Nigeria’s general elections are seven months away and, as one would expect, the tension is high within the political community. Shock moves abound, from former President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly seeking to become the APC flag bearer in the presidential elections to Peter Obi, a frontline PDP aspirant dumping the party for the Labour party.
The upcoming presidential election is more significant than 2019s as it’s expected to mark an inevitable transition of power from its holder, Muhammadu Buhari, whose two terms shall end by May 2023. Hence, the battle for federal power this time is quite intense, not unlike 2015 when the newly formed coalition APC recorded a groundbreaking victory to wrestle power away from an incumbent.
Regionally, Nigeria’s elections have always been significant across western Africa, mainly because Nigeria is the largest country in the region and by far, the highest financier of ECOWAS. However, the 2023 elections point to a new, higher-stake dimension, as they will be coming on a backdrop of recent coups (attempted or successful) across West Africa. Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Bissau have all experienced significant instability that rocked the national government.
Even though Nigeria’s 4th republic will be twenty-four years old by 2023, the shadows of the bloody military era lurk. In some quarters, a return to the military era is the solution to Nigeria’s seemingly insurmountable security and economic crises. Earlier this month, the presidency was quick to denounce suggestions that Muhammadu Buhari would be staying beyond his tenure, even though the constitution granted him the powers to do so in the case of security instability.
In the build-up to the 2023 elections, the most significant action so far has been the president signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law after withholding assent to its various versions at least five times. The signed bill finally established provisions for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results. Recall that the PDP had contested the results of the 2019 election won by the APC on the basis of a vague ‘server’ alleged to have been used to transmit results electronically. With the squabble over the electoral bill laid to rest, the major political parties swung into action, announcing dates for primary elections, which the Independent National Electoral Commission requires must be concluded by June 3, 2022.
On the APC side, twenty-three personalities have expressed interest in being the party’s flag bearer at the presidential level, having purchased the controversial ₦100 million nomination forms. The list of names likely to win the ticket includes former Lagos Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osibanjo; former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; and Senate President Ahmed Lawan. In PDP, the frontrunners include former President, Atiku Abubakar; Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; and Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal.
In 2019, there was a lot of attention on ‘third force’ parties hoping to break the APC-PDP hegemony. The list of third force presidential flag bearers included Omoyele Sowore of AAC; Fela Durotoye of ANN; Kingsley Moghalu of YPP, and Donald Duke of SDP. Others were Oby Ezekwesili of ACPN and Obadiah Mailafia of ADC. They all put up a dismal showing. However, there are suggestions that 2023 may offer more refreshing hope to third force candidates. Former Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso’s newly-formed New Nigeria Peoples Party is pulling its weight in the north, attracting high-profile politicians such as former presidential aspirant Ibrahim Shekarau. Earlier this month, thirteen members of the Kano State Assembly defected to the NNPP. Peter Obi, formerly an aspirant under the PDP platform, is now a member of the Labour Party, where he is expected to further his presidential aspirations. Those two, Kwankwaso and Obi, represent the best chances, even if marginal, of a third force party defeating both APC and PDP in the upcoming presidential polls.
Outside all these candidates, one mainstream aspirant who could shake up the polity, should he become a flag bearer is former President Goodluck Jonathan. After a northern group purchased APC nomination forms on his behalf, speculations as to whether he has defected from the opposition PDP remain rife, despite denials from his media aide. Following the smear campaign that APC ran against him and his government in the build-up to the 2019 elections, no one expected that he would ever be associated with the enemy camp. Yet, there is now a heavy possibility of a Buhari-aligned APC ‘cabal’ making the party adopt Jonathan as their consensus candidate. Regardless of how the Jonathan situation plays out, everyone has picked an important lesson: in Nigerian politics, anything is possible.
The philosophy that anything is possible captures the impunity that is rife in Nigeria’s political landscape, of which we are expected to witness more as the election inches closer. After all, President Buhari had tried to appoint his aide, Lauretta Onochie, who is a card-carrying member of the APC as a National Electoral Commissioner, but for the outcry that trailed her nomination. It is interesting to note that even though Onochie’s nomination was rejected by the Senate, it was on the basis of breaching the principle of federal character. Apparently, the Senate doesn’t consider that appointing a partisan personality to supervise elections is suspect and borders on the unconstitutional.
In 2019, there were several permutations, as usual, but the emergence of Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari as the flag bearers of PDP and APC respectively was clear as day. 2023? No. Things are more complicated and there is no certain prediction for anyone. What does this mean for ordinary electorates? It is best to be more skeptical than optimistic as one watches the story of the 2023 elections unfold with its twists and turns.