By Armsfree Ajanaku, Editor-in-Chief and Olawale Lamina, Features Editor, Abuja
As the contests for high offices up for grabs in 2023 general elections hot up, politicians and their supporters have been crisscrossing the country to sell their message to the electorate.
Since September 28 when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lifted the ban on campaigns, contestants have been at their wits end as they look to pitch campaign messages, which would resonate with the voters. As indicated in the time table released by the electoral umpire the Presidential and National Assembly elections will take place on 25 February 2023, while the governorship and State Assembly elections hold on 11 March 2023.
Beginning today, The Explainer, in this weekly State of the Race series, will provide in-depth analysis of the soundbites and the dominant issues defining the campaigns. So far, below is the state of the race as the top three Presidential contenders traverse the country in a bid to convince voters to cast their ballots for them on Election Day.
Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar flagged off his campaign for the Presidency in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State last week. The major reality, which confronted the Atiku campaign is the fact of their deeply divided political party with several governors from the South shunning the event. The Atiku campaign has so far struggled to put out the fires occasioned by the civil war within the PDP.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesome Wike has been the man leading the crusade for what he has described as justice, equity and fairness within the party. Unable to meet the demands of the Wike camp that National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu should resign, the Atiku campaign has resorted to weak and ineffective appeals to Wike through different surrogates.
It is however apparent that the Wike camp is not willing to move an inch in terms of its demand for the ouster of Ayu.
Apart from the Wike problem, the Atiku campaign has also been blighted by what some of his ardent supporters have described as divisive comments, which have dampened enthusiasm, especially among his die hard supporters in the South. A few days ago, the former Vice President’s comment that Northerners should only vote for a fellow Northerner like himself riled many of his supporters who hail from the South.
The comment precipitated a harsh scrutiny of one of candidate Atiku’s major talking point in his bid for the presidency. The Turaki Adamawa has always been keen to brandish his pan Nigerian disposition as one of the key qualities, which would put him in good stead to stabilise a seriously divided country, which is reeling from the consequences of the alleged nepotism of the sitting government.
With the comment on Northerners voting for him, the PDP candidate has deflated the “unifier” mantra, which he had invested so much effort in projecting. The former Vice President’s opponents have thus been quick to tag him the “divider” who may even come off worse than Buhari in terms of shoddy management of the nation’s diversity.
This utterly negative baggage notwithstanding, the Atiku has been spot on in terms of sharing important updates about his campaign activities. Credit to the candidate, he has put in place a very agile social media team, which has been providing images and soundbites about the things being done by the Atiku campaign to sell his candidacy to voters. The candidate has made it a constant refrain to discuss his plan to unify Nigeria, restore brotherhood and mend the broken bridges of friendship all over the country.
Also, at a recent campaign stop in Kaduna State, Atiku vowed to resuscitate the moribund industries in the state. Unfortunately, the campaign stops in Kaduna witnessed a clash between rival party supporters culminating in violence, which was strongly condemned by the candidate on his twitter handle.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, All Progressives Congress (APC).
Notwithstanding the loads of controversies, he has attracted since the start of the current political season, the Presidential candidate of the ruling APC has continued to move forward in his quest for the Presidency.
In the build up to the APC Presidential primary, Tinubu staked his claim to the Presidency by declaring “Emi lokan,” which in Yoruba translates to “it’s my turn.” The former Lagos State Governor has anchored his narrative for this campaign around what he has described as the vast experience he garnered from holding sway as governor in Lagos, Nigeria economic capital and melting pot for people from all over the country.
The former Lagos State helmsman has also tried to drum up his credentials as a frontline pro-democracy activist who played a prominent role in galvansing other activists to stridently oppose the despotic regime of General Sani Abacha. However, despite the vantage position he occupies as the candidate of the ruling party, Tinubu has jolted his ardent supporters and opponents alike with unforced gaffes and slips, which have also attracted harsh scrutiny from the public. At an event in Kaduna, Tinubu apparently “praised” Governor Nasir El Rufai, whom he commended for turning a worse city to a bad one. At another campaign stop where he addressed women supporters, the APC candidate derisively told those calling for a change in government to “shut up.”
These Freudian slips aside, the candidate has also been trying to infuse some debating points in the political conversation.
For instance, the APC candidate has made various generic promises on his resolve to fight banditry to standstill. On the other hand, there are some who have argued that going by the way the APC campaign has recognised the key role of women in the campaign, his Presidency, if successful in the election would be women friendly. Those who hold this view argue that the APC flagbearer has ensured there is an active women wing of his campaign organisation. Also in Lagos, Tinubu’s supporters in the last one week have stepped up rallies and road shows in response to what opponents in the “Obidient” camp are doing.
Nonetheless, as the former Lagos State Governor continues wooing voters, the same faith ticket, which he chose as his preferred pairing for the election has remained an albatross. Despite all attempts to brush aside opposition to the Muslim-Muslim ticket, it has remained one of the grotesque realities hobbling seamless conversation on the campaign trail.
Peter Obi, Labour Party (LP)
Even with the massive level of good will and support it has amassed from the youth demographic in the country, Obi and the LP campaign has had to contend with take-off challenges. The Obi campaign and the LP got its first taste of political controversy following the appointment of retired Major-General John Enenche as a member of the LP Presidential Campaign Council (PCC).
The appointment was greeted by outrage from young people who took exception to the appointment of a man who as defense spokesperson alleged that photos from the Lekki Tollgate shootings of October 2020 were “photo shopped.” Obi and the LP campaign had to bow to wishes of young people and they immediately promised to issue an update PCC list.
In the early weeks of the campaign, the LP has also faced a barrage of online content questioning his record during his two tenures as Governor in Anambra State. Some of the online content have also come in the form of fake news, misinformation and disinformation. One of such was the claim that former Chief of Defense Staff, General Theophilus Danjuma had donated a Bombadier private jet to the LP candidate for his campaign. This claim was quickly refuted by the candidate who denied ever receiving any such donation.
Obi was also accused by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El Rufai of placing him under arrest sometime in 2023. Fact checks of this claim have however revealed that it was the Department of State Services, which at the time placed El Rufai under arrest. Despite these challenges, the Obi campaign appears the most energised, especially going by the momentum it has garnered from the support provided by youth voters across the country.
The Explainer learnt from many close observers watching the campaign that the popularity of candidate Obi among the youth demographic is somewhat puzzling. Many political pundits are finding it difficult to come to terms with how Obi generated such high level of organic support among the youth, who before now wallowed in political apathy. The LP candidate is receiving this near-unprecedented level of support despite is vow not to give “shi shi.” Unlike normal politicians of the Nigerian mould, Obi has stated his aversion for doling out hefty sums for “mobilization.”
In terms of the debate around the issues of governance, the LP candidate is already off the blocks with his discussion of policy, which he would introduce to address the big issues facing Nigeria.
The Explainer State of the Race checks indicate that at the last count, the LP Presidential hopeful has talked extensively on his plans for agriculture, by leveraging on the vast lands of the North.