With a little over a month to the presidential election in Nigeria, the political parties and their candidates are making big shows of the few weeks left to campaign and market their ideas to millions of Nigerians. Thus far, all 18 registered political parties have demonstrated a clear instance of independence on how they think Nigeria should be run in the next four years. To a large extent, this informs why all 18 political parties are fielding candidates in the February 25 presidential election.
However, pundits and bookmakers believe that of the pack of 18 flag bearers, only four stand a realistic chance of succeeding the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) whose second term in office elapses on May 29 this year. A school of thought also argues that a good number of the candidates are merely in the race to add the unofficial title of ‘former presidential candidate,” to their resumes; aware that such a tag is likely to open a door or two in the future.
Across the country, there is a general agreement that Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party are the only contestants with a chance of becoming Nigeria’s next president. Given their political pedigrees, vast political network, deep vault of cash and many enabling resources, it is therefore not surprising that these leaders have in the past few months, been described as the nation’s next president in many public events. But how do these men stand today in a race expected to shape the future of Nigeria and its citizens?
Born 71 years ago, Tinubu is a veteran in his own right. Elected twice as governor of Lagos State, he has managed to build a cult followership and has continued to remain the singular most potent force in the determinant of who gets what, when and how in Lagos, politically, that is. After a series of failed attempts at the Presidency, it was to Tinubu that Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) turned in 2013 for a legion of meetings and broad-based consultations. The outcome of that move birthed the All Progressives Congress, a platform that eventually delivered the Daura-born retired Army General as a democratically elected president.
Tinubu’s grip on the APC paved way for his emergence at the presidential primaries, beating the likes of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Rotimi Amaechi, the former Minister of Transportation; Ahmed Lawan, the Senate President and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state, among others. With just a few months to the primaries, Major General Buhari (retd.), caused a stir in the political circle when Amaechi, believed by many then as his preferred choice of successor, was turbaned the Dan Amana (The trusted son) of Daura. Although, the Commander-in-Chief had said he preferred to keep the identity of his preferred choice close to his chest; many tipped Amaechi as that beautiful bride he wanted to succeed him. At Eagles Square, Tinubu won and the rest is history.
The APC Presidential Campaign Council is some steps ahead of its counterparts in the race to take the “Renewed Hope” message across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Although both Tinubu and Atiku are billionaires in hard currency, the former Lagos state governor has covered more states than his PDP counterpart since the commencement of campaigns in September last year.
With governors elected on the platform of the APC dishing out logistical support to aid his movement, Tinubu has been able to take his message to as many states as possible, with a mammoth crowd always on the ground to receive him. With the backing of his party chieftains including the President, the APC standard bearer has been telling Nigerians reasons why a vote for him and his running mate, Senator Kashim Shettima is a vote for the nation’s prosperity.
That Tinubu is running on the platform of the ruling APC is a factor too big to ignore. In emerging democracies like Nigeria, it is not common for parties in power to lose. The defeat of Dr Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP in 2015 was the first time a Nigerian President lost an election as a candidate.
Outgoing President, Major General Buhari has often hyped his infrastructural “legacies” reminding anyone who cared to listen that no previous administration was more committed to the development of the nation’s critical sectors than his. As a result, the party is queuing behind its candidate, if only to ensure the sustainability of its policies and programme.
Although Atiku boasts of huge financial resources, Tinubu is in a world of his own given the backing of the federal government, not to mention governors, Senators, and House of Representatives members elected on the platform of the APC, most of whom are members of his campaign council.
The APC apart from being in power at the centre controls 22 out of the 36 states of the federation. Given the powers of governors in their respective states, it is a no-brainer if one suggests that Tinubu would enjoy a smooth ride provided those governors are willing to work with him. At the local government and ward levels, the APC candidate will most likely be home and dry in APC-controlled states unless a dramatic twist occurs at the 11th hour.
