It has been more than 7 years since the watershed presidential election in 2015, when the then opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC), defeated the incumbent, People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Since then, a lot has happened, particularly since many hopes and aspirations for the APC-led government to provide a secure environment and maintain a stable economy have been met with the unsatisfactory and uninspiring leadership of President Buhari’s administration, which has been plagued by an unstable economy and multifaceted security challenges. It is amidst this milieu that another election is upon us.
The hyper-politicking this year has been glaring, chiefly because it precedes an election year. Nigeria is poised to witness among politicians; alliances, counter-alliances, mudslinging, back-stabbing, rumor mongering, intense propaganda, name-dropping, influence-peddling, cross-carpeting, and horse-trading. This happening would be no doubt intriguing but diversionary because governance takes a back seat.
The APC, since its formation in 2014 as a merger comprising ACN, CPC, ANPP, and a faction of APGA, has performed poorly in managing electoral successes and internal crises. The party recently held its intrigue-ridden convention in which there was a blatant abuse of the term “consensus”. Candidates grudgingly stepped down from what was an imposition. The upcoming primary elections cannot be conducted in the same manner, lest they fracture the strength of the party and cause a consequential fallout that affects its chances in the general elections. The onerous task for the party would be to reconcile interests and reign in recalcitrant members. Ironically, this has been its albatross, having previously lost a handful of states due to an internal crisis. The biggest obstacle to the party’s retaining incumbency is not the PDP but its internal schisms that have the potential to implode the party.
In the All-Progressives Congress, permutations have begun, and candidates have started to declare their intention to contest the presidency. The party may have an unwritten agreement that its presidential candidate should come from the South. So far, only Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Yahaya Bello, Dave Umahi, and Rochas Okorocha have openly indicated an interest in the Presidency in the All-Progressive Congress. Other potential aspirants include Rotimi Ameachi, Kayode Fayemi, and Yemi Osibanjo. The frontline candidates in the party are Yemi Osibanjo and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who are both from the Southwest caucus of the party.
Prof. Yemi Osibanjo is the Vice President of Nigeria and is regarded as an affable, intellectual, and eloquent politician. Though yet to declare, his support groups are springing up across the breadth of this country, pointing to the fact that he would run. The amiable professor lacks a well-grounded regional support base and might be counting on the endorsement of his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari.
As a Christian and a pastor, his choice of a Muslim northerner as running mate would balance the religious dynamics of a presidential contest. But for the same reasons, his candidacy might be a hard sell in Northern Nigeria. If the Vice President wins the APC Presidential Primaries, he would need to pick a running mate with a strong Northern Muslim identity to neutralize the perception his candidacy could stir up. Nevertheless, in the eventuality of an endorsement, he might still be unable to garner bloc votes from the North as the PDP might put a northerner on its ticket to make inroads into the votes of the north. Would APC lose to PDP in the North should the latter pick a candidate from the northern region?
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the most formidable candidate in the party, is steadily building a national coalition to actualize his ambition to become President. The groundwork and outreach are ongoing, and his support groups are visible across the length and breadth of the country, attempting to woo people. Notable Nigerians like traditional rulers, serving and former members of the National Assembly and state governors have been reached out to. Given his status as the “Godfather” of the Southwest region, all he needs is inroads to the north and his victory might just be sealed. His choice of Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin and Senator Kashim Shettima, both formidable politicians from the North, as anchor-men for his campaign speak volumes about the grasp of his path to victory. But his candidature presents two dilemmas:
Firstly, he is a Muslim from the Southwest. His choice of a running mate would be a Muslim from the North. A Muslim/Muslim ticket can fly and is winnable, but it would come at a cost. It would be a pyrrhic victory that affects the fractious unity of Nigeria. If victorious in the polls, his administration would be beset by an unstable polity and the national psyche of the country would be further fractured along religious lines.
