the APC controls, parallel congresses were held in at least 10 states, and by some accounts 14.

That’s a clear evidence that the ruling party has become fractious. In other words, APC is now a house divided in the light of the very high level of acrimony within the party.

In fact, the internecine war within the APC is not surprising to some of us because what is happening now is a fall out of the reality that the party comprises of strange bedfellows.

It maybe recalled that the five political parties ACN, CPC, ANPP, and factions of PDP and APGA that merged in 2013 in order to be formidable enough to unseat the PDP (which had been the ruling party since 1999) had diametrically opposing philosophies before their merger.

It’s like the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hamas (with different philosophies but with the state of Israel as a common enemy) merging into a political party/force to upstage the Likud ruling party in Israel. After the Likud party might have been removed, imagine what would happen there after. Absolute mayhem. That would be because of the fierce contest that would ensure amongst the multifarious warlords for the control of power.

Another fitting analogy is what became of the state of Iraq after Sadam Hussein was removed as president and the situation in Libya when Muamar Ghadafi was ousted as the president of that country.
The aftermath was that both countries-lraq and Libya became failed states of which the Western world , particularly the USA is now perplexed by the consequences of their misadventure.

Okay, may be the analogy is a bit of an exaggeration of the situation as it is probably an extreme comparison to use metaphors of extremism in the Middle East.

But the idea is to forcefully drive my point home.

Nevertheless, the extreme comparison does not vitiate the fact that the APC is an amalgam of political parties with opposing philosophies, only with a common goal to oust the PDP in 2015.

Whether the merger of five political parties which are strange bed fellows between 2013/14 to form APC to snatch power from the PDP in 2015 in Nigeria would be a misadventure of the magnitude witnessed in Iraq and Libya where multiple political powers are now butting heads with horrific consequences is a question that’s giving most politicians sleepless nights.

The answer to the question may become manifest on June 23-the proposed day that the much awaited APC convention would hold. On that occasion, the legacy parties would be expected to put on the table their individual ethnic and religious interests which they had buried or stood down in 2013 owing to the overriding desire and determination to temporarily stand down their selfish and ethnic agendas to grab power from Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP.

In the light of the circumstances highlighted above, its difficult at this point to decipher whether the ruling party would implode as hordes of pundits aver. But the telltale signs as reflected by the conflicts that manifested during the local govt elections and congresses held by the ruling party are quite ominous.

Before the congresses and LGA elections, the coalition was already experiencing convulsions as nPDP had sent a notice signaling the deepening of the rift. As the aggrieved bloc recently reminded the leadership, they control about 12 states and as such could make or mar the ruling party’s chances of retaining power.

Although the crack in APC is being hastily patched up through consultations and holding out of olive branch to the feuding or aggrieved factions and blocs, the undercurrent remains dangerous as there are still subterranean moves for some of the legacy parties to migrate to other platforms.

From the APC National leader, Bola Tinubu who was mandated by President Buhari a couple of months ago to assuage the anger of the aggrieved members, to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, now saddled with the task of quelling the nPDP descent which is threatening to ravage the party, time is running out.

In another opinion piece widely published in July 2015 and titled “APC: When Accord Con-cordial Becomes Accord Discordant” followed by a similar piece in Sept. 2016 reemphasizing similar concerns and titled “The Good, The Bad And The APC” l had also reiterated the belief that the ruling party merely avoided facing its demons by postponing or deliberately avoiding negotiating the interests and agendas of the merging parties during its first and only convention in the past five years .

Obviously, at that time the party did not want their common mission to send the PDP packing from Aso Rock Villa thwarted. Hence it decided to skip some vital steps in entity or team formation principle of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing as enunciated by psychologist, Bruce Tuchman.

Referencing the Tuchman principle, in a 2015 article titled “The Inconvenient Truth About The APC” l had argued that having failed to follow the team formation protocol, the APC would pay the price in the future.

And the proposed June 23 APC convention date will be that future and it promises to be the ruling party’s moment of truth.

This is because after Forming the party in 2013, the next stage which is Storming was bucked due to its risky nature. It is at that stage that an entity could break up or be sustained. Since that process wasn’t allowed to play out, in the real sense , the APC has remained a contraption as opposed to being an entity that could stand the test of time because it didn’t complete the team formation process. Without going through the Storming process it can’t go into the Norming stage how much more entering the Performing circle. In other words APC has no vision or mission because it is yet to complete the whole gamut of protocols in fulfillment of entity or team formation rules.

As it is inevitable to Storm or squabble, APC’s proposed convention next month promises to be its day of reckoning as it would be going through the Storming stage which it must pass through wily-nilly.
If after the convention the ruling party remains intact, then retaining the keys to Aso Rock villa on May 29,2019 would be most likely.

But most importantly, instead of denying the promises it made to Nigerians that facilitated its election in 2015 and blaming the former ruling party for the socioeconomic and insecurity woes currently besetting the long suffering masses, the APC must come clean by admitting that it was initially overwhelmed by the magnitude of challenges which it had underestimated based on ignorance about leadership at the center.

As such the past three years has been spent laying the foundation for a better Nigeria. Voters may be keen on giving the APC a second chance as it may be weighed against voting for another party that would need another four years of learning curve in national leadership.

But if the ruling party continues on the path of lying to Nigerians by claiming to have made giant developmental strides which are not visible and therefore considered to be mere phantoms and figments of imagination of the authors of such narratives, the party should be ready to suffer massive failure in February polls, if the elections are free and fair.

This is simply because most Nigerians across the spectrum have been busy undressing the lies about economic stability, improvements in security/safety of lives/property and steady electricity power supply accomplishments that members of the establishment have been touting.

While not being unmindful that truth is not coveted by Nigerian politicians especially because there are no mechanisms for fact checking , my sincere advise to the APC is that it should be guided by the wise counsel of Thomas Jefferson, the author of America’s Declaration of Independence and one of the founders who ruled from 1801-09.

For inspiration, the APC should accept Jefferson’s admonition that “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”.

As it was true then, it’s remains true today.

Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy, tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and former commissioner in Delta state govt sent this piece from Abuja.