Nigeria Decides 2023: Thrills, controversies of APC presidential campaign
From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign trail has successfully moved round almost all the six geopolitical zones of the country with less than 85 days to the crucial poll.
Anywhere the party went to, their messages of Renewed Hope resonated among the people especially their members.
Led by its presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the campaign voyages have constantly left in their trail, frenzy atmospherics and memorable celebration of colours and cultural costumes with a blend of attires and decorations. It had always been a display of electrifying carnival, showpiece, and entertainment showstopper for the usual surging crowd of supporters and party faithful.
The campaign rallies have looked so good that political watchers argue that if crowd visibility should be the only yardstick to gauge the level of acceptability, the ruling party is already coasting home to victory even before the conduct of the presidential poll next year.
From the North-Central where the rally was flagged off to South South where they consolidated the rally and the South East, where Tinubu was conferred a chieftaincy title perhaps to authenticate the acceptability of the party in the zone, to the South West where an intimidating crowd of supporters confirmed his homecoming as city boy, the ruling party would not have asked for more.
In the North Central, the moving train stopped in Jos, Plateau State; in the South South, it was Warri, in Delta State and Yenagoa, Bayelsa; in the South East, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, and in South West, Lagos.
From all ramifications, the APC presidential campaign rallies could be adjudged as a huge success, in terms of crowd visibility. It was a very fruitful and rewarding first-phase outing. The messages contained in the manifesto delivered to the crowd resonated very loud in the typical made in Nigeria style.
In what could be described as the biblical sermon on the mountain, even the lame, the blind, the deaf, the young, old, male and female, participated, received and assimilated the messages. They also felt the physical presence and soft touch of the messengers subconsciously.
In almost all the zones where the campaign train stopped, they always made impact in the minds of the inquisitive supporters and non-supporters alike desperately and eagerly waiting to receive them like other major political parties.
What has even been more instructive is that the APC campaign trail went with different messages of hope with different audience appeals. To consciously localise the messages of renewed hope, they re-echoed, in the North-Central, the determination of Tinubu-led administration to continue with the progress already started by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
In his message of assurance, Tinubu had announced that; “we hereby reaffirm our commitment to progressive good governance and to the fruits that such governance can bring to this nation.”
In the South South, the campaign message centred on cleaning up Niger Delta to ensure that host communities don’t suffer degradations for building the nation’s economy through their oil, promising to re-activate the gas revolution industrial park
“Our government will further re-activate the multi-billion Dollar Gas Revolution Industrial Park Project. President Buhari-led administration has made great strides in revisiting this project. We will complete it. Gas will become a national priority,” he relayed the message of hope to them.
He played reggae music entirely different from the usual blues in the South East geopolitical zones when he promised to address issues and policies hindering commerce, and enterprise, assuring that they will no longer be discriminated against if he wins.
“I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo. I encouraged a lot of Igbo businesses and investments in Lagos and will even do more if I become president. There will be no discrimination; Igbo’s interests will be respected and protected. I will also encourage policies to aid commerce and support South East states to reach their full potential,” he assured.
Expectedly, he did not disappoint so much on the quality of messages he took to the South West. He passionately urged Nigerians not to allow the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) anywhere near Nigeria’s commonwealth again because of the destruction it brought on the country previously.
As if the sermons at the campaign rallies did not reverberate loudly, the deliberately and perfectly packaged several town hall meetings with relevant critical stakeholders and business communities in almost all the geopolitical zones were even richer and more strategic.
They have successfully consulted with captains of industries in Lagos, business interests in Kano, critical stakeholders in the South East that even raised and blessed Tinubu with over N1 billion to support his campaign, the Niger Delta leaders with promises of regular consultations on the region’s development, Nasarawa and Niger State miners and agric stakeholders respectively.
Interestingly, every one of the outings has witnessed a full house and an assemblage of a retinue of political heavyweights in the ruling party and beyond. Such big wig flamboyant politicians always in attendance include the vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima, Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of House Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Others include members of the APC Progressive Governors Forum and their predecessors, former and serving Ministers, the ruling party’s national leadership, and women leaders, among other stakeholders.
In fact, summarising the campaigns in a chat with Daily Sun, a member, the Directorate of Strategic Communication, APC PCC, Ajayi Temitope, described it as a huge success despite certain challenges.
“Within this period, our candidate introduced a novelty into the presidential campaign that PDP is copying now. Tinubu and APC PCC introduced town hall meetings and direct engagements with critical and sectoral stakeholders in the country. As at last count, about eight of such sectoral engagements have been held alongside major rallies.
“Asiwaju does not just want to come into a state and do rallies and leave after the stadium show. He meets with leaders, business people, youth, students, and market leaders to interact and feel their pulses. He met business people in Lagos, Miners in Lafia, agric and agro-commodity leaders in Minna. He met with Niger Delta leaders and traditional leaders in Gbaramotu Kingdom.
“We have had rallies in Lagos, Yenagoa, Jos, Warri alongside zonal women, and Youth rallies and road walks in several states and senatorial districts. In terms of participation, mobilisation, and energy, APC has done far better than other parties. It appears the Labour Party has fizzled out and is already tired while the PDP is hobbled by internal division and lethargy,” he explained.
