By Femi Onakanren
The upcoming 2023 presidential elections promises to be an intriguing affair with different gladiators throwing their gauntlets into the fray. This is a contest in which the participants appear ideologically different but politically concurrent.
As with all matters with national dimensions, it is inevitable that ethnic and religious colorations will be smeared with partisan and politicking narratives. We are at the familiar crossroads of choice, and as usual, the polity seems more swayed with the politicking than the substance of the various proposals, antecedents, proven competence, qualifications, ideologies and nationalist disposition/acceptance.
So, this writer will like to review the prospects, established outlay and ongoing drama from the parties, the principals and the polity especially as related to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The widely acclaimed national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (popularly called the Jagaban) intimated President Muhammadu Buhari and announced his intention to run for Presidency come 2023.
His declaration ruffled quite a few feathers and caused the political atmosphere to become auspiciously charged. The usual age, health, qualifications and source of wealth narratives resurfaced. However, despite all the post-declaration character assassination attempts, distractions and noise, the Jagaban continued with a singular frame of purpose; engaging social, political and traditional influencers to support his ambition.
Incidentally, the incumbent President had previously made public his position with regards to those within his party seeking to succeed him. He enjoined each aspirant to go test their popularity and validate their strategies through party primaries and national general elections. In this humble writer’s opinion, it was a tactical zugzwang, a tongue-in-cheek exoneration from direct commitment by the politically astute President.
The President on another occasion expressed that he has his own preferred candidate, as a Nigerian, but does not want to announce such to prevent a throwing the pigeon amongst the cats. Some mischief makers interpreted this as a threat of mortal elimination to the President’s preferred candidate if exposed. This train of thought is incredulous but satisfies the palate of gossip and tactical misdirection. There are many Maradonas in Nigeria’s political landscape.
In the midst of all the furore, there was a social media frenzy calling for him, Tinubu, to step down and present his protégé, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. He was presented as the erudite, blemish free, progressive candidate of choice across and beyond party lines. Many also alluded to President Muhammadu Buhari’s cryptic preferred candidate submission as an endorsement of the Vice President.
The going notion is that the President, as the leader of the party, has inordinate control over the choice of his successor. The consensus intrigues and outcome of the recent APC Chairmanship elections lent some credence to this going presumption. Senator Abdullahi Adamu emerged as the chairman after the President had reportedly informed party chieftains that he was his preferred candidate.
To add spice to the broth, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo in a fateful end to all speculations declared for Presidency! The announcement was greeted with groans of betrayal and the euphoria of excitement by the opposition, supporters and neutrals. Mixed in with these feelings were conspiracy theory murmurs and flights of fancy spanning logical delinquency and outlandish hope.
This development compelled an objective review of the prospects of both candidates. The lines between what-if and what-is were drawn.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Prospects
Subsequent to his declaration, the candidate has been up and about the country consulting and seeking endorsement by social, political and traditional influencers and leaders. Despite concerns about his health, the aspirant has clocked more recorded mileage than every other candidate who had declared interest.
However, the candidate comes with tremendous and hard-to-ignore baggage. A number of people object to his larger than life political profile and hegemonous hold over the Lagos and South West political landscape. The feeling amongst many is that such a powerful man should not be given more power. The going sentiment by many is that he is best suited as a kingmaker than as a king. Those were the generous opinions
Less generous opinions accused him of amassing personal wealth at the expense of Lagos State and other states under the control of his party. His health, age, education, qualifications and political antecedents were presented in negative and unflattering narratives.
However, what cannot be denied is his political acumen and reach. He is the quintessential Nigerian politician, with all its good, bad and ugly qualities. He joined the fray in 1990-1991 and played a storied role in the emergence of the 4th republic. He served as the governor of Lagos State and established the state as a clear leader in economic indices in the country.
He raised political protégés who have proven enduring in the Nigerian political drama. He set up his own party and built alliances to form a national party that produced the president against the incumbent PDP. He is revered as a genius of the political game with a deep understanding of grassroot nuances and ingenious deployment of pertinent tools of the trade.
With his background and ongoing efforts and stated political acumen, it is reasonable to deduce that he would have the advantage in the primaries of the APC despite his acknowledged baggage. Thusly, the President’s cryptic statement appears to be a fait accompli in his favor.
Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s prospects
He is considered the most intellectually accomplished Vice President the country has had in a long time. He is a professor of law, a SAN at a very young age, a former Attorney General of Lagos State and, as previously highlighted, the current Vice President.
He has projected himself as the modern leader who leads by the persuasion of his words and mien of his public perception. His role avails him the opportunity of being the Chairperson of the nation’s economic direction team as well as an awareness of the pulse of young progressives.
He was the poster child for Trader Moni and other federal government economic indices. He had a couple of stints as the acting President and, in the estimation of many, performed creditably. He represents the vision of a modern, globally aware, erudite politician which tantalizes the imagination of many Nigerians.
