The PDP presidential primaries have come and gone. According to official results, Jonathan polled 2,736 votes against Atiku’s 805 votes, and also defeated him in his home state of Adamawa State by 76 to 31 votes. Though Atiku was said to be still consulting with his associates on the outcome of the primaries as at January 19, 2011, several observations could be made:
Two, Atiku’s defeat in the primaries purveys a lesson in power and its dynamics. One important lesson is that once you are out of the power loop - where you are no longer in a position to dispense or influence the dispensation of state patronage - it will be difficult to return into that loop because new forces will emerge ‘who do not know Joseph’ and who do not want to risk being eclipsed by a bigger political star.
This is perhaps why those who subscribe to the ‘realist school’ of politics believe that Atiku missed his golden opportunity of being President in 2003 when a majority of the then Governors wanted him to run against Obasanjo. Atiku’s supporters however see it differently, arguing that because the expanded caucus of the PDP had only a few months before re-affirmed zoning to enable Obasanjo run for a second term in office, had Atiku run against Obasanjo in 2003, it would have sharpened the old stereotype that the political North felt the Presidency of the country is their birthright. For the ‘realists’, Jonathan’s decision to run in 2011 despite the party’s zoning and power rotation policies is the right thing to do because once the opportunity to grab power presents itself, you either grab it or risk losing it forever. It can be argued that since Atiku skipped the opportunity in 2003, he has been fighting to remain in contention.
Three, another issue thrown up by the primaries is the near absolutist power of State Governors in their domains. In our type of societies where the institutions are weak and the state is the major means of production and wealth accumulation, the Governors are not only able to dispense patronage but also capable of inflicting wanton punishment. With President Jonathan apparently maximally exercising his leverages over the Governors, the latter were in turn able to exercise their own maximal leverages over the delegates from their states. And for maximum effect, the delegates voted by states – making it easier to know which states delivered its delegates to the President. Some have called this process subtle political intimidation.
Related to the above is that it is possible that the Governors genuinely feel more at home with President Jonathan than a potential Atiku presidency. They have been able to extract so many concessions from President Jonathan (their powers also grew exponentially under him) that to risk an Atiku presidency - a man known to be strong willed and ‘politically smart’ - will only remind them of the Obasanjo era when Governors lived in mortal fear of Obasanjo and his monarchical tendencies.
Four, much has been made about Atiku losing his home state of Adamawa to Jonathan. I do not think that losing one’s home state in an election is necessarily indicative of a candidate’s character or worthiness. Apart from Atiku’s running battle with the State Governor, Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako (rtd), (as mentioned Governors largely determined where delegates voted), Atiku is also perhaps a victim of the paradox of ‘social proximity’ – the tendency for a prophet not to be regarded in his home town, or for someone of a lowly birth who becomes very successful to be viewed with a mixture of disdain and jealousy by local power brokers in his home town. Quite a number of very successful people, especially those from very lowly origins struggle with this problem –re-echoing the Shakespearean dictum that ‘there are daggers in men’s smiles, the near in blood, the nearer bloody’.
Five, there are several ways to interpret the overwhelming support given to Jonathan in the South and North. One possible interpretation is that the North, usually reputed for being politically closed, is beginning to liberalise. In fact most of the Northern Governors who voted for Jonathan had argued that they decided to put patriotism above regional sentiments. If the North is truly opening up politically it could facilitate the nation building process and the deepening of our democracy and perhaps also put pressures on the South West (another zone that is very closed politically) to open up to others. The downside to this however is that with the overwhelming (some say clannish) support given to Jonathan in the South, especially South South where he scored 100% in his home state of Bayelsa and in Akwa Ibom State, there could be a backlash, which will make the North even more politically closed in retaliation. It would seem that while the Jonathan camp successfully regionalised the zoning debate in the South – to tap into the sentiments of alleged Northern political domination- it managed to prevent such regionalisation of the discourse in the North. This carries a potential risk because it could lead to the Northern Governors being seen as traitors and the Northern delegates looking like ‘mugus’. In this sense, unless Jonathan succeeds, and is seen to have succeeded in reconciling with Atiku and other pro-zoning members of the PDP, his victory at the primaries could well turn out to be Pyrrhic victory. This is because given the pattern of voting, it will be very difficult to convince most people that regional/clannish considerations did not fuel the level of support given to Jonathan in the South.