The dark horse phenomenon in politics
We take it for granted that the 2019 presidential election is a straight race between the two biggest political parties, APC and PDP. You do not have to seek the opinion of a babalwo to know why. Their clear advantages over the remaining 28 parties and their presidential candidates are rather too obvious for anyone to pretend not to know.
Still, for the purposes of this conversation, let me enumerate them. The APC and PDP presidential candidates are not strangers to the Nigerian public. One, Muhammadu Buhari, is the incumbent president; he was military head of state from January 1984 to August, 1985; the other, Atiku Abubakar, was vice-president for eight years from the inception of civil rule in 1999. Both men are not first timers in the presidential race. Buhari ran three times and made it to Aso Rock the fourth time. Atiku similarly ran for the office three times and hopes to equal Buhari’s record this year. Fourth time lucky? It sure should encourage those like Chris Okotie of Fresh Democratic Party to keep receiving the divine injunction to run in every election circle.
APC and PDP are rich, very rich political parties. They have a national spread that the other parties can only envy. Each of them controls a number of states as well as legislators in the national and state houses of assembly. Both of them have been, or are, in power: PDP for 16 years and APC is currently in power.
Formidable. Given these clear advantages, why should the other political parties bother to field candidates for the presidential election? It is not in the natural order of things for small masquerades to take on the big masquerades in dancing competitions. We do not know much about their political parties. It is not uncharitable to say that many of them are mushroom parties that are showing up on INEC register for the first time. It would seem that these 28 presidential candidates have no chance in hell of going anywhere near Aso Rock except at the invitation of the big man tenant there. It is tempting, and not many have resisted the temptation, to dismiss their presidential ambitions as a huge joke at best and a political comic relief at worst.
Still, something tells me it could be a mistake to dismiss them as jokers. First, I see them as part of the expanding opportunities for people outside the two big political parties; and even a chance for people with shallow pockets. Their voices might not be that loud but the capacity of the small man to nudge the big man adds something to the national discourse. The small voice of the small man often turns out to be the loud voice of change and radicalism.
Secondly, we must admit that these men and women are courageous too. I am willing to accept that there must be some rhyme and reason in their courage. There is ample evidence in the history of human development to show that men and women such as these quite often turn the apple cart upside down – and a particular human society is the better for it.
My advice to the big two is not to take it for granted that our presidential election has morphed into periodic change of baton between their two parties. Sure, they seem solid in their current standing as presidential candidates of rich and popular parties but there are two things I would like to advise them not to lose sight of.
One, men and women with radical views are often a great attraction for the common people. When the campaigns begin, we will be offered such views that might make the settled views of the two big parties look tame in a country anxious to rise above its potentials. And there is much here for such people to effectively mine. The poor are for ever waiting for leaders who can lead them out of the Golgotha to which their birth or circumstances have condemned them. At times like these, the voice of the saviours of the poor is a shriek that manages to rise above that of the men of timber and calibre. This causes what is known in political grammar as an upset.
Two, politics has some admirable quirks. Money matters and matters a great deal in politics. The rich can always expect to reap the political bounties from their wealth. But it is not always that the rich have their way. When money loses its power among the electorate, we witness the emergence and the victory of a candidate in an election that no one was willing to bet on. In political speak, he is called quite inappropriately the dark horse.
We witnessed that in 2015. Despite the haemorrhage in the PDP that saw some of its most powerful men and women desert it, the party was still rich and formidable in every sense of the two words. It looked impregnable. We know that people who take on a behemoth often live to regret it.
General Muhammadu Buhari became the dark horse. His new party, APC, was made up largely of men and women who had immensely benefited from PDP for 16 years but who felt that a new voice like Buhari would help to point the country towards the super high way to Eldorado, beat the odds against it. The poor saw their saviour and instead of taking money from Buhari, they gave him the little they had. This was the first time that happened in our country with a history of monetised politics. And thus, quite out of character in our national politics, an incumbent president was ordered by the electorate to vacate Aso Rock Villa for his determined challenger.
Can it happen again? Can a dark horse emerge from among the other 28 presidential candidates? Good questions in search of rational answers. I enter a caveat. In politics, nothing is ever certain. Victory is not often replicated even if all the indices are similar. And the indices are similar. The ruling party is bleeding and the hundreds of its big men and women are beating the path to the doors of PDP, the party they deserted in 2014/2015. Many of these men and women are nursing grievances because they felt done in by the party that scuttled their ambitions for elective offices. Politics 2014/2015. Political revenge is served hot. Need I say more about that?
My crystal ball is giving me some funny reading. It points to the possibility that a dark horse might emerge from among the other 28 presidential candidates because of the people’s possible fatigue with APC and PDP. It points out that both parties will once more offer us more of the same things we have had since 1999. It says a fresh face with fresh views on those things that hobble our rise to greatness as a nation, might be what the voters are looking for.
I ask you not to cynically dismiss Donald Duke of Social Democratic Party; Oby Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria; Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressive Party; Hamza Al-Mustapha of Peoples Party of Nigeria and all the others in the race for Aso Rock. I do not ask you to accept the reading from my crystal ball. I only ask that you recognise that the uncertainties in politics are dictated by the quirks inherent in politics. Anything can, and do, happen, in the contest for political power. Let those who have ears to hear, hear my crystal ball.