•2015 election, an eye-opener; we’ve learnt our lessons
••• vow to close ranks, mobilise from Sokoto to Borno, Ilorin and Yola
By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
On February 25, 2023, when Nigeria goes to vote in the presidential election, it will be the first presidential poll since 2011 in which the troubling fault lines of the country’s politics may not be magnified.
It may not be cast as a North versus South contest, as witnessed in previous elections, where greater attention was paid to the twin monsters of region and religion than issues that affect the common man.
Today, Nigerians are still having to live with the attendant consequences of such sentimental politics.
Moreover, the 2023 presidential election will also be the first in the past 20 years in which Muhammadu Buhari will not be on the ballot because having served the constitutionally permissible two terms, he is term-limited. What this means is that the race will not be business as usual for the North.
The bloc votes the President had always enjoyed in the region would be strongly challenged and the solidarity of the Arewa political class put to severe test.
As of today, political parties have concluded with clarity who will compete for the position of Nigeria’s 16th Head of State on their platforms. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) will field former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, a Northerner; against a former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), from the Southwest; and Labour Party’s Peter Obi, also a former governor of Anambra State in the Southeast. These trio are perceived to be the three leading presidential candidates.
Expectedly, the political battles and manoeuvrings as well as the alignment and re-alignments which come fully alive only during the season of a general election have already begun across the country.
Characteristic of presidential politics in Nigeria, much of the early disturbances are about the religion and region that should produce the country’s next leader.
However, Saturday Vanguard investigation reveals that the North may not give its votes blindly to any of the presidential candidates simply because he is ‘Dan Arewa’ or a Muslim.
Multiple sources confirm that the PDP, the APC, and the anticipated LP third force stands on equal chance of bagging the highly coveted bloc votes of the North.
Beyond the posturing in the media, the sheer bravado, and even the threats by various socio-political groups and rented presidential campaign support groups which pollute the political space, knowledgeable insiders in the North, including some governors of both the APC and PDP, know that after eight years of the Buhari administration, the region has learnt bitter lessons on the error of playing politics of region and religion, and would likely head southwards in the 2023 presidential race.
However, nothing is certain in politics, even the possibility of a Southern presidential candidate getting the bloc votes of the North does not yet provide total clarity, in part because the South is fielding two leading candidates that are making waves in their own rights and equally building their political alliance across the country with a plausible hope of clinching the presidency next year.
Speaking exclusively with Saturday Vanguard, some elder statesmen from the North re-echoed the view that the Arewa region has come to terms with the reality that the kind of emphasis on region and religion which earned Buhari the North’s bloc vote that handed him an unprecedented victory in 2015 is no guarantor of security, good governance and national prosperity.
According to Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Northern Elders Forum, the political dynamics of the country have changed in the past seven years; and so, the region where a presidential candidate comes from and his political party will be less decisive for the Arewa people in 2023.
He explained that the North is on the search for stronger evidence of readiness and capacity to lead a country desperate for a reversal of its fortunes.
Therefore, the NEF spokesman pointed out that the North will not give a blanket support to any presidential candidate without due diligence not minding whether he is from the North or not.
“The country is vastly different from what it was in 2015. Every part of the country is facing new or additional challenges. The country as a whole is severely distressed. We have all learnt lessons from the responses and the dynamics that created the 2015 historic elections. It is safe to assume that factors that will influence the preferences of voters in 2023 will be more firmly grounded in the search for stronger evidence for readiness and capacity to lead a country desperate for a reversal of its fortunes.
“Candidates will go through more critical scrutiny, and party platforms are likely to be less decisive in influencing choices. Northerners are likely to exercise greater caution in terms of their choices,” Baba-Ahmed told Saturday Vanguard.
Ordinarily, it would not be out of place to assume that in the event where the North fails again to support Atiku’s presidential ambition, but backs either Tinubu or Obi to clinch the prize, the country would have made giant strides in advancing equity, fairness and justice in the polity.
In the same vein, the expectation of leading civil society experts and political activists from the North is that, after the two terms of the Buhari administration, the value of merit and competence should be uppermost in the minds of all who wish Nigeria well in 2023.
