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IS NIGERIA READY FOR CONSENSUS GOVERNMENT?

By NBF News
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The run-up to the forthcoming elections slated for April has so far been marked by remarkably less acrimony than had been predicted by many pundits (including myself) at least in public. It appears that the main contenders for the Presidency, Goodluck Jonathan, retired General Buhari, and former EFCC czar Nuhu Ribadu have agreed to reduce the hostile rhetoric that had begun to seem commonplace in the early stages of the political season.

In fact as we look back at those stages it is clear such utterances as Dr. Jonathan's characterisation of South-Western zone opposition politicians as 'rascals' and divisive regional statements by both Buhari and Ribadu were actually less provocative than many media commentators tried to make them out to be.

The overall sentiment expressed in the political vocabulary of the major players so far has been the desire for accommodation and the preservation of national unity. Those who have been openly sharpening the knives of dissent and regional separatism in their utterances have certainly not been core political operatives in any of the major parties.

There have been some mischievous statements made by a few disgruntled operators but the overall sentiment, as we have said before, has been conciliatory rather than confrontational. The irony of this is that if the forthcoming election is by the technical incompetence and manipulative opportunism that has marked previous exercises the much needed post-election climate of conciliation will be hard to sustain. This will provide a basis for those who have participated in good faith to allege that their belief in the fairness of the process has been betrayed. In that case any decision to challenge the outcome might spill over from formal protest to popular dissent.

The likelihood of such a consequence has been increased by the outpouring of interest shown by ordinary citizens during the registration of voters. The signals emanating from this operation indicate that Nigerians are becoming increasingly aware and protective of their fundamental rights especially over the issue of political choice. It is certainly true that the comparative relevance of the issues and policies that rival leadership aspirants may present as the basis for their eligibility will form a portion of the motive for contemporary political choice. However it is frankly more important today for political aspirants in Nigeria to relate to the electorate in the generic sense as representatives of local and even chauvinistic interests in the search for political legitimacy rather than purely as disinterested and selfless advocates of the public good.

This is because the party system as it has been developed ever since the return to civilian rule in 1999 has been one based on the distribution of privileges and rewards rather than one based on the advocacy of ideological principles. The PDP can genuinely be regarded as being in the vanguard of the existing system in Nigerian politics precisely because it has codified and consolidated the management of privilege and power most effectively of all the parties that are contending for political power in Nigeria today. However by this same token the gathering of resistance and public disenchantment around certain personalities has also arisen as a result of this syndrome and recent events have indicated that there is a growing opposition movement as well as a quantitative distribution of separate interests in the build up towards the elections. The huge and excitable audiences that have accompanied some rallies for the challengers especially Buhari in the North suggests that there could be an electoral revolt in the making and the ruling party had better be prepared to accommodate the onset of a reversal in its fortunes after the ballots are counted.

It is generally assumed by most commentators that we have read in Nigeria that if you assert that the fortunes of the ruling party can be reversed then you have either decided that President Jonathan will lose or are promoting the overturning of the status quo. We do not believe that this is automatically so. The PDP is still the most organised and truly 'national' political party in Nigeria and in terms both of historical strategic objectives and plain political relevance the candidacy of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan could be presented as being miles ahead of the electoral assumptions of a former military dictator, or a young public servant whose short term pof office as an appointee charged with doing police work is his major claim to fame.

However the very fact that both these challengers have generated credible public response in their outings and that Nigeria's political future appears to hinge on whether the incumbent can stave off their challenge or not illustrates the precarious credibility that the democratic order in the nation is still labouring under. Without a doubt Dr; Jonathan has [proven himself to be a steady helmsman even though his detractors or at least Nigeria's most consistent critics have been very vocal in describing his stewardship as more of the same from the past. The ship of state is a leaky vessel which he inherited and his attempts to steer it out of troubled is certainly not yet completely successful. He has had to carry along a crew that might in itself be inclined to tip the vessel over into the turbulent waters of old styloe privilege and corruption but there is no reason to believe that he does not mean it when he proposes to transform the nature of governance at least to the extent that the old ways of doing things can be gradually transformed. The suggestion that his main challengers will carry out a sudden revolution is to say the least sensational if not foolhardy.

It is much more likely that a gradual transformation based on pragmatism, which is Dr. Jonathan's strong suit would emerge if he has a close victory that forces him to cooperate with members of the legislature from all parties more effectively after the April polls. The best consequence of the next elections will therefore be one of consensus governance in the event that the PDP loses ground in some states but manages to hold on to a nationwide majority and the Presidency if even by a reduced margin. We have already discussed in this space the possibility and challenges of a run-off after the first ballot but even if this does not occur a slim margin of victory for the ruling party's candidate would indicate that there is substantial disenchantment with its monolithic rule and this should inspire it to develop a more rational form of empowerment of the people in its governance.

This is what will open up the need for consensus in the response of the party to its mandate to lead the process of ensuring that the democratic system survives in Nigeria. The separation of powers in the nation between the executive and the legislature has already begun to fray at the edges as it has become clear that the fiscal rights of disbursement and allocation which rest with the executive can be used to subordinate and even threaten the privileges of the legislature. Because of this Nigeria's democratic order has become the custodian of the privileges of its officers more than the guardian of the rights of its people. The forthcoming election could provide an opportunity for the people to claw back some of their rights by ensuring that the results reflect their true feelings without actually enshrining the assumptions of false prophets. Nigeria needs a government of consensus and the people have the tool (their vote) with which to install it.