As the debate on who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari rages on, presidential hopefuls have been positioning themselves to attract the support of influential power blocs ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
Findings by LEADERSHIP reveal that these power blocs range from influential individuals to strategic groups. Some of these groups include the college of governors, former presidents and heads of state, diplomatic community, the captains of industry, Nigerians in diaspora, and socio-ethnic political groups, among others.
Also, feelers from the political camps of some aspirants indicate that while they are mindful of how their parties would handle the controversial zoning of presidential tickets, they have nonetheless been making political manoeuvres.
So far, no fewer than seven aspirants have formally declared their intention to contest the presidential election.
They are former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof Kingsley Moghalu; Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa; former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim; former Lagos State governor and APC national leader, Bola Tinubu; Senate minority whip and former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi and publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu.
However, those expected to make a public declaration for the top seat soon are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Ekiti State governor and chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Kayode Fayemi; APC chieftain and business mogul, Gbenga Olawepo-Hassim; minister of state for education, Dr Emeka Nwajiuba and Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello.
Others are former Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State governor, Hon Aminu Tambuwal; former Kano State governor, Senator Musa Kwankwaso; Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, and former Zamfara State governor, Senator Sani Yerima.
Most of the aspirants have since been embarking on wide consultations with various power blocs.
A source, who pleaded anonymity, hinted that some of the serious presidential hopefuls have been meeting with influential persons and blocs that could sway the contest in their favour.
The source, however, said, “Well, it is conventional that the serious aspirants for the one number seat in the country would have met with key power brokers across the country. In fact, they would have, before this year, begun to leverage on their political goodwill and network even before they declared for the seat.
“I am sure you will remember that sometime last year, we saw closed-door meetings between ambassadors of some countries and persons who have either declared for president or are yet to declare for president. We have also seen the same meetings or consultations between some hopefuls and former presidents and heads of state of this country. We have also seen some aspirants making foreign tours, trying to engage the international think-tank, so to speak, and Nigerians in the diaspora on their ambition. So, it is not unexpected in that sense.”
However, while the debate over zoning of the presidential ticket continues, the question on the minds of aspirants is whether or not they can secure the buy-in of these critical power brokers going into the polls.
College Of Governors
They, as a group, are easily regarded as the most potent political bloc in Nigeria’s party politics. They largely influence the way delegates emerge for national conventions, especially in indirect primary system.
They are also acutely strategic to how parties win elections at state and local government levels. Since the Second Republic, the influence of governors as one of the major determinants of who emerges presidential candidates and eventual president has continued to increase.
It is for this reason they have been described in some quarters as the field generals of political parties. Presidential aspirants are usually inclined to be in good standing with the governors. In the build-up to presidential primaries, aspirants would be seen wooing this class of influential stakeholders.
Former Heads Of State And Ex-Generals
Comprising mainly former military generals who occupied top political offices during the military era, this restricted class of stakeholders are often regarded as the shot callers behind the scenes.
Having transformed from military tacticians to political grand god-fathers of sorts, the retired generals have remained a major influence in the polity, dictating the political climate through the deploying of decades-old political strategies. It is not surprising that they still dominate the political space, having remained key stakeholders in the Nigerian project since the civil war.
Already, most aspirants have visited some of the key members of this rare class, including former military head of state, Gen Yakubu Gowon, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida.
Others in this rare club include Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, Gen Theophilus Danjuma, and Gen Aliyu Gusau, among others.
Captains Of Industry
Elections cost money. And with concerns that have trailed Nigeria’s over-monetised electoral system, aspirants would seek to sway the billionaires’ club to be on their side.
This class also represents a strong power bloc as it controls much of the corporate private sector, including the financial institutions, oil and gas sector, manufacturing sector, telecommunications, and so on. As a group they are a formidable bloc whose buy-in would be sought. Over time, they have been seen to be active during political campaigns, making donations to political parties and candidates.
In turn, the business community would seek to provide sponsorship to aspirants in order to consolidate their business interests.
A few names in this category are Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga, and Mrs Folorunsho Alakija, among others.
