100 DAYS TO PRESIDENTIAL POLL: STATE OF THE RACE

0
73
  • Odds favour APC amid PDP crisis
  • NNPP, LP’s ‘failed’ alliance spoils 3rd force chances
  • Despite crisis, coast clear for PDP, chieftains insist

BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, MAYOWA SAMUEL AND BRIGHT JACOB

Uba Group

Barely 102 days to the 2023 presidential election on February 25, 2023, indications have emerged that the ruling All Progressives Congress is the clear favourite to clinch the coveted seat in Aso Villa.

Investigations by The Point showed that what was the case some five or six months back, when the contest was considered by many as a four-horse race, has changed drastically.

With the New Nigeria Peoples Party dropping behind by August ending, leaving the ruling APC, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party and then rave of the moment, Labour Party, the race has since narrowed down to APC and PDP.

And now in November, the APC is well ahead of the chasing pack, no thanks to the seemingly intractable crisis bedeviling the PDP. Notwithstanding the optimism being expressed and the hope of resolving the crisis, it has given the APC an unfettered opportunity to gallop well ahead of it. Any resolution now may just be coming a little too late, even though politicians are wont to boast that 24 hours is a long enough time for anything substantial to happen in politics.

“While the party is still enmeshed in controversy and how to reconcile with the G5 and put up a united and formidable front for the campaigns, the APC is moving swiftly and deftly recruiting more supporters and consolidating in areas considered to be its strongholds”

BUHARI’S ENDORSEMENT OF TINUBU

Apart from the inability of the leading opposition party to put its house in order, thus bolstering the chances of the APC, President Muhammadu Buhari’s open endorsement of Tinubu at various fora, has been described as priceless for the strong man of Lagos politics.

Buhari, who is well known for his policy of not endorsing candidates or openly taking sides in such matters, has been speaking strongly in favour of the APC flag bearer.

The President said last week in an interview in the United Kingdom after meeting with His Royal Majesty, King Charles III, in Buckingham Palace, that the APC was lucky to have Tinubu as its presidential candidate ahead of the 2023 general elections.

“We are going to win the election. Tinubu, the presidential candidate, is a very well-known politician in the country, he was a two-term governor in Lagos State, the most resourceful state and the most visited state. So, I think the party was lucky to get him to be the candidate,” Buhari said in response to a question.

It was not the first time he has done that. Back in July, Buhari had in a written response to questions posed by Bloomberg News, asserted, “Yes. I will endorse the APC candidate for president.” He has kept faith with that promise.

In October, during the inauguration of the APC Presidential Campaign Council in Abuja, Buhari made a promise to lead the campaign for the election of Tinubu. He hinged his decision on the need to preserve the gains made by the country in the last seven years.

He said, “I want to rally all our party members behind our candidate, Asiwaju Tinubu, in our determination to continue to lead this country so that we can consolidate on our achievements and do more. It would be disastrous to allow a situation that will lead to the reversal of the progress our country has made.

“Let me add that I joyfully accept the position of the chairman of the campaign council we are unveiling today. Our candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is too well known for his capacity and can-do spirit.

“He stands tall in his track records as a democrat, a champion of the rule of law, a man at home in every part of our country, and a truly visionary leader. I, therefore, want to assure all party members and supporters of our government that I will be at the forefront of this campaign. This election is even more important than the election of 2015 that brought us into power.”

Interestingly, leaders of the APC are already feeling the victory of Tinubu in the bag, saying his victory is not negotiable and that he remains the contender to beat.

According to some prominent chieftains of the party, even if the major opposition PDP was not enmeshed in crisis and severe division, Tinubu would still coast to victory because the people of Nigeria are strongly behind him.

Speaking in a telephone interview with The Point, the chairman of Osun APC, Gboyega Famodun, said the PDP had never shown Nigerians that it was serious to take charge of governance at the centre, adding that the crisis rocking it was a confirmation of how “unserious and selfish” the party had been.

“CBN"

He urged Nigerians to disregard PDP, promising that Tinubu would proffer solutions to the myriads of challenges battling the country.

“I want to tell you that whether PDP is battling a crisis or not, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is the man to beat any time. The PDP has never been a serious party and they have been fighting themselves because of their selfishness and self-centeredness and Nigerians have discovered that. They know better now.

“Tinubu and Shettima have been going around the country telling Nigerians their plans while PDP is busy with all sorts of fraudulent accusations against themselves. This is not the type of government Nigeria needs and that’s why there won’t be space for them in Aso Rock come 2023.

“Nigerians should do away with religious and ethnic sentiments and vote for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He has proved his worth when he was the governor of Lagos State and he has displayed more than enough competence to transform Nigeria,” Famodun noted.

