2023 polls: Kano, Edo, Delta, Plateau may spin surprises
By Omoniyi Salaudeen (Lagos), Desmond Mgboh (Kano), Tony Osauzo (Benin), Paul Osuyi (Asaba) and Gyang Bere (Jos)
From all available evidence, the 2023 general election looks more like a game-changer. Unlike the previous ones, it promises to be the most competitive election in the recent past. Possibly, as competitive as the presidential election of the Second Republic, which ushered in the civil administration of the late President Shehu Shagari in 1979.
Though the circumstances, as well as nuances in political calculations in the two contexts, might not be exactly the same, there is a preponderance of opinions among the state actors that securing a clear victory for any of the frontline presidential candidates in the next year’s poll may not be an easy task.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Yakubu Mahmood, watching from his vantage position as the umpire, already lent credence to this, saying that arrangements had been made for a second ballot.
According to the final list of candidates released by the commission, 18 contestants are running for the presidency. Out of this figure, only four are most visible in terms of national presence. These are the candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his rival contender in the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, the standard bearer of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and Rabiu Kwankaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP).
The presidential race was largely a straight fight between the PDP and the APC in the two previous elections.
But in the coming 2023 election, the new emerging forces have expanded the scope of the contest. Traditionally, these political parties have their peculiar strongholds where they usually draw their votes.
However, with the new emerging forces, the balance of political equations has been significantly altered, making it difficult to predict the possible outcome of the election with a reasonable level of exactitude.
In view of this, political observers are keenly watching out for any possible surprise that the candidates may spring from the recent developments in states like Kano, Rivers, Delta, Edo, and Plateau, among others.
Kano is the largest voting bloc in Nigeria. According to the latest voters register released by the INEC, there are over five million votes for grabs in Kano State in the coming election. Predictably, these votes will be largely shared among the four most prominent parties and their candidates. These are Kwankwaso, Abubakar, Obi, and Tinubu.
Early prediction of the outcome of the contest in the state is still far-fetched for many reasons. However, by every stretch, the people of the state are likely to stand by their son, Rabiu Kwankwaso in their numbers. The truth is that it is not in the character of the Hausa/Fulani to take sides with a stranger against one of their own. It is also not a tradition in Kano for the people to back an outsider against a son of the soil. Most certainly not in the game of power politics.
Beyond that, Kwankwaso has a few strong points driving his ambition. As a former governor, he has built a cult of die-hard followers over the decade. Not surprisingly, his nominee, Abba Yusuf almost won the 2019 elections in the state. Kwankwaso is also a good political strategist who knows how to undermine his political rival. He will also benefit from the internal contradictions within the ruling APC.
In spite of all these, Kwankwaso may have a huge battle facing Tinubu in the 2023 election. Kwankwaso is neither the elite’s delight nor the clerics’ best friend. There are, in fact, many people in the state who felt injured by his policies and programmes while he was in power. They would do everything to halt his ambition. The second reason against him is that the APC led by the governor of the state, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, is not a pushover after all. By virtue of his position as the number one citizen in the state, he is still in control of large followership and they are determined to win votes for Tinubu.
Tinubu, as a person, has been working underground with several stakeholders in the state. He is very close to the Muslim clerics in the state. He is also close to a number of respected political and business figures such as Tanko Yakasai, Musa Gwadebe, Najautu Mohammed, and even the Dangotes.
However, Atiku Abubakar would also get a share of Kano’s votes. Though a latecomer into the battle for Kano’s votes, he has recently poached Ibrahim Shekarau, a former governor of the state and current senator for Kano central, from the NNPP. And, of course, Shekarau controls a fairly large size of supporters in the state. Shekarau’s supporters and those of Ambassador Aminu Wali combined will definitely give Atiku’s rival a good fight. Atiku’s financial war chest would be an added factor in his favour as many politicians in the state are waiting for him to release the kind of money he unleashed in the last presidential elections.
For Obi, the greatest limiting factor is his tribe. The sad truth is that the Hausa/Fulani North is not yet ready for an Igbo president. His strength lies largely with the non-native community and the Christian residents in the state. However, this is not to undermine the fact that he would certainly have his own share of the votes in the state. Those offended by Tinubu’s same-faith ticket will prefer to align with Obi based on religious inclination.
All eyes are on Rivers State for the possible end of the seemingly irreconcilable differences between Governor Nyesom Wike-led group and Atiku. But the resolution is taking forever.
Wike is the arrowhead of the G-5 Governors, which metamorphosed into Integrity Group, seeking for justice, fairness and equity in the composition of the national hierarchy of the party. The group comprising governors of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, his Abia State counterpart, Okezie Ikpeazu, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State is pressing for the exit of the National Chairman of the party, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, to give room for a southern person as a precondition for enduring peace. They were lately joined in their struggle by some prominent founding members of the party, including Chief Olabode George, Senator Jonah Jang, with a resolution that principle of power sharing as enshrined in the constitution of the party must be enthroned to give room for genuine reconciliation.
