2023: Presidential frontrunners, their highpoints and drawbacks

As the polls open today for eligible Nigerian voters to elect the next President, alongside members of the 10th National Assembly, the civic officers would also take many other socio-political decisions pertaining to the country’s democracy.

Presaging A ‘Rainbow’ National Assembly
As the polls open today for eligible Nigerian voters to elect the next President, alongside members of the 10th National Assembly, the civic officers would also take many other socio-political decisions pertaining to the country’s democracy.

Referendum. Although the word became a catchphrase of secessionist agitators, today’s election would simulate a referendum. It would be the first time citizens would have a say on the contentious issues of zoning, religious diversity and retirement age of political leaders.

At the return of Nigeria to the path of presidential democracy in 1999, the predominant sentiment was that all presidential contenders should hail from the Southwest geopolitical zone. The import of that plan, which was executed by the retreating military junta, was to propitiate the region for the inexplicable annulment of the 1993 presidential contest that Chief Moshood Abiola was on the verge of winning.   Similar circumstances trailed preparations for this year’s general elections. But, unlike during the military organised transition programme of 1999, the politicians across the major partisan divides, particularly the two big platforms -All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – could not reach such consensus to adopt presidential standard bearers from a specific geopolitical zone.

However, bowing to the moral imperative of ensuring power shift to the South after President Muhammadu Buhari’s two terms at the Presidency, the leadership of APC, prompted by the state governors, okayed the emergence of a presidential contender from the South.

But, believing that choosing its standard bearer from the North could enhance its chances of returning to the Presidency, the PDP settled for a candidate from the North. Today’s election would therefore settle the issue to some extent: Whether the zoning convention that panders to inclusivity and stability is a popular factor for national cohesion.

Further, the voters’ verdict would show the partisan hues of the next plenary of the bi-cameral federal legislature. In the lead up to today’s polls, four frontrunners from four different political parties emerged to leave the impression of a four-horse race in the presidential showdown.

So, apart from the fact that two of the four contenders hail apiece from Southern and Northern divides of the country, it is expected that voting preferences could mirror the preponderance of National Assembly candidates from those parties in the strong bases of their presidential flag bearers.

Additionally, the injection of electronic transmission of poll results after balloting helped to instill more voter confidence in the system. By regularizing such innovations through the Electoral Act 2022, chances are that there would be greater participation in the electoral process by the citizens.

In the event that electors extend their support for the presidential frontrunners to Senatorial and House of Representatives’ contestants from their respective localities, that would translate to a National Assembly of different colours.

Should that happen, the likelihood of real democracy, which plurality of ideas engender, would translate to the much sought-after good governance. But, the outcome of the National Assembly election would likely renew the issues of zoning and distribution of political positions in the 10th plenary.

The potency of that consideration stoked the campaigns for the front row presidential candidates. For instance, within the PDP where former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is running against the stream of North/South power rotation, the next contestation after today’s elections are won and lost would be how to balance the ticket through zoning of the chairmanship of National Assembly.

The extant tradition is that the President of the Senate chairs the National Assembly. Small talks within the PDP have been that should Atiku win and the outgoing Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, wins his Senatorial contest, he (Tambuwal) would be the automatic choice of PDP for the position of Senate President.

But, PDP leaders from the Southern Nigeria, who were peeved by the squabbling between the party’s national leadership and the group of five Southern governors (also known as G5) maintain that the next President of the Senate should come from the South.

Invariably, within the governing APC, the scheming for the position of President of Senate did much to give life to the presidential run of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the party’s standard-bearer.

Expecting a transposition of the office, which is currently occupied by Dr. Ahmad Lawan from Northeast to Southeast and South, Senatorial contenders from the two southern zones advanced political schemes to ensure the electoral victory of Tinubu at today’s poll.

Notable among these schemers are Ebonyi State governor, Engineer David Nweze Umahi, his Cross River State counterpart, Prof. Benedict Ayade, as well as former Niger Delta Minister, Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio and Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu.

While there are insinuations that a compromise candidate or dark horse could be thrown up by APC, the fact that Senator Chimaroke Nnamani from the PDP decided to take political bullets for Tinubu leaves not many in doubt that the battle scars on the former Enugu State governor could earn him positive consideration for the coveted position of Senate President.

However, as politics is the art of the possible, all those aspirations are dependent on how today’s ballot pans out. The idea of party supremacy, which is usually brought to bear on such plenary contests, could only hold sway if any of the parties returns a comfortable majority in the Senate.

Observations from the election environment does not give fillip to such a possibility. A rainbow National Assembly is most likely to ensue.

Sharing his thoughts on the matter, a chieftain of APC from Kwara State, Saliu Mustapha, said politics is all about management and managing processes.

