As 2023 ticks in, a tight race beckons

January 27, 2022by Tope Fasua0

So, this is the way I see it. Some presidential aspirants aiming for the year 2023 have made known their intentions. Chief among them is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Kingsley Moghalu has been in the space for a while now – perhaps the most prominent from the class of 2019 young turks prepared to stay the course. Anyim Pius Anyim also has signified, alongside his Ebonyi kinsman, Dave Umahi. Last week we saw a 43-years old man called Chukwuka Monye stepping out with eloquence. There’s also a beautiful, determined lady named Khadija Okunnu-Lamidi, who has broken the monotony of male aspirants.

My friend, Favour Ayodele, has also been in the space for a bit, stubbornly getting better by the day, and deserving of mention here. A big masquerade, Adewole Adebayo, president of Kaftan TV, made a resounding statement as he marked his 50th birthday in Ondo town on Saturday, January 8, 2022, in a grand carnival in which he also declared his intentions. I was at that event, and so were many political juggernauts from all over the nation. I know Wole as a philosopher, and one of the most versatile Nigerians I’ve met. These are determined folks. Still on the sidelines but definite to join is Atiku Abubakar – serial contestant – who is likely to fly the PDP flag. Vice President Osinbajo’s men have blazed the trail for him to follow, as he may also declare in some days to come.

The platforms are fewer this time – 18 political parties, and not all of them may decide to field candidates having been decimated – so we may not see as many aspirants as we did in 2019. But there will be excitement from other perspectives. The coast is clearer for an Atiku for example, and he may get quite a few votes out of pity for having tried so long. That is Nigeria for you. The PDP desires to return but the APC can ill-afford to let go of power for now, lest the Buhari regime is probed and exposed for all its detritus. For sure, the troubles with Nigeria have escalated. Things have got a lot worse than they were in 2019 and this is not a statement born of cognitive bias. Our leadership crisis has worsened, with President Buhari admitting to his bodily weakness as a result of old age.

Hunger, inflation, exchange crisis, and other things have become even more problematic, and some would say Nigeria lost paradise in the last few years. Buhari cannot be forgiven for losing a golden opportunity for profound reform of the polity. He exposed himself for being a fake. We had reposed much hope in Buhari’s leadership to help straighten out at least our security and some of our corruption problems but been given a bloody nose by those two malaises under the watch of the man who called himself Mr. Integrity, supported by a pentecostal pastor and erudite professor. Some have therefore posited that 2023 will be a most consequential year for Nigeria’s politics because we seem to be tilting on a cliffhanger.

Whereas 2023 will certainly be crucial and present its own breathtaking uncertainties, I believe the worst may be over for Nigeria having seen that the wings of separatists have been momentarily clipped, and their follies, unpreparedness and some would say, cowardice, exposed. There is every hope that whichever president we have next should be less reclusive, and totally This is again not about cognitive dissonance – for human beings often think the past is better than the present even if it’s not. For instance, people have clamoured for Goodluck Jonathan’s government to return, and before him, Yar’Adua, and before that, Obasanjo, and so on.

The Buhari government has been indeed and in truth, clumsy, and the taciturn nature of the president is all we needed for separatists to grow wings and almost topple the entire country. The taciturn-ness also helped fuel insecurity, and it was hard not to interpret Buhari’s refusal to speak as his lack of anything to say or inability to articulate himself. The work of leadership today is 95% communication, so in not being a communicator, or in holding his people in disdain such as to speak with us barely four times in seven years, Buhari failed woefully in the leadership department, and all else went downhill from there. Even he had had to admit lately he is too old for the job. I will not chalk the colossal failure down to old age alone, but to an inbred disdain for the people, a deluded sense of superiority, and perhaps the result of an intent to deceive. More will be heard when he finally leaves government.

How will 2023 pan out? Of all who have stepped out, Tinubu has been significant. And this has generated much hoopla in every media already. Many issues have been thrown up and it is evident that Tinubu is a consequential man because the country seems split already between anti and pro the man. Is he worthy to be a president? Is he too old and frail? Is he too corrupt? What qualities is he bringing to the table? What about Yemi Osinbajo? The latter question throws up its own intrigues.

