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A rock or a hard place

It is looking increasingly likely that Nigerians will be confronted with a choice between a rock and a hard place when they vote in the 2019 elections. All the key indices that should highlight differences which should guide choices between parties and candidates appear so identical. There is an uncanny convergence around the total absence of distinguishing fundamentals in philosophy and ideology between the APC and the PDP. The third alternatives exist as parasites in a system that has reduced political parties only as competing office-seeking platforms. Aspirants are colorless, recycled politicians so used to contesting for elective offices that they are completely incapable of saying or doing anything new. The elections of 2019 will be between likes, whatever the outcome.

Those who thought the elections of 2015 had broken new grounds in Nigerian politics will be bitterly disappointed. The APC, the party which defeated the PDP monster that had grown fat and complacent from running governments and ruining the nation for 16 years now looks every inch like the PDP. Correction: given its promise to change the fundamentals of Nigerian politics, its share of responsibility for the uninspiring substance of the political campaigns and the near-certainty that the elections will only provide a choice between the same outcome, is heavier.

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Very few people had lost sleep in 2015 when an entire brigade of PDP generals defected to the APC only because its pastures were greener. They blended perfectly with a party poorly rooted in popular desire for honest leadership, and a myth that only one man existed who could provide it. No one bothered to ask searching questions about motives, integrity or how much the influx of PDP into the APC will affect its character. How little of that character actually existed was made evident when a civil war erupted around the ambitions of some of the partisan refugees and the feeble attempts to impose the will of the architects of the APC contraption. Both sides fought with the same levels of disdain for the democratic process, propriety or decency. The war assumed a new character when the PDP defectors relocated to the old motherland, and APC re-opened its doors to new and improved PDP defectors.

Since 2015, the records will show that the APC failed spectacularly to live up to its potential, and the PDP tragically failed to improve itself in all areas of importance. APC acquired the character of a quarrelsome collection around a president who seems to have drawn the line on serious activity with his election. PDP remained rooted to the ground, either unable or unwilling to believe that Nigerians could reject its propriety politics. As life became generally less secure and economic fortunes of citizens deteriorated, the APC descended to lower levels of competence, where it met a PDP that never acquired any competence or preparation to operate as an opposition party. A great opportunity which existed for the emergence of alternatives to the two dominant and increasingly identical parties was wasted by political peddlers accustomed to feeding from crumbs.

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With a few months to go to the elections, you couldn’t tell which politicians are APC or PDP in a room full of politicians if they wore their party symbols around their necks. President Buhari is now exactly in the place of President Jonathan four years ago, a sole candidate whose only qualification is that tradition provides for every president to aspire for two terms. APC governors, much like PDP governors, are flexing muscles to show the president, the party and everyone else who cares to know that they call the shots. They are successfully fighting against the most far-reaching reform of the democratic process, the elimination of indirect primaries, that fountain of corruption and the killing field of merit and competence in Nigeria’s political system. PDP’s army of aspirants will go after each other with such abandon that whoever emerges as its flag bearer will be severely damaged. The party that has cried loudest against political persecution at the hands of an APC administration lacks the capacity to impose discipline, change its basic rules of competition or demonstrate the slightest inclination that it will do anything differently. It carries on as if it is assured that APC will submit without a single punch thrown.

Being virtually two sides of the same coin, APC and PDP are, sadly, the most emphatic evidence that the Nigerian democratic process has failed to develop beyond giving politicians the opportunity to acquire power. The strongest driving force behind the PDP is the desire to replace President Buhari. If there are other compelling motivations, they do not get heard, perhaps because the party is waiting for the eleventh hour to produce an election-winning candidate who will convince the nation that he will do better than Buhari. APC’s entire claim to another four years is that it has President Buhari in its corner. Never mind that he is being vigorously challenged by people from his camp who nevertheless hopes to cling to his aging and diminishing charisma to win the next elections. The argument that former APC bigwigs who recently defected to the PDP were the trouble makers in the APC is wearing thin. A civil war is raging in the ruling party with the same intensity with which it was fought before the defections. APC is not putting up a new coat of paint to signal an intention to engage in another contest for mandates. The PDP cannot take advantage of an administration leaking massive amounts of indecision, internal schisms and weak leadership.

It is possible that one is judging the two dominant parties too early. It may be the case that campaigns will highlight which party or candidate will have new ideas about improving security of the citizen; about alarming levels of unemployment; the deep divisions in the nation and re-engineering the economy. At this stage it just appears to be a single issue contest: whether President Buhari should stop in 2019 or continue with another term. In itself, this is important, but the real issue is that neither option gives the nation an assurance that it represents a real opportunity to rebuild it.

Jamila Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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