he ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) expects victory in the 2023 election almost as an entitlement. This is for one reason only: it is the incumbent party in national power. President Buhari and core party leaders are carrying on in a manner that suggests that electoral victory is a befitting necklace or medal to be decorated with merely for presiding over the nation for two uninspiring presidential terms.
Ironically, however, Mr. Buhari’s troublesome presidency and whatever legacy he may pride in may have become millstones around the neck of the party’s presidential candidate and Buhari’s presumptive successor in 2023. It is still uncertain for how long Mr. Bola Tinubu, the party’s presidential candidate, is ready to wear the Buhari millstone around his neck. There lies the key to bith the vindication of the APC and indeed the electoral chances of Mr. Tinubu himself.
At best, the electoral chances of the APC in the 2023 election are now chiefly defined by a series of nagging questions. The axiom mostly in African politics and democracy is that incumbency invariably confers an easy winning chance on the ruling party. Part of the urgent trial of the APC is to test this assumption. Hidden under that lazy assumption is a series of other questions that ought to interest those interested in the growth and development of democracy in Nigeria. The critical questions are many.
Do electorates punish non- performing parties by denying them victory at the next election? Or, in the alternative, can a party, in spite of a dismal performance in government, still coast to victory at the next election irrespective of a massive popularity deficit? Is the electorate of registered voters a true representation of the popular wish at elections? Does the electorate have a mind, a memory, like a person, that either punishes or rewards past experience in the hands of a political party and its elected officials? Finally, is the public of voters in a democracy an insensitive mob that returns a party to power even if its government has hurt the people badly and betrayed the public trust and devalued the good of the nation?
In respect of these questions, there is a sense in which both the APC and Nigeria’s democratic evolution are on trial for 2023. The party that coasted to power crowing ‘change’ has itself made change the logical consequence of its own power tenure. A populace that went out to energetically oust the virtual hegemony of the PDP is today drained of any energy whtsoever. A combination of grinding poverty and warlike insecurity under the APC government has enthroned uncertainty as the new normal. There is no point rehashing the catalogue of woes that characterize Buhari’s Nigeria.
The Goebelian propaganda machinery of the APC government is urging Nigerians to believe the opposite of what they are experiencing. We should ignore World Bank statistics and content ourselves with living in what has become the poverty capital of the world. We should be thankful for living in the world’s second most terrorized country. There is no point complaining about being a citizen of one of the most dangerous places in the world. We are told that it could have been worse if not for the valiant messianic efforts of General Buhari. Even after over seven years in federal power, there are elements in the ruling party who still blame president Jonathan’s PDP for the nation’s woes.
Those with no appetite for politics could perhaps ignore the more social and political adversities of our time. A party’s public policy thrust does not have to be universally popular after all. But the yawning absence of any coherent policy in any area of national life is a felony in government. To add this atrocity to a rudderless handling of matters of economic management is nearly treasonable. How else does anyone describe a government whose debt service obligation has risen above its best revenue expectations? Or, even worse, how does any group of people in the name of government run a nation’s economy aground to the point of habitually borrowing trillions from the Central Bank just to keep up salary obligations? Government has dug the nation into a ditch and its solution is to dig an even deeper and ditch. Government is broke in a literal sense and the people are themselves broken in every way.
This catalogue of adversity has put the very survival of the nation to serious question. A divisive nativist politics has torn the fabrics of national unity to shreds as Nigerians are splintered more than ever along all ethnic, religious, regional and partisan lines. In sum, the APC has achieved something remarkable in political theory. Under Mr. Buhari, the party has demonstrated how easy it is to wreck a nation in less than eight years. A Nigerian who left the country in 2015 and returns today may find it hard to recognize the nation he left behind.
Even then, the report card of the APC is not a total landscape of unrestrained disaster and hopeless incompetence. Here and there, there are specs of fickle brightness. A commitment to infrastructure restoration has yielded a few kilometers of rehabilitated federal highways. A major bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha has been completed at last after decades of rhetorical commitments and shifting political antics. In all fairness, several kilometers of needed railroads have been completed and sparkling Chinese trains deployed briefly only for the rail services along major routes to be shut down or suspended because of the fear of terrorists.
