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2023 presidential election: How the candidates stand, by Tunji Light Ariyomo

By Tunji Light Ariyomo

This is the second presidential election since 2003 whereby I have played no role. Other than my occasional biased group chats and Facebook posts, by commission or omission, neither myself nor anyone from my camp was involved for or against any of the candidates in the current election cycle. Dr. Michael Omotosho, my aburo Tope Jesse, etc, were all spectators except my daughter, Bar. (Mrs) Yeyeoba Odunola Sandra Ogunmola, who decided to ‘elope’ with Sowore. Our typical boots on the ground were not laced in any unit, ward, or anywhere in Ondo State and nationally. Like millions of Nigerians, we merely watched from the sideline, and the experience though unusual has been an interesting one.

D-Day is this week. We have had an extraordinary experience wherein the public speeches of the principal political actors in a government formed by the ruling party, have strongly supported the candidate of the ruling party – whereas their body language and faux pas have been precariously against that candidate. For instance, how does triggering intense public anger and hatred against the ruling party weeks and days before an election translate to a popular vote for that party? They have simply been removing specks from the candidate’s eyes with fingers smeared with pepper paste!

Yet, there are developments to celebrate in this election cycle. One such is the possibility of a truly pan-Nigerian candidate. The man Peter Obi, warts and all, captured the imagination of the ordinary Nigerian better than any other candidate in this election. I constantly do grassroots opinion sampling weeks to general elections. He has polled better with ordinary Nigerians in many parts of Southern Nigeria and the North Central where he currently enjoys fever-pitch support among the mekunus. What I do not know is the capacity of his handlers and troops to convert such unprecedented goodwill to election victory and hold their ground or manage rapidly evolving and erratic activities on D-Day to translate his popularity into an election triumph.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is a veteran of the game. Suave, urbane, and experienced with a network of supporters across the country. He is a formidable candidate. If the North-South rotation was to be respected, he ordinarily should not be contesting. But he knows this is his best chance, especially with a politician of the status of Muhamadu Buhari off the ballot. Unknown to many, one major clog that obstructed an Atiku presidency since 2007 had been Buhari. Buhari’s godlike popularity in the North automatically made an Atiku only a second choice. Atiku is also aware that beyond 2023, he is unlikely to be in the reckoning due to age as well as the need to contend with emerging northern stars like Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, Nasir El Rufai, etc. So, in realistic terms, this is his only chance, his last chance, and his best chance. The North has the number and the coordination and can always forge alliances leveraging the perennial divisions, selfishness, and incoherence in the South. Bar the support of Northern governors who have displayed resolute support for the APC candidate and potential surprises from the NNPP, Atiku could expectedly enjoy a commanding lead in the North whilst his foot soldiers in the South can always anchor their message on the twin issues of economy and insecurity. The recent actions and policies of the national government on fuel and Naira scarcity (aka Naira redesign) are unanticipated boons for Atiku. It would take an act of God to stop him.

In contrast, if there is any politician that has sacrificed more, built bridges better, and supported other politicians across the country among the presidential candidates, he is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (ABAT). Like Atiku, age is no longer on his side and this is his best chance, his only chance, and his last chance, all things being equal. If the presidential election contest was based solely on the merit of preparation or a referendum on the most prepared and the most hardworking, he probably would simply await coronation or be rivaled only by Atiku who share a similar pedigree. If there was honour among politicians, reciprocity would have mattered such that rather than what appear to be tactical blockades and hurdles strewn his paths by the very people he assisted to office in the past, his strides to victory would have been unassailable. As a Yoruba, he is second only to M.K.O Abiola in building deliberate bridges of political collaboration across Nigeria. If he was from Northern Nigeria, he would unlikely be confronting the present level of intense resistance. Although his party controls more states in the North than any other political party, the apparent perfidy from within remains an issue. If he wins on Saturday, it would mean that the heavens had indeed ordained him for that position as he would have scaled unimaginable treachery to emerge victorious against the most vicious barricades and huddles ever mounted by friends and foes alike against any presidential candidate in the history of Nigeria.

Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso is the most educated among all the presidential candidates. Even as I was concluding that my non-participation this time was ordained or a divine arrangement, he was the only one among the current presidential candidates that personally invited me for a private talk. You cannot interact with Kwankwanso without noticing his simplicity and genuine concern for the nation. Nevertheless, there were only two reasons why I could not join Dr. Kwankwanso: I could not shake the nagging feeling that I was not to play any role in this election, that I needed time off politics; and the fact that I was very conscious of having to jump from one political party to another. Perhaps I am too idealistic to be a typical politician or perhaps the environment did not align enough. Yet, it must be said that Dr. Kwankwanso is beloved by a massive talakawa base in the North with a corresponding presence in Sabos across the country. In a truly free and fair election, he could hold a commanding presence in places like Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, and parts of Kaduna. He was able to plant his party, the NNPP, in practically every local government across the country within a short time. His erudition, experience, and passion for Nigeria are unmistakable. Nigeria would be lucky to have such a man as its leader.

By Saturday this week, the ball shall be in the court of Nigerians. Hopefully, by mid-day on Sunday, we should have an idea of who is forming the next government. May the forces align to give the best to the Nigerian nation.

Tunji Ariyomo is based in Abuja and is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.

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