The Economics of Jonathan's Emergence


Our predictions are gradually coming to pass. This is what we wrote few days ago regarding the emergence of Jonathan as PDP’s flag bearer:

“From the look of things, the President Goodluck Jonathan is most likely to emerge as the flag bearer of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Little has changed in the politics of incumbency that has characterised that party if we examine the gubernatorial and other primaries which the party has conducted so far in many states. The presidential primaries will hardly be any different.”


And it was not. Incumbency was at its best two days ago. Few of the delegates could muster the courage and vote againt the incumbent. That has been the first principle of Nigerian politics. I am happy that I am old enough to know that. Who says age does not count?

Hahaha… “I am created intimate, if I were to be returned to childhood, I would have parted with my grey hair, broken-hearted, weeping”, said Al-Mutanabbi.

Eight years ago when we were in a group analyzing the chances of candidates few months before the general elections, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, the Chief Editor of Weekly Trust then, in elucidating the power of incumbency, said that some people accord incumbency 60% weight in determining the outcome of presidential elections. I noted that sentence. After the polls in 2003, INEC gave Obasanjo 60% and Buhari 39 point something percent. Then I filed Kabiru’s incumbency principle and saved it on the hard disk of my brain as .exe file that I will never lose sight of whenever I weigh the candidates of presidential elections. Incumbency is a general principle. We just wish that one day it will be violated for the better, just as even nature, atimes, though rarely, violates its own principles.

It does not require any ingenuity to predict how the average Nigerian politician would behave in a primary election. From my village, I was able even to predict with an accuracy of 96% the number of votes that Obasanjo would get during the PDP primaries for 2003. The secret is simple. It is amala politics in Nigeria.

Here it is important to discern two important groups in Nigeian politics: the elite politician and the footsoldier.

The elite that form the crankshaft and pistons of Nigerian politics are dependent on goverenment. They don’t have working factories or run businesses that are independent of government. The infrastructure deficit in the country is so entrenched that it has shut down the gates of profits in the face of investorss. The only surviving business is that which is patronized by government. So even for those who try to invest and appear successful, they have to abide by the political wishes of incumbent government. They must contribute hundreds of millions to its campaign. Ask Dangote and our big brother TY Danjuma for details. Do you expect any of them to do any party other than PDP? What will become of their businesses then? These juggernauts, along with the President and governors are the crankshafts and connecting rods of our politics.

The pistons are those elite who do not have any semblance of economic independence or direct power. They do not run businesses at all. Their livelihood is completely dependent on politics. They move with the movement of the crankshaft in a harmony that will ensure a smooth running of the engine. They must not differ lest the engine knocks and the vehicle stops. These are the ministers, commissioners, contractors, civil servants, party officials, etc. Each of them carries out an auxiliary function that helps the engine. They are the cuberator; the top-cylinder, the muffler, etc, accessories to the engine that enables it receive inputs and dispose of wastes.

The footsoldiers are the body and load of the vehicle, relevant only to carry the load and provide accommodation. It could be made of anything: steel, wood, leather, etc. The load could be of anything: firewood, sugarcane, refuse, money, just anything. They do not have a say as to the running of the engine or the direction it takes. They are passive. These are the grassroots members of the potilical structure of any ruling party at state or national level. They include party leaders and delegates from the nooks and crannies of the country. They are among those we saw two days ago at the PDP convention.

I have read how some members of some discussion groups on the Internet wonder on the behavior of delegates during that convention. Is there any need for wonder? The secret is this. These delegates, either as party stalwarts in states and local governments or just party members at wards are living under abject poverty. In their villages, it is not uncommon to find many people who have not possessed N100 cash for six months. Then the politicians came looking for people that will run their parties at the grassroots. This poor fellow is appointed the chairman or secretary of the party in his ward or local government. He gets some N1000 here and N5,000 there, occasionally. If he is marrying his daughter out, his superiors contribute something to him. They even give him a car and some contracts to renovate the primary school in his village. Etc. How do we expect him to vote for anyone other than the choice of these superiors – the bigger politicians at his state – when he is a delegate at Abuja, especially if he is given N100,000 cash or even $10,000!

The interest and influence of governors must be seen within this context. They have many interests to protect, many baggages to conceal. And so is any big politician you know. We must expect that only few of them can hearken to other calls, of their conscience or of other interest groups. What then is surprising? This is a universal law. Majority of people who are not economically independent cannot hold opinions. Even if they hold them, they cannot express them in public by speech, by writing or by votes.

Poverty? That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) sought the refuge of God from poverty. “Oh God,” he was reported to have prayed regularly, “I seek thy refuge from poverty.” And he warned us against poverty because through it all sorts of ills, including disbelief, are imported into the society. “Poverty will not set out to enter a people”, he said again, “except disbelief says: Please let’s go together.” Peace be upon him!

Nigerian political history, nay African political history, run along this line. Due to poverty and lack of economic independence, any party that is handed over power at independence or after a military rule uses incumbency to perpetuate itself. It continues to grow in strength by the day while the opposition shrinks by the hour. Thus, one of the wisdoms I learnt from Buhari is the observation he made in a private discussion in 2002 that in Africa republics with time tend to move inevitably towards a one party state.

The same path was taken by both first and second republics in Nigeria. The only option left was for the military to takeover power with the intention of correcting the wrongs which the politicians found difficult muster the courage to handle equitably. The unfortunate thing is that as soon as the mitltiary settles in power they begin to steal such that the only option they have is to handover to corrupt politicians who will cover their track. This is the vicious cycle of our politics. So we are returned to the same politicians and their methods again.

Murtala was killed precisely because he wanted to break this trend. The trio – Obasanjo, Danjuma and Shehu Yar’adua, who tookover from Murtala quickly derailed and went for public coffers. They devoured it and became the first multiple-billionaire generals. They have been piloting Nigerian politics since then. And so was Buhari who was ousted in 1984.

So no one should wonder or rejoice at the emergence of Jonathan. I never, even for a second, doubted his emergence as the winner of PDP primaries, hence my cheap prediction last week which did not need any ingenuity.

is behind the emergence of Jonathan. Simple. If Atiku were in power, even Solomon Lar, Jerry “Ghana” and Clarke would have voted for him in the primaries. The governors too would have compelled their delegates to vote for him. Jonathan himself would not have attempted contesting the primaries but would have lined his delegates, as a governor, behind Atiku. There was nothing in the PDP charade that was based on principle, religion or even ethnicity. It is economics, pure and simple.

We now have the three candidates we predicted – Jonathan, Buhari and Ribadu. Let us move forward. The target before all progressive Nigerians is to find who among the three has the courage and support of Nigerians to break that circle without giving chance to the military again. I have heard many Nigerians wishfully say that a coup is not possible. So we said and thought in 1983…until it suddenly happened.

Aliyu Tilde
Bauchi, Nigeria


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