Issues, persons and scenarios likely to define 2019

January 2, 2019

By Leo Sobechi, (Assistant Politics Editor) 02 January 2019   | The Guardian

It is here already. The 2019 Nigerians have been thinking, talking and dreaming about. The clock is ticking away and, in no time, the New Year would take a regular pace of time. In the reckoning of most Nigerians, 2019 is a unique year. For some it is a magical year that could sweep away the troubles of the last three years and shelter them from the vagaries of insecurity and declining socio-economic wellbeing.

As a nation, 2019 holds much meaning to Nigerians for the singular reason that it is an election year in which they would redesign the nature of national politics or reinforce the status quo. It is the possibility of injecting fresh ideas into the system that makes democracy both alluring and popular as a system of government.

However, as the year 2019 begins its journey, there are a number of issues, persons and possible scenarios that could make it eventful for weal or woe. After 20 years’ practice of undulating democracy, Nigerians have begun to notice the intricate correlation between political stability and economic progress.

This year therefore, such issues as the presidential election, passage of the 2019 appropriation bill and other legislative activities would help to shape the journey through the political calendar. To that extent therefore, certain persons, including the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris or his successor, Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, President of Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara; leaders of the two major political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole and Senator Bola Tinubu; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus and Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, would help to give 2019 its true identity.

Top of those, there are also certain possible scenarios that could make 2019 quite nervous and interesting, especially what happens in the presidential election, where unlike in 2015 when a civilian incumbent was being challenged by a former military officer and former head of state, a civilian former Vice President is challenging the former military head of state who is the incumbent.

Curious scenarios
The fact that the February 16 presidential and National Assembly election would determine how 2019 turns out should not be in doubt. This is partly because Nigeria is back to the near repeat of the 2015 political situation, when the possibility of the incumbent continuing in office became a subject of national confrontation.

Unlike in the 2015 scenario, however, instead of the presidential election starring a northern candidate against a southern incumbent, two northern Muslims – one the incumbent, the other the challenger – are the major contenders in the race.

Dissimilar to 2015 again, the incumbent has not betrayed any signs of pacific dispositions towards the election despite voluble assurances that the poll would be credible, free and fair. Circumstances that could guarantee credible, free and fair process have been thoroughly faulted, especially the articulation of a near perfect legislation, like the Electoral Act amendment bill, which the president refused to endorse.

It is also popularly held that the decision of President Buhari to retain the security service chiefs after the expiration of their tenures and retirement age portends a big challenge to the ability of the electorate to express their preferences without undue influence or intimidation during the poll.

Against the background of the foregoing therefore, it is possible that should the outcome of the election tend to be against the incumbent, the government might deploy the coercive instruments of the nation’s security apparatus to intrude on the process and manipulate the system. In the event of such likely scenario the nation may witness massive unrest through protests against attempts to twist the people’s will to suit an artificial purpose. That could in turn push the military, which has already been mobilized all over the country in the guise of Operation Python Dance III, to quell the riots and effortlessly take the democratic institutions into ‘protective custody’ in the Zimbabwean style.

On the flipside, sensing that the pattern of voting is likely tending towards enthroning the opposition, especially candidates for the federal legislature, the Federal Government might prompt INEC to announce a postponement and cite poor distribution of materials and other logistic challenges, ostensibly to wear out the financial strength of the opposition and pave the way for the perpetration of vote-buying by the ruling party.

There is another curious possibility: Pre-election tension increases in crescendo, while the insurgents mount vigorous, murderous campaigns, thereby over-stretching the country’s military that has been dragged into internal security activities, with the government declaring a state of emergency to contain the general breach of peace. Calls for unity government would then begin to gain momentum.

A worrisome setting could unfold when the incumbent, working in cahoots with INEC and security agencies, engages in barefaced electoral malfeasance worse than the 2007 spectacle, a development that could also throw up wild protests, which could energise groups likes the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Avengers and Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) to escalate  public discontent.

However, 2019 could turn out a channel for peace and stability if, contrary to expectations of violence and electoral malfeasance, the election goes on smoothly, leading to the possibility of another eventful transition.

Strategic players
Despite the possibility of the above interesting scenarios, the following are some persons whose actions or inactions could influence developments expected to shape 2019, particularly as they concern this year’s poll. They include:

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu
As chairman of INEC the outcome of the general election would help to reserve Prof. Yakubu’s place in the history of Nigeria’s democratic evolution. Against the background of what happened in 2015, especially the salient innovations by the former chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega despite notable flaws, the current INEC chairman is expected to improve on the electoral process and deliver a credible, foolproof election.

