Endorsements and Endorsers
Political endorsers are enjoying as much publicity as the presidential candidates they endorse. There is the politics of endorsement and the politics of endorsers.
The presidential election front runners, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking re-election, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), enthusiastically welcome endorsements by enthusiastic endorsers.
Five days to the presidential election on February 16, it is unclear how these endorsements will work, or whether they are of any electoral value. Only the endorsers and those they endorse seem to recognise the power of these endorsements. After a meeting in Abuja on February 3, the Nigeria Leaders and Elders Forum comprising the leaders of Afenifere, Northern Elders Forum, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum and the Pan Niger Delta Forum endorsed Atiku for president. The five socio-cultural groups said in a statement: “We adopt the PDP candidate, as the consensus candidate for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as he has demonstrated the deep understanding of the critical need of the country at this time and possesses the capacity to proffer clear solutions in that respect.”
The broadness of this endorsement by significant regional groups understandably excited the Atiku presidential campaign organisation. Atiku’s emotional response revealed his excitement. He said in a statement: “I am moved to tears that in the midst of deep divisions and deliberate use of instrumentalities of state to set our people against themselves in the last three and a half years, responsible and respected leaders across Nigeria have agreed to come together for the purpose of endorsing my candidature for the February 16, 2019 presidential elections.”
Atiku added: “The endorsement by the leading lights of our nationalities – Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Northern Elders Forum, Pan-Niger Delta Forum and Middle Belt Forum is a loud statement that there is hope for our country as we go to the polls in a few days.”
Either Atiku was naïve or he just wanted to believe this particular endorsement was unproblematic. “We sympathise with Atiku Abubakar ahead of the February 16 presidential election, if he actually believes that his endorsement by this Afenifere will translate into a harvest of votes for him in the Southwest because it cannot,” the Afenifere Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba said in a statement. This clarifying response highlighted the factionalisation of Afenifere. The faction that endorsed Atiku is led by Chief Reuben Fasoranti.
Nonagenarian Pa Ayo Fasanmi expressed the opposing position of another faction of the pan-Yoruba group at the February 5 APC presidential rally in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital. Senator Fasanmi described members of the Fasoranti-led faction as political jobbers. Fasanmi said: “All Yoruba race across Southwest are solidly supporting the President Buhari candidature, except a group of dollar and naira called fake Afenifere who endorsed Atiku Abubakar. They are people with no electoral value and credence in their respective polling units not to talk of the Yoruba land.” He added that his faction “would be celebrating the victory of President Buhari and other APC candidates at the national and state levels.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) also opposed Atiku’s joint endorsement by the five groups. ACF Secretary-General Chief Anthony Sani said: ”What is new in this endorsement is the fact that only faction of Afenifere, faction of Ohanaeze, and faction of Northern Elders Forum are actually involved. As a result, the endorsement may not affect the outcomes of the election significantly, since factions cannot possibly represent the whole, let alone to represent the regions, which the platforms profess to represent.”
Sani argued that the groups involved, excluding the Northern Elders Forum, had endorsed the PDP presidential candidate in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan, yet the APC won. He declared that “ACF, which is the umbrella body for the North, does not share the views promoted by a faction of Northern Elders Forum led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi.” Sani also said: “The endorsement of President Buhari by about 71 Generals has dispelled the rumours bandied about that retired Generals have ganged up to unseat President Buhari electorally.”
Indeed, Buhari’s February 4 endorsement by retired high-ranking military officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force, took the endorsement drama to another level. The endorsers included a Vice Admiral, two Lt-Generals, 15 Majors General, two Rear Admirals, eight Air Vice-Marshals, 12 Brigadiers-General, three Commodores, nine Air Commodores, and 17 former military governors/administrators. The generals were led by former military administrator of Lagos State, Brigadier General Buba Marwa (retd). Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Capt. Caleb Olubolade, and former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Jubril Ayinla, were among the endorsers.
Marwa, who heads the Presidential Advisory Committee on elimination of drug abuse, told reporters that Buhari was “from our own constituency” and praised his administration. He said: “And, therefore, the retired military officers today, including former military governors, retired military officers from the ranks of brigadier general and their equivalents from other officers are here today, to tell him and Nigerians that we are fully behind him in the elections next week and we will do whatever we can within the law to see that he is victorious in the elections.”
Interestingly, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka on February 8 shifted the focus. ”There is always a choice to be made outside any presumptuous orders – in reality, associations guaranteed to perpetuate social disorders and the politics of inequality,” Soyinka said in an opinion piece titled ‘New Directions in a time of Decision.’ Soyinka, convener of the Citizen Forum, endorsed neither Buhari nor Atiku. ”This is not the thinking of any one individual but of a large section of this populace. The final determination, however, is – the flag-bearer of the Young Progressive Party– Kingsley Moghalu,” Soyinka declared.
“This is a very good thing for my party, the YPP and my candidacy because of who Professor Wole Soyinka is in our country and in the world. He is a unique figure,” Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), reacted. Moghalu’s euphoria is understandable but his optimism is misplaced.”
Ultimately, these endorsement shows downplay the general electorate. The picture is that some groups, which are subsets of the electorate, support a candidate and think it is enough to convince the general electorate to support the same candidate. The point is that these political endorsers themselves may well need endorsement by those they want to influence.
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