PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, let me make a few clarifications before going into the nitty-gritty of this epistle.
Today, I’m wearing two caps on this page. I’m a journalist as well as a politician. I have been both for decades, although I remain pre-eminently a journalist. Also, I have been a non-partisan politician for a long time until recently. Even then I have seen it fit to support candidates from the two mainstream political parties depending on the capacity and performance of the ruling government party. Since this is my column, it is expected that it will reflect my personal opinion and not that of any other person. This has always been the case although my opinion may sometimes be shaped by not only the voracious reading culture that I have made the mainstay of my career as a journalist but also the wide consultations and interactions that I continue to have both as a journalist and politician. And opinions can oftentimes be subjective, although I try to be as objective and fair as possible. I am aware that even objectivity and fairness can be relative, but they are standards one must strive to attain, maintain and exist by in life. Equally importantly, I am also brutally frank and open to self-criticism at all times.
Going on to my early permutations for the 2023 Presidential race, let me state categorically that I have at least six good friends in the race, namely, Mr Abdul-Lateef Kolawole Abiola, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Mr Omoyele Sowore, Mr Peter Obi and Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. All six of them are eminently qualified to lead our country Nigeria. They all have distinctive personal characteristics and attributes which enable each of them to be individually considered strong candidates for the position of President. However, each of them cannot be considered in isolation. They must be looked at from the viewpoint of Party, background and relationships. I must therefore establish some methodology for my assessment of what would determine the ultimate winner of the 2023 Presidential contest.
In present day Nigerian Presidential elections, there are certain major factors at play. These factors have become majorly important given the prevailing circumstances in the country particularly those of agitations for restructuring and secession, insecurity, failed economy and poverty, gross unemployment, infrastructure deficit and decay, educational maladministration and maladjustment and parlous health services. These major factors include the following:
One. There were usually two mainstream political parties. In 2023, they will be APC and PDP. A third force is still warming up as a major challenger, especially in the Southern regions. It is not yet known how much power it can garner and galvanise in the coming months. That is the Labour Party. In all honesty, that is as far as my third eye can see for now. I apologise therefore to my three other friends in what I call fringe parties, namely, Kola Abiola, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Omoyele Sowore. Kwankwaso has a chance of doing much better than the other two because of his popularity in the massive electoral cauldron that is Kano State. He also has some following in the North, but I still do not see him making such an inroad as to garner more than 3-5% of the total votes cast.
Two. Ethnicity, or what is called the race factor in the United States of America, will play a major part in 2023. A lot of Nigerians have seen the ethnic factor play out by a division of the country into three large parts, the monolithic North, the South West Edo and Delta States, and an amalgam of the other South South States and the South East States. On my part I do not see a monolithic North as well. The Middle Belt including Kwara and Kogi States have been much maligned and marginalised in this respect. Yet they have their own strong force and voice. I will break down its beneficiaries in the next few paragraphs.
Three. Religion will play a significant role in 2023. We have already seen how this has become a major thorny issue due to APC’s decision to present a Moslem/Moslem ticket. It is also frontloaded as a major factor because of the prevailing distrust and insecurity that is all pervading in the country. This used to be largely a Northern thing with grave vicious violence being unleashed upon one another by Moslems and Christians alike. However, this distrust, and insecurity, has spilled over into the South and is part of the reasons why agitations for restructuring and self-determination have risen to a crescendo.
Four. Money. This has always been a major player in determining who succeeds to the Presidency of the country. The ruling Party has always had an advantage in this area. For starters, as of June 2021 there were almost 180,000 polling units in Nigeria. It is not unusual for additional polling booths to be created a few days to the election. What is constant is that every serious political party has to have at least one agent at each polling unit and these polling agents need to be adequately remunerated and provided with all necessary logistic material to ensure effective and efficient return as a party polling agent. To man all these Polling stations will need at over N20 billion by my reckoning and that is being on the cheap side. Loads of cash will therefore be needed by all of the contestants.
