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Things fall Apart, but is the President aware? by Atedo N A Peterside con

Back page Article Published in THIS DAY newspaper, 11 February 2019

Anap Foundation has commissioned opinion polls for every presidential poll and many governorship polls since 2011. The results of the extensive polls conducted, on our behalf by NOI Polls, for the 2019 presidential election indicate that respondents who were undecided and/or unwilling to disclose their candidate (the Undecided) at the time of the poll (January ending) were a whopping 38 per cent of the total voters’ sample. The poll findings confirm that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar (Atiku) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are clearly in a two-horse race, as all other presidential candidates polled embarrassingly insignificant numbers.

The gender split of the Undecided between women and men is 49:29. The geographical split of the Undecided is also uneven – it is highest in the South East (SE), South West (SW) and South South (SS) zones, with Undecided votes of 53 per cent, 49 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. Conversely, the North-East (NE), North-West (NW) and North-Central (NC) zones were at the lower end of the spectrum, with Undecided votes of 22 per cent, 25 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

Voter apathy is strongest in the SE zone where only 61 per cent of the electorate say that they have given some consideration to the forthcoming elections, followed by the SS (73 per cent) and SW (79 per cent). In the NW, NE and NC Zones, the comparable statistics are 87 per cent, 83 per cent and 80 per cent. This is unsurprising, because a choice of two elderly Northern Muslim candidates in 2019 might have alienated quite a few in the South.

That PMB actually had an overall lead in our polls is cold comfort for his supporters because further analysis confirms that only approximately one-third of the electorate nationwide claimed to be certain to back his candidacy. Atiku lagged behind PMB, but the fact that the Undecided votes are concentrated outside the two zones where PMB is strongest (NE and NW) must give Atiku cause to believe that PMB’s lead might not be unassailable after all.

The respondents to our detailed poll tell us that the top six reasons for backing PMB are: Continuity (28 per cent), Fight against Corruption (13 per cent), Integrity (13 per cent), Improving Security (12 per cent), Helping the Poor (8 per cent) and being a Preferred Choice (6 per cent). Only 2 per cent of PMB’s backers are doing so because they expect a “Better Economy”.

Meanwhile, the top six reasons for backing Atiku are: Change in Governance (39 per cent), Better Economy (20 per cent), Better Governance (11 per cent), Preferred Choice (8 per cent), Past Political Records (7 per cent) and Restructuring (5 per cent). But then both “Continuity” and “Change” have been defined poorly by PMB and Atiku respectively and so they mean different things to different voters.

That only 2 per cent of his own supporters expect a Better Economy from PMB is understandable. Records show that in every single year that PMB has been in office as head of state (including 1984), he managed to bequeath a reduction in real income per capita to the populace. In effect, his rule or reign through the years has been virtually synonymous with increased poverty levels.

If PMB’s strength was supposed to be plugging leakages from the federal government purse and, if his political opponents are supposed to be “looters”, it is hard for some to understand why the national economy often performs better when supposed looters are in charge. The answer to this puzzle lies in the structure of the Nigerian economy: All three tiers of government combined now account for only 8.54 per cent of National Aggregate Demand as at June 30, 2018 (latest figures available). Conversely, the private sector now accounts for a gigantic 91.46 per cent of Aggregate Demand. These are statistics that many business savvy people have sensed intuitively and that is why more and more businesses have stopped bothering to supply goods and/or services to the phenomenally corrupt government sector.

It is not the plugging of government sector leakages that really jumpstarts economic activity. Rather, it is the institutionalisation of an enabling business environment that stimulates all-round business confidence and new investment activity from the private sector that generates economic growth. Buharinomics (if there is any such coherent thought or body of logic over and above random and irrational/wild actions) is unpopular because it concentrates unduly on 8.54 per cent of the economy (government sector), whilst neglecting and/or punishing and bashing or brow-beating the much broader 91.46 per cent of the economy (the private sector).