Also speaking, a chieftain of APC, Taiwo Akeju, said the ruling party was not interested in the crisis bedeviling the PDP, adding that its job was to sell Tinubu to Nigerians alongside his manifestos.

“We want the Nigerian public to note that what the country needs for prosperity and development has nothing to do with religious or ethnic affiliation but people with ideas of leadership in terms of boldness, courage and understanding to discharge duties for positive results. Tinubu and Shettima in their various capacities had shown these credible traits of leadership and should be supported by all well-meaning Nigerians,” he said.

‘DESPITE CRISIS, COAST CLEAR FOR PDP’

According to analysts, the lingering crisis rocking the PDP seems to have done incalculable damage to its dream of “rescuing and rebuilding” the country after eight years of the APC administration.

Though concerted efforts are said to be on to bring all aggrieved members under the ‘umbrella’, it is not certain when that will finally happen.

While the party is still enmeshed in controversy and how to reconcile with the G5 and put up a united and formidable front for the campaigns, the APC is moving swiftly and deftly recruiting more supporters and consolidating in areas considered to be its strongholds.

Notwithstanding, Lagos PDP Chairman, Philip Aivoji, believes the party will emerge stronger ahead of the polls.

“We are going to work. Why was the campaign council put in place? Is it not to win the election? I want to be focused on Lagos. Is Wike going to come and win the election for us in Lagos State? I don’t want to be bothered about whether it’s G-5, G-10 or G-100. I want to win the election in my state, I don’t want distraction. This G-5 matter will be resolved. By the grace of God, nothing negative will affect this coming election and we are going to be victorious,” he told The Point.

Also, a spokesperson for the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Charles Aniagwu, was confident that the crisis would be resolved in good time.

“We are looking at the crisis being resolved and it will be resolved. Our chances are as clear as the northern star. The PDP will win the next election by the grace of God, Nigerians are tired of the APC, it’s very clear,” he told The Point.

Adetokunbo Pearse, member, PDP National Presidential Campaign Council and Lagos State Coordinator, Atiku/ Okowa Presidential Support Groups, argued that “both at the national and state levels, APC has failed the nation badly and the people are agitating to get rid of the APC in this election, and usher in an alternative, a PDP government.”

He said, “Everything is dependent on the terrible quality of performance of the APC at the state level and at the national level, coupled with the fact that in the governorship race, we have new blood, somebody who has new ideas, dynamic.

“Then at the national level, we have a presidential candidate who is heads and shoulders above the rest of them in terms of his campaign. With Atiku’s five-point agenda, Nigeria will be saved and will improve in economy and security. Everything will be better for Nigeria. That is what the people are looking for, not the quarrel of a few governors who do not represent the people. No governor has 80 per cent of their votes, whether you control the state or not. They only control a fraction of support.”

Pearse’s argument strengthens the position of those who think reconciliation in the party is still very far away. And with the discordant tunes continuously wafting from the party, the ruling party stands to gain immensely from PDP’s seeming lack of coherence and unity of purpose.

“I see South East voters casting their votes for a Kwankwaso or Tinubu or Atiku; South West voters voting for Obi, Atiku or Kwankwaso and the same goes to the northern voters. This is why I believe that it will be difficult for the winner to emerge at the first ballot”

DANGEROUS TO WRITE OFF OBI, KWANKWASO

However, human rights activist, Mahdi Shehu, has warned that it will be dangerous to write off both the LP candidate, Peter Obi and his NNPP counterpart, Rabiu Kwankwaso. He said people could only do that at their detriment, adding that the 2023 general election might likely not produce a winner on the first ballot.

Shehu argued that the old order of voting in Nigerian elections would certainly suffer abandonment in the forthcoming elections because presidential candidates would get votes from across the country, irrespective of their religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds.

He stated, “The presidential election in 2023 will definitely spring surprises because the winner may not emerge at the first ballot. I see a situation where the NNPP candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, will become a beautiful bride that will decide where the pendulum swings to. Those who are writing him and Peter Obi off are just doing wishful thinking. Kwankwaso has been penetrating the nooks and crannies of the country, making himself very much acceptable.

“He has not been loud but slow and steady; he is endearing himself to the people. Same thing goes for Obi. He is very popular and one major thing about his presidential ambition is that since he joined the race, killings, maiming and burning of houses and offices of the police and the soldiers have drastically dropped to an all-time low level in the South East.

“This is a confirmation that he has unassuming influence over the people of the region. And if he is in control of the votes coming from that area, it will be foolish to underrate him. This is not to say that there are no pockets of issues in the zone but what I am saying is that Obi’s presence in the contest has calmed down the flexing nerves. Beyond that, he is also making himself popular in other regions. So, I laugh at those who believe the election is a two-horse race between the APC and PDP.

