In less than 40 days, Nigerians will be going to the polls to elect their fifth President, since 1999.
The election is already witnessing a silent political revolution that will mark a watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s political history as one that will be the most keenly contested in recent times.
Faced with the fundamental problems of poverty and insecurity, while some have decided to “rebel” against the existing structures, others who, however, may not have come to terms with the realities of modern political thinking, still listen to their leaders to chart the way forward for them.
Political pundits believe that the election can only be compared with the 1979 general election that featured political gladiators like the late Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ibrahim Waziri, Aminu Kano and Shehu Shagari, the eventual winner of the election that was keenly contested.
For them, this election will be a keen battle between primordial religionism, ethnic bigotry, unbearable economic hardships and conservatism on the one side and the struggle for a better, more united and safer Nigeria for actualisation of economic freedom, on the other.
This is because, they see a motley of factors playing out which some Nigerians may not have factored into the equation at the moment.
Aside from the 1979 election, subsequent elections in Nigeria had assumed basically a two-horse race, with ethnicity and religion playing predominant roles in determining the winner.
Unlike the seven other elections held between 1979 and 2019, the results of the 1979 election showed that votes were more evenly shared amongst the five parties, ranging from 33.77percent for the party with the highest votes to 10.01percent for the party with the least votes, because they were keenly contested.
Analysts see the possibility of a replay of this level of keen competition among the top four in this year’s landmark polls.
This is so because the 2023 general election has produced an admixture or a potpourri of political ideas during the candidates’ campaigns so far.
Unlike this year’s election, each presidential candidate in 1979 had a clearly distinct focus, with well articulated ideas, even though they were not too radically opposed to each other.
Shagari, a former school teacher, was pro-establishment, with a nationalist mindset for free-enterprise economy, Awolowo on the other hand, stood for welfarism, as well as socio-democratic norms, with free education, mass housing, free and health care forming his core vision for the country.
Azikiwe was a nationalist who believed in free enterprise. Aminu Kano, on the other hand, had pursued a pro-masses and pan-socialist value system, while Ibrahim Waziri also shared the free enterprise concept.
They believe also that this time around, the result will be influenced by several factors, including, but not limited to “experience, individual character, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion and of course, to some extent, monetary considerations,” amongst others.
Nwachukwu Egbunike of the Pan Atlantic University, sees the 2023 election as a “totally different type of political game,” given the Peter Obi factor, backed by the youthful organic movement with no regards for religion or ethnic considerations.
“It is a totally different political game we are witnessing and we have seen that Peter Obi has been able to harness the fears of young people who neither know ethnic or religious coloration, ahead of the election,” he said.
Egbunike, while noting that ethnic and other primordial factors “will fight back,” observed however, that the zeal of the young people who are playing the roles of natural disrupters, in the election will make the difference.
He also believed that the old conservative manipulators of elections, especially in the North will not give up the space for the kind of individual idiosyncrasies needed for independent decisions amongst voters in the region.
“It is obvious that the established conservative political structures in the north will continue to dictate the direction like we have always witnessed in the previous elections that were skewed towards the old models of political campaigns. That is why it is going to be a very interesting election
“Peter Obi may not win, but if he is able to neutralise these, we will then say that Nigeria has made progress and it will provide hope for the 2027 election.”
He advised every eligible voter to make up their minds, especially considering current socioeconomic and sociopolitical situation Nigeria has faced.
Speaking with BusinessDay recently, Albert Bassey Akpan, governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in Akwa Ibom, said that “politics is coming to a point where money will be de-emphasised.”
According to him, “In 2027, politics in Nigeria will change. Nigeria is coming to a point where money will play no role in the emergence of leaders.”
Dismissing the insinuation in certain quarters that his platform may limit his chances at the poll since it would seem that the party he adopted may not have the “structure” to enable his electoral victory, the two-term senator said: “It is the people that make a party not a party that makes the people.”
Pedro Obaseki, director, Research, Strategy and Documentation of the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Council, described the forthcoming election as a “three and half horse race,” where neither religion, nor ethnic sentiments will be a dominant factor in the determination of the winner.
While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Labour Party (LP) represented by Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi, respectively, are seen as the major Presidential contenders, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), represented by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, is seen as a “minor contender.”