The biggest negative of Buharinomics is allowing rogue and/or lily-livered and incompetent regulators to harass innocent private sector businesses as they try to and shake them down for unwarranted and horrendously large fines by peddling falsehoods against them. The business community then takes fright and investors flee, thereby sending the economy into a tailspin. A recent case in point was the preposterous $8 billion allegation against MTN. This is where PMB’s kitchen cabinet have let him down terribly. An old man relying on an official deputy or his chief of staff as his right hand men is normal and permissible/expected. Supplanting or subverting these responsible officials via undue deference to a coterie of nepotistic and/or shady influencers who exercise real power without responsibility in the president’s name is PMB’s Achilles Heel. Discerning Nigerians do not want a “de facto” president (or two) who never come out of the shadows to subject their archaic ideas to public scrutiny and debate.

It could all have been so different for PMB. All he had to do was execute an anti-corruption drive systematically without bias or favour, uphold the rule of law e.g. release the brutalised Shi’ite leader and stop rogue regulators from harassing the private sector. Then, many would have ignored the fact that Nigeria, under his watch, now leads the world in extreme poverty rankings and also threatens to become the illiteracy capital of the world, measured in terms of the number of school age children who are not in school.

Curiously, the best descriptions of PMB’s failures come from his family, friends and loyalists. They are the ones who told us everything that we feared but were unsure about e.g. that he is not in charge, but is controlled by two or three men, or that his anti-corruption drive is jaundiced because he uses insecticides on his political enemies, whilst applying deodorant on his own equally guilty associates and friends. By bastardising the anti-corruption drive, the heads of the security agencies did Buhari a great disservice. Party faithful who publicly invite the biggest rogues to come over to the APC (and many obliged) in order to enjoy immunity poisoned the waters further and make us wonder if our president (supposedly high on integrity) is really aware of what is going on around him.

Meanwhile, the strongest arguments against Atiku were also those that were bandied around by some of his new friends who were his erstwhile political enemies. All of a sudden, they would have us forget everything bad that they told us before about Atiku.

To hold off the Atiku challenge, PMB needs substantial votes from sections of the country that he has indirectly and needlessly told he can never trust to head sensitive security posts. Meanwhile, at election time, the cabal/kitchen cabinet have taken a temporary back seat, whilst leaving the “untrusted” to lead from the front. The cabal are presumably waiting in the wings to take over and dominate proceedings once again, if victory is achieved. If the baboons locked the monkeys out from the dinner table for long periods, when the monkeys were still required to lead the re-election campaign, it is unclear why the monkeys would be let back in after a second and final term is secured.

PMB’s campaign has been beset with missteps and personal blunders. Even when interviewers chose to inexplicably handle him with kid’s gloves, he managed to misunderstand basic questions and/or to commit one gaffe after another on the campaign trail, thereby portraying himself (to Undecided and swing voters) more like a patient in need of help/sympathy, than a political icon/strongman.

Atiku has not taken full advantage of PMB’s missteps either. When PDP’s rickety campaign platforms are not collapsing on account of overcrowding, they have often projected a song and dance spectacle that may be fun to watch for sycophants, but fails to convince the huge army of undecided/swing voters that the change Atiku promises will be in the right direction. Projecting an air of “business as usual” is in my humble opinion a needless gamble that needs to be corrected.

In the belief that every Saint has a past and every Sinner, a future, Atiku would sound more convincing if he was bold enough to admit that he is a past sinner who is now “born again” – a later day economic reformer that is no longer interested in perpetuating past errors which include a measure of profligacy. He could then dare anybody without sin to come forward and throw the first stone. Tough statements on what he will no longer tolerate and the potrayal of a lean and professional team around him would probably be more reassuring and appealing to the Undecided than the monotonous carnival atmosphere that currently trails him.

So, PMB is in the lead, but Atiku has momentum because of some recent important endorsements and also on account of the fact that the bulk of the Undecided reside in the four zones where PMB is weakest.

In the final week before the presidential election, the APC faces a “Catch 22” situation. They can hide PMB away to ensure no more embarrassing public gaffes and gamble that Atiku (even with a powerful closing campaign) will still not catch and overtake PMB. Or they can send PMB out on a final push on the campaign trail and risk more gaffes which may create further doubts in the minds of the huge army of undecided voters and tilt them towards Atiku. Wheeling PMB out without allowing him to speak is a terrible option. A case of dammed if you do and dammed also if you don’t?

Meanwhile, our selected governorship polls show APC leading PDP in Kano and Lagos States, but with PDP leading APC in Rivers and Sokoto States. Full details of all these poll results will shortly be made available on the Anap Foundation website.