Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Elections: Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi and Chris Imumolen

The last time Nigeria experienced anything close to 2023 in terms of elections was 2007. That was the year an incumbent Nigerian president was not a candidate in a presidential election. 2007 elections, considered Nigeria’s worst election since 1999 — INEC does not even have the full result of that election as we speak — 2023 promises to be different. Not least because, the incumbent president — Muhammadu Buhari — appears to be committed to making it a legacy election. That is good news for everyone.

The stage could not be better set for the most competitive election since 1999. Until now, only two parties — at times even one — were in with a chance to win the presidential election. This term, at least from the point of perception and even a curious poll — ANAP/NOI Polls — there are at least four major contenders. In about 50 days, Nigerians will be out to elect their next president. Let’s just say that we are at the business end of the campaign season.

Bola Tinubu, the kingmaker, is making a bullish play for the seat of power

Bola Tinubu: He has been at the receiving end of several campaigns asking questions about his identity, his work history and even claims of unwholesome dealings. He has largely been bolstered by these campaigns — finding himself top of the conversations on social media at a time when it appeared even his own campaign was yet to deploy a social media plan. The chaos centred his candidacy as one that mattered, it was not a bad ladder. With the primarily social-media focused campaign targeted at the Tinubu candidacy coming up in the early days of the campaign, they now lack the potency of recency bias, now risking the danger of ‘we’ve heard it before’ were they to return. What the Tinubu campaign did best in this sense was to never let the allegations gain mainstream ground — mostly choosing not to engage it.

The logic of choice, according to International sports journalist, Mr. Osasu Obayiuwana

If his campaign was a movie, you’d say he set his own stage, chose his own audience and played the game by his own rules. This is not the norm, but even his greatest adversaries have since admitted Mr. Bola Tinubu is not your usual politician. Arguably the most strategic campaign, every move has been intentional — including ignoring platforms where he’d have to debate or engage other candidates. This was largely interpreted as the man avoiding a shellacking from his opponents. His supporters predictably saw it differently. They did not think he had anything to gain from sharing platforms with his opponents, especially when he could pick his own platforms, audience and time. That absence has come with heated criticisms, especially online, but here, the Tinubu campaign again appears to not be bothered; a lot of it could be down to the fact that, in an ultra-partisan atmosphere, most of the noise have come from people who were never going to vote him anyway.

Whilst Mr. Atiku Abubakar has had to contend with an open war in his party, thus making his challenge clear-cut, Mr. Bola Tinubu has mostly dealt with a comparatively peaceful APC. The appearance of peace should not be mistaken for the absence of discontent though. The incumbent party’s candidate must do his best to keep the party’s governors on his side, especially the governors of the North-West region. This is because, as the permutations stand, there is no winning the election for any of the candidates if they lose the North-West.

You won’t need a soothsayer to know that deals are being negotiated across party lines. It’s the nature of the art.

President Buhari’s support — or lack of it — will prove consequential in the North

President Buhari has often proven to be a solo force during elections. Mr. Tinubu will do well to ensure the president is as committed to this campaign as he was to the two successful Buhari runs. History suggests that Buhari’s support is not to be taken for granted, because Muhammadu Buhari does not see Muhammadu Buhari on the ballot this term. The Jagaban Borgu, in his quest to be Nigeria’s Asiwaju must keep his home front happy whilst seeking new supporters in the PDP and elsewhere. That balancing act appears to be the toughest question he must find answers to.

His health has been called into question, that itself appearing apparent even on TV but the candidate has covered as much ground as any of his opponents. The questions won’t stop but as long as the candidate stays covering those grounds, they’d end up spending more time trying to outdo him on the field than looking to have him surrender on health grounds.

Clearly, Mr. Bola Tinubu has waited for his chance all his life, defying political norms and expectations to clinch his party’s ticket. Those intent on stopping him must now focus on getting more votes than he can. Because the man’s game is solely focused on that, where the votes are. In the formidable Senator Kashim Shettima — his running mate — he ensures the party stays competitive in the North-East. If they both keep the powerbrokers within the APC happy, Bola Tinubu’s first shot could be an effective one.