Nigerians have raised red flags about the independence or otherwise of INEC and its chairman, especially after the Ekiti and Osun governorship polls. Right from his first baptism of fire in Kogi State governorship election in 2015, Yakubu has been at the receiving end of negative public perception with a surfeit of allegations of bias towards the ruling party.

The ability of the INEC chairman to insist on the faithful application of laid down rules and observance of statutes governing the conduct of elections in the country would determine how far he could fare in the public estimation of his impartiality.

Yakubu has said it for the umpteenth time that he would not only preside over a credible process to ensure that the votes of the electorate count, but also that the verdict of the people are upheld.

In the next six weeks or thereabouts when the election opens, Nigerians and, indeed the international community, would be eager to see how far Yakubu and his INEC would maintain the stance on use of card readers as basis of accrediting voters in the election. Similar to that, it would also tell the level of his determination to preserve the integrity of the process, how the INEC chairman responds to the use of the optimized card readers for electoral fidelity. There have been reports of under-aged voting in some parts of the north and attendant intimidation of INEC staff.

It is generally believed that faithful reliance on the facility of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and the optimized card readers would drastically, if not totally vitiate, the incidence of underage voting and intimidation of INEC officials.

Although experience has shown that INEC and its chairman cannot perpetrate election rigging directly, but his leadership and sincerity could safeguard the level of compliance by his field officers, especially Electoral Officers (EOs) and collation officers to laid down procedures.

The ugly developments at the recent Osun governorship election left a sour taste in the mouths of Nigerians as it revealed how far the human element can go to destroy well-structured systems and tools.

Prof. Yakubu should have known by now that the label of ‘inconclusive elections’ has continued to haunt his stint in the commission due to its dubious applications in Kogi and Osun governorship polls. In Bayelsa, on the contrary, the INEC chairman did not elicit critical or negative comments for declaring the election inconclusive when violence prevented the process in Southern Ijaw.

Yakubu’s introduction of simultaneous accreditation and voting in Bayelsa was not only hailed, but also showed how far transparency of INEC officials could evidently help to avert electoral misgivings.

Being the first time, despite the twelve-two third political arithmetic of 1979, how would INEC chairman conduct himself in the event that the Presidential election produces no clear winner at the first ballot on February 16? Would he cancel votes from a section and declare the election inconclusive to favour a particular party?

IGP Ibrahim Kpotun Idris or successor
Effectively, tomorrow January 3, 2019 should mark IGP Idris’ last day in the police department going by the retirement age. It is not known whether, in the light of the recent retirement of former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, President Buhari would be moved to announce acting IGP to replace Idris or extend his stay as other security chiefs.

However, whether the President retains Idris or the IGP retires from service, whoever occupies the position would help to influence the trajectory of the country in 2019 vis-à-vis the general election. This is because he has a crucial role to play in ensuring the safety of election materials and INEC officials as well as thwarting any attempt to intimidate voters or officials. If the police decide to look elsewhere or connive with the ruling party to perpetrate electoral heist, any of the curios scenarios hinted at above might play out.

The impartiality of the police and other security officials would go a long way in ensuring that the 2019 general election meets the mark of expected international standards as well as help in preserving the unity and stability of the country.

Most politicians believe that the level of relationship between a candidate and the police helps to determine how far the candidate can go in an election. Usually, the ruling party always falls back on the illegal use of police officers to undermine the electoral process by either making way for political thugs or providing cover for the diversion of election materials.

Governed by a command structure, therefore, the IGP could make his men keep to their statutory duties to protect lives and property and eliminate threats to peace and safety.

Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai
The fact that the COAS is enjoying a bonus in service also suggests that he can ingratiate himself to the president whose benevolence kept him (Buratai) beyond his terminal date. If Nigeria’s democracy would be truncated in 2019, the COAS has a role to play either in averting it, or ensuing that.

The widespread impression among Nigerians, particularly members of the opposition, is that the incumbent kept the service chiefs for electoral purposes. The recent declaration by General Buratai that the Nigeria Army would commence a nationwide Python Dance III operation among civilians seems to accentuate the speculation that the ruling party has some devious plans afoot against the forthcoming election.

It is also believed that the idea of a nationwide Python Dance is to prevent expected public outrage against possible breach of the electoral process and outright display of garrison method of electoral heist.

Those who hold this view say that the speed with which the military pounced on unarmed IPOB youths was to exterminate any source of resistance in case of expected protests in the aftermath of the general election.

