from EMEKA OKONKWO in Abuja, Nigeria
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – VOTE-rigging allegations, infighting battering the official opposition and ethnic differences are returning to haunt the country.
The political atmosphere is increasingly toxic ahead of Nigeria’s watershed polls.
The biggest Black nation by population in the world (estimated at over 217 million) is scheduled to hold elections next February.
The main opposition, ironically the party that ushered in democracy in 1999, is in a race against time to put its house in order.
Worryingly, these ructions rocking the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are taking an ethnic dimension in the West African country where ethnicity not only influences political development but is a powder keg.
Now a shambolic shadow of its former self, the PDP was the first party to govern Nigeria since the advent of civilian rule, under Olusegun Obasanjo.
Arguments that the divided PDP is still reeling from shell shock, seven years after losing power in Africa’s largest economy, are foolhardy.
A shoddy campaign got PDP a shellacking in 2015 as then-president, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded to current head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, who is ineligible for the next poll. His two terms would have elapsed.
Jonathan’s loss to Buhari, the ex-dictator who ruled with an iron fist in the early 1980s was a measure of the spectacular decline of PDP’s influence. The current internal squabbles are potentially a perilous pointer how the iconic party has lost its way after losing power.
Founded a year before the historic 1999 polls, PDP has been in turmoil since May when it elected International Relations degree holder Atiku Abubakar (75), Obasanjo’s deputy during his reign to 2007, as its presidential candidate.
The crisis worsened when Abubakar chose Ifeanyi Okowa, instead of Ezenwo Nyesom Wikeas his running mate.
A trained lawyer, Wike is governor of the oil-rich albeit volatile southern Rivers State. He is arguably the most divisive political figure in Nigerian politics.
Yet the 54-year-old is undoubtedly the most magnetic, while posing a kingsize headache to his party and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in equal measure.
His rejection has torn the PDP along ethnic and regional lines.
This is amid a position by a party faction arguing that at the next poll, it was a turn for the South (predominantly Christian) to field a candidate for the presidency, than the North (majorly Muslim).
A faction of the PDP, the G5 (five governors), sympathetic to Wike, has emerged.
At the centre of the conflict is that Abubakar is a Northerner. The next president of the country ought to come from the South, to take over from Buhari, a Northerner.
It is an unwritten law that the presidency of Nigeria has to rotate between the North and South geopolitical zones. The deputy has to be from the other zone.
The argument by the backers of Abubakar, who lost to Buhari in 2019 by 55,6 percent to 41,2 percent, is that the last PDP leader to be president of Nigeria, Jonathan, is from the South.
Meanwhile, cognisant of the fact that Buhari is a Northerner, the governing APC has elected Bachelor of Science Degree (Accounting) holder, Bola Tinubu (70), from the South as its presidential candidate.
Ex-Lagos governor Tinubu has chosen Northerner Kashim Shettima, as his running mate, and the APC house seems in order.
Meanwhile, amid the fracas, PDP has suffered major setbacks with the high profile exits of the influential duo of former governors, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Peter Obi.
They will represent the New Nigeria Peoples Party and Labour Party respectively at the next poll.
In another setback, Walid Jibrin, PDP chairman of the board of trustees, recently resigned.
He held the position for six years after taking over from Haliru Bello, who was removed in 2016 in the wake of the electoral defeat that was historic for the wrong reasons as the first time the opposition won polls.
“It is for the sake of unity in the PDP,” Jibrin said.
Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the party, has nonetheless resisted calls to quit from the G5 and critics.
Last week, Abubakar was in the South where he was quoted as saying he would actualise an Igbo presidency if elected in 2023.
This is in reference to reports that as part of a truce, he would serve one term hand over the candidature to an Igbo. Wike is Igbo.
Igbos are among the most populous tribes in Nigeria, a country known to have over 300 ethnic groups.
The pan-Igbo sociopolitical pressure organisation, the South East Revival Group (SERG), has spurned the offer.
While it is sympathetic to Wike, it has thrown its support behind Obi’s presidential campaign.
“The pledge made by Abubakar was a mere political statement,” said Willy Ezugwu, SERG President and National Coordinator.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), the umbrella body of registered political parties and political associations in Nigeria, in the meantime has urged Nigerians to be “on high alert over rigging plots.”
These sentiments follow claims that the ruling party would advocate that courts force the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to stop the use of technology during polls.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) raised the allegations after the APC narrowly lost to PDP in governorship elections in the Yoruba-majority southwestern Osun State.
CNPP warned of “grave consequences” if the electoral process was “dashed.”
“The aftermath will be unimaginable and could threaten the country’s fragile peace and security and must be averted at all costs,” the organisation emphasised.
Buhari has mentioned credible polls as a legacy.
Delivering a keynote recently as Nigeria celebrated 62 years in independence from Britain, he therefore discouraged youth against violence.
“Violence generally mars elections,” he said.
“Youth should desist from being used by politicians for this purpose,” Buhari emphasised.
– CAJ News