I haven’t heard a sucking sound around here but I could just make out a giant sweaty feeling as 2014 begins. It is caused by Nigerian politicians’ anxiety as they gear up for general elections.
Many things cause anxiety in Nigeria but probably none more than elections. The Constitution created only one presidency, one vice presidency, 36 governorships, another 36 deputy governorships and about 2,000 Federal and state legislative seats. At least half a million people want to occupy these positions, which make for enough sweat to fill up the Lagos lagoon.
The President of the Federal Republic is anxious. He is in a paradoxical situation because he has the overall duty to ensure that the country conducts free, fair and peaceful elections but he also wants to contest and win the election. It is like being the stock market’s policeman and the top stock broker at the same time. What should be the major concern for a man in his position? Is it the concern of the international community that he should organize a good election or is it the desire of his friends, aides and allies that he should win that election?
There is a lot of anxiety in the Vice President’s office too as the New Year begins. Many people within the ruling party, notably some second term governors, want Mohamed Namadi Sambo to be ejected from the party’s ticket and for them to take his place. Their main allegation against him is that he has not established full political control over Northern Nigeria, the territory that presents the main threat to President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election ambitions. Never mind that no one has been able to do that since Sardauna’s departure.
Twelve state governors are up for re-election next year. Four of them belong to PDP while the other 8 are members of APC. Two more governors, both of them of APC will be up for re-election within this year. A governor who is up for re-election has more trump cards than anyone who is challenging him. He controls the state treasury, has a tested political structure, has great media visibility, has a lot of social reach and could usually count on the support of royal fathers, contractors and Establishment clerics. His biggest fear is an opponent backed by Federal might, a disenchanted godfather, or a major intra-party rebellion.
Nineteen state governors in this country are due to depart Government Houses in 2015 because they have served the maximum two terms. One of them, Kano’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso did not serve his two terms consecutively for there was an 8 year interregnum. A governor who is about to depart Government House will have his political shirt damp with sweat as he contemplates three things. These are the legacy he will leave behind; the person he will anoint as his successor and life outside Government House.
When the governors first elected in 1999 were leaving en masse in 2007 observers thought it was natural for them to support their deputies to succeed them. In the event, only one of them did so in the whole country, Zamfara’s Malam Ahmed Sani, Yariman Bakura. Usually, a governor has a commissioner, chief of staff or some other aide that he prefers over the deputy governor. Money calculations also come in; some governors have supported billionaires to succeed them because they did not want to spend their own money on a successor’s campaign. Most departing governors also want to become senators. This is already causing trouble in Akwa Ibom State where Governor Godswill Akpabio declared his intention to snatch away a serving senator’s seat.
This country’s 36 deputy governors are also generating enough sweat under their shirts and blouses to create a small stream. Sokoto’s deputy governor, Alhaji Mukhtari Shagari, may be sweating more than most because of the possibility that he may not last long in his current job. Only last week 27 out of 30 members of the Sokoto State Assembly including all the principal officers abandoned PDP for APC at Governor Aliyu Wamakko’s behest. If he asks them to remove Shagari, they will probably do so faster than the Rivers State Assembly passed Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s budget into law last week. Wamakko may however pause with an eye to history; his own forced resignation by Governor Attahiru Bafarawa in 2006 created the great local phenomenon of Sai Alu.
Otherwise there are two classes of anxiety currently afflicting deputy governors. Deputies to first term governors are pre-occupied with ambitions of remaining on the ticket while deputies to second term governors are anxious to be anointed as successors. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a deputy governor to succeed a governor through any event other than accident, if political statistics since 1999 are anything to go by.
The only persons whose underarms currently generate more sweat than those of governors are the people who plan to challenge them. A man who sets out to challenge a sitting governor at the polls will be discouraged even by his own family. In Nigerian political terms, this is an undertaking more difficult than hauling a pushcart up Hawan Kibo in Plateau State. Where do you even start from? You have a good opening if the state is polarized along regional, ethnic or religious lines but even those divisions could usually be bulldozed over by an incumbent governor. But some people will still try.
Things are a little bit easier for an outsider in states where the governor is departing next year. Easier I said, but not easy. A governor who is departing still wants to anoint a successor to ensure his future political relevance. However, human nature is such that the governor will be slightly less committed to an anointing project than if it were his own re-election project. In any case, the history of anointing successors in Nigeria, at the governorship as well as presidential levels, has been so disappointing since 2007 that perhaps we will see less zeal to anoint successors in 2015. Hope could however triumph over experience, as Mark Twain said when he heard that a divorcee had remarried.
Legislators all over Nigeria are also sweating profusely as the New Year begins. Of all the elected officials in Nigeria, the legislator is the one least capable of ensuring his own re-election. The number of bills he sponsored in the Assembly and the rhetorical flourish with which he contributed to the debates are both immaterial. Even the JAMB forms, fertilizer bags, bicycles and irrigation pumps that Nigerian MPs give to their constituents at lavish ceremonies cannot secure their seats. The state governor could calmly trade away an MP’s seat in order to fortify his own position.
Nigeria’s political godfathers are also tense and sweaty this New Year. The most astute of them all, Dr Olusola Saraki, died a year ago. The biggest of the modern godfathers, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has been reduced to writing angry letters. The crudest Nigerian godfather, Mr Chris Ubah, has fallen out of reckoning. But potent local and regional godfathers still abound in Nigeria and they must be spinning yarns faster than a spider as the elections approach.
Nigerian contractors and bankers are also sweating at New Year. In Nigeria, a signed contractual agreement with a government is only valid while the signatories are still in power, so a contractor must scramble to get his pay while the sun shines. The only way to secure a contract beyond this term is to invest in the successor’s campaign. That is, if you can identify the successor. Bankers that advance huge loans to governments are also scrambling at this time.
All told, there is enough sweat around Nigeria this week to refill Lake Chad.