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2023 Poll: Atiku, Tinubu set for Epic Battle

With 17 out of 18 political parties meeting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s Friday, June 17 deadline for submission of the names of presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the 2023 presidential race has just begun as master tacticians, intriguers, power brokers and game-changers engage in a battle of wits and test of strengths.

The metrics speak for themselves

Of the 17 parties in the race, namely, Accord (A); Action Alliance (AA); African Action Congress (AAC); African Democratic Congress (ADC); African Democratic Party (ADP); Allied Peoples Movement (APM); All Progressives Congress (APC); All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Boot Party (BP); Labour Party (LP); National Rescue Movement (NRM); New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Peoples Redemption Party (PRP); Social Democratic Party (SDP); Young Peoples Party (YPP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP); two parties stand out.

They are the governing APC and the opposition PDP. Right now, at the National Assembly, where only eight of the 18 parties have representation, the two parties dominate.

They are APC (62 Senators; 236 Representatives); PDP (44 Senators; 128 Representatives), while the remaining six, namely APGA (5 Representatives); YPP (1 Senator); NNPP (2 Senators); SDP (1 Representatives); ZLP(1 Representative).

Two parties have only one or two representations at the State Houses of Assembly: ZLP and ADC.

The rest: A, AA, AAC, APM, APP, BP, LP and NRM have no representation anywhere. Even so, besides the two major parties, all the other 15 in the presidential race are fringe parties.

Apart from their National Assembly strength, both APC and PDP have a total of 35 state governors and Houses of Assembly on their platforms, with the APC controlling 22 governors, PDP 13 and APGA 1. More so, most of the movers and shakers of Nigerian politics, especially those that have money to burn, belong to the two major parties.

Yet, two of the parties have reared their heads in the contest because of the personalities that have joined their platforms. They are the LP, to which former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State defected to from the PDP and clinched its presidential ticket. Obi is currently ruling the social media space where his supporters are pushing his famed frugality and breakthrough governance record in Anambra state.

But at the expiration of the deadline for submission of the names of presidential candidates and their running mates to INEC on Friday, things looked gloomy for the LP. Doyin Okupe, campaign manager for Obi, had to submit his name as a “stand in” candidate, according to him, as VP, “pending when we would form the coalition of the mega-party.” The mega parties he is banking on are among the 17 out of the 18 registered political parties that submitted their names to INEC.

The other party making waves, even though regionally, is the NNPP. A former Minister of Defence, who is also a former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, also defected from the PDP to the party. He is currently making some inroads with his influential Kwankwasiyya Movement in Kano State and neighbouring Jigawa State.

But as the maxim goes, the tough gets going when the going gets rough. It is certainly going to be very rough for the 2023 presidency, given the general awareness among the Nigerian electorate who are baying for the blood of those they perceive to have sold them short on good governance over the past years, especially with the impoverishment of over 90 million Nigerians out of a population 200 million; hyper inflation at 18 per cent; decayed infrastructure; economic meltdown with low capacity utilisation; worsening insecurity with kidnapping, terrorism now taking place at homes and worship centres, and youth unemployment.

But there is no gainsaying the fact that the party that has the biggest war chest, enough foot soldiers, big wigs and old loyalties will make the desired impact and carry the day. With their reach, membership and money, the APC and PDP fit the bill.

Power play within APC, PDP

Although they hold the aces to the 2023 presidential election, getting a grip of things in the prevailing public distrust against politicians over years of broken campaign promises is testing the resolve of both parties. Having scaled the public expectations on zoning of the presidency, the forces thrown up by that victory over geo-political balancing are haunting the parties.

PDP

For the PDP, the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as presidential candidate again threw up the geopolitical question on where he would pick his VP.

When Atiku picked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State as his running mate, supported by a committee appointed by the party’s National Working Committee, a supposedly favoured candidate and Governor of Rivers State had felt cheated. The latter had publicly protested his betrayal by his counterparts from the South-South during the presidential convention. Before Atiku, expressing his right to choose, announced Okowa as his preferred choice as VP on Thursday, because of his capacity, competence and loyalty, Wike was perceived as the popular choice.

According to a dependable party source who pleaded to remain unnamed, the Mohammed Gusau committee members actually favoured Wike, not by voting but by expression of opinions and they ended up shortlisting Wike, Okowa and Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. The same forces that chanted “stop Wike at the convention” were at work. But at the end of the day, the presidential candidate reserved the right to choose his VP and Atiku has stated his reasons for doing so.

Although many PDP officials and a former National Chairman of the party in the person of Abubakar Baraje had extolled Okowa for his loyalty to the party, his capacity chalked up as a seasoned administrator, a one-time local government chairman, ex-Secretary to Delta State Government, member of the Senate and two-term governor, there is no gainsaying the fact that the governor had quietly wormed his way to the position.

At the convention, according to investigation, it was Okowa that worked on the delegates from Edo, Bayelsa and Delta States for Atiku. He is also said to have picked some of the bill on the side of the former Vice President. But a selling point for him is his dual status as a south southerner and Anioma national, who has identified with the Igbo in the South-East.

On the other hand, Wike‘s abrasive politics has rubbed off badly on many of his rivals and enemies. His antagonistic attitude towards Governor Godwin Obaseki before the convention is still lingering. Legal as his pursuit of the VAT war with the Federal Government was, his accompanying statements that poked fun at his northern counterparts considered as lazy had painted him in bad light in the North and affected his choice.

Yet his emergence as the aspirant with the second-highest number of votes after Atiku at the PDP convention has made him a force to reckon with in the party. Considering that party delegates attended the convention from the 774 local governments in the country, it means that he controlled more than one-third of the delegates. Besides, he enjoys the support of five out of 12 governors of the party, namely Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Ahmad Fintiri of Adamawa State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Ifeanyi Uguwuanyi of Enugu State.

