Before the just-concluded 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, most President Jonathan’s supporters premised their support on one singular factor-Incumbency. I had the opportunity to ask some of them if they knew that the Titanic was once believed to be unsinkable. I still asked them if they knew that no one ever imagine it could before the inevitable happened. In the deeply moving movie Titanic which I recently watched (I have seen the movie once, but in a long time) shows how fatal some dangerous, arrogant presumptions can be.
Like the Titanic, many folks, particularly, President Jonathan’s supporters maintained that he cannot be defeated. Their stance is premised majorly on the fact, not because he has performed excellently, but that he belongs to a party which is “too big to sink.” They perhaps forgot how deep the ocean is.
One good thing about presumptions (like this one) is that it blinds just as it binds. There were times in Africa when it was unthinkable to see incumbents loose elections hence this anachronistic assumption. Perhaps these unscientific thoughts came into our consciousness because of some events in African history: Leabua Jonathan, Prime Minister of Lesotho voided the 1970 election he and his Party lost; Dr. Hastings Kamusu Banda declared himself President for Life in Malawi; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who in his 80s is still waxing strong in power and others. Truly this ship is unsinkable!
All these were in the 20th century. The 21st century changed all those clichés, stereotypes, and puerile assumptions. We cite at least four instances of decline in the so-called incumbency factor.
First in Ivory Coast, Alassane Quattara defeated President Laurent Gbagbo(who assumed office in 2000) in 2011. Gbagbo unaware that the game is up, deployed state institutions all to avert the inevitable, but before he knew what was happening it was all over. Quattara was sworn-in in 2012 and heaven did not fall!
Second, President Abdolaye Wade of Senegal was another man who did his best to avoid the inevitable. Incumbency could not save the 76-year old. Having been in power for about twelve years, himself defeating Abou Diof(who assumed power in 1981) he lost to his arch rival, Machy Sall. Notice that Mr Sall has been Wade’s opponent since 2000. Sall won and guess what, heaven did not fall!
Bwezani Banda of Zambia infact has a lot in common with President Jonathan. He was the unusual choice of late President Levy Manawasa for Vice President. When his boss died of stroke in 2009 he immediately assumed office as President. In 2011, the inevitable happened when faced with Michael Sata in the Presidential election. Mr. Sata won, and again, heaven did not fall!
Mrs Joyce Banda is a gender activist in Malawi. In the teeth of opposition from masculine churvinsts, President Bingn wa Mutharika appointed her Vice president in 2009. Following the death of her boss, she assumed office as President in 2012. She is the first ever female Vice President and President in a male-dominated Malawi. She was defeated by Arthur Mutharika, the brother of late President early this year. Again heaven did not fall!
Back in Nigeria, there was a time when it was almost impossible for incumbents to lose. The case of the Western region election in 1965 comes to mind. The Nigerian National Democratic Party NNDP Samuel Ladoke Akintola’s government heavily relied on the incumbency factor to retain power in the election it lost. In theNigerian Second Republic, you are almost an endangered species if you belonged to any party apart from the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, the then ruling party. In the Fourth Republic, you are almost home and dry as a governor in an election if you belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Recently PDP governors have been losing elections as incumbents and heaven has not fallen and will not fall!
Still on the movie, Titanic, I came across some strange observations: First, everyone in the Titanic, except for the architect, didn’t imagine the ship could sink. Second, its builders made provisions for few lifeboats (emergency safety routes) because they did not believe it could face such disaster. Armed with all assurances, everyone including the captain went to sleep. Not until the ship hit the iceberg that the aura of invincibility disappeared and all became as clear as daylight.
Again, no one in the ruling party believed that it will be thoroughly defeated in the 2015 elections, except the architect of the party. Its members have been lulled or hypnotised with a great dose of sleeping elixir. Well, until the party hit the iceberg then pandemonium starts for an unprepared emergency. The ship’s captain President Jonathan, himself recently boasted that he cannot be defeated. The truth is that, except he was speaking for just self-encouragement, he knew he was going to break the jinx of incumbency in Nigeria. The real architects of the party (many of whom have left the party) know that the party can in fact suffer a shameful defeat in an election. Just like the Titanic’s architect said (after hitting the iceberg): “She can sink; it is a mathematical possibility. Titanic will sink in two hours. President Jonathan knew of his imminent defeat, only that his advisers will not just let go easily!
I don’t need to relate how the award winning movie ended because it was tragic. What I can say is for President Jonathan’s foot soldiers, like the captain in the movie, he and others were consumed by the wreck. No one could save the ship as it sank, never to be seen again. There were only a handful of survivors, but only one could live to tell the story out of “twenty thousand souls” on board. This ship is sinking.
Much ado about the factor of incumbency!