Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, first Africa-owned, US-based newspaper published on the Internet.
Dr. Chidi Amuta is Executive Editor of USAfrica, since 1993.
The aftermath of the APC presidential nomination convention is a landscape of political ruin. In the rubble lies the treasures and broken remnants of nearly everything both right and wrong with today’s politics in Nigeria. In the long hours of accreditation, patient waiting and painstaking balloting, we witnessed a growing culture of democratic forbearance among our people. The insistence on genuine balloting based on verifiable delegates lists spoke volumes about the future of democracy among the common run of a vigilant public.
There are the genuine disappointments of those who hoped and failed. There are of course the wreckages of many unsustainable ambitions and plain foolish gambles.
But by far the more enduring outcomes of the convention are the lessons it has left on the ambiguities of democracy in our kind of time and place. Though limited to the ruling party, the ripples of the just concluded APC nomination convention touch us all in one way or the other.
First, the prime challenge remains that of democratic succession in our typically African ‘ Big Man’ democracy, a system in which the idiosyncrasies of one man can alter the destinies of millions.
The immediate subject remains president Buhari himself. He was faced with a stark choice between the enlightened self interest of hand picking his successor and the more ennobling option of allowing the internal party democracy of the APC produce a candidate to face up to the PDP opponent. Buhari left that choice dangling in uncertain territory up to the dying minute. It uncertain whether the uncertainty was the result of incompetence or deliberate strategy. The former conclusion is more tempting given his trade mark record of serial incompetence on important matters.
In the dying prelude to the convention, an apparently unfazed president Buhari found more excitement paying a state visit to Spain or jetting off to nearby Equatorial Guinea for an inconsequential summit and even a one day hop to an ECOWAS meeting in the neighborhood.
However, the president found time in between these distracting excursions to indicate his succession preference. He addressed governors and leaders of his party and literally begged them to allow him the courtesy of choosing his successor from among the APC’s terming motley of aspirants. That was a dangerous signal for democracy and a destabilizing stratagem for the ambitious aspirants to his privileged stool. Aspirants were torn between privately groveling for a presidential endorsement and the democratic imperative of facing the challenge of a competitive elective convention. No one is exactly sure of what Mr. Buhari really wanted. But the odds were evenly divided between hopefuls for his endorsement and the few who felt confident enough to purchase a big enough delegate constituency. There is increasing anecdotal evidence that Mr. Buhari may have dangled the carrot of endorsement before at least half a dozen aspirants.
For a president with such a miserable current job approval rating and now a lame duck with a hostile national constituency, the more expedient option was perhaps a conscious undemocratic selection of a faithful ally as successor.
Moreover, Mr Buhari has in the past seven years presided over a lopsided administration which would ordinarily tilt his succession towards either a fellow northern hegemonist or a quisling southern worshipper. So, the logic tilted more towards selective endorsement.
Yet it is also true that this president, unlike Obasanjo before him, would find it difficult to expend whatever political capital he has to elevate anyone else other than himself. It was therefore only safe for him to don an appearance ce of democratic objectivity while privately wishing for a conservative regionalist successor. The current of national feeling dictated a sout
hward direction in the APC’s succession politics after Mr. Buhari’s seven ruinous years.
The most ambiguous twist in the APC convention drama however remains the emergence of the bloc of northern governors as a political factor. On the face of it, their position insisting on a southern presidential candidate looks like an open revolt against the president’s non committal stance on zoning or in fact his rumored preference for a northern Muslim candidate. To the rest of Nigerians, especially the southern Christian population, the position of the northern governors appears patriotic and nationalistic. But it may eventually end up as the contrary. Otherwise it remains for now a negotiating strategy which is perefrctly legitimate in political gamesmanship.
