What’s driving Nigeria’s 2023 election agenda?

Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria heads to the poll in February to elect a successor to outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari…

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria heads to the poll in February to elect a successor to outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari but as Goddy Ikeh writes, rising discontent has been fueled by failed promises from successive governments.By Goddy Ikeh

The countdown to the presidential and general elections has since started in Nigeria and the politicians jostling to land the highest political office in the land and parliament are predictably filing out with myriad promises to tackle some of the challenges undermining the unity and economic potentialities of the country. 

For many Nigerians, the nation’s battered economy with a mounting crisis over rising debt and inflation, high youth unemployment, worsening insecurity, weak financial and security institutions and a divided and polarized nation as well as an inherently defective federal constitution are some of the major challenges stalling national growth.

And as expected politicians have unleashed their game, promising to grapple with these challenges, tackle them head-on and deliver the country on the path to sanity and economic recovery. 

The ruling All Progressives Congress in 2015 promised to fight and win the war against the Boko Haram insurgency, tackle corruption, review the constitution, address youth unemployment and strengthen the value of the national currency among other issues bothering this nation of 213 million people. 

As the life span of the Buhari administration is about to end, it is difficult to point at any meaningful achievements of the administration, especially in tackling these challenges which have persisted and assumed new forms in the intervening eight years.

But many Nigerian scholars and elites are of the opinion that this year’s presidential and general elections may provide a watershed moment in its political history.

They observe a gradual although long-expected shift from ethnic to class and issue-based politics which had not characterised the lead up to past elections. 

The reason for their optimism is informed by youthful exuberance unprecedented among young Nigerians who have resolved to use their weight in number to set the socio-political agenda and drive the process after decades of exclusion.

They were in the past labelled lazy and generally denied employment opportunities, access to education with federal universities shut for over eight months and deliberately blocked from winning political office by the calculated increase in fees for the expression of interest and acquiring nomination forms which went as high as N100 million for president under the APC.

The PDP had pegged it at N40 million.

Incidentally, time-honoured discontent fueled by poor governance, worsening insecurity, rising inflation, high food prices, high unemployment, a worrisome debt profile and recently the neglect of the principles of zoning of the presidency between the North and the South and the issue of Muslim – Muslim ticket adopted by the APC are critical issues that may be on the ballot in 2023.

More than 30 million Nigerians many of them young have vowed to discard the old tribal and regionally-motivated politics for one based on national issues with nationwide implications.

They are embracing the philosophy and programmes of Peter Obi and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, which signals a departure from the old and corrupt ways of handling the governance question in Nigeria where the looting and mismanagement of state resources has assumed the stuff of legends. 

Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, has been consistent in his message of rescuing the country, which according to him, “is at the last stage of collapse and must be quickly rescued from the brink”.

He claims in a recent CNN interview that “Nigeria is now, not just in a physical mess, it is at the last stage of collapsing. The people in the north don’t have a secured place, they don’t have good roads, they don’t buy bread cheaper than people in the south. So are people in the south”.

Obi, 61 vowed to deal with corruption, streamline the governance structure and reduce cost and address the perennial insecurity which is gnawing negatively at the Nigerian economy causing it to punch below its true weight as one of the two biggest on the continent.

“The issue of state police has to be decisively dealt with. You need to bring in more personnel into the security system, equip them properly, ensure that they properly motivated to deal with the issue of insecurity because it is the most important thing Nigeria needs today,” Obi said.

According to Obi, the 2023 general elections must not be based on “it is my turn” but on character, capacity, competence and commitment to do the right thing”.

He asserted that ethnicity was the early conspiracy employed by detractors of the country to keep Nigeria in a sordid state of underdevelopment.

However, he recognises that to do this successfully he would have to “dismantle the structure of criminality that enthrones and emboldens (counterproductive) politicians”.

“There is no reason why our refinery cannot work. There is no reason why we should not encourage the private sector to build refineries and operate them. And they are not rocket science, they can be done as quickly as possible. Today, you can decide to remove the fuel subsidy, use the resources to support a critical area of production from critical infrastructure to education, which will be done with a shortest possible time,” Obi says.

Already, some eminent Nigerians believe that the ongoing youth mobilization ahead of the 2023 polls is right and commendable.

For instance, Nigerian entrepreneur and economist, Mr. Atedo Peterside, is convinced that young people are the main drivers of the political agenda for the coming elections.

Mr Peterside says with an electorate made up of mostly young individuals, one can be certain that their impact will be felt on the outcome of the polls. 

“We have an electorate that is now full of young people, who are the majority. From what they have been writing and saying, they understand the issues, they understand better that some people are taking this country for a ride.

“it is a good thing for this country that many young people between the ages of 18 and 35 are now very interested in the political destiny of this country and they are setting the agenda between now and the elections in February,” he observes.

According to the investment banker, at this moment in the nation’s history, no one can hoodwink the populace and tell them obvious lies, because the people have been down that road before.

He notes that the fundamental change that has taken place ahead of 2023 is that young people are now highly politically active and cannot wait for the polls to get underway.

Mr Peterside asserts that paradigms are shifting in the political landscape of Nigeria with the major parties not having the electoral foothold they once had on the populace. 

