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Thursday, January 20, 2011

By NBF News
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The emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the PDP's Presidential candidate was widely expected but the margin of his victory has left some of his supporters scrambling for ways to explain why anxieties had beset them up to the last minutes of the race. There was a consensual assumption among many of Dr. Jonathan's advocates that he would receive about fifty percent of the votes from the North-Eastern and North-Western states and about seventy percent of the North-Central (or Middle Belt) votes. This would have left him comfortably in the lead and with an expected majority of South-Western and South-Eastern votes and a clean sweep in the South-South, his home constituency, victory seemed assured. The surprise however is that he made a near clean sweep of all the zones. His triumph has thus turned out to be more than was expected even among his supporters, except for whosoever was in charge of manipulating this contest.

It is hard not to believe that someone somewhere knew that something was being crafted in this wise. The general suggestion was that a genuine contest was being embarked upon and that in that event the challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar would come close to victory even if he did not win. This was the common wisdom up to the time of the contest. However rumours of dollars exchanging hands for some delegates' favour soon became the currency of the discourse and this persistent rumour has refused to go away even after the declaration of the result. In fact the conduct of the primaries was impeccable on the surface but the outcome has caused quite a furor within the party and this suggests that even though Dr. Jonathan's victory might be a sign of its continued ascendancy as a ruling party it's conduct of its affairs is still replete with irregular and dangerously unstable tactical behaviour. As a result while Atiku Abubakar's bitterness in his speech at the convention was both too lengthy and in bad taste his post contest discontent can hardly be unexpected.

The sight of the party officials acknowledging onstage that Chairman Nwodo was wrong to have flouted a court order by opening the convention, and their having to resort to fire brigade tactics to avoid further court injunctions was not pretty. The consequence of that improbable situation, which has culminated in the resignation of the Chairman barely a week after the magnificent convention indicates that in spite of the euphoria that the selection of the President has generated all is not well in the PDP as yet. If the party is going into a general election carrying such a frightening burden of intra-party confusion, Goodluck Jonathan's victory could very well be regarded by non-party members not as a sign of a new order but rather as the consequence of business-as-usual. For the fulfillment of the reform agenda that Dr. Jonathan's candidacy is supposed to symbolise he needs to gain substantial support from the general public and those of independent mind during the general elections. However in achieving this while his performance in his party's contests is of some importance it is the extent to which he can turn around the party's penchant for irregular behaviour that compromises its internal democratic principles that will really count with the larger electorate.

The nature and extent of his victory suggests that the tele-guiding hands of the state governors were very busy in the operational run-up to the convention. This was only to be expected given the nature of Nigeria's elitist democratic tradition but since there were promises of greater freedom of choice being allowed the issue of inducement being either condoned or at least tolerated might have been reduced. Instead it seems that this was consolidated rather than disapproved of by the major players in this contest. In such an event the challenger may have done better to forget the race entirely because once the Governors had made up their minds to support the status quo he had barely any chance at all.

In seeking the PDP ticket Alhaji Atiku was simply provoking a crisis based on his wish to perpetrate the very same kind of advantageous victory at the general elections that he was swamped by at the primaries. He had already shown that he was willing to use any means to test his public acceptability when he left the party during the last electoral season. However this time around he emerged as a consequence of regional vengefulness and his opponent emerged as a result of a constitutional dilemma. For him to therefore step up to the podium in a primary contest that had clearly been strongly influenced by the sitting President's willingness to grant the governors a fair measure of control and attempt to portray President Jonathan as a neophyte was incredibly wrong-headed and disrespectful.

We cannot say for certain but it is not far-fetched to assume that Alhaji Atiku may have lost quite a few votes in some parts of the South and even in the North because of this. The margin of the eventual victory indicates that the victory had already been sealed by then however and what we wonder is whether the party executive under Nwodo was aware of this. While it has not been suggested that either of the aspirants were privy to the court proceedings that embarrassed the party chairman it seems certain that the distraction caused by his problems did not help matters as far ensuring that the contest could be seen to be circumspect in conduct as well as preparation. There is no doubt that this was one of the most disciplined and transparently conducted party conventions that we have seen in recent years especially for the PDP but this was largely because the security arrangements were draconian.

The majority of those who managed to reach the venue had been screened and re-screened inordinately and so they were certain to be in the main those who had been carefully selected by their party executives at the state level with the guidance of the governors. They did not come to Abuja with independent minds but rather with carefully groomed intentions. Alhaji Atiku if he believed that he had a greater chance than he turned out to have might have been misled. However while the proper conduct of the polling in the venue might have occurred it is clear that the process of inducement and guidance had been put in place quite effectively before they embarked upon that aspect of the exercise.

For the challenger to claim that he was neither aware of nor prepared for this is for him to act like the kind of neophyte that he seemed to suggest Dr. Jonathan was. He clearly thought that he had been able to sew up the Northern states without receiving firm pledges from their governors and this turned out to be a grave mistake on his part. It will be sad if this affront to his democratic dreams perpetrated by his cohorts in the PDP should lead him into trying to whip up xenophobic sentiments among his kinsmen in order to undermine the likelihood of Dr. Jonathan's victory at the polls later this year. Alhaji Atiku should withdraw any support for such tactics from any of his disgruntled followers and show the statesmanship that he so vehemently claimed as his own in his speech. In the end he must be aware that while he was badly defeated the contest in which he participated was no different from what he encouraged in the past when he was a favoured member of the establishment.