Tambuwal will be the nightmare scenario for PDP
Ihad a tough argument with a reader who had a very dim view of my last week’s article in which I opined that APC would be making a mistake if it opts for a Muslim-Muslim ticket as was being speculated in the media. After fending off his charge that my supposed bias against APC beclouded my judgment in the said article, I also put him on the spot by charging that his obvious uncritical APC sympathy made it difficult for him to see the party’s potential missteps, including those that could literally amount to the party digging its own grave. We eventually agreed to disagree on a number of issues. On his suggestion that I should recommend a ‘winning’ ticket for the APC, I demurred, arguing that it would be unethical for a columnist to try to force the hand of a party on its choice of candidates or influence voters’ preferences. The way I see it, our duty as public intellectuals, is to provide enough analytical information and clarify the issues at stake sufficiently enough for policy makers or voters to make their own choices.
Based on the above, my zeroing in on a putative Tambuwal presidential candidacy does not amount to an endorsement or forcing the hands of APC. My interest is to show the likely implications of his candidacy in the 2015 race against President Jonathan, who is yet to formally throw his hat into the ring. This will of course be without prejudice to other potential presidential candidates in the party, several of whom are eminently qualified for the job.
There are reasons I believe that a Tambuwal presidential candidacy will bring unusual excitement to the campaigns and will valorise the base of both parties. In saying this, I am assuming that Tambuwal, who was helped to the Speakership with opposition votes and has remained ‘grateful’ ever since, is either a closet APC chieftain or could be easily co-opted into the party. He is young and boyish - only 48 years old. He is also courageous, charismatic, speaks well and has been able to hold the House together for some three years. His greatest strength is that while he has a national namerecognition by virtue of being the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he does not have the baggage that other potential presidential candidates, who have held high public offices in the past, have. The PDP will therefore struggle to find a major attack line against him that can stick.
If Tambuwal, who is from the North-west is endorsed by Buhari and Atiku, chooses as his running mate an older Christian with the requisite governmental experience (to make up for his lack of real administrative experience and to allay the anxiety of those who may be worried about his relative youth), then the campaign for 2015 will get really exciting. He may not win but such a ticket will effectively forestall the emergence of a third relatively strong party in the North. My instinct tells me that any major misstep by APC, (which must be given credit for holding together for so long against all odds and predictions), will lead to mass defections, not of individuals as happened to the PDP but of the various groupings and tendencies that came together to form the party and give its current swagger. Defections of such groupings are unlikely to be back to the PDP – as it will amount to one swallowing one’s vomit. If such disaffected groupings move to any party, especially if the defections include one or two governors who will bring with them a good war chest, the beneficiary political party will become bolstered overnight.
Tambuwal will be the PDP’s nightmare not only because of the aforementioned factors going for him, but also because he can tap on sentiments to harvest bountifully from the rich votes in the North-west and Northeast without his candidacy generating negativities in other parts of the country.
But even a Tambuwal candidacy will face an uphill, but not insurmountable, task in trying to defeat a likely Jonathan candidacy. The PDP has the advantage of incumbency and with it tremendous leverages, including the koboko (EFCC, ICPC etc.) to whip some politicians into line and also pieces of the ‘national cake’ to co-opt others. Besides, Jonathan can match Tambuwal youth-for-youth and feature for feature. He may not be the most inspiring speaker in the world but at 56 he is quite young for a man of his political experience and the office he occupies. In the rare occasions he dresses in suits or T-shirts, his good and boyish looks come to the fore (one sometimes wonders why his handlers do not exploit such symbolisms frequently enough). In several countries these days, a candidate’s age and looks are all part of the likeability factors that sway voters. This is another point those pushing for Buhari-Tinubu ticket should be sensitive to (Buhari is 71 while Tinubu is 62, which means that the ticket is also not generationally sensitive).
It must be pointed out that recent developments in the country’s macroeconomic environment and other spheres of national life are already making some people revise their impressions of Jonathan as an underperforming President: whether by luck or design, under his watch Nigeria replaced South Korea in the MIKT economies to change the acronym to MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). Under him the country won the African Cup of Nations and also won the World Cup in the under 17 category. In the same vein, the inflow of foreign direct investment under him in three years is more than all that Obasanjo achieved in eight years. These are in addition to the impacts of the recent re-basing of the country’s GDP. True, you cannot eat GDP and the size of the economy does not equate to the economic wellbeing of a country. Yet, it is the G8 countries, (made up of the eight largest economies in the world) that rule the world – not the richest countries in the world
S(measured by GDP per capita where little known countries like Qatar. Luxembourg and Switzerland hold sway). If the Eagles do well in the World Cup in Brazil, Jonathan’s corruption and unemployment perception flanks will remain vulnerable but the wind will certainly be on his back and the momentum on his side as the race for 2015 heats up.
Let me say that a voter’s preference for one candidate over others often depends on the person’s analysis of the major challenges facing the country. Across all democracies – emerging or mature - sentiments play a big role in voters’ preferences but such sentiments often interface with other objective issues in determining the aggregate support a candidate gets. In essence, sentiments alone, especially in the face of active political marketing and rubbishing by the parties during campaigns, cannot be sufficient to win elections. A candidate supported on sentimental grounds alone can be so rubbished by good opposition strategists that the candidate’s initial enthusiastic supporters will have a buyer’s remorse just before the elections.
Several voters will embrace a presidential candidate based on their assessment of what they consider to be the most urgent task facing the country. Those who believe that corruption is the major problem of the country (I see corruption as only the symptom of a more fundamental societal malaise) and who admire a soldier-like battle against the ailment ( a wrong strategy in my opinion), will continue to nurse a nostalgia for Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline and Ribadu’s EFCC. On the other hand, those who believe that the country’s problem is having a visionary leader may not mind voting for a leader who may have been accused (rightly or wrongly) of corruption in the past if they believe the candidate has that vision thing. In the same vein, those who believe that the country’s major challenge at this point is the crisis in its nation-building (I belong to this category) will be looking for a non-divisive, statesmanlike father- figure who can reconcile a fractious nation. Both Tambuwal and Jonathan can lay claim that they are unifying personalities – Jonathan has a humble, non-aggressive personality while Tambuwal, by holding the House well in three years and being successful in networking across the fault lines, has also proved he is a unifying personality. This is why I see a contest between the two personalities as likely to be very exciting.
Killjoys and the Re-basing of the Nigerian economy
For too long, our country, which daubed itself the ‘giant of Africa’, has been the butt of jokes: we have been called ‘Sleeping giant’; ‘Giant with feet of clay’ and a country of ‘419ers’. Now that we have an opportunity of a counter narrative we should be allowed to enjoy it a bit before the fun is spoilt by naysayers and ‘on the other hand’ analysts. The truth is that with these developments, and despite continuing challenges in other sectors of life such as security, poverty and unemployment, no one can look the country in the face again and call it ‘sleeping giant’. It would also help the country’s quest for a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations, blunt the pulls of the centrifugal forces in the country and further the attraction of the country to foreign investors. Just like any nation that won a major football tournament, we shall return to the weaknesses of the team despite the victory – but only after we have been given some time to savour the ‘victory’.