In the South-West where he hails from, Tinubu will have little to worry about except for Oyo and Osun states whose governors, Seyi Makinde and Ademola Adeleke have a big say on where the pendulum would likely swing. In Ekiti, the division in the camps of the former governor, Ayo Fayose and Senator Biodun Olujimi is likely to place Tinubu at a more vantage position compared to his co-contestants.
Perhaps, the youth uprising popularly known as the #EndSARS which grounded the nation for days two years ago, largely informed the level of political awareness and consciousness currently combing the land. The youths who formed the largest population of the voting demography are asking intelligent questions. At 71, when will Tinubu takes a rest and retire from politics? When in the build-up to the APC presidential primaries, he chanted emi lokan (it’s my turn), did he spare a thought for the youths? For the first time, the youths are campaigning everywhere for a change in the way they vote during elections.
He is the rave of the moment; the one enjoying mass support from young Nigerians. On social media, he enjoys the support of sundry groups, many of whom host Twitter spaces regularly to advance reasons why he should make the next President. Unlike Tinubu and Atiku, 61-years old Obi is seen as a breath of fresh air who can breathe life into the nation’s ailing economy.
There is suspicion about his structure and whether Labour Party has the spread to cause an upset. Yet, anyone who ignores the former Anambra State governor does so at his or her own risk.
Elected twice as Kano State governor, 67 years old Kwankwaso, was a former Minister of the Federal Republic. Preaching a message of hope, his Kwankwasiyya movement is largely popular in the North, with many expecting him to give Atiku a run for his money particularly in Kano State.
Speaking on the chances of the candidates, political commentator, Jackson Ojo said, “Tinubu and Atiku are the obvious two. They are popular but it is left for Nigeria to decide who they want. If the achievements of the present government come into play, then it will be difficult for Tinubu to win.”
On his part, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome stated, “Let the electorate make their choice but the election should be without manipulation. It is the will of the people that must prevail.”
Armed with humongous financial wherewithal, Atiku’s campaign plane has touched many states, with an enthusiastic crowd receiving his “Rescue and Rebuild” message in excitement.
He is 77 years old but Atiku’s campaigns are second to none in terms of talking about the issues as they relate to governance. Unlike Tinubu, he is not quick at dishing out personal insults and vitriolic. He is not shy of telling Nigerians what he will do if elected.
With the country stuck in debt, a large chunk of which was borrowed by the incumbent administration, Atiku says his knowledge of what was done to earn the country debt relief in the past, would guide him if elected, to bring the nation out of her current N77 trillion debt profile.
His agenda for the youths in ICT, sports, agriculture and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises has received applause from many quarters.
Atiku is largely popular in the North where Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Ahmadu Fintiri (Adamawa) and Bala Mohammed (Bauchi) hold sway. Although Shettima is expected to sway votes for Buhari In Borno and Yobe states, Atiku’s investments in the North may likely see him getting a larger chunk of the votes than his APC counterpart.
In the South-East, the influence of Peter Obi may ruin his chances of getting block votes but he is popular enough to take the South-South with the likes of Governors Ifeanyi Okowa, Godwin Obaseki, Udom Emmanuel and Duoye Diri of Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states respectively.
He is likely to lose the South-West to Tinubu by a slight margin.
Atiku is seen as a political desperado, bent on becoming Nigeria’s president at all costs and this may count against him. His serial defection from one party to the other, in a bid to be on the ballot, counts more as a minus than an advantage.
Not many Nigerians would forget in a hurry how the former Vice President teamed up with the likes of Tinubu to bring the current government to power. Yet, when it became clear he wasn’t going to get the APC ticket on a platter, he returned to the PDP where he contested in 2019 and lost to Buhari of the APC.
The decision of Governors Nyesom Wike, Samuel Ortom, Seyi Makinde, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Ikpeazu to dump Atiku in September has left the PDP candidate battling to maintain the kind of momentum Nigerians would have expected going into the elections. It would be worse if these governors endorsed any of Atiku’s co-contestants.