Sunday, March 26, 2023

How Atiku, Kwankwaso, Sowore, Abiola, Kachikwu stack up ahead of 2023 presidential elections

The stage could not be better set for the most competitive election since 1999.

• January 5, 2023
Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwakwaso, Yele Sowore, Kola Abiola, and Dumebi Kachikwu
Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwakwaso, Yele Sowore, Kola Abiola, and Dumebi Kachikwu

The last time Nigeria experienced anything close to 2023 in terms of elections was in 2007. That was the year an incumbent Nigerian president was not a candidate in a presidential election. The 2007 elections were considered Nigeria’s worst since 1999 — INEC does not even have the full result of that exercise as we speak — 2023 promises to be different. Not least because the incumbent president — Muhammadu Buhari — appears to be committed to making it a legacy election. That is good news for everyone.

The stage could not be better set for the most competitive election since 1999. Until now, only two parties — at times even one — were in with a chance to win the presidential election. This term, at least from the point of perception and even a curious poll — ANAP/NOI Polls — there are at least four major contenders. In about 50 days, Nigerians will be out to elect their next president. Let’s just say we are at the business end of the campaign season.

Atiku Abubakar: Nigeria’s perennial presidential candidate interestingly had his best chance to be president in 2003. Instead, President Obasanjo got his second term and consolidated power. Since then, Mr Abubakar has had to pay the cost of daring to be more popular, especially amongst the kingmakers of the then-ruling PDP, than his then-boss. Obasanjo did what Obasanjo does in critical situations and got Atiku to back him, obviously with the understanding that he would support Atiku for his own run 4 years later. It was never to be as Obasanjo instead mounted a major media and political campaign against his vice-president. Many believe the PDP candidate continues to suffer the perception challenge of that campaign to this day. It’s a baggage Mr Abubakar has not been able to shake off despite never being convicted of any crime.

In this election, though — unlike, say, the 2019 run against Buhari — the corruption perception has been doused by his main opponent, Bola Tinubu, sharing some corruption perception baggage of his own. The veteran politician who proposed himself as ‘the unifier’ has found it a tall order unifying his own party. Had he managed to unify his party, APC’s Tinubu would have found a tougher challenger in Mr Abubakar. Whilst many of his supporters insist the antics and games played by the so-called G5 Governors — Nyesom Wike (Rivers State), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Samuel Ortom (Benue), and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) — would have little or no impact on Mr Abubakar’s chances, they’d most certainly prefer the PDP House was in a better order without these dramatic and unending battles, going into the election. He’d need his running mate, Delta Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, to pull his weight across the South-East and South-South.

Unlike his rivals, Mr Abubakar can count on his varied experiences as a presidential candidate to see him through the business end. He has emerged largely unscathed whilst debating his younger rivals, even outshining the more fancied Peter Obi at a major town hall recently. He’d need to balance out the votes he is bound to lose to Mr Obi in the South-East, where the PDP has traditionally won since 1999. Mr Abubakar scored a big goal by having the veteran multi-platform media mogul and highly networked Chief Dele Momodu lead his strategic comms team, but if he is not able to unite his party, that and other smart decisions could prove to be futile, especially in what appears to be a close race.

Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso: The former governor of Kano is running principally on his legacy as governor. He was an exemplary governor who was indeed considered one whilst he was governor, not just a play for presidential votes after the fact. An astute politician, he commands a religious-like following amongst his supporters and whilst he has not enjoyed as much press as some of his opponents, he hasn’t played second fiddle when it comes to politics.

The NNPP has a strong enough structure with candidates in national and subnational elections across the country — only behind the APC and PDP. Whilst his presence in the media has vastly improved over the last few months, in not getting the early media momentum earlier, he is being seen down south as an outsider. The NNPP is playing more than a presidential game as the party appears competitive in several gubernatorial elections. This sort of structure stands Kwankwaso in good stead.

Suspicions and murmurings did not help his campaign that he would step down for the APC’s Bola Tinubu. Going by the rules, it would be legally and logistically impossible for any of the candidates to step down from January 11, 2023 — we learnt this from 2019 when INEC insisted one of the candidates could no longer step down because that could not be done later than 45 days before the elections, referencing section 35 of the Electoral Act.

Mr Kwankwanso has since gone on to commission party secretariats across the country, meeting hordes of supporters at every stop and enjoying a lot more presence in the media. All great work by the presidential candidate but with his running mate — Archbishop Isaac Idahosa — hardly making his presence felt in the media, that is a gap Mr Kwankwaso will be hoping isn’t too big to close before the votes are cast.

Yele Sowore: Veteran activist Yele Sowore has been at the forefront of some of the most telling campaigns and revelations against the Nigerian government for several years. Before then, he was a student leader who also played politics outside of the university campus. You’d see him in videos behind the late MKO Abiola and several other pro-democracy campaign videos after that.

The popular activist has not found the transition to partisan politics quite easy, especially when it comes to translating his popularity from one end to the other. It is as though the same Nigerians who are happy to back his stands as an activist see the politician as a different person. He has not been able to build the necessary alliance, even amongst fellow civil society members and activists, to mount a popular national campaign. This is his second run for the presidency, you’d expect him to bring some lessons from 2019 to bear.

Kola Abiola: He managed his dad’s campaign back in 1992/1993 when he was just about 29 years old. The PRP candidate has placed a lot of value on this experience to run his own campaign. After a near-zero presence in the media, Mr Abiola appears to be paying as much attention to how his campaign and candidacy are perceived as he is to the strength and structure of his party to deliver the necessary votes. For those who witnessed MKO Abiola’s Hope ’93 campaign, Mr Kola Abiola’s campaign has not garnered the sort of following and popularity his late dad did. The candidate insists the structure of his party and their underground efforts for votes will bring the votes home, we’ve got less than two months to find out.

Dumebi Kachikwu: He appeared to be the candidate that’d offer the electorate a lot of ideas and the need to focus on the big issues. In picking Ahmed Buhari as his running mate, it was clear he understood the power of youth and the geopolitical calculations. Sadly though, his candidacy has largely been undone by his own party, the ADC. Mr Kachikwu has spoken about the likelihood of building an alliance with other parties, but he also pointedly ruled out the PDP, APC and the Labour Party, stating: “why won’t we come together with Peter Obi and the Labour Party and see him as part of the smaller parties? Simply because there is no difference between Peter Obi, Atiku and Asiwaju — they are part of the old political order.” If he intends to build a new political order on alliances, time is running out on that, except it would be an alliance of candidates who are on the ballot paper anyway.

© JJ. Omojuwa

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