Today, I reluctantly enter a debate that depresses me. This is because doing so has further elevated the structural bias that the media promote during election cycles. But I have to do it to dramatize this bias using what I would like to describe as the Tinubu effect on Nigerian elections. This media bias in interrogating this effect has been evident since the Lagos strongman began striking deals to adopt and sponsor northern candidates to run for the highest office. He began the journey with Atiku Abubakar (2007) and Nuhu Ribadu (2011), before striking gold with Muhammadu Buhari in 2015
Let’s begin by acknowledging that, since 2007, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) has become a most valuable player in presidential tournaments. However, he finds himself fighting an uphill battle to become the king who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari. And he is finding that it is easier to be a kingmaker than to become the king. To win, BAT will have to dribble past a lineup of four defensive arguments standing between him and this goal.
So far, his strategy team appears on the surface to be making a fine mess of it.
It is possible that the team expects that the aspirant will win the All Progressives Congress nomination on a platter. This will be achieved by playing the payback card. In other words, they expect the Jagaban to win the sympathy of the North and be compensated with the nomination based on the kingmaker roles he played in the 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 presidential elections. Some members of his team have quietly let it out that the gentleman deals he struck motivated the Tinubu support and galvanized the South West to vote for northern candidates since 2007.
There is, however, a critical yet-to-be-answered question: Was the 2015 deal, if one exists, endorsed to Sen. Tinubu personally? Or is this open to every other leader of the political bloc that successfully convinced Nigerians to elect Buhari into office? This is where the aspirant faces his biggest hurdle, and the challenges come from within and outside his South West region.
From within the region, rumblings reflecting principled and partisan disapprovals echo nationwide. On a recent visit to Oyo State, the team leader got the message that he is wished well in his aspiration but that the country needed the best person for the job at this time. The thinking, from what we can make of the internal (g)rumbles, is that if it’s truly Buhari payback time for the region, leaders of the zone must make it an easy choice for the nation by pushing forward a physically fitter, more administratively capable, and politically sellable aspirant.
So far, the Tinubu Team has attempted to forcibly shush internal grumbles by positioning multimedia wrestlers to engage in mud fights with potential opponents and principled naysayers. In other words, there appears to be no discernible stakeholder engagement effort to negotiate a consensus that favours the foremost regional aspirant.
Outside the region, leaders from the 2015 coalition have expectedly put up two more hurdles for the Jagaban.
One part of their argument pooh-poohs the idea of a Buhari succession endorsement that solely benefits Mr. Tinubu or his political region. The 2015 understanding is, therefore, promoted not as a personal or a regional endorsement but a reward to be fought for by coalition leaders that teamed up to oust President Goodluck Jonathan from power. Some went so far as to argue that it is presumptuous of Tinubu to assume that it was the Yoruba vote that gave APC victory. Or even to imagine that the party cannot muster a winning vote from other regions if the South West bolts from the contraption. This is what weakens the Tinubu aspiration the most.
The other part of the outsider argument that weakens the aspiration is in the subtext of northern equity proposal. This proposition holds that, in the interest of justice and fair play, Nigeria should allow the northern bloc more years in power to balance the dominance of the South since the dawn of this republic. Consequently, it is only right, the argument goes, for power to stay in the North for four more years. Most northern aspirants to the presidency today are riding this equity horse.
Once again, we cannot find a discernible stakeholder engagement strategy in place to negotiate a consensus that favours the pre-eminent regional aspirant. Instead, the team is pursuing a trap by choosing to lash out at a harmless “foe.” In the midst of its priority political battles, the Tinubu team is scoring an own goal by disrupting the ongoing southern and Middle Belt sociopolitical rapprochement. They do this by facing the South East as a potential opponent to Tinubu.
The mistake that the team makes is to assume that the Igbo are an opponent of the Jagaban in the coming election. This assumption has given rise to a number of media attacks and bar-room innuendos designed to diminish the chances of an Igbo emerging as a candidate in any of the two dominant parties. Expectedly, the Igbo are responding in kind.
Unfortunately, the dogs promoting these divisive efforts are barking up a wrong tree. The Igbo are not the problem of either the Jagaban or the Yoruba in the coming APC party primary. They can only be if an Igbo is nominated from the opposition party and Jagaban wins the APC primary.
Most analysts project both outcomes as long shots.
