This is an interesting time for Nigerian politics. There is now a complete abandonment of any pretensions that 2019 is not the main determinant of the moves and counter moves of the two dominant political parties – the ruling APC, and the opposition PDP, which is eager to come back to power. Just like a good novel is sustained by suspense, political plots are also sustained by suspense and intrigues: what for instance will happen when the National Assembly reconvenes? Will the leadership of the National Assembly, especially that of the Senate, be changed? Will Saraki outmanoeuvre his traducers once again – as he has repeatedly done since 2015 when he became President of the Senate against the wishes of his then party, the APC? What happens when the President returns from his ‘medical vacation’ in London? Will he reverse the sacking of Lawal Daura? What if, for some reasons Buhari decides to excuse himself (or is excused by circumstances) from being the APC flag bearer for 2019?
Attempting to answer questions such as the above will be akin to asking to be admitted into some of the party caucuses and top secret meetings of political cabals where some of the deadliest political plots and intrigues are hatched. The secret manoeuvring for advantages, itself the lifeblood of politics is probably what Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America had in mind when he declared that in politics, nothing happens by chance. As you plot and anticipate the moves of your opponent, so your opponent plots and also anticipates your own moves. In this game – just like in the games played by nations- politicians rarely show their hands and their public pronouncements may either be clever decoys or completely different from their intentions. It may be all confusing for the innocent bystanders, emotionally draining for the partisans and physically and financially debilitating for the gladiators if they are on the receiving end. It is the summation of the possible outcomes from the various intrigues, plots and counter plots that people who do not have the requisite tick skins to absorb the hassles are usually advised not to dabble into politics. As the saying goes, if you cannot take the heat, please stay away from the kitchen.
Political analysts try to deconstruct the plots and intrigues and draw inferences from them. Unlike pastors, Imams and men of God, they do not claim to have heard from God and the inferences from their analyses may be completely wrong. But they know that quite often political outcomes are a product of the interaction of the strategies of the political belligerents.
In this piece my interest is on how the APC and the PDP have tried to frame each other – as they struggle for political mileage.
The first framing by the leadership of the APC after winning the 2015 presidential election was to portray some of its members who tried to achieve their own political ambitions as ‘disloyal’ or people who put their personal ambition above what it variously called ‘national interest’ or interest of the party. This has been the party’s portraiture of Bukola Saraki who emerged the President of the Senate against its wishes. Forgotten by the APC is that politicians are in the game primarily to actualize their individual ambitions (irrespective of the mask they use to cover this fact). Politicians believe that striving to actualize their ambitions is not incompatible with the ‘national interest’ – very much like the logic of the invisible hand mechanism of Adam Smith where it is argued that in a free market, every actor pursuing its selfish interest, will, through the unobservable market forces of demand and supply of goods, lead to efficiency. For them, Buhari sought for the presidency of the country unsuccessfully three times and succeeded in the fourth attempt with their help so why would it be a sin for them to actualize their own political ambitions? The argument here is that when politicians plead with some to place the ‘national interest’ above their ambitions, this must be seen and interpreted within a context because it is sometimes part of the framing to blackmail, persuade or whip some into line. I am not arguing that everyone must realize his or her own political ambition but that politicians can also use it as a tool of blackmail – as seemed to be the case between the APC and Saraki. This is more so for a party like the APC which was more like a special purpose vehicle aimed primarily at removing Goodluck Jonathan from power.
For the defeated PDP, the APC embarked on aggressive de-marketing of the party with revelations of the humongous sums of money allegedly stolen by the party and government officials. It talked repeatedly of the party’s 16 ‘wasted’ years in office, the level of corruption it allegedly promoted, all of which the APC constantly reminded Nigerians ‘brought us into this mess’. However the APC over did this, especially as it was not convincing that it was doing better than the defeated PDP either in performance or even on the corruption front. Not only was the endless attack on the PDP (which continued till about three years after it lost power) seen as buck passing, it created other challenges for the government. For instance, by constantly attacking the Jonathan government, it unwittingly stoked our identity politics, which led to the emergence of the Niger Delta Avengers and the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta. Oil production crumbled and the country entered into recession, creating an image problem for the government from which it has not fully recovered.
As the PDP gradually bounced back, it found allies in the embattled leadership of the National Assembly, and began framing the APC as a bully and an anti-democratic group while portraying itself as a victim of the government’s security agencies (such as the DSS and police) and of its anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC. Never mind that the party used similar tactics as the APC for the 16 years that it was in power!
The PDP’s new found role as a victim however seems to be working for it and is of course helped by the aggressive rhetoric of APC’s new chairman Adams Oshiomhole. For instance after initially distancing itself from the siege on the National Assembly by the DSS, the party reversed itself by arguing that the DSS was right to lay siege at the premises of the National Assembly because its investigation had found that Saraki was planning to breach the peace by importing arms into the National Assembly. What was not resolved by this reversal by the APC was whether the sack of Daura was consequently done in error and whether the party would support such strong arm tactics in future. Be that as it may, that reversal by the APC feeds into PDP’s portraiture of the party as a bully.
Again since the emergence of Adams Oshiomhole as the national chairman of the APC, the party has ratcheted up its rhetoric about removing the Senate President. Oshiomhole has variously argued that since Saraki’s defection to the PDP, it was unacceptable for a minority party to produce the President of the Senate and that Saraki’s impeachment was a done deal. The PDP variously countered that it would require 2/3 majority of the members of the Senate to remove Saraki as Senate President and went ahead to publish names of 49 Senators who had signed against any move to ‘illegally’ remove Saraki (to prove to the world that Saraki can only be removed as Senate President through bullying by APC). The PDP also contests APC’s narrative that it holds the majority in the Senate just as the APC equally contests PDP’s version that it will take 2/3 of all the 109 Senators to effect a leadership change at the Senate. The party argues that what is required is only 2/3 of the members present.
While Oshiomhole’s brand of rhetoric feeds into the PDP’s bully versus victim narrative, (and therefore on the face of it gives it advantage), some APC sympathizers however believe that though Oshiomhole may not be the most polished politician out there, his methods are likely to be more effective than those of his predecessors in containing the PDP in the run-up to the 2019 elections. Such people see 2019 as a looming political warfare which requires a political warrior like Oshiomhole. PDP sympathizers on the other hand are hoping that Oshiomhole’s strategies will backfire by accentuating its portraiture of the APC as a bully and an anti-democratic octopus that requires a coalition of democratic forces both locally and internationally to defeat.