Reacting further, he said: “In terms of groundwork, direct engagements, and mobilisation, the first stage has been great for APC and Tinubu. It has not happened for all the parties. It is the best we have seen in campaign advertising. The radio, TV, outdoor media, newspapers, and online platforms have not seen the kind of political advertisement patronage media owners would have expected at this stage.
“The lessons and takeaways in this campaign is that Nigerian voters are getting more sophisticated; they are becoming more aware and taking more interest in who becomes their leaders at all levels. Nigerians are demanding more openness, transparency, and accountability in leadership.
“Even in rural areas, people want to know what a candidate will do about the economy, security, education, healthcare etc. The level of political awareness is outstanding and impressive. Politicians can no longer take the people for granted. The INEC BVAS is a huge one geared towards making our elections more credible and votes to count,” he noted.
On the challenges confronting the campaign, the PCC said: “Our management team will always make adjustments in their schedules and timetable of activities. That is normal. There will be exigencies and new challenges to react to and manage. Campaigns are very fluid and nothing is cast in stone.
“It is a long campaign and the first time in Nigeria we are having an almost six months campaign period which obviously makes it more expensive to run for political parties and candidates. Parties and candidates are managing their resources and being more strategic in deployment.
“Timetables are just a guide and plan. No party or campaign council will follow it 100 per cent. There will always be adjustments here and there. Only God is certain of everything, not man. I think all the parties and campaign management teams have to deal with logistics challenges and funding.
“Campaigns are always elaborate, demanding, energy-sapping and expensive to run, especially national election like the presidential poll. Everything about our election is logistics and supply chain management. The ability to manage the connecting points and moving parts will make the difference in win or lose. Every party will deal with these challenges. From what I know of APC PCC and the party, we are managing these challenges better and it is the reason APC and Tinubu-Shetima will win the election,” he assured with a tone of finality.
However, despite the razzmatazz, glamour and successes associated with the campaign rallies, they have expectedly not been smooth-sailing as slur messages and unending slips by the presidential candidate have marred the outing.
Regrettably, supporters, Nigerians, and political watchers have remembered the slur messages and Tinubu’s slips more than the content of the manifestos delivered to the electorate.
Yes, Tinubu may have proved the doubting Thomas, who thought that he will not be capable and physically fit enough to go through the rigours of the presidential campaign wrong, but truth be told, the myriad of mistakes have intolerably become too many.
Starting from Jos, where his slip of ‘God bless Nigeria, God bless PD, APC’ has become a sing song to Warri where he used Niger Delta State instead of Delta State, and Lagos where he erroneously referred to the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) as “APV”, he has exhibited some level of cognitive decline.
Many believe the blunders have continued to cast serious doubts on the competence of the presidential candidate to oversee the affairs of the country.
The list of errors has been endless, including the when he said in Kaduna that ‘El Rufai has turned a rotten situation into a bad one”. He also referred to the Plateau State governor, his Director General campaign council as Solomon Dalong. The most prominent of his slips is when he muttered, “Bala Blu, Blu, Bulalaba” in one of his outings.
Other of his slips include, ‘Prevent Church rat from eating poisoned Holy Communion’, where he compared Nigeria’s adherence to global climate change advice to ‘a rat eating a poisoned Holy Communion’.
Summing Tinubu’s campaign outing so far, political commentator, Okey Ndibe had noted that; “speech after speech, he has lamentably lapsed into gibberish and gobbledygook. He has racked up quite a collection of campaign videos where his lips produce sounds that are unintelligible in English or Yoruba. Were he a member of one of Nigeria’s myriad Pentecostal churches, he or his handlers could make the case that he had a facility for speaking in tongues.”
Disappointingly, the APC candidate, on several instances promised to maintain an issue-based campaign, yet his campaign has been incomplete without throwing jabs at either the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar or Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi in almost all the outings.
It came to the head recently, when the former governor of Lagos described Atiku, as “wrong theory”, and Obi, as “disobedient. Tinubu had said: “ One of them, I don’t want to call their names. Is it Atiku? Atilukated what? Wrong theory. Mark it down. Wrong theory for Atiku. Is it Obi? He is disobedient. He lives in Lagos, not in Anambra. He doesn’t know the road back to Anambra, so we will chart him another course.”
Taking a further dig at Atiku, he said: “They want to come back. Tell them that a dead fish cannot be sweet in any soup. Atiku contested in SDP; he contested in PDP; he contested in ACN when we rescued him from Obasanjo. Now he is contesting again in PDP. He should go home and rest.”
As he jets out to London for the crucial appearance at the Chatham House in the commencement of his international consultations, the trips come with trepidations and apprehensions to his teaming supporters on what becomes of the outings.
While commenting on the trips, the member PCC media directorate, said: “For the candidates, there is the international leg of the campaign. The fact is the international community always has an interest in Nigeria’s elections as the largest economy and biggest black nation on earth.
“The West, in particular, because of colonial history in Africa and business interest, has more than passing interest in who wins elections in Nigeria. It is not out of place for candidates to be invited to events abroad and to meet many state actors in the US, UK, EU etc.
“Asiwaju will be speaking at Chatham House in London on the economy, security, and foreign policy. He may still have other foreign engagements in January and the same will happen to other candidates who have also travelled abroad to internationalise their campaign,” he noted.