The voting pattern of the Yoruba people of South-West geopolitical zone in the 2015 presidential election may determine who wins and who loses. In 2011, even though the zone voted the Action Congress of Nigeria in all the elections, they voted more for the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the presidential election. That helped in no small way to swing victory for President Goodluck Jonathan.
Many had fingered the ACN leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for that massive vote for Jonathan because of the last-minute discussions he reportedly had with the latter. But that would be saying that the South-West people are sheep that don’t have their own mind. Weeks before the 2011 presidential election, even while talks were on between the Congress for Progressive Change and the ACN, many South-West people had made it clear that they would vote for Jonathan for the Presidency, even though they would vote the ACN in all other elections. The appreciable population of other non-Yoruba residents in the South-West also helped to increase the number of votes Jonathan garnered in the zone.
President Jonathan has not stated clearly whether he will contest the 2015 election. But his unspoken words seem to point more to the fact that he will contest than the other way. Even though he completed the remaining term of his former boss, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, after he died in office on May 5, 2010, and won an election in 2011, he is constitutionally qualified to run for office in 2015.
Ethnicity and religion play a great role in Nigerian politics, and they will play a role in the 2015 election. The North, especially the North-East and the North-West zones, has never hidden its sadness and anger over the loss of presidential power as a result of the illness and death of Yar’Adua. The North feels that it was cheated out of power. Some even alleged that the cheating was pre-planned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo with his choice of Yar’Adua, who was known to have a healthcondition. Supporters of power rotation felt that Jonathan should have completed Yar’Adua’s term and allowed a Northerner to contest the presidency, so that the North could complete its eight years just like the South. There was some sense of justice in that viewpoint.
But Jonathan and many of his South-South people and some other Nigerians who opposed power rotation felt that given that the South-South or the entire Niger Delta region, the producer of Nigerian oil wealth, had not produced an elected president in Nigeria, even though the North had produced same many times, he should run for office for the sake of justice and fairness. There was also some sense of justice in that point of view. In addition, many wondered if Jonathan were not to contest for the presidency, would the Northerner that would take over from him do only a term and leave office, since Yar’Adua had done about three years of his four-year tenure?
There are those who believe that the rise in violence of the Boko Haram sect after the 2011 elections had direct links with that feeling of loss and cheating that the North had. Even though Boko Haram started as a religious sect, there is no denying that it has had political influence in recent times. Some people have even said that if Jonathan were to drop his political ambition for 2015, Boko Haram would fizzle out.
Before the run-up to the 2011 elections, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and his Congress for Progressive Change, the major challenger to President Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party then, handled the merger talks with the Action Congress of Nigeria with some presumptuousness. They presumed that Jonathan would not win the election on the first ballot, since the South-South, South-East and some North-Central voters would vote for him, while the North-West (with its perceived high population) and the North-East would vote for Buhari, with the South-West voting for Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN, thereby making the election go into a second ballot. Even though the South-West vote was split between Jonathan and Ribadu, but with more going to Jonathan, that made it easier for him to win on the first ballot. That seemed to have taught Buhari and the CPC a lesson that working with the Yoruba and ACN was not just necessary but critical, if the PDP would ever be beaten. But it is true that the South-West vote did not come from only the Yoruba, given the high population of other-Southerners in the South-West, especially in Lagos.
And so, rather than wait till 2015 to commence merger talks, the CPC, ACN, ANPP and a part of the All Progressive Grand Allaince began early, which is a great plus. And rather than the hard lines that characterised the 2011 mergertalks, the talks for the merger are being treated with more respect for each other as well as without any pre-conditions. Anybody who says that the PDP is not rattled by the merger talks of the All Progressives Congress is economical with the truth. The reason the PDP has ruled for 14 unbroken years is because the opposition parties had displayed disunity, pride and greed. Having a united opposition against the PDP is the first step towards thwarting the fulfilment of the prediction of Chief Vincent Ogbulafor in 2008 that the ruling party would rule Nigeria for 60 years!
For the 2015 elections, however, many scenarios exist. First, Jonathan may decide not to run, which is most unlikely. He may present himself for the primaries and lose to another candidate, given that some governors and former President Olusegun Obasanjo are working against his ambition. Even though this scenario will further show our democracy as exemplary, it is also far-fetched, as no Nigerian President has lost his party’s primaries.
So, if Jonathan is running in 2015, the APC will be concerned about the team that can beat him. Buhari, Ribadu and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau – all former presidential candidates of the merging parties – are possible candidates. Even a PDP member – the incumbent Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal – has been mentioned as a possible candidate of the APC. In the South, there are Governors Babatunde Raji Fashola, Adams Oshiomhole, Rochas Okorocha, Tinubu and Senator Chris Ngige.
The combination that will likely attract the highest number of votes from the North and South-West may be that of Buhari-Fashola or Buhari-Tinubu. If Indeed Tambuwal is an option, combining with these two men from the South-West would also attract votes for the party. But there is a snag in that. The key figures from the North are all Muslims and the two key figures from the South-West are also Muslims. In the South-West, religion does not matter in politics. But in other parts of Nigeria, it does. Presenting a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2015 will not go down well with the North-Central, South-East, and South-South. Even though it worked in 1993 for the Abiola-Kingibe ticket, it will attract deep suspicion now. In 1993, even though there had been religious crises in Nigeria, there had not been anything on the scale of the current Boko Haram carnage. This is a serious point that the PDP will use – albeit surreptitiously — to campaign against the APC.
There is also the possibility of using an Igbo or South-Southerner as presidential or vice-presidential candidate to blunt the influence of Jonathan in those two regions. But the minus is that the North is so much focused on the Presidency now that any arrangement that does not have a Northerner as the presidential candidate in 2015 may not attract deep interest. A North-Central Christian presidential candidate with a Southern Muslim running mate is also an option. But it is no longer a secret that the one-North stance of the North died around 1975 when Gen. Yakubu Gowon was overthrown. The destiny of the North-Central or Middle Belt, as they are better known, and the rest of the North is not inextricably linked together anymore. The bloodletting in Plateau State since 2001 has worsened the situation. A Middle Belt Christian candidate will not sound to the North-East and North-West – which are most times referred to as the “core North” to further underscore that division – as a candidate that has come to assuage the feeling of cheating that the “core North” suffered by the loss of the presidency due to Yar’Adua’s death.
The voting pattern of the South-East, South-South and North-Central may not change much if Jonathan contests in 2015. He may not garner as many votes as he did in 2011, depending on his performance and perception between now and 2015. If he is perceived as “improved” in his performance between now and 2015, his chances will be brighter. But if the APC makes a strategic choice of presidential candidate and running mate, the APC will be a major threat. Whatever happens, whoever the Yoruba vote for en masse may have an advantage. And it is obvious that the PDP and APC are aware of this and are consequently courting the Yoruba.
The Yoruba have another advantage. They are the only group in Nigeria that has been happy being in the opposition. Other ethnic groups usually feel like a fish out of water whenever out of power. So they will take their time to decide on whom to support. Gradually, the Yoruba are moving to the centre of Nigerian politics on their own terms. Even if they fail to rule in 2015 because of the unwritten agreement of rotation of power between the North and the South, they will have a strong hand in determining who occupies Aso Rock come 2015.