Risky politics of ‘placeholders'

By Ochereome Nnanna

THE Nigerian Bar Association’s 62nd Annual General Conference, which held on Monday at the Eko Hotel and the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos, was an opportunity to eye over the major contenders for the 2023 presidential election. The theme was: “Democratic Transitions in the 20th Century Nigeria: 2023 and Beyond”. The NBA invited all presidential candidates to discuss it.

Of the three main contenders, Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Peter Obi, Labour Party, LP, were there. Bola Tinubu, the flagbearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was absent. He sent his running mate, Kashim Shettima, to represent him. At the end of the event it was Tinubu’s camp that trended on the all-powerful social media, all for the wrong reasons.

The Conference was a prime spotlight for those vying to replace Muhammadu Buhari as president. It was a testing ground before the open campaigns which will start on September 28, 2022. Atiku came decked in a smart suit and unveiled his putative policy framework: Unity-SEED – Unity, Security, Economy, Education and Devolution of powers to the states.

Obi said Nigeria had become a failed state and needs to transit from a highly insecure state to a highly secured one, noting that the impending general election is not about religion and tribe but character and competence. Shettima, speaking for Tinubu harped on competence and track records, pointing to the performances of Tinubu and himself as governors of Lagos and Borno states. Other minor candidates took their turns. There was no sign of the New Nigerian People’s Party, NNPP’s, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and nobody seemed curious about that.

Shettima’s thrust on “track records of performance” rather than “continuity” did not come as a surprise. Nobody can sweep away Tinubu’s role in igniting the potentials of Lagos and liberating its prosperity. Even if his regime did not do much in terms of signature projects, Tinubu laid a vision which the regimes he has controlled since he left office have followed to produce quite a handle of signature projects. One them was the creation of the Eko Atlantic City where the Bar Beach used to stand.

People may grumble about the mismanagement of the Boko Haram insurgency at the initial level. Shettima must share the responsibility for that with his predecessor, Ali Sheriff, Northern leaders and former President Goodluck Jonathan. But in terms of competence, Shettima left behind amazing infrastructural and developmental legacies, particularly in the education and health sectors, despite the Boko Haram war. Importantly also, Shettima carefully groomed and left behind the famous Babagana Zulum as his successor, who is an acclaimed performer.

Tinubu has perhaps the biggest financial war chest. He is also hoping that Buhari, his party’s 22 governors and other elected officials will bring out the votes and their incumbency factors in his favour. Tinubu is also banking on the huge votes of Lagos, Kano, Borno and key APC states in the North to make him president.

Of the three frontrunning candidates, Tinubu and Shettima give the biggest cause for worry. Their Muslim-Muslim pairing is still festering. It may never ease off till election day. Why did he fail to appear in person, like his peers, at the NBA Conference, which took place a couple of kilometres from his Bourdillon residence? The answer is simple. Tinubu is definitely frail. 

 He seems incapable of making coherent speeches. Let’s not even go into more embarrassing things that people see and talk about. Each time he manifests in the public space, his traducers find one thing or the other relating to his person to ridicule him with. These things are rapidly chipping away at his chances.

A physically and mentally fit Tinubu whom we have known since 1991 would have jumped at the opportunity of the NBA platform to sell himself as no other candidate could have. What we see is a tendency for his handlers to “hide” him, rather than throw him up there to “go and shine”. Since when was politics a game of hide-and-seek?

Part of a president’s daily assignments is meeting people, giving speeches (especially the unscripted type) and inspiring the citizenry to come along with him in the march to a better place. Peter Obi is playing this role with total relish, and he is winning hearts. How is Tinubu going to cope with the campaigns?

Nigerians are worried because they have been saddled with two seriously sick presidents in 10 out of the past 15 years. A president died on us. Umaru Yar’Adua was obviously unwell and wanted to rest after being governor for eight years. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo forced him on us. Buhari survived by White man’s miracle, but can we say he is still effectively leading, with failures all around us? Can we afford to continue on this line, just because of personal and ethnic egos?

I am asking aloud for a friend.

What has happened to Shettima?

Bola Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima, made more news with his queer attire to the NBA conference than his message. He wore an oversized black suit and Styrofoam-base pair of canvases! What the…?

Was this the usually sartorially-dressed Kashim Shettima who is fond of giving out bags of high quality prints to people to encourage them dress fine too? Since Shettima became Tinubu’s running mate, the charm and smiles have disappeared from his countenance. He is so stern-looking, quite unlike a politician looking for votes. Also, his language is so militant. Even if you hate restructuring, you don’t say:

“Restructuring, my foot! To hell with restructuring!”

Not at a public forum, and certainly, not when you are looking for votes! KSM should brighten up a little. A man who could be president should set people at ease, not frighten them!

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