Why is the Tinubu team lashing out at the Igbo? It is true that the South East has put up a sound fairness proposition on the matter of who succeeds President Buhari in 2023. They argue that the South East deserves the slot because both South West and South-South – the other two regions that together make up Southern Nigeria – have ruled the country in this republic. The logic is, therefore, that “it is the turn of the South East” to occupy the presidential seat. This is what makes the South East fairness argument look like a hurdle for the Jagaban’s ambition.
This South East fairness argument, however, rests on two assumptions. One is that power is about to rotate from the North to the South. The other is that the South East deserves the APC slot, even after serial rejections of the party in past presidential elections. As legitimate as the South East argument and expectations are, this does not make any Igbo presidential aspiration a stumbling block to the Jagaban’s ambition or indeed the ambition of any other southwesterner. The Igbo have two bigger challenges to overcome before they can legitimately lay claim to the prize, one of which the Jagaban team of hired writers and public commentators is exploiting for political gain.
The major Igbo challenge is what I have argued before in Colours of the Igbo Presidency (February 11, 2021). So far, it appears as if the Tinubu team wants to drill down further on the Igbo stereotype in a bid to remove the opponents from the APC nomination equation. However, their attacks are not focusing on the Igbo aspirants but on Igbo people in general.
This strategy may have worked to exclude the Igbo in 2015. But In 2022, it may backfire as it ignores the lesson that we put forward in Pathways to a Tinubu Presidency (April 1, 2021). By the time the Tinubu team finishes off, and drives away the Igbo and other southern and Middle Belt aspirants with their divisive pre-primary writeups, they will come face to face with an embarrassing reality. And they will confront this reality – the northern equity argument – with only South West votes during the coming APC primary.
It is possible that, by taking on the South East, they are in fact being prompted by their real opponents to score an own goal during the APC party primary. This is because if the Tinubu team manages to finally offend and alienate the Igbo, as it is bent on doing, the Jagaban may indeed be allowed to win the APC nomination, to be set up against a northern PDP candidate that will beat him silly with northern, Igbo and South-South support.
Jagaban’s hack writers should realise that the APC primary contest is not an important battle to waste their ammunition on the Igbo.
My view on the Jagaban aspiration
I hasten to say that the foregoing is neither an endorsement of the Tinubu aspiration nor a support of the process that inevitably throws up the mediocre from dominant parties. My major concern as a media and policy analyst has always been on, among other things, the structural bias in election reporting that the traditional media promote during presidential contests. This makes it difficult for voters to choose the right candidates to govern at both national and subnational levels.
The Tinubu Effect On Nigerian Politics can therefore be described as the tendency of the media to report elections as if it is a horse race between certain candidates. The media promotes this effect by focusing on candidates’ campaign strategies and personalities, as well as predicting poll results. Sadly, the media downplay or outrightly ignore substantive issues that voters are worried about during an election. To be fair, this is not a peculiar Nigerian challenge. Several studies done on media reportage of elections worldwide demonstrate that, in most democracies, voters do not make the right choices because the media lead them to focus on the personality or politics of candidates, what is being done by the election umpire, the preparations and professionalism of security providers, and even the shenanigans of lawyers and the judiciary.
This was how the Nigerian voters were duped with a dubious propaganda in 2015 and 2019. In the 2015 campaign, we voted for a candidate that neither read nor understood his party platform, thus creating room for denials and recriminations after the battle was won. The situation has not substantially changed, whether we have an excellent candidate or a suspected fraud.
The Tinubu Effect played out in the last governorship election in Anambra, won by a personality projected as the most capable among the candidates. Keep in mind that the eventual winner never published his governance blueprint. He is yet to do so almost three months after his election. But everyone prayed or affirmed that he was the best for the job, and he came from the right zone. Such prayers and affirmations were, however, not based on any objective assessment of a published strategic plan document that addresses specific socioeconomic policies, programmes and projects to ameliorate the concerns of the majority poor who voted.
For the 2023 elections, we should go beyond The Tinubu Effect to focus on candidates’ understanding and plans to address voter issues, not on their regional constituency or personality. A focus on personality, candidate and process diverts and robs voters of the opportunity to appraise and vote for candidates and parties with the best platforms that address common voter economic and security challenges.
Today, most aspirants shy away from discussing policies that gave rise to the current suffering that the nation is undergoing. Instead, some are filing out to visit the President and pledge their commitment to a continuation of those policies!