The Nigerian presidency and the tendency towards zoning.
In my permutations, the APC primary election may coronate a Southern candidate endorsed by the president and his allies. Powershift within the APC seems to have tilted towards the South, as argued by notable Northern party leaders. The PDP faces a stiffer test. The party seems somewhat fixated on a Northern candidate. However, whoever emerges as party chairman from the convention would be a clear signal of which geopolitical zone could produce the party’s presidential flag-bearer.
Last week we started a series about possible scenarios in our march to the decisive year 2023. The year 2023 represents a watershed of a sort because the forces at play today in the political space and the national life in Nigeria constitute a credible threat to national unity. We have never been this polarised in our recent history. The agitation for secession across the country is now commonplace. This anomaly has raised the bar of the kind of president that Nigerians would like to see in 2023. We started the series by looking at the congresses/conventions of the two major political parties to choose party officers and the different forces at work in making these successes or failures. I also warned of the implications of suppressing internal democracy and the mechanics of party dynamics.
This week, we will be looking at the second most consequential activity in the transition period: the selection and choosing of presidential candidates. This has far-reaching implications for the unity of the country and the future of democracy. I have identified three possible scenarios in the two major political parties: the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The two dominant parties in Nigeria are literarily two sides of the same coin – just platforms for seizing power and not about political values, ideologies, and policy alternatives. Beyond the different scenarios, I have also identified three factors that would exert a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the presidential primaries – the issue of zoning, the club of governors, and the incumbent president’s disposition. I have tagged these in the different scenarios of the APC as the: Compromise Scenario, Free and Fair Primary Scenario, and Game of Thrones Scenario. In the PDP, I have captioned the scenarios as the: Governors’ Game, Open Field, and Old War Horse versus New Turk, respectively. Each scenario has its optimistic and pessimistic perspectives and implications for the outcome of the presidential election.
I am projecting that in the Compromise Scenario in the APC, the incumbent president would hold sway. For a party in power, the president has the joker. He is the “sovereign” and has something to protect – his legacy and self-preservation. For the 2023 project, we can be optimistic if the president deploys the influence of his office maximally and reins in the party leaders, including the influential club of governors, so that the party produces a compromise candidate on his terms. He is the father of the nation, with a broader understanding of the nature of the multiple factors holding the country down and a clear vision of where he wants Nigeria to be in the immediate future. He may be inclined to produce the candidate that, in his conviction, would solve Nigeria’s challenges of insecurity, bring about economic and social development, and pull the country together into one cohesive unit that will satisfy the yearnings of its citizens. However, we can be very pessimistic about the president’s influence. In this case, the president can either become a lame duck, be indifferent, indecisive or play provincial politics and lose the support of his party men and women.
The second scenario is that of the Free and Fair Primary. In this scenario, the party will choose delegates in a free and fair process that adheres to party rules and regulations. In turn, these delegates would choose the presidential candidate, with no undue influence exerted on their decision-making. Internal democracy and the rule of law within the party would help produce a credible presidential candidate. This scenario is the most unlikely, except for the optics involved. It has been argued by many that apart from the 2014-15 primary when APC was in the opposition, there is no antecedent to show that internal democracy has influenced the election of political candidates during conventions. The pessimistic view is that interest groups within the parties tend to rig the primaries through the flawed process of electing/selecting delegates at the local level who would vote at the national convention. If this happens, the party may lose major stakeholders who feel dissatisfied with the process and either move to a new party or join the opposition PDP.
The third is the Game of Thrones scenario. Here, the governors, being the most influential interest group in the party, can unite to form a power bloc or split into two camps to form different blocs with some other leaders, driven by self-interest. We can be optimistic when one power bloc led by an ex-governor or incumbent governor prevails and reaches out to the other bloc with promises and commitments, and they reach a compromise. This compromise may help the party remain united. If one power bloc prevails and the power bloc that loses out leaves the party, the reverse may be the case. In this scenario, the governors, either serving or former, hold the ace. They will determine who emerges as the flag-bearer. And on the basis of historical antecedents, they usually prefer one of their own.
Let us assume that the two major parties conduct their congresses according to the best tenets of democracy, and the candidates who emerge as party delegates have overwhelming and majority support, then the next task would be to produce the presidential candidates with the best shots at winning the general election. At the national level, a pertinent issue has always been that of zoning.
