By Amos Esele
One of the ironies of Nigerian politics is the doggedness with which politicians disguise their interests as a fight for principles on behalf of their people.
Otherwise, what is the hue and cry about the power shift to the South when there is enough to choose from the list of 18 presidential candidates released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, last Tuesday?
It showed that 12 of the candidates come from the South to where the current public opinion says presidential candidates must emerge for there to be fairness and inclusivity in the 2023 general election.
INEC has confirmed the presidential candidates and their political parties as Christopher Imumolem (South) of Accord Party, AP; Hamza Al-Mustapha of Action Alliance, AA; Sowore Omoyele (South) of Africa Action Congress, AAC; Dumebi Kachikwu (south) of Africa Democratic Congress, ADC; Yusuf Yabagi Sani of Action Democratic Party, ADP; All Progressives Congress, APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu (south); All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; Chukwudi Peter Umeadi (South), Allied People’s Movement, APM; Princess Chichi Ojei (South), Action Peoples Party, APP; Osita Nnadi Charles (South), Booth Party, BP; Oluwafemi Sunday Adenuga (south); Labour Party, Peter Obi (South); New Nigerian Peoples Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso; National Rescue Movement, NRM, Johnson Felix Osakwe (south); Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar; Peoples Redemption Party, Kolawole Abiola; (South).
Others are Social Democratic Party, SDP, Adewole Adebayo (South-West); Young Peoples Party, YPP, Abdulmalik Ado-Ibrahim; and Zenith Labour Party, ZLP; Daberechukwu Nwanyanwu (South).
By zonal arrangement, all the three zones in the South are fairly represented in the INEC list. From the southwest came four candidates, namely, Tinubu of the APC, Adebayo of the SDP, Abiola of the PRP, Adenuga of the BP and Sowore of AAC. The South-East has three candidates, who are Obi of LP, Osita of APP, Umaedi of APGA and Nwanyanwu of ZLP. The Southsouth candidates are Imumolen of A, Kachikwu of ADC, Ojie of AAP and Osakwe of NRM.
While the INEC official list presents more than enough candidates of southern extraction to choose from by agitators for power shift to the South, the reality that is playing out from the point of power, visibility, presence and structure is that four out of the 18 parties have been hugging the headlines and would in a probability sustain that optics as campaign kicks off on Wednesday, September 28, 2022.
These parties are the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar; APC and its candidate, Ahmed Bola Tinubu; LP and its candidate, Peter Obi, and the NNPP and its candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso. While the APC and PDP control the 36 governors, National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly as well as local governments between them, Peter Obi of LP has since emerged as a formidable force following a youth -based, social media savvy followership, just as former Kano Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, has widespread, active grassroots group, the Kwankwassiya, in the Northwest.
Even so, the parties are entering the campaign during the week with a lot of challenges and prospects.
Nevertheless, one of the smaller parties like ADC is undergoing a crisis of confidence as its candidate, Kachikwu, has been rejected by the party after he challenged the Ralph Nwosu-led National Working Committee, NWC, to resign because their tenure had expired. In a reaction to the publication of his name as its candidate, the party said his attempt to destroy the structure of the party had failed and “his boast that he will squeeze INEC to do his bidding to remove our chairman remains empty,” adding that his participation in the presidential election remains doubtful.
What has become known as the Governor Nyesom Wike vs Atiku crisis has continued to affect the smooth operations of the party at every turn of events. The crisis, which started immediately after Wike felt betrayed by Atiku over the choice of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as Atiku’s Vice Presidential candidate, has grown to include a demand by the Wike group for the national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to resign for peace to prevail in the party.
The aggrieved group which include Wike’s counterparts in Oyo, Benue, Abia, Enugu states, respectively, Seyi Makinde, Samuel Ortom, Okezie Ikpeazu, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and some elders, as well as some former governors of the party, allege that Ayu betrayed the trust reposed on him by taking sides at the presidential convention.
Appeals from stakeholders of the party had been rejected by the group. Last Wednesday, a week to the kick-off of campaigns, the group announced it would pull out of the presidential campaign council and on Friday, Wike kept up the pressure at a press conference by daring the party to expel him. At the conference, he accused Ayu of plotting to become Secretary to the Federal Government should PDP win the presidential election, even as he maintains calls for his resignation for peace to reign in the party. He pledged to remain in the party and fight as he promised to work for the victory of the party and its candidate in the 2023 polls.
Having exhausted all avenues for reconciliation, the BoT chairman, Senator Adolphus Wabara, is still pursuing reconciliation meetings with the aggrieved parties. This is as the party has resolved to replace the names of those who left the campaign council and launch its campaign on September 28, 2022, once INEC blows the whistle.
Nonetheless, how far Wabara would go in resolving the lingering crisis remains to be seen. But the distraction and possible electoral impact the crisis may have on the party cannot be underestimated. A hint came during the week with the outcome of the poll conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Economist in its last week prediction that PDP may lose the 2023 presidential poll to the candidate of the APC, Tinubu, largely on the basis of the Wike crisis. This means that if the party were to put the crisis to rest, it has a bright chance of winning the election.
Meanwhile the party’s candidate, Atiku, has launched a pro-business, private sector friendly manifesto.
He has also constituted a 326-member presidential campaign council with Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State as director and Governor Udom Emmanuel as chairman. Makinde vice –chairman, South while Ortom and Wike are members. As at Friday, the Wike group was yet to pull out of the campaign council as it threatened to do earlier in the week.
