By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Emotions and sentiments have been running wild in the polity since the emergence of the presidential candidates of the various political parties in June. Most of these border partly on religious consideration, but largely on the sustained campaign by the youths calling for the rebirth of a new Nigeria through a deliberate shift in generational leadership that will pave the way for young vibrant elements imbued with genuine ideas about good governance to take over the reins of power.
And it is gradually evolving into a huge movement that many public commentators believe would ultimately lead to the final ouster of the recycled old leaders who have been accused of mismanaging the resources of the country, leading to its arrested development. Whether or not the time is ripe for such a change in leadership re-orientation, the 2023 general elections will provide an answer.
Perhaps, what is fueling the new thinking is the growing dissatisfaction with the comprehensive failure of governance manifesting in the rising spate of insecurity, endemic corruption, economic stagnation, pervasive poverty, misery, separatist agitations, and gradual drifting of the country.With another transition process underway, this is therefore an auspicious moment for the electorate to redefine the qualities of candidates to vote into power in the coming elections in order to break the vicious circle of poor leadership and do away with the renegades of the old order.
However, while the evolving movement is focused on the desire for a change in the status quo, some ethnic and religious leaders are busy spending their valuable time promoting primordial sentiments. For weeks after the emergence of the candidates of the leading political parties, the general conversation in the polity has been primarily centred around the mundane issue of religious balancing in the choice of running mates, especially as it affects the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its standard bearer, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Ordinarily, this shouldn’t have been an issue if successive governments had taken the wise counsel of the advocates of restructuring on the need for a reform of the system in a way that could guarantee equal opportunities for all, as well as give every component part a true sense of belonging. But all the past leaders ignored the agitation for power devolution that can make the centre to be less attractive and ultimately reduce ethnic and religious suspicions which are all symptoms of the manifest defects of the existing quasi-unitary structure foisted on the nation by the past military government.
It took so long for Tinubu to decide on the choice of his running mate because of the prolonged discourse about the desirability or otherwise of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
In a statement unveiling the former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, as his running mate after weeks of consultations, Tinubu recounted the varying shade of opinions put before him by different communities motivated by ethno-religious sentiments.
In the final analysis, he said, he took the decision based on his conviction that Shettima would serve the best interest of the nation.
“I am mindful of the energetic discourse concerning the possible religion of my running mate. Just and noble people have talked to me about this. Some have counselled that I should select a Christian to please the Christian community. Others have said I should pick a Muslim to appeal to the Muslim community. Clearly, I cannot do both. I made this choice because I believe this is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians, period, regardless of their religious affiliation or consideration of ethnicity or religion,” he said.
By this decision, Tinubu has wittingly or unwittingly accepted to face the consequences of his action by opting for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Some pundits say there could be a re-enactment of history. Exactly 30 years ago, precisely June 12, 1993, Nigerians had a similar choice between the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Bashir Tofa and his Christian running mate, Sylvester Ugoh, and the Muslim-Muslim ticket presented by the Standard bearer of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), MKO Abiola with Babagana Kingibe as running mate, but they chose to vote overwhelmingly for the latter, shunning ethnic and religious sentiments.
Will history repeat itself again in 2023 with Tinubu-Shettima ticket? The answer is in the womb of time.
One major difference here is that there is a slightly wider choice for the electorate under the current multi-party democracy as against a two-party system that was then in operation.
This time around, four major leading political parties other than the mushroom ones are going to slug it out in the coming presidential election. These are the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Labour Party and the new emerging New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
All of these parties, but APC have Christian running mates to team up with their respective flag bearers to achieve religious balancing.
While the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, has settled for the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, his counterpart in the Labour Party, Peter Obi and Baba-Ahmed Datti have joined forces to present a formidable team.
In the same vein, the candidate of the NNPP, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has picked Lagos cleric, Archbishop Isaac Idahosa as his running mate.
Although campaigns will have to wait till sometime in September in order not to run foul of the law as provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), gladiators have already begun their permutations, calculating the factors that would give them edge over other contenders.
All things added together, this election is going to be tougher than any previous poll.
As it stands, no single party can beat its chest to say its candidate will have an easy sail to victory.
Not even the ruling APC has such an assurance of victory given a free, fair, and credible election. Nonetheless, each party has its own sphere of influence.
For the APC, Northwest remains its traditional stronghold and it will most likely be after the 2023 elections. As demonstrated in the 2015 and 2019 general elections, the region will vote for the party, but it can no longer be business as usual because the dynamics of the power game have changed dramatically.