That the role of money in politics in Nigeria’s polity is very strong cannot be over emphasized. Take it or leave it, the political parties get corporate support and sponsorship from rich Nigerians. Although many other big players in the nation’s business community prefer to give their support behind the scenes, the names of two prominent Nigerians have resonated each time the nation’s political parties are raising funds or when a general election comes up. Interestingly, the candidate they support in the presidential election often wins the poll.
Africa’s richest man and quintessential entrepreneur is not a card-carrying member of any known political party in Nigeria but his role overtly or covertly in the nation’s political space cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand.
Dangote was the chief fund raiser when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) raised N21.2 billion for the 2015 election, although he did not make any donation as his representative at the event, Joseph Makoju, announced that he had no mandate to make one. He said Dangote would contact the PDP leadership about his donation once he arrived in the country.
Again, when the PDP raised funds for the building of its national secretariat complex in Abuja in 2008 , Dangote donated cement worth N3 billion.
In 2019, Dangote was also named in a statement issued by the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, as members of the advisory committee for the re-election of President Buhari.
Before people knew it, a clarification was issued by Adesina which addressed concerns over the inclusion of Dangote in the list.
He stated in the release: “It has become imperative to further clarify the status of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, named under the sub-head Advisory members in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council announced on Friday, December 28, 2018. Africa’s richest man, not being a card-carrying member of APC, cannot, and is not a member of the PCC. He is also a member of the Peace Committee, and thus cannot be in a partisan campaign council.”
Femi Otedola is a Nigerian businessman, philanthropist, and former chairman of Forte Oil Plc, an importer of fuel products. Otedola is the founder of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, and the owner of a number of other businesses across shipping, real estate and finance. His strong support for former President Goodluck Jonathan is well known.
When the PDP raised funds for the building of its national secretariat complex in Abuja in 2008, Otedola donated cement worth N1 billion.
The oil magnet was also named as a member of the advisory committee for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
These groups have already been occupying the media space. The key groups are Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Middle Belt Forum, North Central Forum, and Ijaw National Congress (INC).
These geo-political groups have been relating their positions on issues and galvanizing their bases within the geo-ethno-political structure of the country. Aspirants would lobby for endorsement of these groups because of the sentimental-cum- ethnic appeal they provide.
Although Nigerians living abroad have repeatedly demanded to be allowed to vote, this set of stakeholders is also not a pushover as well as aspirants make it a point to meet with them whenever they are on foreign visits.
They wield some influence when the remittances they make to the country is considered. A World Bank data showed that the Nigerian Diaspora population remitted $65.34bn in three years to boost economic activities in the country.
The World Bank data showed that in 2018, the Nigerian Diaspora remitted $24.31bn; $23.81bn in 2019 and $17.21bn in 2020.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Nigeria had a Diaspora population of 1.7 million as of 2020.
This puts the average remittance per Nigerian abroad (based on 2020 Diaspora population) at $38,428.15 across the three years.
But that is just official figures. Many Nigerians abroad are undocumented.
Although the collective influence of the diaspora with regards to the position of their resident countries towards Nigeria might not be measurable, the influence of certain individuals cannot be overlooked.
The goodwill and tacit endorsement by ambassadors and high commissioners of other countries will be sought by aspirants not just because it gives a good photo-op. It also affords aspirants an opportunity to market themselves to the international community.
Soon, presidential hopefuls would crave the attention of the prestigious Chatham House, London, the 102-year-old institution, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
For years, aspirants and top politicians have, in a bid to convince the international community to look favourably towards them, made presentations at this institution which is an independent policy institute headquartered in London whose mission is to provide authoritative commentary on world events and offer solutions to global challenges.
However, the power brokers have been tasked to interrogate the aspirants on some pressing national issues, like security and economy, concerns about the ideological leanings and their track records.
Former minister of education, Prof Tunde Adeniran, in a chat with LEADERSHIP said: “The presidential aspirants should be asked at least five questions: What is their ideological orientation and philosophy of governance that would guide them in the governance of Nigeria? What are their antecedents; their educational and professional backgrounds and achievements?
“How will they solve the problem of grave insecurity nationwide and handle the security system generally?
“What economic policies will they put in place to effectively solve the problems of unemployment, inflation and mass poverty? What initiatives would be brought to bear on Nigerian institutions and the Nigerian people to eradicate the endemic corruption that is fast consuming all?”
