Beware the Ides of January!

Atiku Abubakar

On Thursday, next week, delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) shall throng Eagle Square, Abuja, to select the person best suited to carry the party’s flag for this year’s presidential election. That day is January 13 which, incidentally, falls among the days dubbed the Ides in the Roman calendar. In this calendar, said to have been devised by Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome, months were organised around three days, each serving as a reference point for counting the others. One of them, known as Ides, fell on the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; and on the 13th in the other months.

The term Ides was made famous by the episode in Act 1 Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar in which a seer warns the Roman emperor to “beware the Ides of March.” Caesar, knowing that the Ides is just another day, makes a joke of the warning the following day, thus: “Well, the Ides of March have come”, and the man answers insistently: “Ay, they have come, but they are not gone.” Caesar is later assassinated in the Theatre of Pompey by 62 senators, among whom are some members of his kitchen cabinet, such as Brutus. He has refused to heed the warnings of the old seer.

Even though the historical event happened over two thousand years ago, in 4 B.C., it has continued to fascinate readers, especially the notion of grave consequences that presumably follow any warning uttered while invoking the term “the Ides of March.” Now, some wise guys in the PDP had fixed the “Ides of January” (i.e. 13th day of the month) to choose their presidential candidate. Ordinarily, one would have dismissed the event as a non-issue, but, then, the PDP prides itself as the biggest political party in Africa. Above all, it is the ruling party in Nigeria. It has produced three presidents since the birth of the Fourth Republic, having been declared winner of the presidential elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007. It also controls most states of the federation, and the National Assembly. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, populated by its members, is one of the major pressure groups in the country. Its neoliberal policies, anchored on huge petrodollar revenues, exert a great impact on the country’s more than 150 million people.

The selection of its presidential candidate is, therefore, bound to affect the nation’s fortunes, for better or worse. The incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is running for election for the first time in his life. In the past, he stood as running mate – in Bayelsa State as deputy governor and in 2007 as vice-president. Now he is testing his popularity for the first time. To become president on his own account, he must, first, scale the hurdle of the January 13 primary. If he wins, he would proceed to the second hurdle: defeating the presidential candidates of opposition parties. Both hurdles are no tea party. In his first great river to cross, Jonathan is facing the biggest contest in a presidential primary in Nigerian history.

This is the result of what many see as the party’s Achilles’ heel: the agreement its leaders signed, zoning the presidency between the north and the south. Jonathan became president by what his first name suggests – good luck – when his boss, President Umaru Yar’Adua, died. In the agreement, the next president must come from the north because Yar’Adua had not completed the region’s term in office. But Jonathan and his supporters have chosen to bury the pact. The main contestants from the north backed down in support of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, following a voting on a consensus candidate and are expected to throw their weight behind him on January 13 and thereafter.

Meanwhile, mudslinging is going on between the two camps. Every day, one reads in the newspapers one charge or the other flying between them, mostly bordering on corruption allegations and assumed self-incriminating comments made in the past. The latest, published yesterday, was a condemnation of the ruling party said to have been made by Atiku in November 2006 – as if the man had no right to make such a statement at THAT material time when the party was an indisputable lawless behemoth. That statement, allegedly made on the Hausa Service of the VOA, quoted him as saying that the PDP “does not follow due process; it does not respect the rule of law and the constituted authorities.” The truth is that everything Atiku said about the PDP at the time was correct. Worse things were said by its members and observers. Prof. Wole Soyinka famously described the party as a nest of vipers.

For years, the PDP was embroiled in crises, not only because its members saw it as the shortest route to sudden riches, but also because it lacked internal democracy. Its candidates were imposed on the electorate, and they invariably emerged winners. Consequently, as calls for its reform filled the air, many of its members defected. The party lost heavily in many by-elections. Today, with the promise of free and fair elections from the electoral commission, many of its former members are seeking election via other parties. The giant PDP that once bragged it would rule Nigeria for 60 years is suddenly no longer so confident; it seems to be walking on feet of clay.

The presidential primary could be another make-or-mar milestone for the party and, probably, for the nation. There are fears about what would happen in the event that either Jonathan or Atiku loses the election. If the president loses, would he simply return to the classroom or somewhere quiet to enjoy his cool millions? And would Atiku squirm back into his shell to enjoy his millions or move to actualise his rumoured Plan B if he loses on that night of the long knives? The plan, mark you, is not his promised fire and brimstone as Jonathan’s camp alleges; it simply says that Atiku and his co-travellers might defect to another party, such as Muhammadu Buhari’s CPC, and back its candidate for the presidency in a last-ditch push against Jonathan.

Either way, there is something fishy, nay, eerie, about this January 13 convention. Whatever it is, one prays that it is good for this country. Nigerians have been held in bondage for too long by the PDP cabal, who come in the guise of rescuing the people from economic and social ruin. But the ruin has not abated. If anything, it has worsened. Nigeria remains backward economically and is listed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. May the Ides of January not spell further doom for this nation. Amen.


Published in LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, last Saturday

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