A View From Heathrow, by Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo

by Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo

I sat in transit at the Heathrow airport in London pondering the different encounters I had as a media consultant for the People’s Democratic Party governorship candidate for Adamawa state, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Ruminating over the strain was not easy because what should ordinarily pass for an intellectual exercise ultimately caught me doing a postmortem of my time in Yola and my stint as a Jonathan strategist.

Although the time has gone, the memory lingers. It compels me to share with those friends who missed the ripostes, which atimes snowballed into altercations. I found among my friends, cowards, cheerleaders, the politically degenerate and tough men. There were also those who, in spite of their intellect, converted to the church of political zealotry, just as there were some resilient people like the adrenalin junkie, Muhammed Musa Deji, whose persistent lack of faith in anything but what he assumes to be true, beats me.

To those who keep an eye on the ball in Abuja, 2015 seems farther than mundane. A sitting president was deposed by the ballot. The only subsection of the public that appeared to have held different expectations were those who’ve always seen politics as a means of governance, regardless of the methods and the leadership. Now with the result clearly established, and with little room left to cry foul, there are lessons worth drawing from 2015.

Few people outside Abuja, especially those in urban centres across Nigeria, admit that a thumping APC victory in a heavily scrutinized election may induce cognitive dissonance. This is because many people, most of whom are earnest and have had no opportunity to know better, ascribe to a caricatured view of the PDP as a party that wins by coercing voters, intimidation, manipulation or even rigging. However, there is a tangential truth to this, because the apple does not fall far from the tree. But those who continue even in victory to exhibit antagonistic and anti-social behavior are simply giving the middle finger to the gains made by the 2015 electoral milestone.

Violence in the north creates and sustains a particular order, and is critical in retaining certain social and political hierarchies. And that has largely characterized the APC. But more importantly, hegemony is by definition consensual. One simply cannot force an individual to believe in a cause without some shared affiliation. And so even the most educated in the north have bitten the “we-lose-and-fight” bug.

The APC, in this particular case, offers cover to this particular group in Nigeria. While one may argue against the social ills of ethnic mobilisation, or how it politically undermines the ‘national interest’, the freedom to identify, associate and seek representation cannot be denied in a functional democracy. In fact, it is the denial of proper representation, and the consistent judgment passed on alternative choices that contribute to ethnic mistrust and hostility.

People in the north voted along primordial lines knowing that the returns they get will come from primordial axis. For them, this is strategic and completely rational. It is not surprising, therefore, that even properly grounded northerners were ready to riot, should the result be different.

Secondly, there are many who perhaps out of sheer goodwill and earnest sentiment seek a ‘final dissolution’ of the PDP. For them, this election should serve as a reminder that dreaming of a six decade political reign can’t make disaffection wither. It may just embolden the hawks and fortify a support base around the subsequent narrative of victimisation, as it did PDPs five governors. It proved that militancy and criminality cannot and should not be tolerated, but a response to these ills has to be dictated by political sagacity, not clumsy force, even if from the Devils own uncle.

Thirdly, for a party that’s won in a hostile media environment, by securing over 70pc of the total votes cast, there may be few more lessons to be drawn. The APC currently faces two distinct challenges that may make its political fortunes less comfortable. They are harmony and the question of succession.

With one noose or another tightening around several high-ranking members in the party, the APC needs to have a plan in place if it wishes to avoid fragmentation and the accompanying violence that such may bring. Even though this is not an immediate possibility, planning ahead for it may be in the best interests of the party and, more importantly, the people.

On the succession front, politics abhors a vacuum. The APC has won comfortably even in areas where it is expected to flounder because of the magic of the moment, GMB. But there are still areas in Nigeria where the opponent will be much more fastidious than the fight put up by Jonathan.

Hence, the party’s main challenge would be to retain its character as a legitimate representative of people’s interests by ensuring that someone as magnetic continues from where Buhari would stop.

Finally, the PDP shall emerge as a credible, albeit distant, second force across the country. By the time this column gets printed, bye-election results in four states will provide further evidence of the party’s entrenched character in cities like Jalingo, Umuahia, and perhaps, Owerri. Their performance in this bye-election whilst by most objective standards quite poor, it can still lay claim to the tag of the alternative on the cards.

At a sociological level, the APCs appeal to voters across the country can only make perfect sense if there’s a renewal of tactics. There is a core middle-class constituency now present and shaping political rhetoric in many parts of the country, and despite Nigeria’s ailing economic health, it will grow at a point. It will come to know that the only antidote to political violence is a compulsion to keep ones preferences private.

What this means is that we’re witnessing the creation of a national voter block, under the APCs banner, that may not yet be enough to swing seats or win general elections, in the future. This has been a catch 22 but it certainly will cease to be attractive once Buhari is gone and that is a reality that should keep APC consolidating and expanding its presence with each passing day.

The victories of the future will be eked out through traditional politics, but there may yet be a future in which party identification alone will not be enough to win. Oops, it’s time to fly again.