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Osinbajo, Atiku’s wife, Igbo presence and South West votes

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor) and Seye Olumide
22 February 2019   |   3:37 am
A total of 72,775,502 Nigerians would tomorrow design a new political map for the nation with their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) as they cast their ballot for two major Muslim presidential candidates from the northern part of the country. It would be simplistic to believe that incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari would retain dominance of his…

Vice President, Osinbajo

A total of 72,775,502 Nigerians would tomorrow design a new political map for the nation with their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) as they cast their ballot for two major Muslim presidential candidates from the northern part of the country.

It would be simplistic to believe that incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari would retain dominance of his Northwest geopolitical zone, while his main challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controls the Northeast flank where he hails from. Politics is not mathematics.

As such the dynamics of tomorrow’s election differ enormously from what obtained in 2015 when Buhari as a challenger faced a Christian from the minority Ijaw ethnic grouping of South-South geopolitical zone.

Despite prodigious efforts by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to deflect the narrative, tomorrow’s election is to a great extent a referendum on President Buhari’s four years in office.

Religious and regional considerations have little input to colour the expected outcome of the election.

Based on the performance indices of the incumbent, he would be facing stiff challenge in the Northwest, while also struggling to whittle down Atiku’s vote tally in the Northeast zone.

In line with that reasoning, it would be taken for granted that incumbent and challenger would share votes in the core north at different ratios.

Prior to his electoral victory in 2015, Buhari was viewed as a kind ‘deity’ that controls 12 million votes from among the Hausa/Fulani ethnic grouping of the north. That record would be put to severe test tomorrow.

Contrary to the massive support he had in 2015, when almost all Nigerians were practically fed up with the then ruling PDP and erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Buhari’s real worth has been exposed by his stint in office as president.

Unlike Jonathan, who was more of an accidental leader, Buhari would be up in electoral warfare with a tested and wily politician in the person of the former vice president.

Based on the reality of their different political pedigrees, some commentators have noted that Atiku would not be an easy nut to crack, even with the famed power of incumbency that has been demystified four years ago.

The balance in Atiku’s campaign council, which parades a rare combination of North Central, South-South, Southeast and Northeast active players, led by the indefatigable Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, makes the election environment easy for his camp.

With Saraki leading the charge in Middle Belt or North Central and Atiku whipping up the balance of political exposure sentiment between Northwest and Northeast, it could be said that the incumbent and his challenger would tangle on a familiar turf.

Going down south
THE real indicators where the pendulum would swing in the much-expected presidential poll are inclined southwards. President Buhari has a running mate from Southwest, while Atiku paired up with former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, from the Southeast, which has been known to cast bloc votes in the past, unlike the Southwest which sophisticated political exposure tends to split their votes in clever balance such that they do not carry their political eggs in one basket.

And although Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hails from the Southwest, the zone has been evaluating the net dividends from his stint as the nation’s number two in the outgoing four years.

This makes it clear that the battle for the 2019 president would be fought in the south.

Also, the one’s week shift of the election last Saturday by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) might have given both APC and PDP ample time to re-strategise ahead of tomorrow’s exercise.

There are two variables that would touch on voter preferences. They are good governance consideration and vote-buying.

The fact remains that the Yoruba, which have a mixture of Christians and Muslims, may vote along those lines, while the predominantly Christian Igbo population are likely to vote according to their usual pattern.

The Guardian’s findings show that even up till yesterday both APC and PDP intensified their campaigns in underground door-to-door interactions rather than the usual open rally that characterised electioneering before the sudden shift in poll dates.

Although the stated aim of the underground work was to get more people to vote tomorrow, it was also learnt that to achieve this objective, the two contending parties allegedly moved huge sums of money across the country to mobilise their supporters.

To show the seriousness attached to the coming election, the Federal Government declared Friday (today) as public holiday to enable the electorate make necessary preparations for the exercise.

While the two major parties may have enough cash to disburse to woo the electorate, there are fears that should the election be determined on the premise of ‘vote buying’ the ruling party might buy its way back to power.

