The political albatross of opposition parties in Nigeria is their inability to transcend personal, regional and ethnic divisions for meaningful cooperation and handshake across the Niger.
Ethnic considerations used to be the major issue in Nigerian politics with religion being a secondary factor but the debacle caused by Nigeria’s purported induction into Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), relentless Evangelization by pentecostals, Muslim radicalization and introduction of political sharia changed everything.
Since the 1990s, Nigeria lost whatever innocence it had left and allowed religion to be the defining and dominant fault line in the country’s socio-political landscape.
Then came the Yar’Adua effect – the reinforcement of the “born to rule” attitude, unguarded statements, wanton acts of impunity and unconstitutional usurpation of powers when President Yar’Adua became terminally ill sent very wrong signals to the southern electorate.
The largely Christian South saw the actions of the Yar’adua cabal as an affront, a final assault and a kind of in your face insult to its collective psyche.
It forced a reflective fall back into the realization that all four Southern Christian Heads of State or Presidents the country has produced owed their inaugural ascension to accidental factors.
The undisguised humiliation of Goodluck Jonathan during those uncertain times was the break point, it brewed a simmering discontent among Southerners which any politician aspiring to the presidency ignores it at his own peril.
The lessons learned is reflected in the election of Jonathan and the shut out of Buhari in the South. Those lessons must never be lost on any Northerner interested in presidential politics going forward.
The results of the 2011 presidential election exposed an electoral map showing hidden undercurrents of increasing regional, ethnic, and religious polarization, the like of which we have never seen.
Many politicians, opinion leaders and pundits will like to downplay the inconvenient truths and hidden realities of religion and ethnicity as demonstrated by the voting pattern and demographics of the 2011 election. However, the realities and truths of our ethnic and religious chasms remain obvious to discerning minds regardless of the Orwellian exercise in political correctness and rhetoric of dismissal that has become fashionable.
Arguably, the middle belt (North Central States) has always been the political bellwether region of Nigerian politics.
The core determinant of where the power pendulum swings in presidential elections, is in the political leaning of the North Central states. Before the formation of APC, any presidential candidate who wins the middle-belt wins the election because the Southwest always vote for its own regional party. With the merger of opposition parties to form the APC, the equation is about to change.
Jonathan’s election, on his own accord is a watershed in the annals of Nigerian politics. It puts paid to the notion of Northern hegemony and even if it ever existed, it has run its course and outlived its usefulness. Despite the massive discontent over Jonathan’s violation of the PDP zoning agreement and the political structures set up to wrestle power from him and return it to the north, he won in a landslide. T
he outcome of the election signals an emergent ethno-religious consensus stoked by the likes of Ayo Oritsejafor for the Christian South and Mallam Adamu Ciroma under the umbrella of Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
The activities of these Northern groups heated up the already fragile polity, it served as a rallying point for Northerners and achieved the outcome of galvanizing the Middle Belt and Southern States for Jonathan.
This dichotomy led to bigotry by religious leaders – instructing their member to vote candidates of their respective religious affiliations. The powerful Christian leaders of the South instructed their followers to vote their faith at the elections.
The import of the “meek” Jonathan kneeling for prayers from Pastor Adeboye was not lost on millions of Christian Southerners; it sent a subliminal message of humility and they got it. Whether, it was deceptive is another. Consequently, all the 12 Northern Sharia states voted decisively for Muhammadu Buhari, while the Middle Belt and Southern States went to Goodluck Jonathan where he got 59% of the popular votes cast, winning 24 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Goodluck Jonathan shellacked all other presidential candidates in the Southeast where he polled 95% of the vote in nine states, and an unbelievable 98% in six.
Jonathan held his own turf in the North by winning Christian and “non indigenes” votes. Jonathan’s decisive win sent a strong signal that without Christians no Northern Muslim can win Presidential elections in Nigeria again.
What can APC learn from this? The APC must understand the prevailing political calculations; religion trumps ethnicity in Nigeria of today. Religion is a very potent tool for diabolical satisfaction of political desires in Nigeria, the divide is too deep to be ignored. For those who are in doubt about the paradigm shift, the questions are; Why did Jonathan poll as well as he did in the north, winning a significant minority of votes? Why did Southerners reject Buhari decisively? The answer lies in religion, Northern hegemonic political antecedents and the perception of the man – Buhari.
The APC cannot afford to field a polarizing figure whose religious bonafides speaks zealotry. If they do, their candidate will be roundly defeated at the polls. General Buhari’s reputation is that of a bigot in whose eyes the Southern electorate meant nothing. In addition to this, he’s somewhat of a loose cannon who shoots death rays on himself when Islam and the North occurs in the same sentence whenever he’s asked a question.
He puts himself in an invidious position with every statement he issues. His unqualified pronouncements are often viewed as continuing zeal for Islamization and his persistence has been interpreted as a call to arms and insurgency against the state. Buhari has religion problem, he is tainted.
What can APC do to win? APC must find a way to convince Buhari not to run. He can help in finding that Nigerian who can lead the ticket. Buhari’s supporters are Buhari fanatics, they are diehards; they are politically aware and astute and they want change. Whatever Buhari tells them to do is what they will do. The APC needs a young, moderate, Muslim from anywhere in the North to head the ticket and a Southern Christian to win. A Muslim/Muslim ticket will not fly, it will be rejected vehemently unless that Muslim is Fashola.
If Buhari is fielded by APC, he will lose the Southwest by default except the state of Osun; he might win there by the whiskers given its significant Muslim population and strong party affiliation. I will wager that Osun will be a toss up. He will win all the states in the Northwest and the Northeast overwhelmingly. He will win Taraba and Adamawa because PPM (if PPM does not merge before the elections) will split the PDP votes. He will lose Plateau state and Nasarawa to PDM in the North Central, Benue, Kogi and Kwara will be the battleground States. The Southeast and Southsouth will vote Jonathan without regard for the candidate APC presents. APC votes in each state in the Southeast will be under 10%.
With Buhari as APC candidate, he will win 15 states, 25% in 25 states and lose the popular vote while Jonathan will win 18 states and 25% in 23 states. This will force a runoff and/or plunge Nigeria into a constitutional crisis.
To win, APC must present a fresh face, a religious moderate and a Northern Muslim who believes in a united Nigeria, the election will still be hotly contested but the path to victory for its candidates is a lot easier than the path for Jonathan. With Buhari’s full support, 2015 will produce an APC president because the entire Southwest will be in APC’s column. Sufficient resources can be channeled to Benue, Kogi and Kwara for a win. Plateau will still go to PDP. Even without the battleground states, the APC will win. The beauty of this is the Southwest voting mainstream, first time in the history of Nigeria. Will Buhari yield the ground for a moderate? I don’t know. That is the task for the party’s leadership. It is a dangerous maneuver, I wish them luck.
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This column will be off next week as Bamidele will be away on a short trip to London. She will be back the week after.
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