As I was saying, the 2023 presidential election was won and lost fundamentally because of the fractured opposition, even though you are free to add one million other reasons to that. Confronting a monster like the All Progressives Congress (APC) was already an uphill battle for a united Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the biggest opposition party — only for it to break into pieces before the general election. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate in the election, finally appeared to have admitted this fact when he said this on Tuesday last week: “If we don’t come together to challenge what the ruling party is trying to create, our democracy will suffer.”
Although Atiku did not go the whole hog to admit that the opposition made things easy for the APC — he remains assured that he won the election — at least, he warned that the ruling party would soon take everything if the opposition did not unite. For some context, Candidate Bola Tinubu/APC won the presidential election with 8,794,726 votes, while Atiku and two former PDP members got a combined haul of 14,582,740 votes. While I accept that adding figures together this way might be overly simplistic and counterfactual, I could still bet with my laptop that APC would not have won the presidential election if PDP had not divided its votes. I wish to remain adamant about my theory.
I may be wrong but I suppose Atiku is now reflecting on what might have been. Allow me to illustrate my argument. Historically, the south-east always voted for the PDP — since the dawn of the fourth republic in 1999. The exit of Mr Peter Obi, who was Atiku’s running mate in 2019, took significant votes in the zone from the PDP. That is the hard truth. By the official results, the overall gap between Tinubu and Atiku was about 1.8 million votes. Obi, the Labour Party candidate, got 1.96 million from the south-east, most of which, all things equal, would have gone to Atiku/PDP. The party had polled 5 million votes from the zone in 2011 (pre-biometric era), 2.5 million in 2015, and 1.6 million in 2019.
Most Northern Christians, I would argue, never liked the APC. They have been associating President Muhammadu Buhari with Islamisation since the Sharia crisis of 2000. They naturally always chose the PDP, and this was made easier for them in 2023 with APC’s Muslim/Muslim ticket. Atiku/PDP would have been the major beneficiary if not for the split. In 2019, the Atiku/Obi/PDP ticket got 1.9 million votes from the north-central, where northern Christians are concentrated. In 2023, Atiku/PDP got 1.025 million while Obi/LP got 1.4 million. That was 2.425 million votes for the “PDP”, compared to Tinubu/APC’s 1.72 million in the zone. That is exactly what happens when you split your votes.
The cracked opposition also suffered a serious injury in Lagos, where the headline news was that Obi defeated Tinubu, the state’s political godfather. But that only hurt Tinubu’s ego, not his chances. In fact, victory for Obi in Lagos was also victory for Tinubu. I would speculate that most of the 582,000 votes Obi got in Lagos would have gone to Atiku — given the pattern in recent presidential elections. In fact, the Atiku/Obi ticket got 448,015 votes in Lagos in 2019, compared to Buhari/APC’s 580,825. In 2023, the combined votes of Obi and Atiku came to 658,204 — about 100,000 more than what Tinubu got. I would wager that those who voted for Obi and Atiku would not have voted for Tinubu.
With the divided opposition, the Kano outcome also helped Tinubu. In my books, he was the biggest beneficiary in the state. Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), left the PDP in anger before the 2023 elections. His political base is Kano, where he was twice governor. His crowd followed him to NNPP. He got 997,000 votes in Kano — just 3,000 shy of one million — while Atiku managed to poll 131,716. Basically, every vote for Kwankwaso in Kano was also a vote for Tinubu because it possibly would have been Atiku’s, in my calculations. I could go on analysing every single state and showing how the opposition made things smoother for the APC.
I hope that after all the post-election vituperations and brickbats — including a bitterly fought litigation and massive debate over iRev failure — the dust will begin to settle and there can be a proper postmortem, which should be more scientific and less emotional. As Waziri Adio, the respected columnist, would say, “Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction or division.” The PDP went into the election with subtraction and division and still expected to win. It lost erstwhile sure-banker geopolitical zones and still expected to win. I readily admit that politicians are constitutionally entitled to pre-election optimistic calculations, but the PDP’s math was simply not “mathing”.
Atiku knows quite a bit about the tendency for one-party state in Nigeria. As vice-president from 1999 to 2007, he was an insider as his party, the PDP, threatened to rule Nigeria for 60 years. By 2007, the PDP held 15 of 17 states in the south, unable to capture only Lagos and losing Anambra only because of an election litigation. The party also had 14 out of the 19 northern states — leaving only Zamfara, Kano, Bauchi, Yobe and Borno for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). That was a total of 29 out of 36 states! By 2008, Zamfara and Bauchi governors had defected to the PDP, albeit judicial victories would later snatch Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Edo from their hands. The PDP was too mighty.
Some of us who are interested more in democratisation than politicking expressed worries about the PDP domination. It looked like it would last forever as the opposition parties kept going into elections with a divided front. The ANPP, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) were contesting elections and winning only bits and pieces and always, predictably, complaining about rigging — until 2013, when their leaders finally came to their senses and decided to forge a united front against the PDP. Thereafter, the APC was born. We all know what happened next. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel.
Although Atiku was part of the breakaway PDP faction that joined in founding the APC, he returned to the PDP because of his presidential ambition. He knew there was no way he could successfully challenge a sitting president for the party’s ticket. He had tried and retreated against President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. He had also lost the PDP primary to Jonathan in 2011. But, fair enough, the PDP was strong in 2019 and Atiku had a respectable outing against APC/Buhari. He got 11.26 million votes — or 41.2 percent — and won in 17 states, including the entire south-east and south-south, as well as the FCT. For comparison, Buhari got 15.19 million votes and won in 19 states.
