The prize for the office of President is golden. It is a privileged position but it is also a title that is loaded with challenging responsibilities. Leading a complex country with a population of more than 190 million people is not a job for the faint-hearted. And yet many politicians jostle and put up their hands to take that position in 2023.
Despite rising interest in the presidential office, there exists one primary barrier that all politicians aspiring for the job must scale before they can contest the 2023 presidential election. That hurdle is the party primary. That is where the candidates can expect to triumph or be outfoxed. That is where they will experience intrigues, duplicitous conduct, untrustworthiness, backstabbing, and abuses.
Surely, every party primary will test the endurance, resilience, patience, tolerance, and the spirit of understanding of every political candidate, as well as how far every presidential candidate would be prepared to go to respect party policy, party leaders, and legitimacy of their authority.
In the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu is already up and running, unable to wait for the starter’s gun to signal commencement of the race for candidates to become the party’s flagbearer in next year’s presidential election. Jumping the gun is not an early sign of imminent victory. Other contestants must hold their nerves. There is no need to panic or sweat unnecessarily. Experience shows that, it is not always the first politician to declare their presidential ambition that often gets the official nod to fly their party’s flag. It is also said that a man or woman who races to a police station with a bag of complaints is never guaranteed victory when the case is tried in a competent court.
Supporters of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo are adamant their candidate is the best person to represent the APC in the 2023 presidential election, even though the man has not yet announced his ambition to contest the election. If Osinbajo joins the race eventually, it will be an interesting development that could change all political configurations. That move could signal the beginning of the end of the political career of the man known as Tinubu. Osinbajo is seen as an insider in the current government and also regarded as a seasoned politician with vast knowledge of the political landscape. Others believe Osinbajo is politically more credible than Tinubu.
Comparatively, Tinubu is perceived as a one-dimensional smooth operator who sees money as a major factor that influences the outcomes of elections in Nigeria. However, weighing against him are his age (which is highly contested in the public sphere), his health (another subject of controversy), his authoritarian style of management, his track record of achievement, and his platoon of political enemies. Given his recent statement that he had, for many years, nursed the ambition to become president, it is likely that Tinubu would throw everything he has into the APC primary in order to clear the first hurdle toward attainment of his enduring political aspiration.
The difficulty that faces Tinubu and Osinbajo is that they are both from the same ethnic group although with different ideas about how they should go about competing for that presidential throne. If they do not resolve their ambition quietly in a private space, both of them might end up narrowing their chances or cancelling themselves out during the APC primary. If Osinbajo decides to contest, it would be difficult to say how the clash of these two political titans with presidential ambitions would be resolved.
All these hypothetical calculations might turn out to be overstated or hopeless. Before the primary can take place, however, the APC would have to agree on the month/date of the exercise, and the framework under which the primary would be conducted. The party is currently wracked by internal dissent over many issues, including how to conduct the convention and the primary.
It is important to clarify that Tinubu and Osinbajo (whenever he makes that decision) are not the only candidates seeking the APC endorsement to represent the party in the 2023 presidential election. There are other candidates who have cast their hats into the ring. They include Kogi State Governor Yahaya Adoza Bello and Ebonyi State Governor David Nweze Umahi. The list is likely to grow longer as the date for the party’s primary draws nearer.
The situation in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) remains cloudy. Fresh from ending the protracted struggle for the position of the party’s national chairperson, the PDP has not resolved how to elect its presidential candidate for the 2023 election. Would the PDP observe the principle of “zoning” or would it leave the field open for the best candidates to emerge? Other important decisions are being pushed back to avoid touching some sore nerves. The future will tell.
There are two key elements that will affect the choice of candidates to represent the PDP and the APC in the 2023 presidential election. The number one factor will be the region of origin of the candidate and the second element is the religious faith of the candidate. The South-East region, led by the socio-cultural organisation Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has made it clear it is the turn of the region to produce a president in 2023. That is a justifiable claim although candidates currently signalling their interest in the presidential election in various political parties seem to have ignored the avowed interest of South-East leaders. Alignment of political, regional, ethnic, and religious forces is ongoing.
As the date for party primary approaches, there will be deals aimed to persuade some of the candidates to drop their ambition, to pave way for other candidates, or simply to fade out of the political scene. In politics, there is a saying that what cannot be achieved through negotiation or diplomacy can also be attained through threats, intimidation, or outright assassination. Politics in Nigeria, as in some other countries, is a lethal sport. Some politicians believe they were born to be president or nothing else. Emboldened by that consuming passion, they remain focused on removing possible obstacles on the road to achievement of their goals.
So far in the political stock market, candidates who want to be crowned kings and the kingmakers are shopping secretly in the dark. In the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see politicians adopt the Sani Abacha era style of using suspect video clips as evidence to destroy the integrity of their enemies. This is already happening in this electronic age in which digital manipulation of photos and videos has become common. As the presidential election date approaches, these mischievous activities will be complemented by head shattering fake news circulated on social media. The more technologically sophisticated the world gets, the more people attempt to use modern technology in negative ways.
The next few months will be critical. Fake videos will emerge in the public sphere. They will be used indiscriminately to cast aspersions on the moral character of political candidates. A politician’s career could be endangered. Their integrity could be shredded. And their social standing could be damaged forever. Politics is looking more dangerous in Nigeria today than in previous decades.