Accordingly, those who spoke with Saturday Vanguard argue that there is no correlation between the well-being of the people of any region and the factor of the president coming from that particular area.
In an interview with OUR CORRESPONDENT in Abuja, the spokesman of a Coalition of 52 Northern Groups (CNG), Abdul-azeez Suleiman, said though the North is going to vote in one direction, the region would first ensure that it is doubly sure of the competence of any presidential candidate that will receive its bloc votes next year.
His words, “North is certainly going to be decisive this time around and would repeat what it did with its PVCs in 2015 once it arrives at a definite conclusion. The North is going to vote one direction but we are going to be absolutely sure we give our votes to the best. That Buhari would not be on the ballot this time around, would not affect the way the North would vote.
“We shall vote for the best irrespective of religion or tribe or region. We have ensured an entirely new thinking in the North, one that is geared towards achieving national goals. When that time comes, the North would put aside all the perceived differences among its diverse communities.”
Suleiman also explained that the CNG, as a Northern interest group, have stepped up in a manner never seen in the region’s political history with a view to ensuring that the northern political class closed ranks before the 2023 elections.
“Northern Christians and Muslims would close the religious divide, awakened by the burden of the shared legacy of the current pervasive insecurity , and the deteriorating standards of living as politicians fleece the poor of resources to develop.
“We are currently undertaking the task of mobilizing the entire North, from Borno to Ilorin, Sokoto to Yola, the poor, the young and northern women to reject the tradition of lining up to receive handouts to abandon their future, and to choose instead to install a leadership that will make them more secure and provide their children with a productive future. The North, I repeat shall move in one direction,” he stressed.
For the vast majority of Northerners, seeking to woo the Arewa vote is merely a self-serving mechanism devised by professional politicians to manage access to the national patrimony.
To Alhaji Abubakar Jikamshi, a 2019 governorship candidate in Katsina and the immediate past Deputy National Chairman of the National Rescue Movement (NRM), some Northern governors across the APC and PDP had in the previous elections acquiesced to betraying their party presidential candidates and embracing other dubious political arrangements to ensure power remains in the region largely because the people are powerless; besides the fear is that any other option might undermine the country’s fragile existence.
He, however, blamed the impunity of the political class for the North’s emphasis on region and religion of the presidential candidates in some of the past elections.
Jikamshi told Saturday Vanguard, “it is rather unfortunate that we don’t play politics the way it really is. We don’t look at merit and credibility when we are talking about developing the country through political leadership. The political parties have made it such that the country is divided along the lines of region and religion. It is disheartening that many Nigerians put their trust in the current leadership, but were disappointed.
“Because of the impunity in the political parties, everyone is trying to project a candidate from his region or religion, but it shouldn’t be that way. We cannot continue like this. What is on the ground right now is too bad. I pity our children.”
He also noted that as the 2023 elections draw nearer, politicians will continue to move; adding that there will continue to be alignments and realignments as each day passes.
Meanwhile, observers have said that the case for an open presidential contest and looking the direction of the third force instead of foreclosing the race to either the ruling APC or the opposition PDP has assumed even more salience ahead of 2023, because at the moment, none of the two political parties appears really angry enough about the current situation in the country.
Without that political “anger”, none of the parties that have tasted federal power and might since 1999 would fundamentally change the direction of governance, if elected again in 2023.
In other words, not many presidential candidates both from the North and the South seem to fit the bill of a “change agent” with the vision, discipline and charisma to provide the leadership to finally unlock Nigeria’s mythical potential. Some of then are the same old, tired faces, people that are likely to maintain the status quo rather than embark on the radical change that Nigeria needs, because they have nothing new to offer the country.
While many Nigerians say that a peep into the country’s political future is bleak, the electorates in both the North and South are desperate for change and determined to get it in 2023 ceteris paribus.
The North believes that without a major course correction in the way it voted in 2015 and 2019, in presidential politics and in post-election governance, Nigeria will remain a country of missed opportunities, a country where potentials, not achievements, are celebrated.