The emergence of NNPP as a quasi-Third Force will mean that Tinubu, Atiku, and Kwankwaso will share the votes among themselves, while Peter Obi whose movement is increasingly becoming infectious may probably have his own share of it largely from the youths. But because of the advantage of incumbency factor, APC will most likely still maintain an edge. If the loyalty of governors of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa , Kebbi, and Zamafara is anything to go by, they will all mobilise support for Asiwaju Tinubu to deliver the zone for the APC. Out of the seven states in the Northwest geo-political zone, only the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, can guarantee the delivery of bloc votes for Atiku.
As the latest INEC reports show, Northwest has recorded the highest figure of 20,158,100 PVCs in the ongoing voters’ registration exercise, followed by Southwest -16,292,212; South-South -12, 841,279; North-Central-12,006,182; Northeast -11, 288,508; and Southeast -8,597,197 respectively.
Southwest is too sure for the APC and its presidential candidate in this coming election. In perking order of voting strength, it comes next to the Northwest with a total of 16,292,212 voters’ registration figure.
Since 2017, the region has remained an exclusive enclave of the progressives with Tinubu standing as the rallying point.
Currently, all the six Yoruba states, but Oyo are under the firm control of the APC.
The recent governorship election in Ekiti is a further confirmation of the acceptance of the party and whatever it stands for.
And now that the person everybody recognizes as the political leader is in the contest, no less success will be recorded in the presidential election. The Alliance of these two regions combined will be a big advantage for APC.
In the Northeast, there is going to be an interesting battle of wit between the two big political titans in this race – Atiku and Tinubu. Ordinarily, the region should be an easy walk over for Atiku given the fact that he is from Adamawa State.
But it appears the choice of Shettima as Tinubu’s running mate is capable of changing the balance of the equation. Despite all the cacophony of noise against the Muslim-Muslim ticket, many party supporters in the North see the decision as a masterstroke, believing that his choice would add electoral value to the team. Optimism is high within the APC fold that his formidable influence in the region will facilitate Tinubu’s smooth sail to victory in the forthcoming election.
At present, three of the six states in the region are under the control of the APC. From both sides of the divide, their respective governors will definitely bring their influence to bear on the outcome of the election. It, therefore, goes without saying that votes from the region will be largely shared between the PDP and APC.
Though the North-Central zone is largely APC controlled, there are two political bigwigs who will be expected to pull their weights in favour of the opposition PDP in this election.
One is the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who until the Otoge revolution that swept away the Saraki political dynasty in Kwara State and ushered in the administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdul-Rasaq, was the de facto authority in the state.
The second notable figure is the National Chairman of the PDP, Iyorchia Ayu, who hails from Benue State.
Their political influence will be impressively put to test in the contest. Whatever the case, it will be a herculean task for them to defeat the combined efforts of APC governors in Nassarawa, Plateau, Niger, Kogi, and Kwara states.
Following the traditional pattern of voting in the South-South and Southeast, all things being equal, PDP will most likely secure the majority of votes in these two regions.
At present, the entire six states in the South-South are under the grip of the party. Besides, the choice of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta as Atiku’s running mate, apart from being a Christian, it’s expected to add electoral value to the success chance of the PDP in the presidential election. The only challenge for the Atiku-Okowa ticket is the Wike factor in the emerging politics in that region. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State came second to Atiku in the last presidential primary of the party, but they sidelined him in the choice of a running mate even when he placed as number one choice of the party’s committee. Unless there is a proper fence-mending ahead of the poll, his action can undermine the success of the party in the region. Apart from his doggedness and popularity, he is a major financier of the party.
Southeast with its peculiarity presents two presidential candidates to participate in this election. They are former Governor Peter Obi of the Labour Party, as well as Dan Nwanyanwu who is contesting on the platform of Zenith Labour Party.
What this implies is that the bloc vote that is expected to come from the region in favour of one particular candidate in order to actualise the aspiration of the president of Igbo extraction will be shared among the PDP, APC, Labour Party, and Zenith Labour Party.
In this circumstance, it will be difficult to predict which party will pull the highest votes.
Of course, Obi’s movement is increasingly becoming infectious among the youths across ethnic, tribal, and religious boundaries. Most analysts are skeptical about the success chance of his candidature because of the lack of structure to drive his campaign to the grassroots and mobilise the voters.
To make things a bit dicier, his running mate, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, who represented Kaduna North State between 2011 and 2012, is not known to be a formidable grassroots politician in his part of the country.
Even if he were, he would still have to contend with Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s force in the state.