However, his political capital is between pittance and non-existent. His political career as been based on political benefactors. He has never been a front runner candidate for an elective position. He does not command grassroot votes nor can he boast of a significant volume of loyal party delegates. He has not produced any notable political protégé nor does he control an influential power bloc.
It would appear that his entire strategy is based on the hope that the party would present a consensus candidate or an act of God and by some fortuitous stroke, he would once again be a beneficiary of the ensuing development. However, is hope really a strategy?
The reason the consensus angle would be moot for presidential primaries elections is because many of the incumbent Governors and heavyweights of other states would see this as a precedence to capitalize on or as a threat to their own control over their domain.
This development could potential destroy the party and as such is a direction the party’s leadership would be afraid to pursue. Some may ask, what of the party’s Chairmanship elections? Well, the eventual candidate does not pose a direct threat and was a candidate the party’s core leadership subscribed to.
Beyond his highlighted limitations, he also unfortunately comes with his own baggage. He is considered the mascot of the country’s economic initiatives. He was the face of the ERGP and several subvention initiatives.
All these would not work in his favor considering the general unfavorable perception of the performance of the economy. He cannot divorce himself from the negative coloration and perception. This makes him easy picking for the opposition and a potential liability to the party’s chances of success at the polls.
Further, his perceived backers aren’t political powerhouses (minnows would be more appropriate). This presumption is based on the fact his declaration has been tepid and devoid of confidence. His biggest bloc of supporters are on social media; the recalcitrant, apathy consumed middle class and youths. He appears, unfortunately, to be chasing shadows.
A conversation with many of his supporters reflects the underwhelming strategic approach based on many what-ifs rather than what-is.
Another albatross around his neck is the culturally frowned upon perception of betrayal. Very few Nigerians would be accommodating of the same development in their own personal lives; that a beneficiary of one’s good grace would rise up to challenge one in the pursuit of one’s declared ambitions. The perception that a Christian who benefited from the generosity of a Muslim turned around and betrayed the Muslim is a damaging narrative. This does not mean that the VP is not entitled to his own ambitions and aspirations, it just reflects poorly on the esteem he places on loyalty, honor and camaraderie.
Some of the traditional stools in the SW have been approached by the Jagaban and he had secured their blessings and approvals. Would these do an about-face to support the VP? Would they be comfortable to be tainted with the same hues of betrayal? These are cultural nuances which, some may disparage and underrate but which carries an import beyond the obvious, cold blooded analysis.
In the final analysis, who is the better candidate? This is a knotty conclusion to arrive at. First off, being better means nothing if you cannot secure the party’s ticket. Secondly, let’s consider some critical issues. Who has proven administrative experience at executive levels, as the number one citizen? Tinubu. Who has the mien of erudition and intelligence? Tied. Who has more social capital? Osinbajo. Who has a better comprehension of politics and politicking on a national level? Despite the VP’s 7 year stint at the Presidency, Tinubu edges him in terms of pure politicking and influence at national levels. Which candidate has a proven track record of economic growth? Tinubu (public perception about the economy does not favor PYO). Who has the least political baggage? Osinbajo by a mile! There are so many dynamics and permutations that either is projected to perform reasonably well.
It is notable that a number of other top members of the political party have also declared for Presidency. Some of them have better political structures and influence than the VP. They have influence they can leverage, the VP does not appear to have the same collateral. His emergence as the presidential candidate of the APC risks imploding the party and handing over a cheap win to the opposition (unless the opposition scores an own goal). He’s engagement with critical stakeholders since his declaration has not inspired confidence. It appears that the VP, whilst loved, has committed a political hara-kiri.
What would have been a masterstroke was for the VP to have declared his intention to run BEFORE Tinubu. He would have effectively made Tinubu’s subsequent declaration a case of sour grapes and hideous hegemony. But he missed the chance and vacillated till the last minute. Surely, a missed opportunity and strategic faux pas.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the other hand is a political behemoth whose structure, influence and savvy cannot be ignored. Undoubtedly, he possesses the right political nous but his baggage also cannot be overlooked. He is clearly a liability at the polls at the general elections. However, his understanding of the ‘game’ could prove a deciding factor. He is the clearly the candidate to beat, at both party primaries and general elections.
PYO represents the great hope of what-ifs whilst Tinubu is the quintessential what-is.
The middle line is that the opprobrium the supporters of both candidates are generating against each other represents a masterclass in self sabotage and mutually assured destruction. A discerning opposition will take advantage.
As the drama of the upcoming primaries and general elections continue to fascinate, the ardent prayer of all well-meaning Nigerians is that beyond permutations and preferences, may the best candidate for the country emerge at the end of all these processes. The hope is to have a true progressive leader, who can feel the pulse of the people and is committed to giving them a better life. In the sum of it all, may Nigeria win.
Femi Onakanren is a Business Development Specialist. He writes from Lagos