By Prof Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Politics is all about a contest of ideas and programmes. When persons contest for a position, it is not possible for all of them to win one seat. A victor must emerge. Two persons cannot occupy the same seat at the same time. It is in the character of human beings to swallow the pill of defeat with disappointment. Some take a loss to the extreme- bitterness. Bitterness leads to violence or force or something destructive. To be bitter in the mind after a loss in elections is a sign of personal immaturity. Certainly, when the defeated candidate knows that he was cheated of victory, there could be bitterness. But bitterness is injurious both to the soul and the polity.
In the Second Republic, one Presidential candidate on the platform of Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP), Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim from Borno State consistently preached the doctrine of politics without bitterness. He preached against malice, rancour, hatred, and the divisiveness which came with losing an election. Of course, everyone was conscious of the bitterness and hatred which followed the general elections in 1965 and how the southwest and later Nigeria could not be the same again. The intense personal and political rivalry between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Samuel Akintola had thunderous and disastrous on the entire polity. The narrative of the ‘wild wild west’ came into the political lexicon of Nigeria. When the southwest became ungovernable and the federal government took sides with Akintola, a new dynamic came into the polity. ‘Operation Wetie’ through which violence was unleashed on opponents of the mainstream southwest party defined the peak of violence in the annals of the country.
So, when the military rulers finally allowed a return to civil rule in 1976, Chief Awolowo set up the UPN without much ado. In the southeast, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe along with some stalwarts from the southwest started the NPP, while NPN was started by a broad spectrum of politicians in the country. After a major disagreement with the NPP, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim led a faction of political stalwarts from the NPP to start the GNPP as a breakaway faction. His doctrine of ‘politics without bitterness’ continued to ring a bell. To be sure, there was always allegations and counter allegations of rigged elections.
The NPN was determined to rig or fight its way into the southwest led by Chief Richard Akinjide, Chief Adisa Akinloye and a few prominent stalwarts of the NPN whose brand and ideology of politics ran counter to that of the domineering personality in the southwest. Chief Awolowo fought Alhaji Shagari’s victory up to the Supreme Court until verdict was given after Chief Akinjide made the infamous argument about twelve two thirds. Akinjide was rewarded with the position of Minister of Justice and Attorney General. But bitterness was in the hearts of many. This erupted in the second term election of 1983 which the UPN alleged mass rigging after an unpopular candidate Chief Akin Omoboriowo was declared winner of elections in Ondo State, defeating the popular Papa Ajasin. The conflagration which followed was reminiscent of the 1965 violent eruptions.
Politics without bitterness was an is still relevant till date. Often intraparty fights are deadlier than interparty disagreements. We have also experienced interparty contestations which turned out to be fatal. But the seed of discord could either be internal or external. Fierce fighting within parties is deadly as I argued earlier on. This often happens when aspirants believe that once they are nominated at the primaries, victory at the polls is almost certain. Internal dissensions with AG and the UPN are apposite references. The NCNC and NPN at different times seemed to have managed their internal challenges better than the rest.
The journey towards 2023 has started. The political gladiators are more interested in grabbing power than addressing the problems facing the electorate. This was the point made by the Imam in the mosque at Apo that earned him a sack. The acrimony which has followed Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s declaration of interest in running for President has been very toxic. Why? What has a mere declaration got to do with betrayal?
Some extremists have started comparing the Osinbajo-Tinubu situation with that of Awolowo-Akintola disagreements. Nothing could have been so dissimilar. Some analysts have traced the Awo-Akintola disagreements to appropriation or misappropriation of state funds. In the case of Osinbajo, having served the nation with great humility under the incumbent President, he exercised his right to contest for the nomination just like any other aspirant. The field is not too crowded because Osinbajo has thrown his hat into the ring. Tinubu loyalists consider the fact that he dared to express his interest as an affront. Come on? What law has he broken?
Democracy is bigger than all of us. No one should think that they can control the destiny and actions of anybody forever. It is against the rule of nature. It is possible that Tinubu does not carry the degree of venom in his heart which his loyalists display in sponsored articles in mainstream newspapers and on social media. There is therefore no need to set the two men against each other. Let there be a contestation of ideas and a test of popularity at the APC primaries. If both men were placed on a scale at this time for popularity in line with the mood of the season, I can bet that Osinbajo will come out tops.
2023 is just another year for another set of elections. Those who violently took power by snatching ballot boxes in the First Republic have all gone away from the scene. Those who killed for power have all gone too. They will face their Maker for the acts of destruction which they carried out in the name of electioneering. The power of man is ephemeral. To be fixated in the gutter of calumny and violence, physical and verbal is not to grow. Let the people be the deciding factor in 2023.