Going into the 2023 elections with a divided house was PDP’s ultimate undoing at a time the APC was there for the taking after a series of missteps that angered millions of Nigeria. The exits of Obi and Kwankwaso, unfortunately, weakened the PDP. To add insult to injury, five PDP governors, led by Chief Nyesom Wike, openly worked round the clock against Atiku. How was Atiku so confident he could win with a party that had broken into pieces? Maybe he thought he would get bloc votes in the north and secure just enough elsewhere to fulfil the legal threshold. I would now think that since this strategy failed, he has finally admitted that defeating the APC needs a larger dose of reality.
Atiku’s rallying call to the opposition, no matter anyone’s misgivings, is vital. For one, democracy without multiple choice lacks a competitive edge. What it creates is complacency on the part of the almighty party. There was a time in this country that to get the PDP ticket was the most important thing — the rest was a mere formality. The primaries were more important than the elections proper. Politicians were flocking to the PDP as opposition parties were mostly for decorative purposes. The PDP did not feel the need to raise its performance in power: victory was assured in every election. That is why strong opposition is critical in a democracy, at least to keep the ruling party on its toes.
A united opposition will send strong signals to the ruling party that votes should not be taken for granted. Although we usually complain about rigging in Nigeria, there is also the little consolation that some states are difficult to rig. As strong as the PDP was, there were many states it could not rig when it was in power, especially in 2003, 2011 and 2015. The take-away from here is that without a strong opposition, the ruling party will only get stronger and stronger. Knowing that its power and might will come up against some limits in certain constituencies is a form of restraint, which is good for our democracy where the party in power unfairly controls the institutions that oversee elections.
There is a real fear that the APC might soon imitate the PDP of yore — with the help of the Nigerian political culture of defections to the ruling party. Because politics is bread and butter for most politicians, there are those who cannot imagine life out of the mainstream for long. As soon as they lose elections, they become vulnerable to the temptation of “returning home” — that is, to the ruling party. In any case, Nigerian politicians change parties with ease. You can be in the PDP in the morning and switch to the APC at noon. It is all about getting your daily bread. Some PDP governors might soon move to the APC to “align” with the political currents at the centre. This hurts democracy.
Of course, there are suspicions as to Atiku’s real motive in his call for the opposition parties to “merge”. It is being whispered that he wants to run again in 2027. Many think his latest battle cry is self-serving, that he wants Obi and Kwankwaso to return to the PDP so that he could ride on their backs to presidency. We must not forget that it was Atiku’s ambition that fractured the PDP ahead of the 2023 elections. He had also played a key role in weakening the PDP in 2013 by jumping on the bandwagon of disgruntled governors to defect to the APC. He pursued his ambition again but came third behind Buhari and Kwankwaso in the APC primary. He has a history of putting personal interest above group interest.
If Atiku genuinely wants the opposition parties to come together in order to safeguard the future of our democracy, he has to come clean about his own motives. He would do well to be a strategist and kingmaker. Positioning himself as the flagbearer would only lead to suspicion and further divide the opposition. A more nuanced and dispassionate appraisal of the 2023 elections would point to the fact that fractionalisation was the game changer. It helped the APC keep hold of power. Today’s opposition can learn a thing or two from the APC itself. After crying about rigging for ages, the opposition parties would not have unseated the PDP without a united front and strategic thinking.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Nigeria has terminated its $1.1 billion civil claims against Shell and Eni over OPL 245 and committed to no further legal action. The saga deserves a Netflix original. Despite spending millions of dollars on legal fees, Nigeria has lost every legal challenge to the transaction which saw Malabu, the original allottees, sell the oil block to Shell/Eni for $1.1 billion in 2011. For me, the key question has always been the “code of conduct” issue around Malabu’s ownership by a sitting minister and the son of a sitting head of state when it got the oil block in 1998. Nigeria decided to pursue fraud arguments and failed in all courts and on all fronts. Meanwhile, such a rich oil block lay fallow for decades. Waste.
All along, we’ve been told that iRev — the result-viewing portal — is the ultimate revolution against rigging in Nigeria. The presidential poll was rigged, according to a popular theory, because the iRev was “switched off”. Up till now, INEC has not satisfactorily explained why the iRev did not work after promising us heaven and earth about the “invention”. But… but… other elections in which iRev was used — including the recent off-cycle governorship polls — were rejected and described as rigged by those who lost. You mean rigging is still possible with iRev? That is not the impression we’ve had all along. In the end, you only scan and upload signed result sheets to iRev and nothing more. Hype.
So, the labour unions actually went on a national strike because Comrade Joe Ajaero, the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was attacked by locals in Imo state? Really? You grind the already fragile economy of the whole country to a halt because of a case of assault on an individual in one of the 36 states? These union leaders need to start having a frank conversation with one another, otherwise they will soon overreach themselves. Is there anywhere else in the world where the life of an entire country is put on hold in this manner? There are far more important issues that affect Nigerians but the unions are undermining themselves with this kind of behaviour. Outrageous.
In view of pressing economic needs amid a depreciating national currency, President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi on Thursday cancelled all international trips for himself and other public officials. This took immediate effect, with all cabinet members on international trips asked to return to the country immediately. In place of sending an emergency bill to the National Assembly to pay for a yacht and maintain presidential jets, Chakwera directed a 50 percent reduction in the fuel allowances of ministers, permanent secretaries, directors, and all senior officials, saying the era of spending taxpayers’ money on “useless activities in the form of allowances” has ended. Leadership.