Five. The Buhari factor. The Federal Government is too powerful as it controls INEC, Police, Army other security agencies, even the Central Bank and so on, to a large extent. This is a major tool for any government which is unwilling to give up the stranglehold it has on power, particularly when it realises that the populace is thoroughly dissatisfied with its performance.
Let me now take you on a tour de force of what you should expect to see next year.
From my crystal ball, I can foresee a straight fight between APC and PDP candidates. In this round one, APC candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu seems to be at an advantage. His party is currently in power and controls all the appurtenances of government. Nevertheless, the strength of APC is also its main weakness. After eight years of monumental failure in office, it has lost most of the attraction that brought it to power in 2015. Its victory in the 2019 Presidential elections is still controversial till this day. Nigerians may wish to punish APC for its terrible performance which has not only seen them more impoverished but also more insecure and afraid for their very lives. Tinubu’s case is worsened by the fact that he has a dilemma in being unwilling to distance himself from this government’s policies which have failed the people so woefully because of the fact that this will be seen as wilting criticism of the Buhari administration. The withdrawal of the support of Buhari apparently still sends shivers down the Tinubu camp.
On the issue of ethnicity, this may be the major clincher in the race. There are two Southern contenders in the Presidential election. The major Southerner is the former Lagos State Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and to a lesser degree, the other Southerner is former Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi. My brothers and friends, Kola Abiola, and Omoyele Sowore, both Southerners as well, have little say in this battle royale which the 2023 Presidential election portends. The principal challenger for Tinubu and Obi will be former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. In the South East, I believe that the Igbos are likely to back their son, Obi and the Labour Party for the most part. Obi’s Anambra State is a hybrid State presently controlled by APGA. The State does not have a serious Presidential candidate contender. It is noteworthy, that the South East has traditionally been a veritable stomping ground for the PDP. The Party presently controls Enugu and Abia States. This is not likely to change too much, and the PDP may win or come a close second to the Labour Party. Notwithstanding the fact that APC has made some inroads into the South East by virtue of the fact that it controls two States, Imo and Ebonyi, one of which it does by virtue of the defection of the Governor, I still feel that it will come a distant third. My opinion is that the Labour Party is likely to take the lead with about 45 to 50 percent of the total votes cast in the South East because of the Obi factor, even though it presently has no showing in that region at the moment. Atiku will follow with about 30-35 percent and Tinubu 15-20 percent.
In the South South, Atiku will take the chunk of votes because these have always been predominantly PDP States, although in some States like Rivers, Delta and Edo, the crisis in the Party may cause the PDP to lose votes some of its normal votes, if not quickly resolved. Similarly, the defection of Governor Ayade of Cross River State may also cause the PDP’s margin of victory in the Zone to shrink, especially in Cross River State. My belief is that the Zone is guaranteed for Atiku because his Vice-Presidential candidate, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, comes from this zone. There are usually huge votes from here, although these were emasculated in 2019. PDP is likely to record up to 60 percent in most parts, if Governors Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Okowa, Udom Emmanuel, Douyi Diri, Godwin Obaseki and other party loyalists give their all. If the Party’s crisis in the zone is allowed to fester and worsen, the PDP may get no more than 50%. The rest will be split between APC and Labour with APC taken between 20 and 30% depending on how the PDP intra Party mess develops.
The South West will be extremely dramatic, and the results may be very shocking. APC controls four States here, Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti and Ondo and PDP, two States, Oyo and Osun.
While Tinubu will definitely win Lagos, his margin of victory may be reduced by the popularity of both Obi and the mass grassroots mobilisation of the PDP Gubernatorial candidate, Mr Olajide Adediran, aka Jandor. This is the only State in the South West that may feature three strong contenders. The Igbo population in Lagos and the EndSars Movement will favour Peter Obi more than it will favour Atiku. The other South West States will witness a tough battle between Asiwaju and Atiku with Tinubu holding the sway because he is a Yoruba man.