On his part, former president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, told LEADERSHIP that power brokers need to interrogate aspirants on their ideological leanings vis-a-vis what their political parties represent.
He said, “We have not been able to define our presidents. We need to know whether they are leftists, rightists, liberal, centre left or right and so on. How do you know where a president stands? It has to do with his or her track record and beliefs.
“Sadly, our political parties are also not defined. The first challenge is, what do the political parties represent?
“I am a card-carrying member of All Progressives Congress (APC). I joined Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) because of its progressive tendencies which I followed through with it until we entered APC. But if you ask me about whether we still have that now, I won’t be able to say so. Same applies to the conservative Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So, what we have had are individuals who govern based on what they believe and not the party. A country cannot survive on individual development.”
He added, “Power brokers should first ask them to define what their party represents. I think this is foundational. First of all, the party should define you and not you defining the party. So, if the party defines you, you become a candidate that will carry out the dictates of the party. No matter how you feel about Donald Trump, he carried out the manifesto of the Republican Party which has helped him to retain a huge following in the party today. He ensured less taxes, less government, defended America’s interest to the letter – everyman for himself, close borders and being tough on immigration.
“For Biden, he is doing what the democrats are known for – more democratic space, more government involvement, more money for citizens, affordable healthcare – so, we can differentiate both parties, and whatever president is in office, we can differentiate them by their party’s manifesto. But one central thing is the sovereignty of the country.
“We had this practice in the past – UPN, NPN, GNPP and so on – their ideological leanings were all well-defined.”
The former labour leader also urged the powerbrokers to ascertain the policy direction of the aspirants with regards to critical sectors – oil and gas, subsidy, banking, health, transportation and unity of the country and security.
“We don’t want generalisation; we want specifics on the issues. We no longer want a president that is a generalist. We want a president that is specific on issues. By that I mean he should be able to take a clear stand on issues in line with what his party manifesto provides.
“Also, they should ask them if they just want to be president because they want to be president. You know that the Nigerian president is one of the most powerful in the world. He is in the top 10 most powerful presidents in the world. But we don’t want an over-powerful president anymore; we want one that will strengthen institutions. These are some of the issues the power brokers can task the aspirants about,” he said.
On his part, a former presidential adviser to Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Olukayode Akindele, said the stakeholders should focus on the character of the aspirants.
He said the power blocs must tell the aspirants “to let go of greed and avarice; genuinely respect the citizenry by upholding the rule of law and independence of judiciary; amend the constitution to enable true federalism.
“They should also ask the aspirants to allow for state police, create an enabling environment and tax laws to allow the private sector to thrive.”
Former deputy governor of Sokoto State, Murktar Shagari, said the power brokers should be convinced of the aspirants’ commitment to the wellbeing of Nigerians before they commit to their ambition.
“They should tell them to pay greater attention to security, economy and the citizens’ wellbeing, and they should not deceive or lie to Nigerians,” he said.
On his part, former national secretary of the PDP, Prof Wole Oladipo, told LEADERSHIP that the power brokers should ask the aspirants to “ensure that he or she will reform Nigeria; make the six geopolitical zones the federating units and devolve power to them, leaving the centre to handle foreign affairs and defence mainly.”
To former presidential aide to Goodluck Jonathan and communications expert, Jackson Ude, the power brokers should be more concerned about the unity of Nigeria, saying Nigeria is more divided now than at any other time.
Ude, who resides in the United States, added: “The programmes and policies of the Buhari/APC government have not united the country. Nigeria has been divided along ethnic and religious lines as a result of either a deliberate or unconscious policy direction of this current government.
“So, power brokers talking to presidential aspirants should insist on how to unite Nigeria,” he said. “Another very important area would be that of security.
“The actions and inactions of the current government has not helped to secure the country from terrorism and banditry. It is an area which is also linked to the unity of Nigeria. A united Nigeria is a secure Nigeria; a secure Nigeria is a United Nigeria.
“Power brokers should tell aspirants to develop a robust security plan that would check the rising insecurity in the land and be open to ideas that would help in not only improving it but sustaining it. That way, we will have the pathway to economic development, infrastructural development and so on,” Ude said.