NIGERIA'S POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT BEGINS EARLY RUMBLE

As 2017 runs to a close, Nigeria's political  environment has begun to rumble and bubble, perhaps too early for my liking. Activities are picking up,  political parties are re strategizing and politicians are re-aligning. Abubakar Atiku just resigned from APC, classifying it as one-man party; which is an opinion shared by many within and without the party. Some say it is a two-man party broken into two- Buhari for the North and Tinubu for the South. People have criticized Atiku for moving too often from party to party and Atiku has defended himself as a democrat, he gravitates to the party with the best democratic credentials at any given time and that he has a mission to accomplish for Nigeria and he will use the best political platform he can find to attain it.

There have been speculations as to whether PMB will seek a re-election. Last week in Abidjan, he seemed to have indicated his intention to run. This is in character, as PMB has tended to announce much of his policy options and critical decisions from abroad. For example his famous 97/5% rule was announced from abroad. With that indication, the equations and permutations begin to assume new variables. There are rumbles of mass defection from APC to PDP. Some APC governors, especially that of Adamawa State,  are said to be in a quandary. There are rumours that Senator kwankwaso and his red cap disciples are planning mass defection to PDP. If that is true, I am hoping that the Umbrella will be large enough to accommodate them along with Shekrau's followers. The PDP convention planned for this week to elect a new chairman is already causing a lot of stir and may further polarize a party that is in dire need of healing. I have in the past given free advisory to the Party that it needs a paradigm shift to regain the confidence of the voting public. It truly needs to reinvent itself; and what I see on parade does not quite inspire hope. But that is the way of Nigerian politics- no logic, no rhyme and anything can go, though the recent Anambra elections destroyed some of the myths of Nigerian political culture.

This early arrival of the political season raises a few issues. The first,is that it looks like the odds are against many incumbents, both at the Federal and State levels. If you check around, there does not seem to be much that the incumbents can boast of. Nigeria is just coming out of recession, true, but there is still plenty of hardship in the Country forcing some Nigerians into untimely death in the Mediterranean Sea or into slavery in Libya. Many States are still unable to pay salaries as at when due, despite many rounds  of bail out. So it will be easy for opposition candidates to take advantage of these apparent slow (I am deliberately avoiding saying poor) performances across board. If we had waited till mid 2018 for example, perhaps the records would be better. That is perhaps.

The other critical issue that arises is the impact on the economy. The worrisome aspect is that for the Federal government and indeed for many States, it is dangerous to shift focus from governance to politics at this time. The economy though recovering remains in a tough situation and deserves to have all hands on deck. Perhaps, this was the reason, the President had been apparently reluctant to show his hand concerning 2019. This may also be part of the reason the last meeting of the leadership of the APC failed to declare their stand on the second term opportunity for PMB. Now that he seems to have been "forced" to indicate his interest, I am worried that things may go awry for the economy. And my worry may not be misplaced. The action of the government against Intel which has now resulted in many firms withdrawing from the Onne Free trade zone may not be completely shorn of partisan political considerations. Atiku has fired the first shots and reactions have followed.

However, the positive side of this development is that money will begin to flow to the communities. The meetings, conventions, caucuses, rallies, etc will bring cash to the communities. To be sure, the people need all the cash that can flow from the political class especially at this time. Also the appointment of delegates, agents and coordinators to the different political parties and the different contestants will create jobs for some of the boys. Therefore some hitherto idle youths will find opportunity for some income. In a country where unemployment and underemployment rate in the youth population is close to 50%, anything that can create some form of employment in a positive sense will be salutary. Some of the youths currently forced into deviant behaviour- kidnapping, armed robbery, economic migration or sex trade may redeploy to political assignments.

But when all is said and done, our political office holders must resist the temptation and pressure to abandon governance and plunge head on to political maneuvering. The tenuous recovery of the economy requires concerted and dedicated implementation of the Economic Recovery and growth plan. Divided attention this early in the electoral cycle will be gravely injurious. I am just thinking aloud!

Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR

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