In states controlled by the APC, a few good men as governors have stepped forward to assert good governance as a possibility. In Kaduna, a reform of education and the public service has only been interrupted by the ceaseless scourge of terrorist attacks. In Lagos, a humanistic young governor has calmed the usually frayed nerves of a noisy and untidy city- state. In the less fortunate APC controlled states, however, woes have been heaped on tragedies to produce scenes of unmitigated disaster and unrestrained autocratic excursions.
The pastoral state of Zamfara is now the national epicenter of terrorism, with all ungoverned spaces literally garrisoned off by fierce armed bandits and imported terrorists flowing freely from across the border with Niger Republic. Katsina, the home state of the president, is now a poster state of a strange illicit diarchy in which sovereign state power is split almost equally between an elected governor and squads of state authorized bandit power contenders.
This general profile of the APC at national and state levels is the backdrop and landscape against which the chances of the party in 2023 can be assessed. It is of course the right of every democratic nation to expect a wave of elevating promises of change each time it is about to elect a new leadership. It is also the just expectation of any ruling party to work towards victory and self -perpetuation in power. But the feasibility of political survival and longevity must be founded on clear rational logic of what is possible.
Justifiably therefore, the APC is positioning itself to succeed itself come 2023. It has chosen a presidential candidate after a massively transactional primary convention season. The party has ramped up its rhetoric to give Mr. Bola Tinubu a winning chance. The onset of the campaigns any time from now should unveil the new message of the party . Hopefully, the new message and its carrier can renew the trust which gave the party a mandate to rule in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
As the mascot of the APC in the countdown to 2023, Mr. Bola Tinubu comes to table with a mixed bag of strenuous advantages. He is however in a tripartite race with a fellow political old war horse, Atiku Abubakar, and a disruptive populist figure with a growing pop star followership, Mr. Peter Obi.
On his own, Mr. Tinubu comes with a fairly competitive political credentials. He creditably reformed and modernized the government of Lagos state, Nigeria’s fractious and disorderly metropolis. He was among a few politicians who opposed the late kleptocratic despot, General Sani Abacha, which earned him the reward of exile under the banner of then dissident movement NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) . A co-founder and author of many political projects and groupings, Mr. Tinubu was once a senator, founding member of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later the ruling All Progessives Congress(APC). He can be credited with the emergence of Mr. Buhari as APC presidential candidate who needed Tinubu’s catchment home base of the South West to become president in 2015.
However, Mr. Tinubu is burdened with a cocktail of resume headaches which can prove costly in a national contest. These range from questionable school records to dodgy affidavits about certificates and big money matters. He has so far weathered these controversies in a political career that is typical of the ‘big men’ of Nigerian politics. On the face of it, there is nothing so disadvantageous on Mr. Tinubu’s resume that can unsettle his electoral chances. Most of those who vote in Nigeria could not be bothered what school you attended or where your grand father hailed from. His problems lie elsewhere in the very nature and configuration of the Nigerian national electoral geography and compass.
As the presidential candidate of the APC, Mr. Tinubu is not necessarily more burdened than his two major frontline contenders. But his party platform is an albatross. As a party mascot, he has the unenviable task of defending the performance record of his rather blemished party and its crassly incompetent now lame duck president. The question on Tinubu’s chances now come down to this: How does Mr. Tinubu make progress without rejecting or disowning Mr. Buhari’s performance baggage? If he insists on continuing, even if rhetorically, with the Buhari legacy, it means undertaking to continue with insecurity, mass poverty, unchecked corruption, indecisive governance, bad economics and an incoherent policy approach.