Mustapha, who is also a candidate for Kwara Central Senatorial District, declared: “No matter how multi-coloured or how rainbow-like it will look, there will also be so many parties that will come on board after winning elections maybe in their individual constituencies. There will always be a majority and it is now for the majority to be able to negotiate, dialogue.”

He noted that give and take would be the next option in such a setting, adding that chairmanship of certain committees could be thrown into the bargain to assuage interests.

It is therefore against such a lofty background that today’s presidential poll is set. All eyes are trained at Tinubu (APC), Atiku (PDP), Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, Labour Party (LP) and Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

The emergence of Kwankwaso and Obi as presidential candidates contributed in no small way to the recalibration of the 2023 presidential election cycle. Ordinarily, APC and PDP had taken it upon themselves that the Presidency is theirs to lose.

Veering off from the main opposition PDP for divergent reasons, both Kwankwaso and Obi made the contest very refreshing for voters, but hugely traumatising for old time political allies, Atiku and Tinubu. Analysts believe that the choices are stark, even if testy for the electors to make today: Contest of old and new.

All the same, each contender comes with unique energy, campaign style and support base. The ‘noise’ from the four big four horses stymied the promising offering of a fifth candidate, Prince Adebowale Adebayo of Social Democratic Party (SDP).

At the end of balloting today, one of two scenarios could emerge: Either a winner is declared or a run off. However, being an unusual election with differing possibilities, whatever method used in analysing it would meet with fatal flaw if it depends on old metrics. All the candidates have varying high and low points:

Obi (LP)
A late entrant. The candidate of LP joined the race shortly after officially quitting PDP on May 24, 2022. His meeting with former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, raised eyebrows. On May 27, Obi, who was a former governor of Anambra State announced his membership of the Labour Party.

Three days later, Obi emerged as presidential standard-bearer of the party. Not long after he was nominated, the former governor, who was presidential pairing partner to Atiku Abubakar on PDP platform in 2019, embarked on a study tour of Egypt to get a heads-up on the North African country’s magic to steady electricity supply.

With such unusual marketing approach, it did not take long for the former governor to raise the stakes and place LP on the discussion and debating tables. A tour of the United States and Canada helped to galvanise diaspora buy-in to the LP candidate’s presidential run.

Obi became the hero of the young and energetic Nigerians who not only nurse a different idea about how the country should be run, but also sick and tired of the corruption that attends leadership selection and governance in Nigeria.

The fact of his popularity with the youth was artistically captured by the little Miss Chioma Precious, who became the cynosure of all eyes during a street march in Asaba Delta, as well as the bold aerial embrace by Yusuf in Lagos.

Obi’s selling pitch had been transiting Nigeria from consumption to production as well as cutting the cost of governance through eradication of wasteful spending.

Despite the fact that of all the four candidates, he is the only one with a voting bloc, Obi is dismissed as a stranger to Nigeria’s presidential politics. That much is also driven home by the perception that he is running on a weak platform lacking in strong political structure.

Kwankwaso (NNPP)
KWANKWASO, a former governor of Kano State, first aspired for the presidency in 2014 and 2018 on APC and PDP respectively. Enhanced by his Kwankwasiyya group, the former Kano State chief executive believes that his experience and fresh ideas would gift him the Presidency.

Believed to have been edged out of PDP by the political collaboration of Sokoto State governor and Atiku, Kwankwaso’s campaigns were dogged by constant accusation of playing a spoiler to requite his political rivals.

The NNPP standard bearer is also accused of lacking the financial muscle to drive a nationwide electioneering, even as he is credited with possible dominance of Kano State, which he governed eight years ago.

Atiku (PDP)
EMERGING from some contentious post-presidential primary developments in PDP, the PDP flag bearer says he is the best man for the job of unifying Nigeria. He boasts of being the only contender that would learn on the job, stressing that he knows the country like the back of his hand.

Atiku also advances his years as Vice President to claim that he would revamp Nigeria’s economy, adding that he would replicate same feat as delivered by PDP from 1999 through 2007.

But, without knowing it, Atiku pushed back on his credentials as a unifier when he told a gathering of northern leaders that “what the average northerner needs, is a northerner that is pan Nigeria, instead of Igbo or Yoruba president.”

The antics of G5 governors did much to leave a minus on the vibrancy of Atiku’s candidacy, even as he is also being chided for negating the north/south powersharing understanding.

Tinubu (APC)
LIKE Atiku, Tinubu boasts of experience and political engineering in his days as leader of opposition Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Action Congress (AC).

The APC standard bearer promises to use the magic wand he deployed in developing Lagos State as governor to better the economic fortunes of Nigeria. He also prides himself as one who has eyes for excellent in men to hire them for service.

Latter day strife in the governing party and the unabashed attempt to severe himself from the last eight years of APC is part of the burden Tinubu carries to today’s poll.

Not that alone, his perceived unsteady health and outlandish gesticulations are seen as plausible drawbacks alongside his decision to pick a fellow Muslim as running mate.

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