This is a defining year for political actors, parties and other stakeholders as they re-strategise ahead of the 2019 general elections, CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes
For an electioneering year, 2018, as anticipated, is starting off on a blistering political note. Just like every pre-election year, these 12 months are as strategic as they will measurably make or mar the performance of parties in the much anticipated 2019 general elections.
Essentially, it is the year of major political battles, spanning intra and inter party tussles and ultimately for the minds of electorates.
The two major parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are already fired up for this fierce electoral season.
Although there are talks of a new major party emerging to upstage the two major parties in 2019, it remains to seen whether the prospective mega platform can gather the momentum and build the needed national structures within the period to achieve this feat.
Nonetheless, the 2019 general elections have a major historical dimension as they mark the first time a former ruling party, the PDP, will seek to defeat a former opposition party, the APC, to return to power at the centre.
Still, some analysts aver that the much anticipated general polls might be the PDP’s last shot at regaining power at the centre, perhaps in a long time.
For such pundits, while it would seem that the PDP was designed to be a ruling party and was not built for opposition politics, it has become overtly pampered in its 17 years in charge of government. Little wonder that some watchers, having reflected on the post-2015 behaviour of the PDP so far, aver that the leading opposition party has yet to accept and adjust into the reality that it is no longer the one ruling party.
On the other hand, the APC having assumed ruling party status, after years of some of its members (excluding the new PDP members who joined the party) being in the opposition especially at the centre, still appears unsettled as the ruling party. There has been a disconnect between the party and its administration which manifests easily in the relationship between legislature and executive.
The inability of the party’s national leadership to serve as the nexus between these arms of government, due to the frail knot that produced the APC merger, have remained a challenge.
What’s more, the ability of the two parties to quickly resolve their internal crises both at the national and state levels will be pivotal as well.
On this score, the PDP seems to have an edge having narrowly escaped major self-inflicted leadership crisis, which almost killed it.
The immediate past leadership of PDP, led by Sen Ahmed Makarfi, had thereafter, made measurable progress in addressing the resultant crisis that had spread to the states. But the party’s December 9 national convention appears to have created a fresh sore in the party, as aggrieved party members have resolved to start a faction.
While the APC enjoys the benefit of the presidency to mediate in internal crisis (by way of appointments to aggrieved party members as seen during the PDP days), its conflict resolution mechanism is yet to be fully tested at the national level.
Attempts by the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led APC to resolve party conflict in some states as seen in Kano, Kogi, Bauchi, Kaduna, indicates that there is a lot of work to be done by the party this year. The president and APC leadership will be expected to pick a side in states where its chieftains are engulfed in a battle.
But there is more to be expected in 2018. This year is projected to witness defections and the theatre of such movements, much like the pre-2015 elections, will be in the National Assembly.
Following the defection of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, last year, from the APC to the PDP, the opposition party, through its national spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, had repeatedly declared that many aggrieved APC lawmakers would join the opposition this year. It is speculated that such defections will happen in the first quarter of this year.
But while the speculation of defections linger, the APC appeared to have won more members in the National Assembly than the PDP since 2015. As recent as last December, some PDP federal lawmakers crossed over to the ruling party.
Essentially, the relationship between the lawmakers and their governors will determine the movements in the federal chambers. Lawmakers who have sore relationship with their governors are more inclined to defect to parties where they seek re-election.
However, as far as the PDP and the APC tussle goes, it appears most of the politicking will evolve around some issues. The restructuring debate had shaped up to be one of the major talking points ahead of the election. This was yet again proven by the president’s recent position on the matter in his New Year address, which drew reactions from advocates of restructuring.
The APC, last year, battled to dictate the narrative over the restructuring debate, after it was attacked by a cross section of eminent Nigerians for trying to discarding it despite its inclusion in their manifesto ahead of 2015 general elections.
The last two years had witnessed intense debates over the issue, with the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, then chieftain of the APC, making his former party uncomfortable over the issue as he led the charge for the restructuring of the country. The matter was made worse by an earlier refusal of the National Assembly to discuss the issue during its constitution amendment exercise.