Fair enough, Wike opened a window of opportunity for possible reconciliation when he said in reply to a question at the press conference he addressed on Friday that he would campaign for the party to win all seats in his state, including the presidency.
The major challenge facing the governing APC is the same faith ticket, which it initially thought would blow over with time.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and ex-Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, had led aggrieved voices in the North and mobilising the Christian community in the region against the party over the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Feeling the heat, Tinubu, last Thursday, held a closed door meeting with the Pentecostal Bishop Forum of Northern Nigeria in his Abuja campaign office. The meeting attracted sneers and jeers as the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, which still insists on its stand against the ticket.
Even so, the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Economist in its poll unveiled last Thursday said the APC standard bearer will win the poll. Two weeks after another poll, NOI Polls showed that Tinubu tied with Atiku and put Obi ahead of both of them.
Another big task ahead of the party is the unity of the party behind the candidature of Tinubu who emerged as ‘the candidate of governors’ after President Muhammadu Buhari had pleaded with governors of the party for reciprocity during a a pre-convention meeting, urging them to reciprocate his gesture of allowing them to pick their successors and support his request to be allowed to a candidate for the party.
His choice of Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who was announced as consensus candidate by the National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, while exercising his 90-day unquestioned power to organise the convention, failed to secure the ticket due to the machinations of the governors, particularly the 13 governors from the North who rallied round Tinubu after the former Lagos governor had ruffled feathers with his now famous Emilokan (my turn) pre convention before delegates in Ogun State. The president is said to be still rankled by this unfavourable outcome of the convention and has instead opted to be impartial in the conduct of the election.
Meanwhile, the popularity of the President has waned in the North following the lingering insecurity of lives and property, even in his home state of Katsina, where kidnapping has increased alongside Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi. These challenges have been casting a shadow on the party and making for a poor coordination and take off of the campaign by the party.
Tinubu is yet to unveil a manifesto, a few days to the start of electioneering and a few weeks after media spokesperson, Bayo Onanuga, promised the public. For a candidate who said winning the presidency is his life ambition, it is clear that trying times are taxing him.
Tinubu is yet to formally constitute a presidential council though he has been appointing its members piece-meal. The Director General of the council is in place in the person of Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, so too are the media team, comprising Onanuga, Dele Alake, Minister of State of Labour Festus Keyamo and Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan. Others are Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State who is in charge of youth mobilisation.
The party which has gained much traction on social media has marked with a phenomenal youthful ‘Obidient Movement,’ plans to transform the media power to the streets as from this week. A coalition of groups and associations under what policy coordinator, Prof Patrick Utomi, called ‘Big Tent Coalition’, will start working for Obi this week.
He said the team of policy players which was unveiled on Friday will “hold its first meeting next week, and whose engagement in policy contestation will shed light on why the promise of Nigeria has become blighted will henceforth suggest how policy can move Nigeria from the obsession with the sharing of hardly existent revenues to production.
“In addition to this team, we have set up a college of spokespersons from every state of the Federation, and the six zones, plus Abuja, to deepen the communication to the grassroots, of the work of the policy teams as they propose alternatives to extant policies in other to see a shift from revenue bating and conspicuous consumption emphasis to a production culture that will lift up the quality of life of Nigerians.”
According to Utomi, “These spokespersons, who will also communicate the efforts of the Big Tent for Peter Obi Campaign, as the Labour Party candidate leads the college of leaders working together to win the 2023 election so Nigerians can take back their country through what is truly a government of the people, for the people and by the people.”
Obi is yet to launch a campaign council. It is expected that Utomi’s Friday promise will see the emergence of that council.
Unbelievably, Obi during an appearance at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, recently, said he was yet to put up a manifesto though he made some pro-business policies promises a LP government would enact if it won the election.
A major challenge awaiting the LP presidential candidate from a probing public would be how his pro-business and less government policies contradicts the platform. Labour has been in support of retaining fuel subsidies, which the Nigeria Labour Congress, which claims to have 10 million members at the disposal of LP, said things can be handled by local production and refining as well as proper management and transparency in supply. The NLC also decries the privatisation of government assets, which it insists can be better run by laid rules of engagement than leaving it to private hands than would be governed by profit motive. It would be interesting to see how this pans out in the days ahead.
The defection of the former Governor of Kano State, Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, from the NNPP to the PDP a fortnight ago had greatly affected the image of the party as the one to beat in the North-West states of Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa and Bauchi in the Northwest where some serving senat the Shekarau, with accusation of insincerity over sharing of position, left also cast a poor image on the party.
The initial reaction of the party to Shekarau’s defection was to solicit alliance with a party with similar views, on all positions except the presidency and vice presidency, according to Party National Chairman, Prof Rufai’ Alkali.
Campaign Council is yet to be launched publicly and a Manifesto unveiled to the public.
PEACE ACCORD PACT
All the parties that agreed to sign a peace accord this week, have also pledged to pay attention to issue-based campaigns and avoid mudslinging once electioneering kicks off on September 28, 2022.
The high poverty with an estimated 90 million Nigerians living on less than N700 a day, worsened insecurity, high unemployment at about 60 million unemployed youths, high inflation rate at 20.5 per cent, the highest in 24 years and decayed infrastructure are agreed by most Nigerians to be enough to engage the frontline candidates. The candidates, most Nigerians say, have their electioneering jobs cut out for them.