It is a fact that 2023 can never be like 2015 as Nigerians head to the polls to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. Many things have changed between 2015 and what is likely to take place in 2023. So many things are undergoing changes, and many various dynamics are playing out to influence the direction of the polls. As at today, don’t mind politicians who are incorrigibly optimistic of electoral victory, no one can state with absolute certainty which among the top three presidential candidates can breast the tape.
By this time in 2014, it was categorically clear that the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was on the verge of becoming the first incumbent President to lose an election in Nigeria. How could a sitting president with indescribable powers, with all security agencies under his command and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) be forced to kiss the dust?
Before Jonathan threw in the towel and conceded defeat, someone had explained why defeating an incumbent is almost an impossible feat to be achieved in Africa whose leaders are lovers of power. The person added: “Defeating Jonathan in an election is akin to driving a man, who is surrounded by the nation’s security forces, from a house. If that happens, then, it will be out of willingness and not that he has no option,”
True to the bookmaker’s prediction, and in line with the general mood of the electorate, PDP suffered a woeful defeat, and the sitting president was forced to kiss the dust. Unlike any president before him, the politician from Otuoke refused to turn the tables. Before his defeat, he was the most maligned of Nigeria’s leaders and his administration was described as clueless.
If there was any man who never brought the enormity of his power and authority to bear in forcing his way through the system; Jonathan was one. Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, describes him as the true believer in the rule of law who never interfered in the running of the system.
However, can we state with certainty that we now have a system that resonates with the Jonathanian thesis that places premium on the national interest, rather than a quest for self-serving interest. Not many will agree. Politicians now are more prone to acquiring power to only serve their interest and not anyone’s. If we are in doubt, the many promises by politicians and the harrowing winter citizens have had to put in are grim reminders for voters to be careful next time.
Less than seven months to the expiration of President Buhari in the corridors of power, the anger of citizens that influenced the 2015 polls is set for a repeat in some forms. Ahead of the polls that culminated in the defeat of the President Jonathan, citizens turned lackadaisical in interrogating promises by candidates as they allowed spokesmen and women to dominate the political space.
More frightening is what many, including yours sincerely, is the outright display of emotion. This must be avoided. One recalls that ahead of the 2015 polls, supporters of the All Progressives Congress ((APC) insisted that Buhari’s electricity bill could replace his educational certificate that was then a subject of controversy. The uncontainable opposition, spearheaded by the APC, was miles ahead of the then embattled incumbent PDP whose presidential candidate had told the world that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Jonathan kept his words and lost as he quickly caved in to avoid a bloody encounter with APC supporters that were then ready for a big fight.
Though many had described the 2015 campaigns as dwelling more on personality than issues, the inability of the then Jonathan Presidency to tackle the rising spate of insecurity proved an albatross for the PDP that was then seeking a comeback bid. In the rage to terminate the Jonathanian government, the apostles of change thought there was nothing out-of-place to ensure the politician from Bayelsa State was returned to his village.
The level of people’s disenchantment with the then system in 2015 is not the same now. There are more wailing now than before. Just as it was then, supporters of politicians are deploying deliberate ploys to deprive electorates of the right to interrogate candidates on issues surrounding their visions and programmes. The resort to social media intimidation and refusal by supporters to allow and encourage presidential candidates to respond to issues has become the highlights of our present democratic experiment. As it was then, so it is now.
All the three candidates of the frontline parties have one or two issues to deal with or the other. Of these three, only the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, commands a massive online support that is increasingly becoming irritated with any issue seen as not supporting the turn of the South-east for the 2023 presidency. Supporters of LP have turned their presidential candidates into a figure that must not be questioned and be spoken in any negative manner. Mr. Obi’s supporters, who call themselves ‘OBIdients’, are easily irritated over any discourse purported to be against their candidate.
The television interview that was granted by Governor Charles Soludo on the investment by the LP candidate when he was governor of Anambra State has attracted angry reactions, with many ‘OBIdients’ insinuating that the motive behind the CBN governor was to portray their candidate in brother in bad in order to truncate his chancing of succeeding Buhari in May 2023. Some of them further described the interview as a subtle strategy to offer stones to Obi’s political foes.
It is on this basis that Soludo has been hounded down and labelled all sorts of names. Nevertheless, the former CBN governor has refused to be intimidated into silence. To their chagrin, he released an article where he restated his claim where he told his predecessor in secret that he won’t win the presidency.
It is most likely that Soludo will soon release the second part of his article. However, there has been intervention from many quarters to let sleeping dogs lie. In the weeks ahead, the LP social media activists may not let go of Soludo’s irritating piece. Not even ‘I have done mine as a trader; do your own as a professor’ response by the LP candidate capable of soothing their pains. The coming days may prove heady if OBIdients refuse to let go of an irritant who is being allegedly used by the enemies of Igbos to thwart the dream of getting a South-easterner as president of Nigeria come May 2023.
It is not like the other two frontline parties are at peace with each other. Candidates of both the APC and PDP are not without their weaknesses that are capable of drowning their presidential ambitions. The personality-based campaigns mounted by spokesmen of the various presidential candidates are reflective of desperation in both camps. The war of words deployed by the spokesmen resuscitates the fear that the small snake of yesterday may turn out to be a fierce anaconda.
Both candidates of the APC and PDP have been accused of not appearing at town hall meetings to explain their programmes to Nigerians. The state of health of the candidates is also causing disquiet among citizens. While Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is said to be too sick to be president, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, also an old man, is said to spend more time in Dubai than Nigeria.
While age and experience may turn out an advantage; enthroning any candidate suffering from undisclosed ailment as the next president is not an option for now. Those who think that competence should be swept under the pretext of honouring the aged must be told to discard such positions.
Presidential candidates should be allowed to speak for themselves and not allow sweet tongues called spokesman and women to deceive Nigeria. We have suffered too long in the past to allow a repeat of what is ailing us as a people. Nigeria must be allowed to interrogate candidates without fear of intimidation from their supporters.