Thursday, January 13, 2011

On the PDP Primaries

Excellent piece by Tom Burgis of the FT on the PDP primaries, pasted below:

"Amid cartwheeling acrobats, fraying tempers and tsunamis of hard cash, Nigeria’s ruling party is choosing its presidential candidate for April’s election – and in all likelihood the next ruler of Africa’s oil giant.

It is a spectacle that any investor in the continent’s most populous – and perhaps most bewildering – nation would do well to observe.

Under the sweltering sun at the Eagle Square in Abuja, the capital, thousands of delegates gathered on Thursday to perform the biggest public ritual in Nigeria’s tragicomedy of power and patronage.

By the end, doubtless well into the tropical night, they will have chosen either Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent and frontrunner, or Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and former vice president, as candidate for the People’s Democratic party, as it seeks to extend an unbroken hold on the presidency that began when military rule ended in 1999.

Much of the raucous debate around the primary has been ethnically charged. Jonathan is a son of the Niger delta, the oil province in the largely Christian south; like most other northerners, Abubakar is a Muslim.

At its heart, the wrangling is about securing access to the thousand capillaries of a patronage network that distributes oil revenues to ensure the hegemony of a narrow political elite.

For all the pomp at Eagle Square, the real action has already happened behind the scenes.

The aspirants’ last-minute canvassing stretched right through Wednesday night in Abuja’s air-conditioned hotels and state governors’ lodges.

Some in the capital even attribute the strengthening of the dollar against the naira in the parallel foreign exchange market to the sheer volume of hard currency required to secure delegates’ allegiance.

The recent record penalties imposed by US authorities on KBR, a former subsidiary of US oil services group Halliburton, and other members of a consortium that funnelled bribes to officials to win contracts are a reminder of the key role foreign multinationals play in the corruption that pervades Nigeria.

Until the latest act of the political drama reaches a denouement, legitimate investment is on hold. “We are hunkering down,” said one senior figure with a foreign oil group.

The risk of instability – evinced on Thursday by the red berets of the counter-terrorism squad guarding against a repeat of recent bombings in Abuja – is a Nigerian constant. Yet there is a bigger risk mounting over the horizon.

The 37 plastic chairs beside makeshift booths ranged across Eagle Square, each bearing the name of a federal state or the capital territory, send a clear signal to the delegations – comprised of local party and elected officials – that the party bigwigs will know how they voted in a process called “open secret ballot”. Loyalty to the victor will be rewarded with support from the centre come the general election; infidelity will not be.

Beyond the party, there is little accountability. Most of the 150m Nigerians have next to no say in who governs their country or how, so flawed have been the previous elections.

Jonathan and Abubakar both talk about change, of making good the party slogan about bringing power to the people. But the pressures of joblessness and destitution will only mount as Nigeria’s population grows and the political arena remains the preserve of the very few.

During the campaign, Atiku quoted Frantz Fanon’s warning that “those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable”.

It was meant as a barb to those in the PDP who have sought to thwart his bid for the ticket after he ran for a different party last time. But it serves better as a stark warning to the whole political class during primary season – and to any investor hoping that an unreformed Nigeria can muddle along for ever."


Labalaba,  7:31 am  

Laughably unfair appraisal. I am more tickled than ticked off by this report. If I did not watch the event live and follow it on NEXT I would probably fall for the general mood of debacle he tries to somehow effect in this piece.

His opinions are not even tidily presented. His grand conclusion that massive exchange of cash has ensured that either either Goodluck or Atiku wins the primary is unenlightening. He has been hanging out with too many Nigerian friends and taking they rituals of self-flagellation to seriously. Nothing he said is new or mildly enlightening. All hearsay. Sometimes I think western media have a template for writing about Nigeria. But as with all templates, even though they do the job for the most part, unadaptability is a problem.

Come on, there had to have been something different about this particular instance of farcical elections, something that makes it different from others of its kind. As out people say, "slippers gr size."

Grace,  11:06 pm  

I'm sorry but what on earth is "excellent" about this article? It says nothing insightful or new about the elections and fits neatly into the usual cut-and-paste template about reporting on Africa. This is the most important political event to happen on the continent in years. If this is the best reporting we are going to get then its significance will pass the world by. Thank goodness for 234Next.

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