By Ochereoma Nnanna

AS usual with electioneering culture, four major outlooks have been published about the possible winner of the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria. Three of them: the NOI Poll, the ANAP Poll and Bloomberg Poll, gave the putative victory to the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Peter Obi.

Fitch Rating, which usually focuses on global economic outlooks, has suddenly awarded the victory to Bola Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the incumbent All Progressives Congress, APC. Unlike the others before it, there was no poll but mere knee-jerk conjectures and expressions of “belief” based on rather watery assumptions.

Looking at the Fitch Rating, many commentators have already wondered whether the Tinubu camp has again done a snow job, procured their own version of a poll to bolster a campaign that is challenged on several fronts. We remember the fake bishops’ saga, the publication of an old picture of Tinubu riding a gym bicycle to prove he was physically fit, and the use of retired Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti’s blessing (which elders freely dispense to all comers) as a counter to the Afenifere leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo’s open adoption of Obi as the official candidate of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation. 

Let’s pick the bones out of the Fitch “rating”. Fitch says Tinubu will win the election but there will be unrest by “Christians” and Peter Obi’s youthful supporters who will feel marginalised or that the poll was manipulated in favour of Tinubu and the ruling party’s favour. Is this a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Is Fitch saying the election will be rigged in Tinubu’s favour? If so, they should talk directly to us. They should not go through the corners. People feel hurt when they lose elections that they perceive to be free and fair. But they don’t fight. Despite the acrimony and obvious faults of the Electoral Umpire, the 2015 presidential election was adjudged above board, and its perceived loser, President Goodluck Jonathan, conceded.

Secondly, Fitch held that the three polls that gave victory to Obi “overstated” his popularity, as most of the participants in the polls were the typical urban jet-set and internet consumers which constitute only 36 per cent of Nigerians. While I consider this position as valid, I also note the undertone of the old APC and PDP narrative that “election is not won on the social media”.

The youth have already responded to that with nationwide “million-man” marches and “get your PVC” campaigns to show they exist in reality. I also agree with Fitch that the PDP and particularly APC have structural advantages, with their incumbent governors and lawmakers, each of whom possesses electoral area commands, which the Labour Party lacks.

It, however, ignores the organic youth movement which cuts across ethnic, regional and religious divides, seeking a new beginning for Nigeria after 24 years of failure under the PDP and APC. This movement is getting deeper into the grassroots in a wave of political evangelism never seen before in Nigeria.

In fact, Obi’s political impact has been noticed on the African continent and Diaspora. Whether this wave will endure till poll day and supplant the old order is something we wait to see. But it is enough to make Obi the primary worries of the Atiku and Tinubu camps when they should be at each other’s throats. Fitch also believes that Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, will win the North East and North West because of their Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Truth is that most Northerners still want their region to cling to power. They have an Atiku to look up to. Does Fitch really think the Muslim North will abandon their own for a Yoruba or Igbo candidate? Why would South East and South-South go for Obi, South West goes for Tinubu while the North abandons Atiku? What naivete!

My view is that Atiku will win the majority of votes in the Muslim North. Obi has taken away the South East and South-South base of the PDP, but Atiku can get his 25 per cent in most of the Southern States. Obi and Atiku will do well in the Christian North generally. Tinubu will seriously struggle in the nine states of the two Eastern geopolitical zones. He will win comfortably in the South West irrespective of his health or other challenges, with good showing in Borno, Kwara and Kogi. The almost forgotten Rabiu Kwankwaso may do a deals with Tinubu, but will that take the APC candidate across the line?

Will majority of the Northern APC governors stay true to Tinubu? If “yes”, and the Northern electorate goes along with them, Tinubu will win. Fitch is correct in pointing to the powers of incumbency putatively at Tinubu’s disposal, particularly if President Muhammadu Buhari agrees to “play ball” in his favour.

There is very little “ball” to play now, as the Prof Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC has almost completely digitised the electoral process and eliminated the “incident form” used to rig elections. The vote buying that the overloaded candidates had expected to win with could be out of the window already, with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s, currency redesigning policy.

Tinubu will only win if the APC stays in shape and Atiku flops miserably in the North. Fitch ignored the fact that Nigerians will consider their living conditions under the APC when they vote for president in February 2023, in terms of security and the economy. The 2023 presidential election will be a referendum on the Buhari/APC administration which Tinubu helped install.

Nigerians are also watching Tinubu’s health challenges and his numerous gaffes. They will decide if they want another sick old man in charge of their lives after the Buhari nightmare. It will no longer be only about religion, region and tribe. Fitch’s “rating” of the 2023 election winner is a witch that flies in the night. 

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