Second, in Nigeria’s political history, there seems to have never been a President who was a formidable contender before his emergence. And I would take you down history lane to prove my point. In the run-up to independence, Sir Ahmadu Bello, leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Saradauna of Sokoto, declined the position of Prime Minister because, in his words, “I would rather be the Sultan of Sokoto than the Prime-Minister of Nigeria.” This led to the emergence of his deputy, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as Prime Minister. In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, having served formerly as a commissioner and Federal Minister, wanted to contest for the Senate. However, he was cajoled by individuals that he had a higher calling and he ran for the Presidency. Alhaji Shehu Shagari defeated the prime candidate at that time, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and emerged as President. In 1993, Chief M.K.O. Abiola was poised to win the Presidential election. His campaign was formidable and his national appeal was not in doubt, having defeated his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, in his home state, Kano. The election was eventually annulled and M.K.O Abiola was subsequently incarcerated. Chief Ernest Shonekan, a lawyer and boardroom Guru who did not run for office, assumed office as Head of the Interim National Government given the political crisis of the June 12th annulment.
Fast forward to 1999, when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as President from prison quite literally. Having been among those General Abacha locked up due to his paranoia against phantom coups, Obasanjo was neither a politician nor a freeman. He waited 12 months for the 1999 general elections, but he emerged victoriously. President Umaru Musa Yar’adua came out of nowhere to emerge as President in 2007. Yes, he was rounding up his tenure as Governor of Katsina State, but he was obscure nationally. The reputation he had was being the younger brother of General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, the ex-chief of Army Staff and a formidable politician in his later days. President Goodluck Jonathan emerged as the President after the death of President Yar’adua. He completed his predecessor’s tenure and went on to serve one more tenure. Even at that, prevailing sentiments were that he was from a “minority” and would never have been President had his principal not died. Before emerging victorious in the 2015 elections, General Buhari had contested thrice and lost. He was a sore loser in the Presidential contest. He publicly vowed not to contest again, but he was persuaded to give it his last shot, and he clinched victory, becoming the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent. Buhari is the only outlier in this pattern.
For the office of President, Nigeria’s political history reveals a negative correlation between power and being a formidable contender. The most formidable candidates seldom emerge when the die is cast. When he announced his ambition, he said that it had been “a lifelong dream”. When you look at his trajectory from his inception in politics to date, it buttresses his statement. His intentionality might be his albatross. Can Tinubu break the jinx?
Then there’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who vowed not to impose any candidate nor disallow a level playing ground. In an interview with Channels TV recently, when asked if he had a favourite among the aspirants, he replied, “Yes, but I’m keeping the name to myself because I don’t want them to eliminate him.” This is a pregnant statement. Throughout his two tenures, we can establish for a fact that PMB lacks strategy in dealing with political issues. It is consistent with his character to either make kneejerk reactions at the last minute or leave time to fix things. Would he be truly neutral in his choice of a successor? What ace does PMB have up his sleeve?
The People’s Democratic Party has been a lacklustre opposition since 2015. It has played second fiddle to the APC all this while, and maybe that is because it had a national chairman whose name was Secondus. The party has done little to meaningfully oppose the APC. Despite an avalanche of critical issues, it could highlight to bolster its rank as a formidable opposition and find favour with the populace, the party thrives on shenanigans. A handful of the states it controlled were a result of a fallout in the APC that led candidates to decamp and work at cross-purposes with their party. To participate successfully in the 2023 election, the party would have to do some heavy lifting other than posing as a lacklustre, displeasing alternative to APC.
The People’s Democratic Party has candidates and potential aspirants like Dr Bala Mohammed, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Dr Peter Obi, and Barr. Nyesom Wike, Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal, Dr Bukola Saraki, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Alhaji Hayatudeen Mohammed.