For that the party is making overtures to him. “They must do some reconciliation. They have to appease him,” the party source told newsmen.

On whether Wike may frustrate the party’s chances in Rivers State noted for giving the party one of its highest votes- 475,000 against the rival APC’s 160,000 in 2019 (roughly the same figure with Delta State) and 1.2million in 2015 as against 60,000 for APC in 2015, the source said no. He pointed out that though Wike was known for speaking his mind against perceived injustice and calling names, no matter whose ox is gored, he thinks the governor was too much of a party man to cut deals.

“Wike is a loyalist, a staunch party defender. But like I said, he has to be given assurances that his loyalty is appreciated and defended,” he said.

Attempts to reach Wike for comments failed. His Media Adviser, Kelvin Ebiri, would not pick his call nor reply to WhatsApp messages.

APC

For the APC presidential candidate, Tinubu, things are not as clear as they seem in the public. He had to send what the party called a “hold on” name as vice presidential candidate to INEC to beat the electoral umpire’s Friday deadline. The person, Ibrahim Masari, is a kinsman of Governor Ahmed Masari of Katsina State, a fall guy that would have to withdraw for a substitute candidate before the INEC window on candidate substitution closes on July 15. Masari is a Muslim.

Tinubu is said to be having a running battle with the APC Governors who swung the deal at the last minute for him to emerge presidential candidate of the party at the convention. It has become clear to him and party members that the fairness and justice that the 13 governors trumpeted as reasons for supporting power shift to the South was a ruse to give one of them a leverage to bargain for the VP slot. The governors, who have become increasingly powerful as a bloc in either of the two major parties, brook no interference when it came to their interests. The inability of Tinubu to pick from one of them has delayed the party in choosing an authentic VP, hence the search is still on.

It was gathered that another hurdle that Tinubu is facing is the Muslim-Muslim ticket that is perceived as a ticking time bomb in a country that is deeply polarised along ethnic, language and religious fault lines, particularly under the Muhammadu Buhari Administration whose penchant for nepotism increased rather than abate the problem, hence the prevailing terrorism, farmers/herdsmen conflicts, kidnapping, insecurity separatist agitations and call for self-determination.

The APC stakeholders are currently facing this religious demon. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigeria Christian Youths have opposed a Christian/ Christian ticket just as they have warned against a Muslim/ Muslim ticket.

Speaking on the matter for his party, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State thinks that Nigerians desirous of living in a peaceful, fair and just society should think in terms of competence, capacity and character. He flaunts his administration of Muslim/Muslim ticket as an example. A chieftain of the party, Kabiru Faskari, supports this view. Explaining the choice of Masari as VP, he said that Tinubu, who made the choice after consultations with President Buhari and state governors on the APC platform, knows the man, who once worked as party secretary during Adams Oshiomhole’s days at the helm of the party’s NWC, very closely.

“Tinubu knows him very well. He has worked with him and he knows he will add value to his campaign,” said Faskari.

But the question that arises from that argument is whether competence is limited to persons of one religious faith. The choice of a Muslim/Muslim ticket was precisely why Buhari refused to choose Tinubu as his running mate in 2015, just seven years ago. Is fairness and justice served when a Christian of northern extraction is made to feel that he is not considered as fit enough to become VP to Tinubu, a Muslim from the South? Why would Tinubu who has always obeyed the religious divide in his choice of candidates for governorship candidates in Lagos State, his strong hold, now find it hard to do the same thing at the centre?

More so, the cabal that had always worked against Tinubu’s emergence are still at the barricade waiting to pounce and have their pound of flesh after their game to make the Senate President Ahmad Lawan the party’s choice failed.

Zonal Strength

With both parties about to settle the crises arising from their respective conventions and choice of vice presidential candidates, their focus may soon shift to the six geo-political zones where the contest will be fought.

With 22 governors, more senators, representatives and members of state houses of assembly than the PDP, the APC could on paper be said to be as good as winning the presidency. The geo-political zone with the highest number of voters is the North-West where prominent states such as Kano, Katsina and Kaduna return millions of votes every election season. They belong to the APC. Closely following the North-West is the South-West with five out of the six states e under the control of the APC. Then comes the North-East with three states apiece between the APC and the PDP.

In the North-Central, five out of six states are for the APC. The South-South with five out of six states for the PDP and the South-East comes last with two states apiece between the PDP and the APC. Anambra the fifth state is under APGA. The permutations and calculations based on this party control may not work smoothly for both parties, if they fail to deftly address the burning issue of zoning, religious choice of candidates and sufficient war chest to influence voters as happened with delegates at the conventions.

Also, this is the first time electronic transfer of results will be introduced by INEC on a national scale. Analysts state that with the above average performance of the electoral commission in previous governorship elections in Edo state in 2021, Anambra in 2022 and Ekiti on Saturday, with a pending governorship poll in July in Osun, the parties may be in for surprises in 2023, even if 45 per cent to 50 per cent success is recorded in 2023.

Unseen Hands

Other factors that may come into play are the regional sentiments that often seizes the imagination of Nigerians when push comes to shove. The readiness of Tinubu to bend over backwards to go for a Muslim/ Muslim ticket is said to be due to the prevailing belief among many northern Muslims that the southern Muslims are too cosmopolitan and sophisticated to be trusted with power. On that note, Atiku may have an edge over Tinubu if he were to choose a Christian as VP. Only recently, Atiku stood in as the Father of the Day at the wedding fatiha of Buhari’s son, Bashir. To discerning political watchers, that symbolises a lot and counts among “real Muslims” even though Tinubu was invited as a VIP to the event.

*Culled from thewillnigeria.com

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