By Omoniyi Salaudeen
With the commencement of presidential and National Assembly election campaigns, all is now set for the 2023 polls.
From the timetable and schedule of activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections, which began on September 28, will close 24 hours ahead of the February 25, 2023 election.
Out of the 18 registered political parties, only 15 of them are fielding presidential candidates.
These include the standard bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; his main challenger in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; now wave-making former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP); Osita Nnadi, Action Peoples Party (APP); Kolawole Abiola, Peoples Redemption Party (PRP); Musa Kwankwaso, New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP); Yabagi Sani, Action Democratic Party (ADP); Ado-Ibrahim Abdulmalik, Young Progressives Party (YPP).
Others are Omoyele Sowere, African Action Congress (AAC ); Mamman Dantalle, Allied Peoples Movement (APM); Chukwudi Umeadi, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Oluwafemi Adenuga, Boot Party (BP); Daberechukwu Nwanyanwu, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP); Dumebi Kachikwu, African Democratic Congress (ADC); and Hamza Al-Mustapha, Action Alliance (AA).
Like no other before it, the stake in this election is particularly higher in view of the myriads of problems currently confronting the nation and the complexity of the social disorder arising therefrom.
For another opportunity to elect a new president, the people are expecting to see issue-based electioneering in the days ahead. In the face of the seemingly hopelessness of the situation and general discontent, Nigerians are now yearning for a new leader who could pull back the nation from the brinks.
To achieve a clean break from the present political trajectory, they are looking forward to electing a president who could reunite the country, genuinely and sincerely address the intractable security challenge, rejuvenate the ailing economy, rebuild the decaying education sector, resuscitate the collapsing health institutions and above all restore the social fabric of the society that has been torn apart by ethnic suspicion and distrust.
These are the clear and present danger. They are a recipe for national crisis if nothing is urgently done to attend to these problems before the next dispensation.
But ironically, the issues that have dominated the media space from the activities of the frontline presidential contenders so far have been largely centred around political bickering, mudslinging as well as accusations and counter-accusations of campaigns of falsehood.
These are great sources of concern for the stakeholders who see Nigeria’s evolution toward genuine nationhood rapidly degenerating by primordial sentiments based on religious, ethnicity and tribal politics.
From all that has transpired since the emergence of the candidates of the various political parties, these are the major factors that would shape the outcome of the 2023 general elections.
As already observed from the controversy trailing the Muslim-Muslim ticket presented by Tinubu/Shettima joint candidature, religious sentiments have taken the centre stage in political discourse. Apart from some aggrieved political actors like Babachir Lawal and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yakubu Dogara, who have taken it upon themselves to sustain the campaign against what they termed as insensitivity of the APC candidate, several other Christian and Muslims leaders have also been openly preaching politics in worship houses, dictating to their congregations who and who to vote and not to vote for.
The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in particular has assumed the champion of anti-Muslim-Muslim ticket and there is no indication that it is about to relent in its campaign against the APC.
Such divisive politics is an aberration to Nigeria’s political history and it has a far reaching implication for the fragile peace in the country.
Ordinarily, this is a time when aspiring candidates should be speaking to the issues that unite the country, focusing on the shared value that represents genuine aspiration for nationhood.
But rather than contributing to the pool of ideas about how to move the nation forward, some of the state actors are busy spewing out venom and hate speeches against the opposition, leveraging on their affiliations with one religious group or the other.
Though campaign has not started, there is a strong indication that religion will play a dominant role in the election of the next president in 2023. Nigeria as a secular state places high premium on religious balancing in political decision-making. There is no reliable data for the exact population of Muslims and Christians as the two dominant religions, but the country is roughly divided into almost equal half with Muslims dominating the North and Christians mostly living in the South. Of all the candidates vying for the presidency in the coming election, only Tinubu opted for a Muslim running mate, hoping to re-enact the experience of the June 12, 1993 presidential election in which MKO Abiola and Ambassador Gana Kingibe, who were both Muslims, contested the election and won across ethno-religious boundaries.
But this time around, Christians are dagger drawn, threatening to vote against the APC for its insensitivity to religious balancing. Though the dynamics of the game may change, the outlook of the coming elections presents a direct contest between the Muslims and Christians.
Besides religion, ethnic factor is also likely to rear its ugly head again in this coming 2023 presidential election. The array of contenders parading the political firmament presents a semblance of the 1979 presidential poll which was keenly contested by five leading political parties and their candidates namely the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Shehu Shagari; the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Obefemi Awolowo; the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), Nnamdi Azikwe; Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Mallam Aminu Kano; and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Ibrahim Waziri. The competition was more intense than what the country has witnessed in recent past. All the five candidates that participated in the election pulled their weights in their traditional enclaves with their votes evenly spread across different geo-political zones. Out of the total figure of 16.85 million votes cast, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) polled 5.69 million votes, representing 33.77 per cent to emerge victorious; the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which came second, scored 4.92 million votes, representing 29.18 per cent and Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) recorded 2.82 million votes, accounting for 16.75 per cent. The Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), on the other hand, scored 1.73 million votes and 1.69 million votes, representing 10.28 and 10.01 per cent respectively to emerge fourth and fifth places. Each of these political parties won in at least one of the 19 states at the time. NPN led in nine states, UPN in five states; NPP in three states, and PRP and GNPP in one state apiece. All of them had bloc votes based essentially on their personal appeal and presence of their political parties.