Young people, according to him, are very excited about the elections because they have recognised their own power in changing the tragic course of Nigerian history to something more wholesome. 

In his view, the ideal president for Nigeria post-Buhari must be one who has a high energy level, quick on his feet and ready to move to fix what needs fixing.

Nigerians, according to the renowned economist, want a president who has the capacity, understands all the problems, is willing to step on toes not matter how unpleasant and won’t mind being momentarily unpopular as he tends to the needs of a nation that had lost its upward trajectory.

As the 2023 general elections draw ever closer, Peter Obi’s rivals for the highest office in Nigeria. 

They are the candidates of APC, Chief Bola Tinubu, and the PDP candidate and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. 

But these two candidates and their political parties have taken some decisions, which some political analysts believe may affect their chances in the forthcoming polls.

According to the political analysts, the two leading political parties have failed to meet these acceptable political criteria and standards by millions of Nigerians, and the consequences may be fatal for their chances of winning the presidency. 

Firstly, while many Nigerians were still agonizing over the missteps taken by the PDP, when it failed to zone the presidential ticket to the South after eight years of the APC, which is against its constitution, the APC reluctantly settled for Bola Tinubu as its presidential candidate.

And like the PDP, Tinubu opted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket in utter disregard for the popular views among Nigerians. 

For these analysts, the two parties have indirectly thrown away their chances of winning the 2023 presidential election. 

“The two parties have willingly dug their graves and should be ready to give way for the ongoing movement being driven and promoted by millions of Nigerian youths, who have been pauperized by the political class for decades,” they point out.

However, some eminent Nigerians have not hidden their disappointment over the faulty decisions of the APC and the PDP in the selection of their presidential and vice presidential candidates. 

Reacting to Tinubu’s Muslim – Muslim ticket, Mr. Babachir Lawal, a former Secretary to the government of the federation, says: “I thought I will be able to avoid commenting on the disastrous error by my very good friend, Sen Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his choice of running mate…I will be the very last person to stand in the way of my very good friend Tinubu’s path to the presidency. This is because since 2011 my consuming passion has been for him to succeed Buhari as President of Nigeria….It will not be true if I say that I did not see it coming. I have often read his body language, picked up snippets from several discussions with his lapdogs (some of whom, sadly are Christians but most of whom are Muslims) and I have conveyed my reservations to them against the pitfalls of a Muslim-Muslim ticket towards which I sensed they were drifting”.

Lawal adds: ”As part of my obligation to him, a close friend, I had on many occasions argued the merits and demerits of both ticket permutations to him.

”I have done so in both verbal and written form and I have likewise, done so with some of his close respectable associates and friends. In all instances I had left him with the sole responsibility for his final decision arguing that in the end the consequences of the outcome of any bad decision will be his to bear.”

In the same vein, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, says it was unfortunate that the APC candidate had failed to take the country’s religious diversity into consideration. 

According to the spokesman for the CAN President, Rev. Adebayo Oladeji, making such a decision in a polarized country like Nigeria was a wrong move.

He wonders that despite having a pastor as the vice president of the country in the current dispensation and Christian clerics and worshipers are being killed, it is anybody’s guess if the security of lives and properties of Christians under a Muslim-Muslim winning ticket will be guaranteed and warned Nigerians to be ready to face the consequences of their actions if they endorsed and vote for a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Speaking on the issue, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, warns of the grave implications of presenting a Muslim-Muslim ticket by the APC. 

On the issue of zoning the presidency to the South which the PDP faulted, many prominent Nigerians and socio-political groups had advocated for the position to be zoned to the South and some even went as far as stating that it should go to the South East for equity and justice since the zone has not occupied the office.

For instance, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, restated his position that the South-East should be allowed to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023, insisting that it would ensure peace, justice, fairness and sustainable national development in the country. 

Obasanjo, who addressed members of Political Action Committee, PAC, of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, who visited him at his Presidential Library in Abeokuta to solicit his support for the quest for a Nigerian President of South-East extraction, said the minimum Nigerians would accept was that the next president should come from the South.

“The next president of Nigeria must come from the South East. The least acceptable minimum is a president from the Southern part of Nigeria,” Obasanjo was quoted by Ohanaeze Ndigbo’s spokesman, Alex Ogbonnia, as saying.

Meanwhile, a recent poll commissioned by the Anap Foundation and conducted by NOI Polls Limited, says that the election is a three-horse race with Obi leading at 21 percent of the votes. 

His votes give him an eight percent lead over APC’s Tinubu and PDP’s Abubakar who each polled 13 percent of the votes to end up as joint second.  

Apart from results of two polls that saw Obi leading the presidential race, former President Obasanjo has formally endorsed the frontrunner as the most qualified presidential candidate, while another prominent elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark also picked him as the preferred candidate to lead Nigeria for the next four years.

Apart from the ongoing campaigns by the politicians, attacks on the offices of the country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have raised some concerns on whether the exercise scheduled for February 25th may be postponed.

But the INEC chairman has reassured Nigerians that the timetable for the elections would not be changed.

In a matter of weeks, Nigerians and the international community will judge if the teeming mass of Nigeria’s hapless youth will be able to change the course of history by ensuring that the right and qualified candidate, irrespective of tribe, region and religion is voted to lead Nigeria and save it from eminent collapse.

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