In a reality, Obi’s sure chance of victory, if any, can only come from the teeming youths of the country who are yearning for a generational change of leadership. Even at that, the whole idea of his movement looks vague because there is no guarantee that all the youths will vote in one direction.
In politics, everybody has an interest and it is that interest that will ultimately determine where the vote goes.
When Sunday Sun asked Chief Chekwas Okorie if he would support Obi in the common interest of the Igbo, he declared that he would rather align with APC than join forces with the Labour Party.
He said: “I will concede to Peter Obi that he has really aroused the political consciousness of so many Nigerians. But Labour Party does not resonate with our people in the Southeast and it is yet to be tested. APGA has been tested. In spite of APGA’s crisis-prone nature, it still stands as the third biggest party in Nigeria. Apart from the APC and PDP, only APGA has a governor. Others don’t have. So, it still stands as the third biggest party.
“How then will anybody with a sense of proportion want to suggest that a party that has that type of history will not contest for the highest office of the land?
“I have suffered the highest betrayal from my own people who actually were the greatest beneficiaries of my blood and sweat. If you don’t know, I am the presidential candidate of APGA. The reason I have not rolled out my programmes is because of the issues we have to sort out with INEC. So, the question of supporting any candidate does not arise. We are not even the only Igbo who are contesting. You also have Dan Nwanyanwu contesting on the platform of the Zenith Labour Party. When it comes to making sacrifices for Igbo-related matters, I think I rank highest among all political Igbo leaders that have come and gone. I founded APGA in the first place, but I voluntarily yielded ground for (Odumegwu) Ojukwu to fly the presidential ticket, and I became the first person to form a party and did not use it to run for president.
“Now that APGA is about to bounce back with the visioner himself now in the saddle, how will somebody suggest that we should yield ground to a party that is yet to be tested?
“Secondly, I don’t think it is in the interest of the Igbo to put all their eggs in one basket because they had done it before and it failed. They put their eggs in the PDP and came out with their nose bloodied. The history of Igbo politics in Nigeria suggests that constructive engagements with other parties have been the best option for the Ndigbo.
“Although it is the leadership of the party that will lead the discussion into an alliance, as far as I am concerned, if APGA will enter into any alliance, APC is the natural choice for us. To have anything to do with the PDP will be like drinking a poison challis.”
The former Chairman of the PDP in Lagos State, Tunji Shelle, while speaking with Sunday Sun, also expressed his sentiments, saying that the party would win in not less than 24 states.
His words: “We have a credible candidate; we have a candidate that understands everything about politics. He is well experienced, well exposed and he is cosmopolitan. That will give him an edge over and above someone who doesn’t know his left from his right.
“Based on our own calculations, we shall win in more than 24 states of the 32 states of the federation and secure 25 per cent in all the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory. All the promises they (APC) made have failed, PDP will capitalize on it and make sure we win in virtually all the states.
“We know the states where we can win the election and we shall pursue it with all our strength and energies to ensure we win in such states. Southeast is traditionally PDP. If we lose one or two, it does not mean we are not on the ground. APC didn’t win in Imo State. Ebonyi State governor decamped to APC because he thought they would give him the presidential ticket. Ebonyi State is today and tomorrow a PDP state. Similarly, Cross River State remains a PDP state. The party’s internal mechanism will sort out the issue of Wike in Rivers State.”
On his own part, a chieftain of the APC in Ondo State, Dr Tunji Abayomi, described Tinubu /Shettima team as the best ever in the history of Nigeria, adding that the party would coast home to victory to liberate the people from poverty.
“We just got the best team in the democratic history of Nigeria. Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the All progressives Congress (APC) is an accountant while his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima, is an economist/banker. They will tackle poverty for national development goal to be achieved,” he said.
In a sharp reaction, however, one of the founding members of the NNPP in Kano, Senator Rufai Hanga, dismissed the optimism, saying that “the question of APC winning does not arise.
“I don’t think there is any state where we don’t have a sizeable following. I assure you that NNPP will either come first or second in the whole of the North. In the Southern part, there are also states where we will come either first or second. I don’t want to be too ambitious by saying we will come first everywhere in the South. But in the North, I think we will come first in most of the states.
“We can lay claim to the whole of the North and some pockets of states in the South. Even in the Southwest, we have very strong support in Oyo and Ogun states. We have strong support in Delta, Akwa Ibom states, and some other states in the South-South. The question of APC winning does not arise. It won’t happen. I don’t see APC winning anywhere in the North other than Borno and Yobe where they will write the votes.”
The months ahead will determine which party will take over the Rock Rock Villa in 2023.