Takeaways from the Conventions

Takeaways from the Conventions

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By ABBA MAHMOOD

The primary elections for the two main political parties have come and gone. A lot of lessons could be learnt from what happened during these conventions for selection of candidates. The first is that Nigeria is a country that is looking into the past and not the future. I remember vividly what happened in 2015 during the presidential primary of the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) during which the publisher of LEADERSHIP newspaper, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, the youngest contestant, got fewer than 10 votes, the lowest in that election.

History repeated itself last weekend: Dr Datti Baba-Ahmed, the founder of Baze University, Abuja, the youngest contestant in the just concluded Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary, got fewer than 10 votes too, and was the lowest. It tells a lot about our priorities as a people, when delegates elect old people who are part of our problems. At a time great world powers such as France are electing President Macron who is less than 40 years, Nigeria’s two major presidential contenders in 2019 election are both over 70 years. In Donald Trump of the US we have seen how old people mismanage opportunities.

Regardless of how hopeless the PDP record was when the party was in power for 16 years before 2015, we were ready to give them a chance if the party could produce a vibrant, dynamic and credible candidate this year to match that of the APC’s Buhari. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity. As a proud Nigerian, I will be scandalized to have Atiku Abubakar, who was one of the four case studies in money laundering and corruption in a report released by a US Senate committee chaired by respected Senator Carl Levin, as my president. The report is in the public domain for anyone to see. No one in the world can respect a leader like that or the country that elects him.

On this page, we have repeatedly written that Nigeria’s establishment is composed of the generals who were victorious in the Nigerian civil war, 1967–70. As reported widely in the media, they were decisive in the emergence of Atiku as the PDP candidate in Port Harcourt last weekend. Although Atiku harbours a dislike of the military class – a dislike born of some complex, since he was a paramilitary person himself – he has been a creation of the generals as far as politics is concerned. The late General Shehu Yar’Adua brought him to political limelight, Obasanjo made him vice president, and IBB/General Aliyu Gusau secured him the PDP ticket for the 2019 presidential election last weekend. In other words, he is an egg between rocks and a pawn in a deadly power game.

Another takeaway is that money is still a very strong factor in Nigerian politics. Wherever delegates were involved, money played a key role in their choice. The “ticket” went to the highest bidder. Thus, everyone who wants to play any future role in public life is encouraged to go and get money by all means. No one needs any ideas, competence or character. All one needs is a huge war chest, preferably foreign currency as was widely used in Port Harcourt. That is the beginning of corruption — I don’t see how one will spend his or her money without trying to use his or her position to get back what was lost. We are just moving in a vicious circle as corruption begets corruption.

For the ruling APC, although Buhari was the only aspirant for the presidential primary of the party and was selected by the delegates in Abuja to contest the 2019 presidential election, there are many issues with regard to the primaries of the party in most states at the lower levels. The party is in crisis in virtually all the states as a result of the mismanagement of its primary elections. It is going to be a costly mistake if it is not properly handled. Internal party democracy is the foundation of the democratic process. A party that cannot allow a free, fair and credible selection process to elect its candidates cannot expect victory in the general elections. Impunity was what caused the PDP to lose elections in 2015.

One good takeaway from the primaries last weekend was the fortunate fact that religion and ethnicity were never factors. Only dollar was the factor. Like President Richard Nixon of America once said, “the dollar is our currency and your problem”. The delegates did not vote for competence or religion or tribe or section but voted for the highest bidder in the PDP where there were 12 aspirants. They voted for a man who served in the Customs Service for 20 years and was in business for 10 years before he became vice president in 1999 but is now so stupendously wealthy that he is set to buy the presidency. Of course, if he wins next year we are substituting the incompetence of the APC with the corruption of the PDP, a Hobson’s choice for the voters.

It is a pity that we don’t have politics of ideas anymore. It is sad that no one is talking about what makes the difference between the candidates in terms of policies and programmes but only about how so-called “geopolitical zones” and “religious” groups may likely vote next year, as if these zones or religions are homogenous or must vote in one direction, even though both candidates belong to the same religion. It is unfortunate that Atiku is being sold as a “wealth” or “job” creator when it took a foreign power to tell us how he got his wealth in the first place. I can’t see how a person who can only employ workers in his private companies is a “job” creator when his records as VP in charge of privatization have shown how jobs were lost by millions as a result of his failed policies.

Another dangerous dimension to the current political space is the emergence of political dynasties. Since the Saraki dynasty took over Kwara, starting from the Second Republic, many have wanted to replicate same. Former Jigawa governor Sule Lamido’s son has been nominated for Senate in Jigawa. Aisha Buhari’s brother wanted to be governor of Adamawa, but thanks to the people of Adamawa that did not happen – he was roundly defeated. The dangerous trend emerging from all these is that public offices are being used to attempt to not only establish economic empires but also political dynasties. They remain in public life and mentor nobody until their sons and daughters are old enough to take over from them. The people have to reject this immediately if democracy is to survive and thrive. In 2019, we may be faced with the choice of continuing with Katsina mediocrities as in Mr Tunde of Buhari or substituting them with Adamawa fools like Mr Pariya of Atiku.

History is on the side of the oppressed.

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