So far, Mr. Tinubu has not yet evolved a personal messaging that distances him from the effete and bumbling Buhari. It would be political bad manners to disown Buhari. It is even worse politics to allow members of his family (so far, his wife and his daughter) to keep pledging his commitment to continuing with Buhari’s policies. Their open appearance in political marketing is bad for Mr. Tinubu as it hints at a political dynasty in the making. As a matter of political expediency, he can ill afford to disavow Mr. Buhari’s legacy. And yet a messaging that suggests a wish to continue along the Buhari path is a sure way to certain electoral defeat. Tinubu can neither swallow Buhari nor spit him out without suffering fatal political indigestion. He needs to find a consensus within the party that modifies the party’s messaging to Nigerians which must include an admission of Buhari’s failures and disastrous legacy.
Thus, the plight of defective APC and the fortunes of the Tinubu candidacy are joined at the hips. The party’s unpopularity can ordinarily be fixed with a lot of hard work. A creative campaign strategy can boldly admit Mr. Buhari’s errors as evolutionary in the life of a young party. That admission alone cannot however win an election. It can be quickly followed by the marketing of an alternative pathway that frontally proffers creative solutions to the most urgent national emergencies. That alternative pathway must however be superior to the programmes and solutions of both Mr. Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi respectively. The way out is not through motor park grade propaganda or abusive communication of the sort we have previewed between Mr. Keyamo and Femi Fani Kayode on the one hand and Dino Melaye on the other. Insulting the intelligence of Nigerians can no longer pass as political salesmanship in this day and age. The concept of attack dogs as political communication belongs somewhere in the antiquity of Nigerian politics.
So far, Mr. Tinubu seems to be stuck in the Buhari and APC quagmire. He wants to carry on with Buhari and even deepen his divisiveness. The choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a vote catching antic is an ancient and foolish strategy. Religion may be unimportant in the business of governance but Mr. Buhari has weaponized it and sharpened sectarian sensitivities in the nation. Mr. Tinubu wants to be in religious contention for northern popular votes with Mr. Atiku Abubakar. But in the popular imagination of the average streetside northerner, Atiku Abubakar is the more authentic northern Muslim who also happens to carry Buhari’s Fulani DNA. There is even a Machiavellian hint that has suggested that pairing Mr. Shettima with a health compromised Tinubu may in fact be a ruse to emplace another northern Muslim president if Tinubu flips or slides!
In real terms, the bloc vote of the South West which Mr. Tinubu ‘donated’ to help coronate Mr. Buhari in 2015 may no longer be in tact. States like Oyo, Osun, Ondo and significant portions of Lagos may now not vote the way they did in 2015. New political and financial centres of gravity have since emerged in the zone that could unsettle the Tinubu/APC advantage. The APC now has to work for its votes in the South West more than it did in 2015.
The party also has clear consequential problems in two strategic zones in the Southern hemisphere. In the South East, no one can vouch for the popularity of the APC in both Imo and Ebonyi states where the incumbent governors happen to be in the party by default. They are in the party mostly mostly for reasons of their personal ambitions. But both Mr. Hope Uzodinma and Dave Umahi are not the most popular governors even in their respective states. Their presidential ambition have taken a nose dive with the collapse of the campaign for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023. Elsewhere in the zone, the APC is more of an inconsequential acronym.
Worse still, Mr. Buhari’s rhetoric and body language towards the zone has poisoned the pool for the party. The president never disguised his personal indifference towards the people of the zone whom he has described variously as ‘dots’ in a national circle of hate. These people have the memory of an elephant; they hardly forget. Like the Jews, the Igbos carry a perennial sense of collective hurt; once hurt, the injury is passed from generation to generation!
The situation in the South South is not any better for the APC. Majority of the governors of the states in the zone are mostly in the rival PDP and may have no dividend to show their people to justify an alignment towards the APC. There are no too many federal projects in the last seven years to show in the zone that produces the bulk of the nation’s oil and gas wealth.
Yet, the elections are still a clear six months away. That is like eternity in politics. The party could still re-make itself. Mr. Tinubu could still re-engineer both himself and the message of the party on whose platform he is building his presidential hopes. In the 2023 election, the APC faces a race with more complex determinants than the simple binary (either or) choice that propelled it to power in 2015.