Southwest as key battleground
VOTE buying might have helped to determine some gubernatorial polls, but recognizing that the Yoruba have been championing the cause of good governance, fiscal federalism and restructuring, majority of Southwest voters would be swayed by a greater impulse than just a few wads of money.

Experiences from the past four years would be thrown into the bargain, especially against the background of near alienation of APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

What commitments have been extracted from the candidates? How realistic are those undertakings based on the outcome of the 2015 alliance? All these are reasons to believe that the battle would be won and lost in Southwest despite the vice president’s position.

Throwing 2023 into the fray for the Igbo, the closest they might get to the presidency is to queue behind Atiku, who has one of their own as running mate.

It is understandable that peradventure the former vice president wins, his chances of spending two terms of eight years is also bright with Obi at his side as running mate.

Predicament of Southwest
If there is any region that its interest is at stake tomorrow, it is the Southwest. In the first instance, if Atiku wins the election, the possibility of a Yoruba becoming president of Nigeria can only happen after 16 years from now.

Also, the alleged undertaking for Secretary of the Federal Government and Senate President positions former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Afenifere extracted from Atiku as conditions for supporting him is a major factor that would likely sway some Southwest elite voters to consider Atiku and look the other from their son Osinbajo.

Obasanjo and Afenifere’s contention is that the office of the vice president is an empty seat that carries no real power. They give the instance of Osinbajo who has been reduced to ajo collector distributing monies to market women like a common tout.

So much so that he was not even allowed to use an aircraft from the presidential fleet and had to hire Uber-like chopper that nearly ended his life in Kogi State.

Not least also has been the campaign train of Atiku’s wife, Titi Abubakar, in the Southwest.

A daughter of Osun State, Atiku’s wife made serious inroads into the heart of the Southwest by engaging the women and some royal fathers to consider her husband for Nigeria’s top job.

She went along also with the restructuring message that seems appealing to Southwest voters, a proposition that APC has since jettisoned from its agenda.

It also noted that the Christian votes in the Southwest are going to be divided among the Yoruba. Of course, majority of Yoruba people attending Orthodox churches like the Catholic may vote for Atiku because of Obi, who is a Catholic, while the bulk of Yoruba attending Pentecostal churches may tilt towards Buhari, because of Osinbajo.

Also, majority of Muslim across the Southwest may likely support the incumbent. The elite that have been critical of Buhari are likely not going to vote for him.

While speaking on the predicament of Southwest, factional chairman of APC in Lagos State, Mr. Fouad Oki, said PDP is aware that the number is not adding up for it in the Southwest and North and that is the reason the party has been flying all manner of kites to discredit the outcome of the election if the result does not favour the party.

He noted: “For instance, the recent sit at home directive by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to Igbo people not to participate in the election was a calculated mistake, because it would have been to the disadvantage of Atiku especially in his stronghold.”

Oki’s position was, however, faulted by the President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shetima, who said the game in the north is totally different from what outsiders, especially those from the south are saying.

According to him, “The Northwest where people consider as the major stronghold of the incumbent based on what transpired in the 2015 presidential election would be a different ballgame tomorrow.

What Atiku only need is 40 to 45 percent of votes cast in the Northwest and he will coast home to victory.

From all indications, the likely outcome is hard to predict so soon who between the two northern presidential candidates will take the day tomorrow as the odds point to a very tight race.

However, the PDP standard-bearer might take advantage of the waning popularity of Buhari in the North Central following Fulani herdsmen’s unabated attacks in the zone and the attendant lackluster reaction of the incumbent to the development.

How far the political understanding there is among Middle Belt, Southeast, South-South, and Southwest in the form of electoral alliance of votes would definitely tip the scale in favour of Atiku, who is running on the promise of restructuring rather than Buhari’s mere sloganeering about fight against corruption, security and strong economy whose failure thoroughly exposed him as a weak leader in his four years in office.