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2023: Rice And Beans Voting Arrangement

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Nigeria’s 2023 general election is going to witness unprecedented changes including, but not limited to, the electoral behaviour of the populace. This is not unconnected with the phenomenal entry into the presidential race of a newcomer Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential flag bearer. Upon his emergence, unusual things have continued to happen in our democratic evolution. 

Political pundits believe that with what Obi has done in the lead-up to the election, the effect will linger even after the polls. The polity will wear a new garb after the election irrespective of who wins the presidency.  From whatever angle you stand to watch the dance, the steps and even the melody are not going to be as usual.

That a ruling party, after eight years, found itself in a dilemma of forward problematic and going backwards, a no-good option, says much about the type of governance and politics it rendered. This seeming indiscretion on the part of the ruling party is bound to have far-reaching and unpleasant consequences on the system.

This week’s Political Musings will x-ray the fallout of this ruling party’s blunder which is being copiously underscored by the cognitive decline of its presidential standard bearer, Bola Ahmad Tinubu, in many ramifications, age, origin, health, corruption, and certificate issues plus alleged drug running. Whether true or not, non-rebuttal for someone aspiring to the president’s office leaves much to be desired. Added to APC’s headache is the panic arising from the unanticipated hurricane-like appearance on the scene of Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate. 

Resulting from this development is a curious voting practice being perfected by politicians in virtually all geopolitical areas ahead. It is popular in the North as the “Rice and Beans arrangement.” Rice and beans–we all know–are common staple foodstuffs that are eaten separately or in a combo. They are more popular in low-budget eateries a.k.a. “Mama put.” The service here is usually a semi-buffet where you are served but you choose mostly what you want by pointing directly at your preferred serving.

Those who usually choose a combination of the two always want to maximise their gain by using one stone to kill two birds–a portion of both rice and beans.

How does it concern politics, 2023 in particular, you may ask? Owing to the various political configurations in this dispensation, a lot of voters are trying not to put all their eggs in one basket of usually voting for their preferred political parties in all elections, (president, governor, federal, and state MPs) irrespective of who the flag bearers are. 

In previous elections, it used to be one party all the way, with induced voters settling for either rice or beans all through. This time, they want to taste the two. Why, you may want to know, because like the buyer at the restaurant, one of them will not offer the needed satisfaction.

This political quagmire applies to all three leading political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the newcomer in the top class, the Labour Party.

In the North, a lot of APC members are not very comfortable with their Bola Ahmad Tinubu but are still in love with their candidates in other elective positions. So instead of doing only beans or rice, they are arranging to do beans and rice, vote for president in another party, and return to their party in other positions. Ditto for the PDP and the Labour Party.

In the South-East where one of their sons, Peter Obi, is a front-runner in a party that is not the PDP, they are also scheming for the rice and beans arrangement. The 23-year-old romance between the people of the region and the PDP appears headed for the dyke. While the people are totally and unequivocally committed to Obi in the Labour Party, in some states they still desire to return to their PDP in other positions. To ignore or counter Obi or work without him in the region is a huge risk no reasonable politician can afford. (find out how the Rev. Fr Ejike Mbaka, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and lately Governor Chukwuma Soludo are fairing after airing anti-Obi sentiments).

The people’s anger is not totally against all PDPs but more on the leadership who refused bluntly to heed their cry of marginalisation. In Abia State, a curious scenario exists in the senatorial and gubernatorial polls where Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, one of the most successful MPs from the South-East in the 9th National Assembly is flying the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, flag, and the voters are arranging to vote for him in the Senate and vote for either Labour or PDP in gubernatorial while clinging tightly to the Labour Party in the presidential ballot. 

In Enugu, for instance, a former governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, who is currently a PDP Senator, has publicly declared support for the Tinubu of the APC, ignoring his party’s Atiku Abubakar notwithstanding that he is the current PDP senatorial ticket holder for the Enugu-East seat and also supporting PDP in gubernatorial, state, and federal parliamentary seats.

Perhaps, the biggest Rice and Beans mix is being propagated by the loquacious Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who is leading governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Samuel Ortom of Benue and Okezie Ikpeazu of under the rebellious G-5 Governors now transformed into Integrity Group.

Governor Wike, a PDP governor, last Thursday openly declared support for Peter Obi of the Labour Party against PDP’s Atiku Abubakar. Governor Wike went further to declare publicly that he would provide logistic support for Obi supporters in Rivers State.

In Benue, the drama looks more intriguing. The two leading political parties in the state, APC and PDP, are effectively doing Rice and Beans arrangement. The two party’s gubernatorial and parliamentary candidates are campaigning for another party for the presidency and their party for other elective positions. The LP Presidential candidate, Peter Obi is preferred by the two candidates and the reason is understandable. The LP candidate is the winning brand for the presidency and nobody wants to risk backing the wrong horse. 

In the South-West, the arrangement also exists. The umbrella body of the Yoruba ethnic nationality, the Afenifere, had already endorsed the Labour Party candidate even ahead of their Tinubu, basing their patriotic position on justice and equity for the much-needed political stability in the land. So, for the president, some of them will do rice and beans because the Afenifere endorsement is not for all elective positions but only as it pertains to the presidential ballot. 

As expected, this arrangement comes with some challenges. A reasonable number of the voting population are illiterate in rural areas, passing the electoral education of switching from one candidate and party to the other doesn’t look as simple as it seems, particularly for the National Assembly ballot sharing the same voting day with the presidential polls. 

How effective can it be that voters indulging in the Rice and Beans arrangement, after receiving the ballot, cast their votes differently? It would be interesting to see how it ends because if it succeeds, it would be positive for democracy as it will whittle down the arrogance of political parties who often feel they can force unpopular candidates on voters and still win, relying on party sentiments. But it can be cataclysmic and counterproductive if not well handled.

The first time this type of electoral experiment was tested, it ended up devastating to one of the parties. On April 19, 2003, presidential election, when President Olusegun Obasanjo was seeking a second term and needed the support of his South-West kinsmen who didn’t support him in 1999; there was an understanding to do rice and beans, vote Obasanjo for president and return to their candidates in their preferred political party, but the voters ended up doing only rice except in Lagos State, resulting in the PDP overthrow of the official opposition in the zone. The South-West is yet to recover from it politically.

With further advancement in electoral education, it is expected that there is not going to be a repeat of 2003.

But all said and done, the political enlightenment at the moment generally tends to play down on political parties with more emphasis on the character, competence, and capacity of the candidates irrespective of their parties. If the electoral behaviour weighs in favour of the person ahead of the parties in 2023, our democracy can be said to have stabilised. It would mark the end of taking voters for granted. 

However it goes in 2023, we would like to stand on Abraham Lincoln’s great assertion: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” God help us.

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