What makes the matter difficult to resolve is the fact that Atiku as a foundation member of the party knows quite well that the extant constitution does not envisage a situation where the chairman and the presidential candidate will emerge from the same zone. But because his interest is at stake here, he prefers to err on the side of the rule of convenience than the principle of fairness that sustains the internal coercion in the party.
Already, the battle line has been drawn. And unless there is an amicable resolution of the lingering crisis, PDP may pay very dearly for it in the South-south.
South-south is one of the strongest strongholds of the PDP, next to Kano and Lagos. Rivers State being the highest voting bloc in the geo-political zone, Wike is making fun of the scenario. According to the result declared by the INEC for the 2019 presidential election, Atiku won with a total of 473,971 votes as against Presidential Buhari who polled 150, 710 votes. On every occasion, Wike has consistently told whoever cares to listen that he would only guarantee Rivers’ votes for the state and National Assembly elections. In the same way, his counterparts in Abia, Benue, Enugu and Oyo have been threatening a showdown with Atiku if Ayu refuses to vacate his seat.
Although it is not exactly clear which party they will eventually ally with, whatever decision taken against the PDP will definitely change the traditional pattern of voting in these states.
As one of the traditional strongholds of the PDP in the South-south with a strong voting strength, Delta State holds a central place for the success or failure of Atiku’s candidature. In the previous presidential elections, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had always won Delta State comfortably obviously as the ruling party in the state since 1999. This partly accounted for the choice of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as his presidential running mate.
Nonetheless, the emergence of the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege as the governorship candidate of the APC is expected to change the applecart.
In between the two gladiators is the emerging presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi, from the neighbouring Anambra State.
The ‘Obi-dient Movement’ as the supporters of Obi are popularly called, is a source of political concern for both PDP and APC. It has placed the ruling party in the state in particular more on the edge.
For one, the emergence of Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the PDP has created a deep mistrust between the forces of change and those of the status quo, leading to the defection of some key members who argued that it was the turn of the South to produce the president after the eight-year tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.
For instance, a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, resigned shortly after Atiku’s emergence and subsequently pitched his tent with the APC where he now calls the shots as the Director-General of Delta APC Campaign Council.
Besides Orubebe, a prominent opinion leader in the state and the Chairman of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, has also vehemently kicked against Atiku’s emergence, insisting that the PDP negated the principle of zoning by throwing the ticket open.
This development, coupled with the intrigues that led to the emergence of the PDP governorship candidate, Sheriff Oborevwori, has created a supposed toxic atmosphere which now makes the hitherto impregnable party vulnerable to the rising popularity of Omo-Agege.
While the maverick politician has in the past three and a half years used his position as the Deputy Senate President to open opportunities for most politicians in the state with appointments, the PDP remains torn apart between Okowa and former governor, James Ibori.
Omo-Agege, who dubbed Okowa a betrayal of the southern Nigeria cause, said that the governor worked against the interests of the South to ensure that Atiku emerged as presidential candidate.
But Okowa’s Chief Political Strategist, Dr Festus Okubor replied the Deputy Senate President, describing him as a social media creation, even as he insisted that the APC had failed woefully at the centre.
He said: “It is disappointing that despite the monumental failure of the APC since it got into power through political subterfuge in 2015, its gang members who have subjected Nigeria to serial rape would still dare to want to contest elections.”
Meanwhile, the immediate past governor of the state, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, may have laid to rest the widespread speculation about the division within the PDP when be publicly endorsed the Atiku-Okowa ticket for president and the Oborevwori-Onyeme ticket for governor.
Uduaghan’s alignment with Okowa shocked the opposition who had thought that the former governor and his predecessor in office, James Ibori, were up in arms against the current governor.
In Edo State, the outcome of the presidential election will be an interesting thing to watch out for in 2023. The internal conflict within PDP has led to its factionalisation into two – the Legacy PDP faction, led by the party’s South-South National Vice Chairman, Chief Dan Orbih and the other faction led by Governor Godwin Obaseki. The division poses a great challenge for the party to sustain its winning streak, unless something miraculously happens.
This, however, appears to be an uphill task as the factions are locked in a bitter ‘fight-to-finish’ legal battle over whose faction is the ‘authentic PDP’ less than three months to the presidential election.
Governor Obaseki had last October declared that governance in Edo State would take back seat to enable him concentrate on mobilising votes for the presidential candidate of his party, Atiku Abubakar. But members of the Legacy faction of the PDP in the state do not appear to be on the same page with the governor on this task.
The state Deputy Chairman of the PDP, Hon. Harrison Omagbon, a member of the Legacy faction, is unhappy that Atiku who should have reconciled the members has failed to do so. Omagbon is particularly not happy about how governor Obaseki allegedly hijacked the party from those he met in the party.
“He was humiliated out of his former party, the APC and we accommodated him. Genuine reconciliation would be a mirage.
“I don’t see how the party would work together to support Atiku to emerge when the governor has distanced the owners from the party he met on ground when he was rejected by his former party”, Omagbon stated.
