The big impact of tribal, religious and regional affiliations on our political preferences is a fallout of a governance system that has failed to work
Five Vice Presidential candidates took to the podium in Abuja last Friday to express their views on issues relating to the governance of the country. Although the occasion was tagged a vice presidential debate and it had incumbent Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (APC); Ms. Kadijah Abdullahi (ANN); Mr. Ganiyu Galadima (ACPN); Ms. Umma Gesto (YPP) and Mr. Peter Obi (PDP) in attendance, the event, which was organised by the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG), did come across as a debate as such. It was actually an expression of the views of the candidates essentially on the nation’s economy, how the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has handled it so far and how to get it out of the woods.
The presence of representatives of only five political parties out of the 91 registered parties purportedly contesting in the 2019 polls is telling on the chances of the 86 other parties in the contest. More importantly, the domination of the debate by the APC candidate and that of the leading opposition party, the PDP, shows that the battle for the Presidency, and thereby, the Vice Presidency, is really just a contest between these two leading parties.
The Vice Presidential Debate is just as important as the Presidential Debate as whoever becomes Vice President could well be a president in waiting. This is more so with Nigeria’s experience with ailing presidents which has made the hitherto almost spare tyre deputies stand in for them for significant lengths of time. Nigeria had the experience when the one time ex-president, Umaru Yar’Adua, was ill for a long time and eventually died in office. President Muhammad Buhari was also away from office for several months during which Vice President Osinbajo had to stand in for him. The Nigerian Constitution provides for the vice president to serve as Acting President wherever the President is out of the country or unable to discharge the functions of his office for whatever reasons.
But, beyond the question of why only five vice presidential candidates were represented out of the 91 political parties in the country, and the absence of the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Allowance (APGA), which has Anambra State in its kitty, the protests of those people who had the vice presidential candidates of their own parties excluded from the debate not did not amount to anything, as it is not possible to have had 91 candidates debating, anyway.
As to the meat of the debate, there is hardly any ideological difference between Nigerian political parties. If you ask me, the difference between them is hardly different from that between six and a half dozen. That is why we find people crisscrossing from one party to other. They move to whatever party their bread is better buttered, or is likely to be better buttered at any time. Never mind their public posturing!
One thing that many of those who have reacted to the nitty-gritty of the debate have harped on, however, is the bandying of facts and figures by the candidates of the two leading parties. Osinbajo has been accused of a fixation on the immediate past PDP regime and the rolling out of facts and figures that may not be exactly correct to justify his claims. Yet, another set of people have been attacking the PDP candidate, Peter Obi, for also giving wrong figures on so many issues, among them, his claim that Nigeria has two million vehicles, when the nation in actual fact has 12 million.
The Internet, since the debate, has virtually been set on fire by foot soldiers of the two leading VP candidates who have either been itemizing the wrong claims and mistakes of the other candidate or eulogizing the performance of their own preferred candidate.
Interestingly, the Peter Obi campaign office has released the sources of some of the data he reeled out, but strangely left out those figures on the specific issues on which he was challenged. Nevertheless, one glaring thing from reactions to the performance of the two leading candidates in the debate is the fact that they appear based on the personal sympathies, if not tribal affiliations, of those making the assessments.
Thus, Vice President Osinbajo has been largely adjudged to have performed excellently by his APC members and sympathizers, while Peter Obi was well appraised by PDP sympathizers essentially from the PDP strongholds, even when they masquerade under fake names. While praising their preferred candidates, the supporters of the two leading candidates fail to see anything good in the performance of the other candidate. The strong division largely along tribal lines in the support for candidates of political parties points to a serious fault line in our political development. That is why we have a situation where voters largely vote for candidates with whom they share tribal affiliations while failing to appreciate, and seriously condemn, candidates from parts of the country other than their own. This is a trait in our political development that needs to be jettisoned.
While this may all seem part of politicking, there is a need for greater objectivity and an ability to appreciate the efforts and good points of opposition candidates, even as efforts are made to project the good points of one’s preferred candidates. The big impact of tribal, religious and regional affiliations on our political preferences is undoubtedly a fallout of a governance system that has failed to work for the majority of our people. We have a situation where people are hardly interested in what a political office holder is doing, but in whether the holder of such office is from their part of their country. This is largely because the people tend to believe that they are only able to benefit from the gains of any office when someone to whom they can relate, either as a friend, family, or village member, occupies such office.
This should not be so if all political office holders work for the good of the whole country, and do not concentrate the benefits of such office on their personal friends, cronies and people from their own part of the country. Politics in many of the highly developed countries have gone beyond these unhealthy primordial cleavages.
As we move towards the 2019 general election which is just about two months away, voters will do well to take a dispassionate view of the two leading parties and vote, not along primordial lines, but according to their understanding of the capabilities and antecedents of the candidates and parties on offer.
If Nigeria must break away from the poor performance of its public office holders that have brought the country to this sorry pass, our people must look beyond the “my brother” syndrome; interrogate the antecedents and claims of the contestants and pick the ones that are best able to bring the country to a new day where peace, progress and national development can be realised.