Watching the waves of politicians defecting from PDP to APC and vice versa has been a bit like watching the tide ebb and flow. It became fun, almost like a little game of “Guess Who” as politicians jumped from one ship to the other and would consequently have their former (literally) partners in crime lambasting and calling them names. I also think it shows the tactics employed by the presidential candidates of both parties. I’ll take a brief look at these tactics, but first it is worth mentioning the reason why defections are so important:
To seduce the enemy’s soldiers from their allegiance and encourage them to surrender is of special service, for an adversary is more hurt by desertion than by slaughter.
– Flavius Vegetius Renatus, c. 378 AD *
If only they could employ similar tactics to the Boko Haram insurgency….
On the one hand, you have the challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari, of the APC. When governors and legislators began defecting to the APC it was by no means certain that he would emerge as presidential candidate. It was likely, but not a given by any stretch of the imagination, particularly due to Atiku Abubakar’s efforts. However, the defectors would likely have bet on the winning candidate before jumping ship.
But why change sides? We have all heard about Buhari being a principled man, but also a hard man when doling out punishment. A bit of carrot and stick, then. It would appear, however, that Buhari realized a couple of critical facts, the realization of which helped him to inspire those defections, and possibly even convinced him to run for president one last time, despite his declared intention in 2011 to never run again.
First of all, there has been agitation across the land for a while now, and he has probably judged that this is a ripe time for a regime change, so to speak. Despite the numbers and the rhetoric about a growing economy, I am hard pressed to think of a single Nigerian I know who can claim to have never had it better. From poverty to unemployment and insecurity (and not just relating to Boko Haram here), many of our troubles are illustrated nicely by this tweeted infographic:
It strikes me that this is a favorable time to be in opposition.
But that is hardly reason enough for a governor or speaker of the house to jump from one ship to the next, especially considering Buhari and his documented unwavering rejection of corruption. For one thing, some of the politicians who have flocked to his side are people that he would likely have been expected to investigate if he won the election. However, he seems to have extended an olive branch. Rather than campaign on the promise of zero tolerance for corruption, he is instead focusing on security. He has also intimated that he will not pursue too zealous a campaign to indict politicians for their past corruption.
This is highly significant because a good number of these very same politicians would have considered what their fates might be if Buhari came to power. By declaring a clean slate he has essentially arrested some of the paranoid fear that they may have been held by. It also means that, if elected, he will not be spending his years in office chasing the past. In truth, that is probably the best decision available to him because attempting to probe dozens of politicians and their cronies will take up too much time and energy which could be better spent on fixing this limping nation. Also, in a system where corruption is so entrenched, it would mean that he would face hurdles, stonewalling, roadblocks and opposition every step of the way. He could end up spending 8 years in power with nothing to show for it, and then the cycle may continue after he leaves, rather like a bear that was in hibernation.
Which is why the decision to face forward is in everyone’s best interests. It makes more sense to stop the rot first and foremost, and, of utmost importance, create alternatives to corruption. When there are sufficient alternatives, when many more have a decent enough standard of living, and when people can believe in a system that will reward their honest work, corruption will begin to fall. At that point, you can start to punish corruption.
Another important factor is that he has now drawn to his standard people who normally would not be associated with his campaign. It is important for two reasons. First because in a democratic system, he will need them in order to avoid facing a deadlock on issues, particularly when he wants to push some legislation through. Though there will always be times when a president and the legislature lock horns, it is important that they be able to work together, and leave space for a little give and take. Secondly, by extending the olive branch he is telling them that he wants to run an inclusive government regardless of tribe, religion, creed or (dare I say it?) past…indiscretions.
Finally, the more people defected to the APC, the more likely it became that even greater numbers would follow. And so it may be that the momentum of the APC, aided by these defections, would be enough to convince those who may not be so sure about their futures within the PDP that they too ought to change camps, because;
Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.
– Warren Buffett
On the other hand you have the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP. Unlike his challenger, his becoming the candidate of his party was a foregone conclusion. It would take a mighty battle or significant gumption for someone else to wrest the party ticket from a sitting president in most countries, let alone Nigeria. But the decision by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party to appoint him as sole candidate without consulting all stakeholders was unprecedented and indeed a strange one.
For one thing, as already mentioned, it is virtually inconceivable that anyone would be able to unseat him in the primaries. So why not let them try? It appears they thought that showing complete and unanimous support to the president at a time when his competence is being questioned on everything from corruption to terrorism would be a good signal to pass along. I would argue the opposite, however. In hindsight, especially considering the messy publicity that followed that decision, it may have been better to at least pretend to have a democratic process within the party. Showing that all stakeholders have been listened to would have been a good thing, particularly if they could convince said their members to vote Mr Jonathan in with as close to a 100% vote as possible.
And when they declared Jonathan their sole candidate, they apparently failed to consider that others may have wanted a say in the matter. This is evidenced by the couple of PDP members who came out with statements announcing their decision to contest the primaries anyway. While some may have laughed it off as nothing more than a slight embarrassment to the party, I see it more as a public slap by disenfranchised members. Not necessarily the members who spoke up, but the many they likely represent who would take issue with a seemingly unilateral decision. And then, to make matters worse, upon going to purchase the nomination form, these party members were reportedly informed that only one was printed.
Actions such as those would only serve to create division and resentment within the party. And this is the same party who, months prior, had faced what amounted to mutinous insurrection within its ranks from a group calling itself the new PDP (nPDP). One would have thought that that experience had taught them the value of inclusive government, particularly as one of the criticisms aimed at this government by some who should be among its most ardent supporters is that it is non-inclusive.
By this time there had already been numerous defections from within the PDP ranks to their old enemy sporting a new banner. There were some defectors going the opposite way, but not nearly as many nor nearly as high profile, though there are a handful of notable exemptions to this. The PDP, at a point, seemed to be bleeding out their support. Which makes the sole candidature decision, a move not witnessed since the days of Abacha, even more baffling. At such a time one would have expected them to strengthen bonds within the party and allow their members a voice and a choice. Rather, they seem to have focused instead on attempting to encourage defectors from the opposition party in the hopes that it will convince their own members that the party is worth remaining with. The damaging publicity that came with having high profile PDP members defect to the APC likely caused worry, leading the PDP to try to remedy the situation by having APC members defect to them as well. In doing so they essentially agreed to play the APC’s game. Poor choice. Vegetius, a writer in the Roman empire of the 4th century, expressed it best when he said;
It is the nature of war that what is beneficial to you is detrimental to the enemy and what is of service to him always hurts you. It is therefore a maxim never to do, or to omit doing, anything as a consequence of his actions, but to consult invariably your own interest only. And you depart from this interest whenever you imitate such measures as he pursues for his benefit. For the same reason, it would be wrong for him to follow such steps as you take for your advantage.
But can Buhari’s plan actually work?
Every defection is invariably met with celebration by the folk of the party being defected to. Despite having already said that having your rival’s lieutenants, so to speak, surrender and flock to your banner is of great virtue, I still think the celebrations should be somewhat tempered. While there may be some who would change parties for the sake of going with the flow, it is the odd politician who does not seek reassurances that (s)he will be of significance first before joining. Thus, a good number of the old guard will be involved at top levels within an APC government. There is an old French saying that goes:
If you add a spoonful of wine to a barrelful of sewage, you get a barrelful of sewage.
If you add a spoonful of sewage to a barrelful of sewage, you get a barrelful of sewage.
*It may seem rather odd to use military references when discussing politics but then again, this is Nigeria.