With the PDP apparently riding the pro-restructuring wave, the APC had to setup a committee headed by the Kaduna State governor, Nasiru el-Rufai, to address the issue. Not done, governors of the party also waded into the matter in an attempt to seize the narrative.
Closely linked to the issue of restructuring will be performance index on some of the major campaign promises made by the APC in the build up to 2015.
Running an intense and effective campaign against the PDP-led administration, the former opposition party had promised the electorate better security, a sincere and result oriented anti-corruption war and a more robust economy.
But almost three years on the saddle, many pundits believe that the party has yet to fulfil most of its promises. With the economy barely out recession, no major conviction yet to recorded in the anti-corruption war.
Although key officials who served under the PDP administration, prominent of which are former National Security Adviser (NSA) Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and former minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke, have since been charged to court for alleged fraud, there has been no conviction yet. This is amidst claims that some PDP members accused of partaking in illegal campaign funds have been secretly refunding monies.
On the security front, the party claims that Boko Haram has been technically defeated, but the rising herdsmen attacks, kidnappings and killings by cult groups cast a negative light on the strides of the administration.
Expectedly, the PDP has been hitting the ruling party on these fronts, despite claims by the APC that the magnitude of rot they met upon resumption of office was incomprehensible. They have repeatedly claimed that they took over a terrible system that was heading for a crash.
Such has been the back and forth between the two parties since 2015, a situation that will reach a crescendo this year.
Without a doubt, the battle for public perception between APC and PDP will intensify in 2018. And while governance might appreciably take a back seat hereon until the polls are done with, going by the postulation in some political cycles, there are concerns as to the quality of engagement between both parties, in an already charged polity, often driven by religious and ethic proclivities.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, a member of the APC’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Hajiya Fatima Mohammed, said, “I believe that both political parties should be measured, constructive in their engagements. They should be mindful of not making inciting statements.”
On specifics, she noted “For the PDP, they should put their house in order so that they can provide credible and constructive opposition to the ruling party to do more. We need credible and proactive opposition so that the ruling party won’t become docile or lax in carrying out its responsibilities.
“PDP should however be very factual and not play to the gallery because Nigerians are a lot more knowledgeable now and they can discern fact from fiction.
“For the APC, the President has done well, in areas of security and agriculture. But we can’t afford to rest on our oars. The party has to consolidate on the gains made so far. But he has to start paying more attention to activities within the APC. Yes some of his core loyalist were recently appointed into federal boards but there are many others that are not happy that need to be attended to”, she said.
Former minister of environment, John Odey, believes that the quality of engagement between the ruling and opposition parties will be a reflection of the agenda set how for them by the electorates, civil society organisations and the media.
He said “This is the norm in any democratic process and practice to ensure ethical and high standards at all times. The political parties, both ruling and opposition party, should run their programmes in an open, transparent, and democratic manner in line with their constitutions and the law.
“It is obvious from the engagement of the parties so far that discipline should be encouraged to ensure safe and decent democratic environment going forward to 2019 election,” the former minister stressed.
National chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Prince Chudi Chukwuani, said while he expects a robust engagement from ruling party and the opposition, he prays “that the opposition does not engage on issues that will undermine national security interest, national cohesion and national stability.
“Some of the issues are the opposition using their sleeper cells in government to undermine the economy and incite ethnic and religious divisions,” the party chairman said.
Former presidential aspirant, Dr John Dara, on his part, said as much as 2018 would be crucial for Nigeria as it would set the stage for the emergence of the kind of leadership that can take us to the next level.
“It is therefore very important for members of the political class to conduct themselves in a manner that will make them relevant and helpful in Nigeria’s quest for redirection and renewal.
“Standards of public discourse and engagement must be raised to bring out the best in our people. Hate mongering and divisive tendencies must be avoided, rejected and sanctioned.
“More importantly, this must be the year of the restoration of people power in Nigeria. People must be mobilized and organized to choose right without primordial sentiments or cheap inducements that tend to demean and mislead the masses.”