Bukola Saraki/ Yakubu Dogara
FOR the first time in the history of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly, the president was heckled as he tried to present the 2019 appropriation bill before the joint sitting of the two chambers. Although some lawmakers excused the heckling as part of legislative manners, some Nigerians believe that the booing was the climax of the frosty relationship between the Eighth NASS and the Buhari Presidency.

Yet analysts believe the action of the lawmakers was to get even with President Buhari, who they accuse of holding the parliament in disdain, a development they argue was instigated by the president’s refusal to do the traditional obeisance before the mace at the plenary.

Other commentators said some of the lawmakers, including those from the ruling party that lost their return tickets, were incensed by the president’s cheeky demonstration of ‘4 plus 4’ symbolic gesture alluding to his possible second term of four years.

However the NASS episode is interpreted, it is a declaration of final showdown with the Presidency. Depending on what becomes of the general election, it is likely that the 2019 budget and other Executive bills would suffer neglect in the hands of the federal lawmakers.

Senate President, Saraki and House of Representatives’ Speaker, Dogara, have central roles to play in the emerging 2019 politics and governance. Should the appropriation bill become a pawn on the chessboard of Executive versus Legislature gambit, the economy would suffer further stress to climax the deplorable state of the nation’s economy.

APC leader, Adams Oshiomole

Adams Oshiomhole/Bola Tinubu
It is not clear how far APC’s national chairman could go in stoking crisis through his off the cuff use of trigger words. Although divisions within the ruling party have been blamed on the former Edo State governor, parties to the division have been pledging allegiance and loyalty to President Buhari.

However, it is not known how far those verbal assurances could go in eliciting tacit support of the protagonists during the election. What if some of those displaced by Oshiomhole’s strong arm approach decide to work silently against the party on February 16, what remedies are available to the party at that eleventh hour?

Some APC chieftains have accused Oshiomhole of pandering to Tinubu’s whims to ensure that in the event that President Buhari loses the election, the party platform would be left at their disposal for Tinubu’s eventual 2023 presidential ambition.

Not that alone, how far could Tinubu go in preserving his electoral fiefdom in Lagos against the background of sudden displacement of incumbent Governor Akinwunmi Ambode? The question that arises against the proposition that Tinubu is not so much interested in Buhari’s victory as preserving APC is, if Buhari loses on February 16, how far could Tinubu’s protégé, Babajide sanwo-Olu go in the March 2 contest?

Prince Uche Secondus/Ike Ekweremadu
Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu started noticing his declining relevance immediately his pal, Saraki rejoined PDP and became the highest-ranking official in the party. Again, losing the position of presidential running mate to former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, meant that even if PDP wins the Presidential election next month, the likelihood of Ekweremadu having substantial influence seems far and remote.

Then hobnobbing with the ruling party in anticipation that, like the former PDP Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, if Buhari wins he would have access to the Presidency and get shelter from anti-graft harassment does not seem exciting for the four-term Senator. Like Ekweremadu, the position of Secondus seems to be dependent on the benevolence and ascendancy of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. In the event that Atiku becomes president, would Secondus behave like Wike and switch allegiance?

These politicians have roles to play in the days to come and that would go a long way in defining the character of the magic year 2019. Most importantly, what becomes of PDP or APC if it wins or loses the Presidential election?

[FILE] Atiku Abubakar. Photo: Twitter/UcheSecondusWhat manner of Presidency
One big question that 2019 will help Nigerians answer is, what manner of Presidency will come into play from May 29, 2019? If Atiku wins, how long will it take him to announce a tentative cabinet, knowing that that would help inject much needed hope and vitality into the political economy?

An immediate challenge, which an Atiku Presidency could face is how to requite the numerous political IOUs awaiting his attention. Having been accused of unilaterally choosing his running mate, would a President-elect Atiku seek the input of PDP governors, some of who must have behaved like the biblical Nicodemus or hunted with the hunt and ran with the hare?

On the other hand, should the verdict of voters retain a Buhari Presidency, would he have the nerve to dispense with the ubiquitous cabal? What happens to Lawal Daura, who was axed to save the Presidency’s face in the aftermath of the invasion of NASS by masked men? What about Maina-gate?

Which ministers would Buhari retain and which would he dispense with for renewed vigour in his administration? Would there be a refreshing style or a continuation of ‘go-slow’ style and buck-passing? There are more questions that 2019 would provide answers as the days run to weeks and weeks turn to months. The journey has just begun.

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