Niger Republic

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

On Wednesday, September 28, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, officially blew the whistle for the commencement of the 2023 election campaigns. With the Presidential and National Assembly elections holding on February 25, 2023, that will be a grueling 150 days of politicians crisscrossing this vast country, soliciting for votes.

It promises to be five months of drama when the hoi-polloi will have their day in the sun. The elections will be consequential. Nigerians, this time around, seem to be conscious of what is at stake – the soul of their country, that beautiful damsel that has been serially and unconscionably raped by pretentious, maniacal suitors.

At the 2022 TheNiche Lecture, the guest speaker, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Works and Housing and former Governor of Lagos State, disagreed with those who hold the view that the 2023 election will be “a most defining election”, or “an election like no other”.

Using the number of newly registered voters in the two previous election cycles of 2015, which he put at 6,944,752, and 2019 with 14,360,053 new registrants as the totem pole to hang his argument, he concluded that the 12,332,336 new voter registrations recorded for the 2023 polls according to INEC, which is 2,027,687 less than the 2019 numbers, does not support the deafening hype.

While arguing that the rhetoric of “a most defining election”, is common in every democracy and at the onset of a new election cycle, Fashola, however, admitted that “no two elections are the same; and the intensity always varies anyway as indeed the number of voters and sometimes the number of parties; and the novelty of some candidates.”

Granted that it is true every election has its own nuances and vibes, there is no doubting the fact that the voters, particularly the youths, are determined to make a point with their votes this time. And for the first time since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, Nigerian politicians seem to have come to the realisation that political monkeyshines may not suffice because the people who seem bent on answering the critical question of how can democracy, especially the 2023 elections, make their lives better and the country greater, seem prepared to walk their talk.

So, the first day of campaigns was full of drama. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, wanted to create the aura of intellectualism and unity around his campaigns. As the self-styled unifier-in-chief, he made a last ditch effort to bring everyone to Abuja with the presentation of three books. He failed.

In an advertorial in ThisDay newspaper on Monday, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, was listed as the special guest of honour at the book presentation event.

Anyaoku, to the chagrin of Atiku, issued a disclaimer on Tuesday. “My attention has been drawn to the announcement in ThisDay newspaper of 26/9/22 that I would be a Special Guest of Honour at Atiku Abubakar’s book presentation scheduled for 28th September at Chida Hotels Events Centre in Abuja,” the reverred diplomat said.

“Given the understandable propensity to read political meanings in public associations at this time of competition by political parties in the context of 2023 national elections, I wish to unequivocally state that nobody sought and obtained my agreement to be present at this particular book presentation.

“I have accepted the unreserved apologies rendered to me by the organisers of the event, and wish to reiterate that I remain non-partisan in praying that my country Nigeria will in 2023 elect people of proven competence and character whose sole mission will be to serve the national interests,” the 89-year-old diplomat said, barely hiding his disappointment.

This faux-pas is the limits of desperation. Why would any campaign organisation drop the name of an 89-year-old man so whimsically?

As if that was not bad enough, five PDP governors, including Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) boycotted the event. Not only that, a good number of party leaders sympathetic to the Wike-led rebellion in the party stayed away.

Even the embattled National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, the man accused of being a referee and at the same time a striker in Atiku’s column, was conspicuously absent. The PDP Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagum, who stood in for him, said Ayu had taken ill. Who wouldn’t considering the bitter struggle for the soul of the party and the deleterious impact it is having on the party’s fortunes in the 2023 polls?

But some commentators say it is just deserts, a well-deserved comeuppance for Atiku, the man who on August 31, 2013, led the governors of Adamawa, Kwara, Sokoto, Jigawa, Kano, Rivers, Niger and other prominent PDP members, mostly from the North, to stage a dramatic walkout on the party’s special delegates’ convention, thus throwing the then ruling party into the crisis it is yet to recover from. Talk of poetic justice.

But at least, the PDP and its presidential flagbearer dared to do something. The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, couldn’t. Instead, what played out was bizarre drama.

On Sunday, September 25, the ruling party shifted the inauguration of its 422-member Presidential Campaign Council headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, earlier scheduled to hold on Monday, September 26, to Wednesday, September 28.

Director, Media and Publicity, APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, who announced the postponement said: “The APC Presidential Campaign Council wishes to inform all members nominated to serve in the various directorates to report at the campaign headquarters on Wednesday, September 28, 2022, at 8 a.m.

“Nominated members are expected to participate in the special prayer sessions marking the commencement of the 2023 presidential election campaigns.”

That was not to be as both Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate and his running-mate, Kashim Shettima, are said to have jetted out of the country for more consultations.

On Wednesday, there was neither an inauguration nor special prayer sessions to usher in the campaign season. Why? Both events were postponed indefinitely.

Then, while Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party was in Jos, Plateau State capital, news filtered in that the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had ordered the Labour Party and its supporters not to converge at the Lekki Toll Gate for the #Obidatti23 Forward Ever Rally billed to hold on October 1.

Justice Daniel Osiagor, who made the order, while stridently stressing that he did not stop the Obidients from holding the rally in Lagos State, directed, however, that the procession can pass through the Toll Gate to access Falomo Bridge.

All fingers of blame point in the direction of the APC as the puppeteer that pulled the legal strings in the matter, which raises the question: who is afraid of Lekki Toll Gate and why? So much for one day. The remaining 149 days will, no doubt, be interesting as the political silly season commences.

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