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Published On: Sun, Jan 7th, 2018

Politics in 2018: Back to the soap box 

By OBINNA EZUGWU

The penultimate election year, 2018 will, without a doubt, witness intense political activities and campaigns. President Muhammadu Buhari has made clear his intention to seek reelection in 2019; he has started out by re-appointing his Transport Minister, Chibuike Amaechi as his campaign director general. As was the case in 2014/2015, 2019 will be a two-horse race between the ruling All progressive Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But in many ways, it is going to be remarkably different.

The last election pitted a Southern Christian from a minority Ijaw ethnic group, Goodluck Jonathan against a Muslim Hausa/Fulani candidate, Buhari. It was an election fought and won, largely on the basis of religion and ethnicity with allegations of corruption used as a convenient cover. Once two of the country’s three major ethnic groups; Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba, as well as the country’s substantial Muslim population turned against Jonathan, the odds were against him.

The political tension was palpable. Had Jonathan won by any means, mayhem was predicted. Thus, while many, including international observers predicted a chaotic outcome, Jonathan lost and unnaturally conceded defeat leading to a peaceful outcome. It was a great relief that the election came and went without major incidents.

This time however, it will be a contest between two Hausa/Fulani Muslims and although many are predicting a heated contest, it would be nothing close to 2015. First, the two key factors of ethnicity and religion which defined the very polarizing 2015campaigns are already eliminated. Second, while President Buhari entered the 2015 race on a high horse of strong leadership, integrity and incorruptibility, much of this has been eroded as his government continues to perform far below expectations on both counts.

Therefore, while there was a demigod factor in Buhari the last time out, this time, it is a largely demystified old general who will have to work extremely hard to convince the electorate, especially the country’s impatient youthful population.

Buhari has lost, and continues to lose a number of those who supported him in 2014/2015, the latest being Reverend Father Ejike Mbaka, the vociferous Enugu based Catholic priest who had endorsed him in 2014, but who in a New Year message last week, berated him for failing to deliver on his promised change and asked him not to re-contest in 2019. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and Pastor Tunde  Bakare among others have also at one point or the other voiced their displeasure with the president.

Across the Middle Belt and some sections of the core North activities of Fulani herdsmen who continue to murder people with impunity and general poverty in the land have started to win the president more enemies, especially as he appears to have no solution to either. In the South West where he had strong support base going into 2015, many people no longer seem keen on him, while his fortunes have not improved in both the South East and the South South. In fact, it has further declined.

The above scenarios point to the fact that Buhari will be vulnerable going into the next election. However, a lot will depend on how the opposition PDP will play its politics, especially the candidate it will choose in its primary later in the year.

Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; the immediate Chairman of the party’s caretaker committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido and Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo are some of the potential candidates to watch. But it would appear that only Atiku and Dankwambo are the only ones who can indeed pose serious threat to Buhari’s re-election bid.

Atiku, because he has the wherewithal, the political clout and the reach to pull off a great campaign; Dankwambo because he is a respected technocrat who is adjudged to have performed creditably well as governor and has little or no corruption dent on his name. The Gombe governor’s credentials was attested to by no less a man than Mbaka who praised him profusely in the said New Year message and called on the North to make him available to Nigerians.

Nonetheless, with the APC having control of the state apparatus, it is expected that key opposition figures like the ones mentioned above would be hauled to jail or simply kept busy by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Indeed, this year will witness an onslaught against the opposition by the anti graft agency.

Again, with most of the governors, especially those of the PDP going for second term, it would not be unexpected that a number of them will be forced into a compromise by the APC led federal government.

Thus, while not much would change in terms of performance, and while mass discontent with the government will grow going into 2019, the PDP may not rise to the occasion of providing credible opposition and the APC will largely still run the show.

Nonetheless, increased political activities this year would also mean that more money will be in circulation as politicians will spend a lot for campaigns. This would mean there will more money in circulation to cushion hardship. On the flip side, inflation may also set in.

Critical for the APC, however, is its ability to manage itself and cater to the varying interest within its ranks. With the party’s convention coming up this year, chances of implosion are high and will to a large extent, define the cause of the political year.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the acclaimed National leader of the APC has seen his influence wane considerably since Buhari took power. Many have suggested he would probably pull out or secretly oppose the president. Both scenarios, which could mark a turning point for Buhari, possibly the beginning of the end for him, seem very unlikely.

The former Lagos governor is not a man noted for political confrontations, and with concessions to him already in the offing, especially the Oando financial crisis being swept under the carpet, it is unlikely that he will want to rock the boat.

Overall, 2018 will be a year of politics, but in terms of tension; in terms of bitterness, it would be nothing close to 2014.

 

 

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