According to him, “The entrance of these candidates into the Presidential race has resulted in the creation of different dynamics in the election; so much so that, it is no longer just going to be a North versus South issue. Secondly, it is no longer going to be a case of who is a leftist or rightist, Muslim or Christian candidate.
“If you look at it from an ethno-religious divide, the metrics are different. If you look at it from age demographics, they are different. If you also look at it from policy preparedness divide, the metrics are different. Looking at how ethnography will affect this election, everybody will assume that the transmutation from ‘emilokan’ to ‘awalokan,’ has created a seeming bastion amongst our brothers in the South West of six states, with a chunk of Kwara and a few local governments in Kogi State.
“Everybody will also expect that the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi will perform very well in the five states of the South East, including the Igbo-influenced areas of Delta and Rivers states. The other playing fields can now be left for the smaller tribes who are very vociferous.
“Now, if you play out this same scenario in the north; Atiku is at his behest, minus probably two or three states, in some demography in the north. You do not need rocket science- whether it is from Adamawa, to the people of Borno, down to the Kerekeres in Yobe, Bauchi, to Gombe, Jigawa.”
He believes that the permutations from some quarters are skewed narratives, based on “some social media flimsies, people’s prejudices and preconceived notions.”
He also dismissed some long-held beliefs that every northerner is a Hausa/Fulani Muslim, adding that “nothing can be farther from the truth.”
He said: “If you go into Borno, the tribal and electoral demographics in Borno is as coloured as they are in any diverse area of the South. It is even worse in Adamawa where you will walk into one local government area with three different languages, each having variegated ideas.
“Nobody knows that the percentage of Christians in Adamawa is 50/50, if not 51/49, in favour of the Christians.
“If you take the anger quotient that has risen; the new rising interests in the youth demography, how Nigeria is being governed, among other issues” then you can begin to have an idea what is being expected at the poll.”
For him, while some may be aggrieved by the ongoing challenges, yet they may not be able to vote because there is a systemic disenfranchisement
For example, about 68percent of those who registered to vote recently in Lagos State had their registration cancelled by INEC.
Similarly, there are also fears that many may not be able to exercise their franchise in many communities in the South East where critical election infrastructures have come under attack with innocent citizens killed to create fears
“That the Labour Party will just be vote disturbers, is also a truism, because there is no cross border end- to- end capacity to win an election of this magnitude in this complex federated Nigeria.”
But for Goddy Ehimikhuare, an Adamawa-based lawyer, “it will be wrong to dismiss the Labour Party based on the structure arguments.
For him, there is none of the four major political parties going into the election that does not have internal crises, but added that on the day of the poll, “there will be spirited efforts to save the party first and continue the fight internally.”
“Whether it is the APC, PDP, or even the Labour Party, they all have internal crises, but they are also conscious of the fact that you cannot share what you don’t have”
“If you look deeply into the current scenario from the perspective of structure, the unenlightened may dismiss Peter Obi’s Labour Party as irrelevant and give victory to the more established political parties like the APC or PDP, but Nigerians may be in for a shock this time around.
“The emergence of the Muslim/Muslim ticket created a fracture in the APC, especially amongst the minority Christian followers in the North, which further weakened its chances. The PDP is also struggling with the division created by the G-5 Governors or Integrity Group, that has denied the party, the kind of strong social cohesion needed to prosecute the election, but all said, the urge to win the election and form government will be paramount.”
Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, in his assessment of the issues, averred that it is difficult to predict the outcome of the February 25 Presidential election. “Nobody can say definitively who will win this election.”
Nwankwo, who has several years of experience as an election observer, also believes that ethnic and religious considerations cannot be completely ruled out, but added that “Nigerians have been given choices.”
He however, appealed to INEC to ensure that the elections are not only free and fair, but also credible, adding that “As someone who has been involved in election observation, assurances are not sufficient to believe that the right thing will be done.”
Nwankwo, while also assessing insecurity, especially in the South East, fingered politicians in the South East for deliberately creating insecurity as a device to suppress the votes and voters in the region.
“The government needs to help quell insecurity. It is important for security agencies to up their game and ensure early response to deal with insecurity,” he said.
He also observed that “President Buhari’s dismal performance” has helped in the current massive mobilisation of voters ahead of the election.