Mr. Peter Obi is defying the odds and mounting a competitive campaign

Peter Gregory Obi: If the elections held solely on social media, he’d win by a landslide. A number of people, angered by Nigeria as it is, have found an outlet in the possibility of the former governor clinching the presidency — a number of them repenting from years of insulting him and rating him below par during his years as governor.

Running as the anti-establishment candidate — which means you have to ignore the fact he was a two-term governor and a member of President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Economic Management Team — Mr. Peter Obi has enjoyed an immense following this election in a way no third party candidate has since 1999. If you overlook the seamy side in terms of the threats, insults and trolling, his supporters have vastly contributed to the excitement generated by this election.

Built on the residual anger and popularity of the #ENDSARS movement and other such angry reactions to the Buhari government, Mr. Peter Obi — on the back of viral The Platform videos where he professed his spartan economic management style as governor and a life given to simplicity — was well positioned to be adopted by those who wanted something different from the established parties. When he left the PDP and went in search of a party to drive his ambition, it looked unlikely he would mount any consequential challenge. He and his campaign have since defied that. The campaign built steam over the summer — with the PDP and APC appearing to have ceded the online space to the LP candidate and his supporters — but the homerun that would have been delivered in winter towards the election in February has been left undone by a variety of factors.

Two tweets that captured the task before the Peter Obi campaign

The momentum remains, but it long peaked. It was a raging fire that needed channeling but in the absence of a coherent strategy, it has stayed a raging fire, so much so even the candidate and the party chairman have had to caution their supporters. What is the one thing you don’t want to do in a competition? To peak before the business end.

The way the candidate himself has doubled down on church activities down south, it appears to be an all-out strategy to just get the Christian votes out and go to sleep. The campaign needed more northern-Muslim presence than just the VP candidate, the impressive Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed.

Obasanjo’s endorsement comes with much needed booster shots, and votes?

On major platforms — like the Zain Asher interview on CNN — Mr. Obi has appeared bereft of ideas and has often chosen to ramble about the issues rather than directly state what he would do to address them. In this specific case, to the consternation of the interviewer. What would often have been overlooked became a centre of attention because the Obi campaign has had to deal with opponents bent on proving he has got nothing on the rest of the presidential pool. Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Egypt and the likes have been espoused as answers to questions on Nigeria, in place of original ideas.

Appeals like this did not do much to stem the tide of threats and derogatory remarks against perceived opponents

If supporters are evangelizers, his supporters on social media have often played the opposite; campaigning from a moral high ground of loving Nigeria more and hating corruption more. They’ve made a sport of insulting even fellow supporters who appeared to ask bare questions deemed uncomfortable, at times even having a go at the candidate himself. The supporters were defined long before Governor Soludo offered a popular definition. That said, the President Olusegun Obasanjo endorsement came at the right time, serving as a booster shot in the media. How many votes that would draw in remains to be seen.

Prof. Imumolen is mounting a challenge via Accord Party

Prof. Chris Imumolen: At 39, the youngest presidential candidate this term. He’s got more than youth on his side though. He has ran a campaign focused on issues and has enjoyed some media attention. Running on the Accord platform helps because the Accord Party has a scattered presence with some established candidates down the ballot. Prof. Chris has spoken of the fact that he is a candidate with ‘no baggage or track record of failure,’ insisting that his candidacy offers a new paradigm. With a campaign promising civil service reforms, increasing budgetary allocation to education, completing abandoned projects across the country, protecting Nigeria’s borders, reforming health, social welfare and mounting a institutional war against corruption, Prof. Imumolen has centered some of the big issues. How far his focus on the issues and the currency of youth will go remains to be seen.

You can read about Rabiu Kwankwaso, Atiku Abubakar, Yele Sowore and others here



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