Now, let’s move to North Central and start with Kwara and Kogi States. The Saraki factor will help PDP in Kwara. The former Senate President has obviously regained his bounce especially because of the perceived frugality of the incumbent governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. This may give Atiku a major edge over Tinubu here. Kogi may be tougher to win for Atiku because of the young Governor, Yahaya Bello, an APC stalwart, but the two parties will run almost neck and neck. Obi is unlikely to feature significantly in these two States. Plateau State is an APC State but with the Muslim/Muslim brouhaha, APC will face an uphill task because this is a major Christian State in the North. PDP is in charge in Benue and again the Muslim/Muslim ticket of APC is highly contentious here and will swing even more votes to PDP. I feel that most of the Northern Christians may support Atiku for having a more balanced ticket. Though I understand that some people in these parts of the North Central are tempted to consider Peter Obi, but their leaders are reaching out to them and telling them not to waste their votes. Niger and Nasarawa are presently controlled by APC Governors. Obi will not feature in these States. It will therefore be a straight fight between Atiku and Tinubu, with Tinubu winning more than 60% of the votes in Niger State and no more than 55% of the votes in Nasarawa State based on the incumbency of the APC Governors countered by the Atiku factor.
The North East will be very interesting. Many pundits are wondering why Tinubu chose a Kanuri man, Kashim Shettima, from Borno State, as running mate and not someone from the largest voting zone in the North West. Well, as an experienced politician, he probably knows what we don’t know. The PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is a Fulani man from Adamawa, a North Eastern State. The North East has not produced a Nigerian President in a long time and the crave for one favours Atiku sentimentally. I know Atiku will do much better than he did in 2019 because the Buhari factor is absent. And in any event Buhari has performed abysmally. This may spread to Bauchi, a major PDP State, as well as Taraba State which is also a PDP State. I believe that there will be some swing towards Atiku in Yobe State although the State is a prominent APC State now and Shettima’s Kanuri influence will help the APC ticket here. The race will be hotly contested but the result will still be a victory for Tinubu though the margin will be slimmer when contrasted with the massive victory for Buhari and APC in 2019.
The king of voting in Presidential elections remains the North West which is the largest voting bloc in Nigeria. It is almost impossible to become President of Nigeria without winning big in this region. The State of Kano takes the cake in this respect. Kano State alone could close almost any margin that a Presidential candidate is bringing from other Zones. Despite being an APC State with a strong Governor in Umar Ganduje, Atiku Abubakar may likely lead others, namely Tinubu and Kwankwaso, because of his Fulani lineage and heritage. Blood, they say is thicker than water. Having said that Kano is predominantly a Hausa and not Fulani State and this should augur well for Tinubu. What is clear is that Tinubu definitely needs Kano, like a million dollars lifeline, to borrow that popular proverbial cliche. To this end he has worked assiduously to build bridges in this State and other North West States. This is one of the primary reasons that he won the APC Presidential Primaries, and he still count on the people of Kano to vote for him against the Fulani, Atiku Abubakar. In fact, the three Ks of Kano, Kaduna and Katsina are absolutely needed for victory by any Presidential candidate. Kaduna is a bit tricky because of its preponderance of Christian population, but Nasir El-Rufai is a strong no-nonsense APC stalwart who will want to deliver massively for his Party. Sokoto, is a major PDP State and Tambuwal has shown deep loyalty to Abubakar and his cause. Atiku will win easily here. Zamfara and Kebbi States are under the control of APC, but Atiku’s cultural affinity may give him some edge in these two States but maybe not too much as to give him overall victory, which still seems likely to go to APC in these two States, if the 2019 results provide some indication although again, the Buhari factor will reduce APC votes here as in other core Northern States as he is not on the ballot….
I will be back with more updates in the coming months…
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PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU