For a long time, Nigeria’s 2015 general elections will remain the subject of analyses by students and scholars of history and politics. As an art and a social science, politics and political analysis can never be objective but subjective and even normative. Many people have tried to look at the factors that led to the electoral outcome. I have personally read a lot. But the most curious one as far as I can see was what the nonagenarian Alhaji Tanko Yakasai tried to project — I do not know what his intentions are — in his well-publicised interviews with some national dailies after the election results were announced.
Mallam Tanko Yakasai stated in the interview that religion was used to defeat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last elections. He even mentioned that there were summons in mosques for Muslims not to vote for non-Muslims during the elections. I do not know which mosque Mallam Tanko attends but I know for certain that religion did not play any role in the outcome of the last elections or the faithful in the two religions refused to be persuaded by religious considerations. If anything, it is even the PDP that tried unsuccessfully to use religion with the former Vice President Sambo quoting verses of the Quran during rallies and President Jonathan publicising his visits to various churches on national networks.
If religion was a factor, how come in the predominantly Muslim Niger State the incumbent governor, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, a Muslim, was defeated by Mr. David Umaru, a Christian, in the last senatorial election? How come Benue and Plateau, two predominantly Christian states did not vote for PDP if it was a religious affair, since Jonathan is a Christian like the majority of the voters in those states? No Mallam Tanko, Nigerians were yearning for change and refused to be swayed by sentiments. Buhari got a pan-Nigeria mandate and is in a very unique position to unite the country on patriotic lines for the common good of all. Mallam Tanko was just trying to justify his relevance to his masters as he was made leader of a Jonathan-Sambo-created Northern Elders Council, a council that exists only on the pages of newspapers.
One of the lessons of the 2015 electoral process was the fact that internal democracy plays an important role for a party’s victory. From 1999 to 2011, all the opposition political parties never cared to conduct primaries to select their presidential candidates. Concurrently, for all those years, the PDP had been conducting primaries to select the party’s presidential candidates. This year, there was a reversal of role. The All Progressives Congress (APC) conducted a most transparent presidential primary during which Buhari emerged its presidential candidate while the PDP foisted President Jonathan as sole candidate. The result is clear: PDP was defeated by the APC. So, there is a clear correlation between internal party democracy with a party’s eventual electoral success.
And, beyond a desire to retain power at the centre, there was no unifying purpose or strategy to the PDP. Thus, while Jonathan appeared powerful in relation to his internal opponents within the PDP, the underlying insecurity of his position was revealed by events external to that party. The influence of the PDP under Jonathan, unfortunately, did not extend beyond the eastern region. It was a national party in theory, but a regional one in fact. By the recent replacement of Ahmadu Mu’azu with Uche Secondus, the PDP is now more or less the defunct United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) of the 1960s. Thus, another lesson for the last election is that lack of understanding of practical politics on a national scale is a major handicap for any party aspiring to lead the nation.
One major lesson of the 2015 process is the fact that the traditional Nigerian approach to politics is essentially utilitarian. Ideas have to be of practical value; purely abstract principles are of limited appeal. Thus asking for continuity of the PDP in 2015 when the government it was heading had nothing to show for all its years in power was meaningless to the voters. And there was little sympathy for failed causes. That is why it is so easy for former PDP stalwarts to cross over to the new governing party or for the PDP to plot a takeover of the National Assembly when the party was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters.
Given its history, Nigeria cannot develop into an integrated and independent modern state without the existence of a strong central authority able to lead the nation. In the time of a strong or enlightened president, Nigeria enjoyed confidence and guidance. When a weak or incompetent ruler occupies the presidency, Nigeria lacks leadership and direction. This fact, more than anything, sealed the fate of PDP this year and made for the emergence of Buhari as the new President. The people were simply tired of the old order which saw Nigeria relegated to the background in the comity of nations in spite of the nation’s human and material endowments.
The merit of an ideology does not lie in its logic; whether it is good or bad depends upon its suitability to a certain circumstance. It is good if it is beneficial to the nation and its people, otherwise it is bad. The “Change” slogan has to have meaning in the lives of the people, otherwise it is meaningless and useless. The disunity and distress that characterised the PDP years intensified nationalist feelings in the country and stimulated the desire for change, which led to the defeat of the PDP. Although their ultimate objective for the country might differ, all progressive groups shared the basic view that an essential first step was the removal of the two evils that characterised the period – insecurity and corruption — and the people see Buhari as the right person to lead that struggle.
A majority of the voters and indeed the people of Nigeria came to the obvious conclusion that the PDP lacked the philosophical beliefs, the social tradition, the scientific knowledge and the political flexibility to make an easy transition from its old ways to the new, hence the need to vote it out. People simply grew tired of corruption and violence, embraced and voted for change.
Many analysts will refer to the Nigerian history in the last couple years as a story of misrule, not simply in terms of incompetent or ineffective government but in the deeper sense of Nigeria being trapped in a state of chronic disorder. Civil society had collapsed. Misrule accompanied by violence became the norm in most parts of the country. However, the APC must learn from the mistake of the PDP and must also know that continued support for it is not automatic but will be determined by its performance.
History, after all, is always on the side of the oppressed. Happy Ramadan, the month of sacrifice, renewal and prayers.