An interesting characteristic of politicians is the optimism with which they approach elections, each one believing that he or she would win.
I have been following the scramble for the presidential ticket in the 2019 elections and have not been disappointed in the level of optimism expressed by various aspirants from various political parties. When a politician is not confirming their own victory in an election that is five full months away, they will be boasting about the sure victory of their political party. This is particularly true of the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party and their numerous aspirants to the presidential ticket.
Yet, only one candidate will be elected President at the end of the day. It may appear presumptuous at the moment to predict who that candidate will be. For one thing, party primaries have yet to take place for the election of candidates for the different political parties. Moreover, five months is a long time in presidential politics. Some major event or revelation may occur within the period to swing voters away from a particular candidate to another.
Nevertheless, it is still possible even now to hazard a guess as to who the winning candidate might be. If the elections were held today, the chances that President Muhammadu Buhari would win a second term are relatively high, regardless of his perceived shortcomings. Three key reasons might be advanced for this possibility, even in the absence of scientific polling.
First, there is some talk about allowing Buhari to have a second term so he may serve out the North’s eight-year turn, based on an unwritten convention about power rotation between the North and the South. According to this thinking, a fresh Northern candidate might wish to serve two terms, if Buhari were not the candidate. This would give the North 12 years of presidential power. In pursuance of this line of thinking, the PDP is out of the equation since it automatically would field such a fresh candidate Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP was probably reacting to this line of thinking when he promised that he would serve only one term if elected President.
Second, there are those who think that the APC should be tried for four more years. After all, the PDP had 16 years with much less to show for socio-economic development and poverty reduction than for looting and a mismanaged economy. In this thinking, it was the PDP that created the mess that the APC administration has been trying to clear for the past three years. Why not give it four more years?
True, neither of these arguments has to do with Buhari’s performance in office, which, many would argue, should be the litmus test for his re-election. There is again a school of thought which argues that Buhari has done enough in the circumstances to deserve a re-election. Some would argue that he took the economy out of recession and has been able to recoup funds that otherwise would have disappeared. His insistence on the Treasury Single Account is often cited as an example of good financial control.
Still others would argue that his anti-corruption fight has been partially successful by raking in a substantial amount of looted funds. Unfortunately, however, the Buhari administration has been very poor in communicating the achievements of the anti-corruption crusade. We don’t know how much money has been recovered. The majority of indicted officials are from the opposition party.
Significant strides have also been taken in agriculture, especially in the area of rice production. Again, however, the controversy surrounding the herdsmen’s disruption of farming activities, especially in the North-Central states, has suppressed whatever strides have been taken in the agricultural sector.
There are also various ongoing infrastructural projects, notably, the construction of roads and bridges in different parts of the country and the resuscitation of the railway system. The problem is that work has been rather slow on many of the projects. Besides, many of the projects are located far beyond the reach of many voters, who think that the government has not been performing well, if at all.
For many of such voters, the negative campaign by the PDP and other opposition parties may well be all they may know about the Buhari administration, given the very poor publicity the administration has given to its achievements. Many would agree that the APC has a much worse propaganda machine as a party in power than when it was in the opposition. However, there is still room for the government to communicate its achievements directly to the voters. If it is able to do so effectively, then there might be a chance of voting for Buhari on his performance in office.
Perhaps, the greatest factor in Buhari’s favour today is the inability of the opposition parties, especially the PDP, to organise themselves well enough and perform effectively as opposition parties that the voters might see as viable alternatives. The PDP in particular has been abysmally disorganised. Its members spent nearly two years fighting themselves. Now that they appear to have come together as one party, nearly every bigwig in the party wants to be President in 2018.
Given the political pedigree of many of the aspirants, none seems to be outstanding enough to be considered ahead of Buhari. Even more importantly is the looming primary battle among the numerous aspirants that may break the fragile cord that delicately binds the members at the moment. Many voters have seen through the party’s bigwigs as power seekers, who would go to any length to seek the party’s nomination.
That’s why many observers think that the election is for Buhari to lose. This is, however, not a cheque that the APC can take to the bank as its value may not buy them Aso Rock in February 2019. The party has a lot of work to do to be able to return Buhari to power.