The PDP presidential primary election may toe a different trajectory from that of the APC. The first scenario is the Open Field. The party could choose delegates in a free and fair process, in line with party rules and internal democracy, and during the primaries, these delegates get to freely elect a candidate of their choice on the basis of their convictions. In this scenario, the candidates woo and negotiate with delegates within the ambit of the rules and regulations binding the primary election to convince them to vote for them. This action will bring about party unity. This scenario is most unlikely in a perfect sense but may be achieved (albeit imperfectly) where, although money inducement plays a part, candidates freely woo the delegates and get them to vote for or against them. However, it is also likely that any candidate or interest group that controls the party structure would manipulate it in their favour and win the presidential primary. If another power bloc considers the primary as not transparent, they may leave the party and join APC or form a new party.
The second scenario is the Governors’ Choice. The governors hold the ace in PDP because no “emperor- figure” at the federal level controls them. They have the resources, networks, and organisation to influence the primary election maximally. Governors, in this scenario, may choose one among themselves acceptable to most party members to fly the flag of the party, through a compromise that makes them go into the election united. However, they may be split along the lines of personal interest, leading to chaos/deep divisions in the party. This can lead to a group leaving to join the APC or to form a new party.
The third scenario is the Old bloc vs New Bloc. The old bloc is represented by the Atiku/Obi alliance, while the compact between a South-South governor and a North-West governor could represent the new bloc. The Atiku/Obi alliance has a national stature and network but may not have as much resources as it had in its last outing. The compact between a South-South governor/ North-West governor may have the necessary resources but not the national clout and network required. The possibilities are that one bloc would prevail and reach out to the other (just as the MKO Abiola vs Kingibe situation of 1992). However, it is also possible that one may prevail, while the other joins the APC or forms a new party.
Although this analysis focusses on the two main political parties, given the exigencies of our current political reality and the emotional reactions to political events and developments among the political elites, coupled with a possible inclination for an alternative platform to APC and PDP, I will not rule out the possibility of a third force. 2023 is almost like a lifetime away in politics. Everything is still possible within the remaining timeframe.
Let us assume that the two major parties conduct their congresses according to the best tenets of democracy, and the candidates who emerge as party delegates have overwhelming and majority support, then the next task would be to produce the presidential candidates with the best shots at winning the general election. At the national level, a pertinent issue has always been that of zoning. The argument for and against zoning has equally been rancorous. Should we pander to the interests of those who consider that all parts of the country should have a feel of the highest office in the land or to those who believe that competence and the winning capability should be the overriding factor? The mood of the national clearly favours the presidency going to the South, but then politics is generally beyond rationality.
In conclusion, the congresses are essential, and the zone of the party chairmen are pointers to where the presidential candidates would likely come from. The politics of zoning may influence where each party may be inclined to pick a presidential candidate from because power capture may be more important than the morality of fairness and equity.
Before the presidential primaries, zoning may have become moot because of the unwritten conventions within the two major political parties that the presidential candidate and the party chairman should not come from the same part of the country.
In recent years, the primaries of the major political parties have become the epitome of almost all that is wrong with our democracy. It is evident, going by trends, that the crisis in b2023 general elecoth parties will result from attempts to make the internal democratic processes of parties bend to produce pre-determined outcomes. Rancorous primaries will open a floodgate of endless litigations in both political parties.
In my permutations, the APC primary election may coronate a Southern candidate endorsed by the president and his allies. Powershift within the APC seems to have tilted towards the South, as argued by notable Northern party leaders. The PDP faces a stiffer test. The party seems somewhat fixated on a Northern candidate. However, whoever emerges as party chairman from the convention would be a clear signal of which geopolitical zone could produce the party’s presidential flag-bearer. Therefore, my permutation is that first, the PDP primary would likely be a battle of sorts among entrenched interest groups in the party.
In conclusion, the congresses are essential, and the zone of the party chairmen are pointers to where the presidential candidates would likely come from. The politics of zoning may influence where each party may be inclined to pick a presidential candidate from because power capture may be more important than the morality of fairness and equity. We have fluid party vehicles, bereft of ideologies, as political actors move easily and quickly from one party to another in the power capture game. The best bet is for parties to conduct their congresses and conventions according to the best tenets of democracy, and the primaries follow suit so that whoever emerges as presidential flag-bearer would be the one who got the most votes, and is most acceptable to the people. In this way, our democracy would continue to grow.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.