Times like this try men’s souls. We have only paraphrased a saying that was made popular by Thomas Paine, an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary. His areas of interest, we were told while he lived between February 9, 1737 and June 8, 1809 were politics, religion and ethics. Though Paine passed on about 300 years ago yet his words strike a chord in Nigeria of 2022 in terms of our politics, religion and ethics. His pamphlet, Common Sense, was such a phenomenal intervention that he became a much sought after writer and journalist in America even ahead of his seminal book, The Age of Reason. How instructive. Common Sense is still in short supply in our country and we are still far in our journey to the Age of Reason.
Our country particularly tends to lose it each time we approach an election year. And we are at the eve of a make or mar election in 2023. The incumbent President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress [APC] political party is not expected to be on the ballot by virtue of term limit imposed by the Constitution. In like manner, many of the state governors who are mostly of the APC and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] will be ineligible for the contest. The only other political party whose candidate occupies an executive office, the All Progressives Grand Alliance [APGA], had an off-season governorship election in November last year. Recently, off-season elections were also conducted in Ekiti and Osun states, leaving 33 states for the battle of 2023.
In one way or the other 18 registered political parties have thrown their hats into the ring for next year’s elections. All of them are not expected to field candidates
for all elective offices. Many of the parties do not have the capacity to do so. Right now and for whatever reasons only four political parties- APC, PDP, Labour Party [LP] and the New Nigeria Peoples Party [NNPP] are reckoned to have the needed spread and capacity to field candidates for all or most elective offices nationwide. Even among the four there is a further dichotomy with political pundits insisting that only the traditional political behemoths- the former ruling PDP and the present ruling APC- have the financial muscle, the structure and the organizational strength for a national election.
The presidential election is seven months away. So the political parties are ready with their candidates. By Nigeria’s laws, a presidential ticket is invalid without a vice presidential candidate. And that is now the crux of the matter for at least two of the so-called big four. First was the choice of Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as the running mate to PDP’s Atiku Abubakar instead of the Rivers state governor, Nysom Wike who was said to have topped the list of those recommended for selection.
There is no end yet to the fallout of the choice of Okowa. Wike talks tough and fights dirty. He has a right to claim credit for financing PDP and making it relevant in the seven years the party lost control of the government at the centre. He also suffers from gargantuan entitlement syndrome. But why not? Indeed, there was a credible report that Wike was coasting to victory in the PDP presidential primary last month before the dramatic and sudden withdrawal of Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who moved his supporters to vote for Atiku, his brother from the north. So Wike feels he was cheated out of the presidential ticket and denied of the running mate lot in quick succession in a party that he had almost single- handedly sustained for years. The PDP issue is still simmering. And Wike has vowed to expose the dirty underbelly of the party.
For the APC, the problem arising from the selection of the vice presidential candidate of the PDP, is a child’s play. The choice of a running mate for Tinubu’s APC was problematic from the onset. To buy time the party had to resort to naming a placeholder for the position while the candidate himself travelled to France for consultation. Did you say strange? One opposition party bigwig alleged on national television that Tinubu actually went to France to attend to his failing health. As if on cue, the presidential candidate of the NNPP, Rabiu Kwankwaso, recently counselled his rival and friend Tinubu to choose between his health and the rigours of a presidential campaign.
After dithering, Alhaji Tinubu, a Muslim from the southern part of Nigeria picked another Alhaji, Kashim Shettima from the north as his running mate. Hell was let loose. The unthinkable has happened not minding that it actually first happened in 1993 when Alhaji Moshood Abiola [south] teamed up with Alhaji Babagana Kingibe [north] on the ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party [SDP] to win…and later lose that year’s presidential election. Abiola died in the struggle with the ruling military junta to claim the presidency. Back to now. Shettima’s name was quickly sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] to replace the placeholder. But Shettima’s presentation to the Nigerian public which ordinarily should be a formality became a tough nut to crack. Most Christians and some Muslims were infuriated by that choice. The unveiling had to be postponed. But it must happen and it did. And then there was bedlam.
Tinubu, his campaign organisation and the APC had overnight created bishops, princes of Christendom, for display at Shettima’s unveiling ceremony in Abuja. As Tinubu and co were plotting to foist a fraud on Nigerians, social media activists were on their trail capturing the bishops as they were being handed their ‘vestments’ at a not-too-hidden corner outside the venue of the unveiling. The poor script by Tinubu and APC was magnified by the fact that his ‘bishops’ marched into the venue in a single file with some wearing assessories that are only worn when a priest administers the Holy Communion. They cannot be worn otherwise. And certainly not outside the Altar of the Living God. But that obvious insult was not enough. Inside the hall television cameras captured the Tinubu/Shettima bishops carrying chairs and struggling with their vestments while searching for vantage positions to sit. Except for one, none of the 30 odd Tinubu/Shettima bishops agreed to be interviewed by the media. One of the Tinubu/Shettima bishops later confessed same day that he was among those hired from a motor park, fed, handed priestly robes and promised N100,000 appearance fee. He went rogue because, according to him, he was paid only N40,000. Thieves are known to give themselves away at the sharing of their loot.
Of course, the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] naturally and quickly placed a disclaimer on the motor park bishops. But that was not the problem. The Tinubu campaign organisation in its attempt to justify a glaring fraud made the matters worse. Its spokesman who is an otherwise respected journalists said the ‘bishops’ were real but that they were growing growing their ‘missions’. If only Bayo Onanuga casually searched the Holy Bible, he probably would have found out those who are qualified for the office of the bishop. Being a baby priest, and in the instant case a fraudulent one at that, is not a qualifying criterion. The serial missteps by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the run up to the 2023 election could be an ominous sign of the fate that awaits him in his quest to actualise what he said was his ‘lifelong ambition’ to rule Nigeria as its president.