BY BRIGHT JACOB
The presidential candidates of the People’s Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and his All Progressives Congress counterpart, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, may have drawn the displeasure of Nigerians after analysts adjudged that the political heavyweights likely played the ethnic card to whip up regional sentiment while addressing different groups of the Nigerian electorate.
And even though the emotions generated by the utterances of the political gladiators, who want to curry the favour of their fellow tribesmen, may have been near fever pitch, it is not yet certain that elections in their regions are a done deal, as political forecasts point to a presidential contest that would throw up a fierce battle for the control of Nigeria’s six geographical regions.
Still fresh in the minds of Nigerians is Tinubu’s “emi lo kan” asseveration in Abeokuta, Ogun state, South West Nigeria.
The former governor of Lagos state, perhaps sensing that the powers that be were making subtle moves to thwart his presidential ambition, had told his supporters that it was his turn to be the president of Nigeria.
Tinubu, who spoke in his native Yoruba language, reminded his tribesmen that he played a pivotal role in the emergence of incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, after he (Buhari) had earlier contested three presidential elections, albeit, unsuccessfully.
Indeed, the South West is Tinubu’s political base. Lagos is his stronghold. And last week, the presidential hopeful tried to cement this notion when the members of the State Executive Council of the APC, at the Lagos APC Secretariat on Acme Road, Ogba, Lagos, converged for a meeting with him. There, in the presence of the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Tinubu said the party was “unbeatable” in Lagos.
Tinubu contested for governor under the platform of the Alliance for Democracy in 1999 before a faction of the party merged in 2006 with other political parties to form the Action Congress (later renamed Action Congress of Nigeria), before yet another merger with the Congress for Progressive Change, and others, birthed the APC.
Today, except for Oyo and Osun States, all the states in the South West are APC states, and Tinubu may likely enjoy some patronage from the region.
Lagos has never been under the control of the PDP or any other political party not linked with Tinubu. But notwithstanding this fact, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi’s supporters, have brought a new kind of X-factor to the political dynamics in the South West. The Obidient movement, as the supporters are known, have served a sort of “takeover” order in Lagos and are also eyeing the rest of the South West.
During the October 1, 2022, Obi-Datti rallies that were held simultaneously in some parts of Lagos metropolis, they displayed their unfettered readiness to overturn Tinubu’s influence in the state and region, at large.
On his part, the candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, in an interactive session with the Arewa Joint Committee held in Kaduna State, said that the North didn’t need an Igbo or Yoruba man to preside over them. The Wazirin Adamawa made this declaration after the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, asked him why Northerners should vote for him. Answering, the former vice president said, “What the average Northerner needs is somebody who is from the North and also understands that part of the country, and has been able to build bridges across the country.
“This is what the Northerner needs, it doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate, I stand before you as a Pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”
A political analyst based in Lagos, Kizito Opara, told The Point that he believed the presidential aspirants would not get away easily this time around if they tried to play the ethnic card. Answering questions whether the two big politicians had succeeded with their regional rhetoric, Opara said that Nigerians were wiser now and it would take more than just “sweet words” to get anyone into Aso Rock Villa.
Continuing, he said that anyone could be beaten anywhere in the presidential race. He also noted that politicians were able to “deceive” Nigerians in the past, especially during the advent of democracy in 1999, because Nigerians believed they were obligated to vote for their tribesmen. In Opara’s opinion, there is a new breed of Nigerians who have come of age and want to take their destinies in their own hands.
His words: “It is a shame that we find ourselves in this space in this country. It is even a heavier shame that we have allowed speeches filled with ethnic colourations to thrive in this country. But I have a spoiler alert for politicians. They will not get away easily again trying to play the ethnic card.
“No, it will not be (easy). From now on, it will take more than just sweet words to get anyone into the Presidential Villa. Sufferings, pain and destruction don’t note ethnicity or regionalism. It affects all without bias.
“So, let them (presidential candidates) do more. Let them show us their plans for the country, instead of resorting to ‘na my brother’ tactics,” Opara said.
Continuing, he said, “You see, anyone can be beaten anywhere now. It doesn’t matter whether you claim that you have never been beaten before. If you don’t offer us your best in this electioneering campaign, you will have yourself to blame.
“And mind you, this is not 1999 when everyone was acting naive when it came to these politicians. Today, there is a new breed of Nigerians who have come of age and are ready to take their destinies in their own hands,” he added.
Opara also predicted that political “strongholds” would be “invaded” in the general elections as no region was guaranteed any politician. He, however, said that those vying for office still have ample time to “redirect their path” instead of boasting that they are unbeatable.
“Let them tread cautiously now. Because you have never been beaten before does not mean that the status quo will remain. Because if you are not careful, your so-called stronghold will be invaded. So, let them complement their positions with more noble ideas that will move the country forward. There’s still time to do so,” Opara added.
An educationist, Ibrahim Ya’u Nabayi, in his own assessment, said that in spite of the statements credited to the two leading players, politics and winning elections were “all about numbers”.
“By the statements of the two contenders, you can see that they are being too biased with their statements. If Atiku would say the North needs a Northerner, why did he pick a running mate from the South?”
Nabayi noted that even if the aspirants have made ethnic statements, the outcome of the election was still “unpredictable”.
He also said that even if Tinubu, Atiku and Obi were the major contenders, they or their regions were not islands and required the cooperation of other regions to emerge victorious. He, however, said that the North and South West were the two major regions that could win the election.
“Politics is all about numbers. Winning an election is all about numbers. But when you look at the current trend of our wazobia forthcoming election, it is something that one cannot easily predict (who the winner will be), because all the three major contenders are strong in their own respect.
“But none of them or their regions will be an island on itself. They need the cooperation of other regions to emerge (victorious). So, the election is something one cannot easily predict. Also, you have to note that anyone can pick presidential tickets, but the major contending regions are the North and the South West,” Nabayi stated.
Whether the strength of Atiku and Tinubu’s utterances will eventually shepherd the politicians into Aso Rock Villa, Nabayi, who is the National Secretary of the Parents Teachers Association, said that the APC and PDP stalwarts were “biased” with their statements.
Speaking further, he said Nigerians would no longer believe any “ethnic and religious bigotry” that had anything to do with the election of Nigeria’s next president.
Giving a reason for this, Nabayi said that Nigerians were now getting “civilised” and “where we are supposed to be”.
His words: “By the statements of the two contenders, you can see that they are being too biased with their statements. If Atiku would say the North needs a Northerner, why did he pick a running mate from the South?
“Tinubu who says it is the turn of the South West, what would happen to the Igbos? Are they not part of Nigeria? Is it only the South West people that will vote him into office?
“Yes, geographically, after Lagos, Kano is the most populous. But are you telling me that there are no Northerners and Igbos in Lagos that constitute that population? Is it not the same thing in Kano? So, when you look at the arithmetic, you will realise that we need each other in this country.
“You cannot even do government with only the people from your region. Besides that, I don’t even think Nigerians will believe in any ethnic or religious bigotry that has to do with the election of our next president. I think we are getting civilised. We are also getting where we are supposed to be,” Nabayi disclosed.