Having been a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is the most influential of the lot. His political career spans three decades, and this would be the fourth time he would be running for the office of President. As the flag bearer of the PDP in 2019, Atiku Abubakar was victorious in seventeen states and the capital, Abuja, polling a total of 11,262,978 votes. His persistence is rivalled only by that of President Buhari, who contested the same number of times and emerged victorious upon his fourth attempt. Will Atiku Abubakar emerge victorious because of this parallel? Or would his ambition be affected by the same fate that threatens Tinubu?
Dr Peter Obi has a reputation as a prudent financial manager, businessperson, and ex-governor of Anambra state. However, he lacks the influence and national appeal to win a presidential election. Despite the clamour for an Igbo presidency, his candidacy is beset by a lack of acceptability across the board. His support base is largely from the Southeast (the weakest voting bloc in Nigeria), with some of his supporters emanating from the vociferous minority who want to secede. It is for this reason that people who do not support secession would deny him their support.
Barr. Nyesom Wike is the Governor of oil-rich Rivers State. He is a ramrod in the PDP and a brash critic of the APC and the Buhari administration. Given his caustic and amusing nature, his candidacy would provide comic relief for Nigerians because of his Trump-Esque statements.
Nigeria is also poised to witness little-known individuals with minute social capital emerge as presidential candidates and run purely social media campaigns. Notwithstanding their competency, restricting their campaign to social media is taking the public for a ride. Social media should amplify a campaign, not be the only realm in which it is executed. Most voters are on the streets, and social media followings cannot be converted into votes. The idea of a third force or a coalition of mushroom political parties clinching power despite its appeal is a pipe dream. For a candidate to win the presidential election, his party needs two agents in each of the 176,846 polling units in Nigeria. Some of these fledgling parties that would field presidential candidates have fewer members than the number of polling units in the country. How is expecting to win not absurd?
Ordinarily, the 2023 presidential election ought to be a two-horse race between the APC and PDP considering their reach. However, given the short span (April 4- June 3) for political parties to conduct primaries as stipulated by the INEC timetable. Candidates from APC and PDP are likely to seek alternative platforms to actualize their ambitions as soon as they get feelers of their loss in a consensus or primary process. Therefore, the path to victory by either of the two major parties would be fraught with spoilers from aggrieved former members.
Youth Participation in politics in the build-up towards 2023 cannot be overemphasized. But it can be put into proper, or if you like, alternative perspective. The young are a huge and important demographic that cannot be sidestepped or ignored. We must establish two things: first, youth is a stage, not an ideology. Second, youth is neither a synonym nor a byword for virtue and competence.
Nigerian youths do not need a “YDP” (Youth Democratic Party) to participate in politics. A party whose selling point is its youthfulness defeats the purpose of political participation being open to all adult age groups. When members of this party are past the age of youth, would they then decamp to the “Middle Age Democratic Party”? Surely, you can see the folly.
As 2023 inches closer, youths need to understand that the formal political process can do with their broad-mindedness, insight, and exuberance. Youths should invade already existing political parties with their idealism and pragmatism because joining the political party participation and influencing the outcome internally is more astute than standing on the side-lines doing perpetual activism. Activism is not in and of itself bad, but it has become a preferable venture for our youth than party politics. Social media activism has selected virtue signalling and righteous indignation as strategies, forgetting that demonizing people for their choices only pushes them to double-down or withdraw. Insults, condescension, and virtue-signalling do not get you votes because they alienate you from potential supporters. Youth participation cannot automatically herald the retirement of the old. The “dinosaurs” (read: aged) at the helm of politics today started as youths. They stuck with the process, and it allowed them to fix things as much as they had squandered them. By influencing the political process from within, the quality of candidates who make it to the general elections improves. Quality youth participation in the internal party process can change the direction of political parties for the better and, by extension, the quality of leaders across the country.
An election is neither an academic debate nor a competition for geniuses; it is simply a popularity contest. Luck, posturing, and timing play a significant role in determining the winner. Whatever the idiosyncrasies of the candidates, any Nigerian vote en masse would emerge victoriously.