Ten days to the presidential primaries of the two major political parties, it is clear to all that elections are coming up in the country. Nigerians can feel the political vibes and shenanigans. All activities now centre on elections. Everything, consciously and unconsciously, revolves round elections. By May 30, precisely, the presidential candidates of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would emerge, with their national conventions scheduled to start the same day, May 29, 2022. The emergence of the presidential candidates would set the tone for the major fight for the successor of President Muhammadu Buhari, coming up in February next year.
From what Nigerians have seen so far in the political field and what is expected in the coming months, next year’s presidential contest may just be an election like never. The stakes are too high. The APC wants to retain power at the federal level and in most of the states, to prove to the world that it is the party of choice for Nigerians, coming on the heels of two previous presidential election victories in 2015 and 2019. The PDP is aiming at taking back political power, to show that it is the best alternative for the country, at a time when the performance of the APC Federal Government has left much to be desired. Nigerian voters, on their part, are hoping to make the right choice in the presidential election, having figuratively tasted the PDP and the APC at the Presidency. In comparing the two political parties, Nigerian voters should know the better one, although they operated at different times, with different indices and circumstances.
A lot of new things are happening in the political space to show that the next presidential contest would be an election like never. At present, the political parties are only in the process of selecting their presidential candidates, but the country is already in general election mood. Never have Nigerians seen the kind of electioneering and lobbying, in the name of consultation by the presidential aspirants, in the history of elections in the country. In both the APC and the PDP, presidential aspirants are traversing the length and breadth of the country, meeting their political parties’ delegates.
With the new campaign format, in quest of presidential tickets of political parties, each aspirant is expected to travel to the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to talk to delegates before the presidential primaries. The ultimate goal is for the aspirants to tell the delegates why they should be supported, ahead of the presidential primaries. This makes the quest for presidential tickets of political parties more expensive than ever. Going round the country to woo delegates, who would eventually converge on the day of the presidential primaries, is capital-intensive, cumbersome and tiring. It is a political campaign through the back door, as, by the timetable of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it is not yet time for electioneering.
In times past, presidential aspirants waited for the national convention day, when delegates from across the country would gather in one arena, before making contact with them or their representatives. Then all the horse-trading, lobbying and compromises would be made on the national convention ground, with the delegates serving more or less as pawns in the hands of political buccaneers. No doubt, in the current dispensation, all the manoeuvring on the convention day would still play out, atop the current state-by-state campaigns. However, it is hoped that the delegates, individually, would be driven more by their conviction than pecuniary gains or the influence of their selfish political leaders. Where this becomes the case, it would be good for democracy and the country.
It is indeed gratifying that, before the presidential primaries of the political parties, the delegates are known and are actually interfacing with the aspirants. Where the delegates are known in advance, the tendency for manipulation of the lists, by way of substitution of the authentic delegates with hired hands, will be reduced. One would not lose sight of the fact that this also makes the delegates vulnerable, as it gives room for their buy-off by the aspirants. However, the delegates have the onerous task of doing the nation this national service conscientiously and with every sense of responsibility. They owe the country a duty to do the right thing in picking the presidential candidates, whether in APC or PDP. The right thing to do is to dispassionately look at the aspirants and pick two out of them who would save the country.
Nigeria is not having the best of times at present. The country has never been as polarised as now. State actors have, through their parochial disposition and ethnic prejudices, made Nigerians to drift apart. The current agitation for micro-zoning of the presidency stems from the selective approach of the Federal Government in dishing out incentives. A situation where some sections of the country are favoured with goodies, while others are punished, cannot engender development and national cohesion. Unity has taken flight from the country, as Nigerians now see themselves first from where they come from, before affirming their nationalism.
In the midst of visible division, the country is bedevilled by insecurity, with banditry, insurgency, killings, kidnapping and sundry crimes plaguing every nook and cranny. Students and pupils are being kidnapped from their schools, held in captivity and ransom collected on their heads. Worship centres are being bombed and attacked. Police stations and government facilities are being attacked and destroyed. Security personnel are killed at will. Farmlands are being taken over by marauding herdsmen, while separatist agitators are grounding cities in the name of sit-at-home. Religious bigotry is now rife, to the extent that Muslims stoned a Christian girl to death for so-called blasphemy. Poverty has increased. Economic hardship and strangulation are at all-time high.
To arrest this drift and save the country from doom, there is need for a unifier, first and foremost, as President. It would be in the interest of the country, if the next election would produce a President whose outlook, posture and disposition would be for the unity of Nigeria. Never should Nigeria have a President who would look everybody in the eye and declare that his reward regime would be based on volume of votes and extent of support for his candidacy. Nigeria needs a President that sees all Nigerians as equals, irrespective of political affiliation, ethnic origin or religion. The country needs a dynamic, compassionate, open-minded and cosmopolitan leader.
Much is, therefore, required of the delegates in giving Nigerian voters presidential candidates who would make a good President. The delegates should take their assignment as if it is the general election that would determine who would be the next President. With justice, fairness and equity in mind, as well as an eye on capacity and capability, the delegates should select people whose emergence as candidates would give hope for a better Nigeria, no matter who eventually wins the presidential election. Those they should look at should be people favourably disposed to forming a government of national unity, where all sections of the country would have a fair share of government offices and actively participate in governance.
It must be noted that next year’s election will also go down as one where aspirants paid the highest nomination fee in the country’s history. Never has there been a time when presidential candidates paid as high as N40 million, as in PDP, and N100 million, as in APC, to contest for the presidential ticket of any political party. We have seen it this year. High nomination fee has its pluses, no matter what we say. It could serve as a way of reducing the number of presidential candidates, at a time when every Nigerian wants to be President. It is really sad seeing those who know that, even in their family election, they would not win, coming out to bid for the presidency, simply because of their belief that they have the inalienable right to so do. Every Tom, Dick and Harry vying for the presidency makes a mockery of the exercise. It reduces the status of the office of President.