As records show, NPN won in Bauchi, Benue, Kwara, Niger, Sokoto, old Cross River, Kaduna, former Gongola, Bendel, Plateau, and Borno, while the UPN recorded victory in Ondo, Ogun, Oyo and Lagos, but marginally in Bendel, Kwara and Gongola states. NPP won in old Anambra and Imo states, but marginally in Plateau. PRP predominated in Kano, the home state of its flag bearer, but made a marginal showing in Kaduna where it produced the governor of the state. GNPP, on its own, recorded a marginal victory in Borno, the home of its Waziri, Gongola and Sokoto states. Awolowo fought up to the Supreme Court to contest the outcome of the election, but Shehu Shagari was eventually declared the winner of the election based on the arithmetical calculation of 12 2/3 of 19 states. The rest is history!
With the way things are shaping up, the 2023 presidential election may be another competitive election.
In this case, there are four candidates on the scene who can inspire the kind of competition experienced in 1979. These are Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling APC; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the opposition PDP; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) and Mr Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP).
Both Atiku and Kwankwaso are old warhorses from the North, while Tinunu and Obi are from Southwest and Southeast respectively. In terms of political structure, Tinubu, Atiku and Kwankwaso have an edge in their respective political enclaves. Tinubu, for instance, holds sway in the Southwest, while Atiku controls a large following in the Northeast, and Kwankwaso in the Northwest, especially among his long-established Kwankwasiya movement. Obi, who is largely seen as an emerging Third Force, is enjoying tremendous support among young voters who are yearning for a new change of leadership. Four of them will slug it out in the upcoming presidential election with a semblance of competitiveness that was witnessed in the 1979 election.
A notable leader of thought in the Southeast, Chief Chekwas Okorie lent credence to this, predicting the possibility of a runoff election.
Speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, he said: “I see a situation where it will be difficult to have an outright winner. I see a situation where the control the National Assembly by either APC or PDP will not occur again. There could even be a runoff before a president could emerge. I, therefore, anticipate a whole lot of realignment of political forces in which government in 2023 will be a coalition government.”
He also identified three major factors that would determine the outcome of the coming presidential election. These factors, according to him, are religion, ethnicity and sectionalism.
“The 2023 elections will be charaterised by three major factors. One will be religion. Two will be ethnicity. And the third one will be sectionalism. Sectionalism will play out in Middle Belt and the South-south geo-political zones. The Middle Belt is a place where the people of the different ethnic backgrounds have a common agenda protecting their land from invaders. They have agenda cut across religion and ethnicity because protection of their ancestral land is what binds them together. These three factors will definitely underscore the direction of election in 2023.
“All discussions about economic development, economic models, security and all other things that will make Nigeria a better place are subsumed under these factors because these factors border on freedom of worship. And there is nothing you can offer anybody that will be considered higher than personal liberty and freedom of worship,” he added.
Senator Anthony Adeniyi, a chieftain of the APC in Ekiti State, and close political ally of Tinubu, however, sharply disagreed, dismissing the three other leading contenders as inconsequential.
His words: “People can evaluate the four candidates, but I don’t think the four candidates are a strong political weight as such. Atiku had tried it several times and failed. Peter Obi is just rabble rousing and the NNPP is too small to challenge our party.
“You cannot just start a political party in less than a year to an election and think you can make something out of it. It is self-deceit. APC started its journey long before the election. So, one small party cannot just rise up and pose a threat to our party. Obi does not have the wherewithal to win any election.
“Or is it Atiku that brought us to where we are through privatization? When will start campaign on 28 of September, all of these will be put before the public.”
This is even as he accused a section of the media of promoting ethnic and religious division in politics.
He said: “In view of the present situation in this country, I think people should be more concerned about the issue of good governance. People should not be blindfolded by the sentiment about Muslim-Muslim ticket to the point of allowing Atiku to succeed Buhari that is going in 2023. Atiku that is struggling to come in 2023 is also from the North.
“People should think of that rather than the issue of same faith ticket. The same faith ticket does not affect anything. What should bother us is to ensure that Atiku does not take another turn. That will be worse than same faith ticket. The Northern governors’ forum has decided that the president should go to the South and that will affect the country more than any other thing. Ethnicity has no place in our politics. It is a section of the media that is promoting ethnic factor.”
A former Chairman of the PDP in Lagos State, Tunji Shelle, on his part, blamed the increasing role of religion and ethnicity in politics on the character and antecedents of the candidates involved. He argued: “Ethnicity and religion cannot be separated from politics. I can see these two factors playing a role in the coming election because Nigeria has never been this divided in our history. These are the consequences of bad leadership.
“Outside religion and ethnicity, character will equally play a major role in political affairs of the country. If you choose a character that is a Muslim who is well behaved, disciplined, focused and competent, nobody will complain. If you choose a Christian or a Muslim who doesn’t have character or he is linked to fraud or insecurity, you will get the result. That is why religion is playing an obvious role now. Abiola and Kingibe had done it before. Did anybody complain? Even in Kaduna State, it is Muslim-Muslim ticket. Some of these things are tolerable, some are not tolerable. One character that is involved actually triggered this debate. Religious leaders will not see something wrong and keep quiet. But I do not see religion or ethnicity significantly affecting the outcome of the 2023 elections.”
However, a former member of the BoT of the PDP, Ebenezer Babatope, while decrying the pre-eminence of ethnic and religion sentiments in the current political scheming, appealed for caution, saying “election will come and go, but Nigeria will remain.
“I am not happy that we are using religion in a way that it should not be used. Religion is sacred to every person. I am a Christian and I believe in Christian virtues. I believe in God and I believe in Jesus Christ. But I don’t like the way people are using religion to measure our national affairs. We should try to avoid religion in our politics because election will come and go and by the grace of God Nigeria will remain.
“It will also be sad if we base our election results on tribal affiliation. I don’t believe in it. We are one nation and the country should remain one. It is very sad that things are taking this dimension. I am a PDP member and I remain fanatically committed to PDP. But nothing will make me campaign for APC candidate because he is Yoruba man.”