Nonetheless, the favorable twist of the northern APC governors has obvious strategic advantages. First, it re-establishes the geopolitical equilibrium of bipolarity that has remained the basis of Nigeria’s precarious cultural and political unity. Secondly, it creates an atmosphere of apparent normalcy and amity in which the 2023 elections can painlessly take place. It quickly blunts the sharp edges of a contest that would have been poisoned by religious and geo political bitterness snd hate. Thirdly, it prepares the ground for a future closing of ranks and reciprocity between northern and southern governors on matters as mundane as cattle grazing.
For Buhari, the recourse to the democratic imperative of open election has yielded a friendly nightmare. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is neither a friend nor outright foe. In the immediate prelude to the convention, Tinubu was briefly rattled. His political intelligence machinery misread Buhari’s quest for a favorite successor and didn’t quite see Tinubu in the horizon. Tinubu chose to bark and threaten to bite! In that brief moment of unguarded eruption, he showed his fangs to Buhari and his devotees. The message got home.
The convention came and went the way it did. Tinubu’s original playbook prevailed. He won fit and square. With the outcome of the convention, a few things are obvious. Tinubu may be the political heir to an APC dynasty. He may be the prime beneficiary of Buhari’s belated choice of free elective primary. He may have harvested his support for Buhari in 2015. That in itself frees him from any sense of indebtedness to the Daura general. He may be Buhari’s fellow Muslim and prime political facilitator since the formation of the APC. But to the Aso Rock mafia and hegemonist cabal, Tinubu is perhaps the ultimate nemesis. He knows where they are coming from and how far down they can go. Above all, among the key indices of power identified by the old English philosopher, Bertrand Russel, Bola Tinubu controls the greatest number of all the levers of power compared to his co- contestants. Check: Media and opinion. Traditional authority. Religion and belief on both sides. Means in the form of instant armada of cash!
On his own merit for the job of president, Mr. Tinubu still comes decked in precedents. Successful governance and transformation of Lagos is all the resume anyone needs to presage a successful presidency of Nigeria. The man may not be an epitome of all the knowledge that ruling Nigeria demands. But he has one thing going for him: he knows what he doesn’t know but knows how to find others who know how. If he succeeds in being Buhari’s successor, the electorate will have succeeded in fulfilling a cardinal aim of democratic renewal: changing a bad leadership with a better one through the ballot box.
The emergence of Tinubu as APC flag bearer does not in anyway guarantee a direct entry into Aso Rock. It is only a privileged fighting chance because the opposition has also chosen a candidate from the same bag as Tinubu. In a sense, the 2023 presidential contest promises to be a more animated circus than previous ones. Two contestants powered by humongous wealth; two contestants drawing inspiration from the same holy book; two contestants with nearly equal national reach. Two men considered tolerable by the national elite. Above all, two men who literally purchased the tickets to centre stage with immense private resources traceable to our commonwealth. The 2023 presidential election promises to be a fair fight between two tainted equals, none of whom will qualify as a candidate for heaven or messianism.
But the APC convention is not only about the Tinubu ascendancy. It showcased other stars in the hierarchy of the ruling party. Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, waged a spirited fight and in the process further defined himself as an upcoming political star. In this race, he came ahead of a fitting Vice President and incumbent Senate President to emerge in second position. This performance backed by his sterling performance as a minister places him in the forefront of the leadership hierarchy of his party and hopefully the nation.
Professor Yemi Osinbajo , the Vice President, was consistent in running easily the most civilized and enlightened presidential campaign in the nation’s history. He remained calm, brilliant and issue oriented.
Beneath the tolerable procedural outcome of the APC convention hides the contradictions of our democracy. Much has been said about the brazen corruption implicit in the monetization of our democratic processes. A system in which the social contract is reduced to a transaction with a monetary value first among moneyed contestants and in which the citizens are but broken spectators deserves a second look. More curiously, the world cannot but shudder at the contradiction of a nation of mostly poor people in which a few rich people each pay $200,000, roughly the equivalent of the real annual salary of the US president, just to buy a form to qualify to run in a presidential contest.
Now that most parties have their presidential candidates, let the game begin. The INEC time table provides a long enough time frame for a sustainable issue oriented campaign season.