“I see South East voters casting their votes for a Kwankwaso or Tinubu or Atiku; South West voters voting for Obi, Atiku or Kwankwaso and the same goes to the northern voters. This is why I believe that it will be difficult for the winner to emerge at the first ballot.

“It is when there is a run-off that a politician like Kwankwaso can be a decider. Where he decides to go will definitely influence a lot of the voters who believe in him and his ideology. Let me tell you, the 2023 election will replicate the 1979 election where you had a PRP with Aminu Kano from the north, UPN with Obafemi Awolowo from the South West, NPP with Nnamdi Azikiwe from the South East, GNPP with Waziri Ibrahim from the north and NPN with Shehu Shagari also from the north. At the end, voters decided who they wanted.”

For the leader of “Youths Have A Say” group, Charles Okolioha, “Nigerians are ready to speak with their votes and they are not hiding that at all.”

Okolioha, who is leading his group in crisscrossing the country, creating awareness among the eligible youths not to shy away from making their contributions to create a better Nigeria, insisted that the 2023 general election could not be said to favour a particular party or candidate as at present.

Rather, he said, “The electorates are like virgin land for the candidates to sow and what they will get will depend on what they have sown and how the people accept what they are sowing.”

“Right now the front runners, of course four of them – Atiku, Tinubu, Obi and Kwankwaso – have equal chances. We have about 90 days until the election and they have all the time to canvass for votes. The campaign has just begun, people are assessing them and their manifestos but let me tell you, we get to where they are not reaching and we hear what their followers will not allow them to hear which the heart desire of the people is. If any of them believes he will get people’s vote by telling lies on what he will do, such a candidate will receive the shock of his life.”

“Tribe will not play much role, neither will religion because Nigerians believe the politicians have used these weapons to deceive them and win elections and at the end they dump them. What I am saying is that from what is on ground now, except it changes tomorrow, Tinubu can win in Imo State, Atiku can win in Osun State, Obi can win in Plateau state, and Kwankwaso can win in Cross River State,” Okolioha noted.

A chieftain of one of the top political parties who preferred anonymity had a different view.

He said, “The 2023 election, particularly the presidential election, will polarize the country with little overture to some areas based on religion. Anyone saying tribe and religion will not play a major role is only being economical with the truth.

“In the South East, you dare not talk about any candidate other than Peter Obi. This is the same in the South West, North West, and North East where other candidates come from. Believe it or not, the handwriting on the wall is clear and bold. What happened in Borno State is evidence of what I am saying.

Whether it is APC or not whose fans attacked Atiku’s campaign train, you can’t tell me that same group will attack Tinubu. Why? His running mate Shettima is a former governor of that state so, there is no room for an Atiku or Obi or Kwankwaso.

“This will go round maybe not with violence like in Borno but with their votes. If you want your political career to suffer a setback in the South East, speak against Peter Obi, it’s that bad. So how can you write off such a candidate?”

The seasoned politician argued that no political party stands a clear chance for now.

“It’s very dicey. This is not the era where this party is a ruling party and that party is an opposition. Nigerians are very much aware and interested in the forthcoming elections and who will govern them. What happened in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and most recently Osun should be an eye opener that a presidential candidate can lose election in the state his party has the governor.

“There’s no argument about this. So, it is too early to begin to see one candidate as the winner and the other as the loser. All we need to do is work hard to earn people’s votes,” he argued.

Also contesting the view that the APC now has an edge over others, a political analyst, Udume Emevo, who is also a strong supporter of the LP candidate, told The Point that there was no iota of truth in the suggestion that the presidential race had become a straight two-horse race between the PDP and APC. He noted that the Obi-Datti campaign hadn’t lost steam, either.

In his opinion, the former Governor of Anambra State has opponents who are “bamboozled” by the strategy the Obidient revolution had adopted to help the Obi-Datti campaign to “re-energise”, “re-oil” and “retool” their “engines” for effectiveness and efficiency.

Emevo said, “Those who say that the Obi campaign is losing steam are those whose campaigns never had any steam in the first place. They are bamboozled by the strategy of the Obidients’ revolution.

“We are completely aware that the elections are in February next year. We are aware that we have a space of about three, four months of rigorous campaigns. We are aware that we have to go from state to state, village to village, LGA to LGA, house to house, to mobilise voters to support Obi.”

“We are aware all these will take our time and resources to achieve. So, this is our strategy….we are re-energising our engines, we are re-oiling and retooling our engines for effectiveness and efficiency.

And we are not going to dance to the tune of our opponents,” Emevo declared.