Speaking for the APC, the party’s former State Publicity Secretary for Edo, Comrade Godwin Erhahon, said that the party was prepared to win the general elections in the state.
“The APC is very prepared. As it is, we are very united and we are speaking with one voice. The grace Obaseki had in 2020 has been frittered away by the way he handled issues.
“He now leads a disenchanted and discredited faction of the PDP and that makes it easy for APC to win. Of the 24 seats of the state House of Assembly, we are sure of winning overwhelming majority”, he stated.
Erhahon was confident of his party, the APC, winning the presidential election, saying, “we don’t really have a challenge”.
Notwithstanding, the APC and the PDP have to contend with the fact that the presidential contest will not be a two-horse race this time around with the Labour Party’s candidate, Obi, in the race.
In Plateau State, the 2023 presidential election is going to be very dice. It will not be a usual two-horse race between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), especially with the introduction of the Labour Party into the race and the emerging change in political equations.
While the election may be based on the strength and credibility of the presidential candidates, religion and ethnicity will play a critical role in shaping the outcome of the polls.
Just like other states where Christian faithful predominates, Plateau Christians have vehemently opposed the presidential candidate of the APC, Ahmed Bola Tinubu for picking former Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima as a running mate, thus presenting a Muslim/Muslim ticket. Most Christians in the state may have taken side with the position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in rejecting the Muslim/Muslim ticket.
While the appointment of Governor Simon Lalong as the Director-General of the Presidential Campaign Council is seen as a calculated move to douse the tension in the state and the Middle Belt region at large, the action does not seem to have yielded any tangible result as Labour Party presidential candidate, Obi and his PDP counterparts, Atiku, appear to be gaining overwhelming support as the election approaches.
It is on record that no political party other than the PDP has ever won the presidential election in Plateau since 1999. This was because of the political influence of the pioneer National Chairman of the PDP, the late Chief Solomon Lar. The status quo may likely change with the introduction of the Labour Party on the ballot in 2023.
The truth of the matter is that Governor Lalong is living nothing to chance to prove his political strength despite the resistance from the Christian community against the Muslim/Muslim ticket.
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Fr. Polycarp Lubo, said that Christians did not kick against Tinubu as a person, but the Muslim/ Muslim ticket.
He noted that it was not right from the initial time for CAN to have out rightly rejected the Muslim/Muslim ticket, but people should be allowed to make their political choice based on how the country can move forward in a united and peaceful manner.
“Everybody has the right to make his choice. There are so many political parties. People should choose from the political parties available to us based on the credibility and competency of the candidates.
“We are not against Tinubu, but people were raising observation on the same faith ticket. Although everybody is calculating how to win election, but people will make their choice at the end of the day,” he said.
Former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bitrus Kaze, described Plateau as the stronghold of Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr Obi.
“From the body language of Plateau people, it is very clear that neither the PDP nor APC will have any feet in Plateau State. You saw what happened when APC came for their rally, people were throwing stones and these were the people they hired and the PDP has not come to Plateau for rally for us to assess them.
“But key players who hang onto PDP are divided. Some have picked a position against the presidential candidate and some are confrontational, but looking at the mass movement of people for candidates, it is very clear that the people of Plateau State are with Obi.
“It will be something very strange if Obi doesn’t win Plateau because Obi meets what defined Plateau’s interest,” he said.
He described both APC and PDP as political parties running a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the 2023 election.
“The APC is a Muslim-Muslim ticket horizontally and the PDP is a Muslim-Muslim ticket vertically, a Muslim handing over to a Muslim. So, which one is not a Muslim-Muslim?
“If you talk of competence, if you talk of agility, if you talk of propensity to be less corrupt, then you can find that in Obi. If you are talking of somebody who is able to command the respect of people across religion, across the region and tribes, Obi does it better than any of the presidential candidates,” he pointed out.
On a contrary note, the immediate past Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly and member of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Rt. Hon. Nuhu Ayuba Abok described Atiku as the most acceptable presidential candidate in Plateau in view of his track record.
He posited that anybody who loves Plateau would hate APC and embrace the PDP because of the developmental strides of former Governor Jonah David Jang.
He said that the APC had not added any value in Plateau like the PDP since it assumed office in 2015.
“I will say that people trusted APC in 2015 because they wanted to have a new change with a new political party in power. But sadly, APC ended up disappointing the people. Nothing tangible has been added to what the PDP government did. Rather, people are wallowing in pain and hardship. So, they have resolved to go back to the PDP, a political party that has been tested and trusted.
“By the grace of God, with the permission and support of the people, PDP is going to win Plateau and return back to power in 2023.”
From all indications, whoever will win Plateau at the presidential election will emerge with a slim margin because of the competitive nature of the election as the Christians may not likely go with one voice.
But the Plateau State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Hon Rufus Bature, said that the next election is a must-win for the APC.
He said that they don’t have failure in their dictionary and so, they must win the next election in Plateau and Nigeria in general.