It might be a little short of two years till a new president will be elected, or President Goodluck Jonathan is re-elected (although he is yet to declare interest, it is almost definite that he will), but the presidential campaigns are already in top gear. We might not just know it yet.
Although the parties have not yet selected their candidates, it is almost definite that President Jonathan will be the flagbearer of PDP – it is just a matter of time. As for the APC, the competition there will be intense among its hopefuls. It has gone ahead to zone the ticket to its members from the Northern part of the country – hoping that this will win the votes of the region with the most voters in Nigeria and capitalizing on the discontent towards President Jonathan, which is strongest here.
Herein is where I will give my advice to the APC: if you really want to give the PDP a real fight for the Presidency, let your candidate be from an ethnic minority.
Let me explain:
The main deciding factor for most Nigerians in elections is not the programs and policies of parties and candidates, but sentiments (ethnicity/religious faith/place of origin) and the monetary inducements they receive. While we may debate about what a candidate has to offer, and the policies (or lack of it) of political parties, the candidates and parties know that these are not the things that win or lose elections for them, and as such, they do not bother with programs and ideas. Rather, it is how they can appeal to the sentiments of the broadest section of the electorate and how they can also induce them to vote in their favour.
That said, there are many people who are opposed to President Jonathan simply by virtue of where he is from, or his religious faith. At the same time, there are many people who are very supportive of him on exactly the same factors. These people are not only among those who are not very educated; they are also found among the most educated segment of our population. In fact, the most educated ones are the most dangerous, because they are able to rationalize their opposition or support with ‘facts’ which just cover their pre-existing bias for or against him.
There were many Christians who voted for President Jonathan just because he had knelt down before Pastor E.A. Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and was blessed and prayed for; also, there were many Muslims, especially in the North, that voted for Buhari simply because he is of their faith.
While the general perception, especially on social media, is that President Jonathan is highly unpopular across Nigeria, nothing could be further from the truth. He is still very popular where he has always been popular, and unpopular where he has never been popular.
Where is he popular? Naturally, South-South is still a very formidable support base for him, drawing in on the son-of-the-soil sentiment.
Next is the South-East, as he swept almost all the votes from this region in 2011, drawing on the historical links between the Ijaws (his ethnic group) and the Igbos, and making his Azikwe middle name a point of appeal.
He is also helped by the fact that Buhari barely campaigned in these areas. It was as though he had ceded the regions to President Jonathan from the get-g0.
Support here has not wavered one bit.
He remains unpopular in the North-West and large parts of the North-East, especially among Muslim voters, who almost entirely voted for his main opponent in the 2011 elections, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Let us remember that President Jonathan had been involved in a very bitter zoning battle with Northern politicians, where they were insisting on a Northerner becoming president to complete late President Umaru Yar’adua’s tenure.
[See graphs showing how the zones voted for President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in the 2011 elections here ]
In a match-up between President Jonathan and an APC presidential candidate, who is likely to be both Northern and Muslim, the regions listed above will vote as they did in 2011 – nothing will change.
However, I have not yet listed two regions – the South-West and the Middle Belt.
Though the South-West political leadership, led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is now an APC-controlled region, it is not definitive that this will translate into votes for a Northern candidate. Yes, agreed that the then ACN did not roll out the campaign drums for its then candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, which resulted in votes en masse for President Jonathan. However, the ethnic and regional bonds of the South might win them over for Jonathan, again, more than voting for a Northern candidate. There will be a real battle of votes between the APC and the PDP here.
Now the last part: the Middle-Belt. While this region used to directly mean the North-Central region, it has evolved to mean the alliance of minority ethnic groups in the region and the indigenous populations of the North-East and the North-West, mostly as a response to what they feel is the Hausa-Fulani-Core North Muslim political domination.
Although the two charts above give the voting per geo-political zone, the truth is that President Jonathan was largely the recipient of the votes. He was largely helped by perceptions of Gen. Buhari as a fundamentalist in the Northern Christian community, and of Hausa-Fulani domination among even the ethnicities with large Muslim populations, such as in Kwara and Kogi.
Has this support changed? Not at all. As a matter of fact, it has gotten stronger, and most of it is as a reaction to events that have taken place since the elections. First, there was the post-election riots which turned religious in many parts of the North – for which many of them believe is a reaction to a Christian winning the elections. Then, there came the intensifying of violence by the Boko Haram terrorist group, which included bombings of many churches. Again, it brought out the belief, very erroneous albeit in my opinion, that it was the handiwork of Northern Muslim politicians to bring down a Christian government. All these will be brought to the fore in a pairing of President Jonathan against almost any Northern Muslim candidate.
So back to my original argument – why should the APC pick a minority as its candidate if it wants to give President Jonathan the electoral contest of his life? Simple – it is the best way to make inroads into his support base.
An APC candidate from the South-South will have the son-of-the-soil factor in his favour too, in addition to the support from the APC strongholds in the North. It will also make President Jonathan to actively campaign in the APC areas, and not merely aim for just 25% of the votes in some of the states in order to meet the constitutional requirement of majority votes and at least, a quarter of votes in a minimum of 24 states to be declared winner. Let me state here: the South-South will not exchange the Presidency for the Vice-Presidency, so the APC should not be misled into thinking having Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State on their ticket will do the trick.
Also, an APC candidate from the Middle-Belt/Northern Christian community will capture first, the APC strongholds in the North-West & parts of the North-East; and then the Northern Christian community and the Middle Belt. This leaves the South-West up for grabs between the two parties, and it will be there that the winner will be decided.
Of course, this also depends on how much backing the politicians in the Core North in the APC sell the candidate in their areas and get the people behind him.
But there is also one added benefit of having a candidate from one of these two suggested areas – it reduces the influence of sentiments and increases the influence of capability of the candidates to be effective in office.
In 1999, when both presidential candidates were Yoruba men – former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae – campaigning was based more on what either of these men could do and the power of their party structures than their religion/ethnicity/place of origin.
Also, in 2007, the three main candidates were all Northern Muslims. Again, sentiments took a backseat to capability to develop Nigeria and party structure/campaign machinery largely.
It will also be the same when two candidates whose sentimental calculations cancel each other’s own and are running against each other – they will have to go out there and truly sell programs and plans to the voters.
In the end, we pray that the best man wins in an election that does not leave us more divided than united.