As I type, the vice president has not spoken openly about running for president but there are many groups urging him on. Some are ready to take him to court if he dares not. The special adviser to the president on political affairs, Babafemi Ojudu, has been vociferous everywhere I turn – and I think needs to be reminded that if he is actually drawing salary in his role, he shouldn’t be using our time – yes taxpayers’ time – to do open politics for anyone but he may continue if he works for free. Tinubu’s opponents have again dug up his past and questioned every claim he ever made about himself. Articles have been written about how Tinubu did not help or mentor any of the guys we thought he mentored in their political careers. In fact, we are told he only used them. This is the thing about politics. People look you right in the face and shock you. The goal is to get power, and we have seen that once power is obtained, people often reach out for rapprochement. Tinubu has however built up a reputation as someone who knows how to forgive.

For now, I choose to support Tinubu against those I consider to be bullies because I am interested in a keen contest between himself and Atiku if it plays out that way. I have expressed my concerns about the VP in recent times, and I am consistent in my position. The VP has been in this same failed Buhari government since inception, and even though we saw how active he could be when he acted as president (before Buhari’s people asked that he never again be handed over to, for whatever reason), the politics is not enough reason for some of his other actions and disposition. He could have found several opportunities to push real game-changing policies as head of the economic council and in spite of the frustrations, beyond distributing Tradermoni, an unaccounted disbursement to market women and such other people who will definitely not repay. He concentrated instead on the ease-of-doing-business index that the World Bank itself says it is stepping down because it is unfit for purpose. He didn’t display that he has a keen mind to emancipate the people.

In fact, he recently presided over the national economic council meeting at which it was recommended to increase prices of petroleum gas to N302 from February. The VP has shown that he is an ultra-right capitalist, more interested in things like liberalisation, devaluation, privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation, self-regulated markets, and cryptocurrencies; indeed anything psychedelic. Just like President Babangida in his days and I believe that was the era in which Nigeria lost her innocence and has been going downhill ever after – Osinbajo is likely to give unfettered reign to the same people who use their might and cunning to prevent us from thinking for ourselves through their many advice – SAP, Washington consensus, etc – some of which they later apologized for. This is not about sprite walks, good looks, or sheer eloquence. We cannot hope to keep repeating an approach while expecting different results. Nigeria should be able to develop approaches to her economics that will consider her peculiarities. 2023 should be our turning point.

I believe Tinubu can drive that approach. I have in the past responded to at least two of his writeups. He believes in economic sovereignty and kicked against the idea of dollarising the Nigerian economy by tying everything to the price of crude oil. I like that kind of thinking. At least it sets us on a particular trajectory. What I have heard in contrast from Osinbajo such as that the central bank should allow cryptocurrency trading (which is basically glorified sports betting) when other central banks have outlawed that volatile pseudo asset which has again bitten the dust today, or that the naira should be fully-floated does not give me the confidence that he could drive the needed radical intellectual fortitude and firepower that can dig Nigeria’s economy out of the doldrums. But again, this is not blanket support for Tinubu. I am going somewhere.

Will Osinbajo throw down the gauntlet and get into a contest with Tinubu who has displayed leadership and decisiveness by stating first and openly that he will run? I hope we know that that was a political masterstroke from Tinubu? Those who dilly-dally never achieve much in politics. The declaration is a ‘check!’, not yet a ‘checkmate!’, on the political chessboard. Every potential contestant in every party must adjust their strategy as a result. Should the benefactor factor mean anything and should it preclude Osinbajo from daring? If Osinbajo pitches in, will they go into the usual indirect primaries in APC? Will he win an indirect primary against Tinubu? Even if it was a direct primary, can Osinbajo defeat Tinubu in the primaries? Well, he has the incumbency factor and federal might behind him, but Tinubu is nobody’s pushover, no matter the counter gambit. A lot of horse trading will happen. Betrayals and all sorts will happen. Last-minute carpet crossings will happen and who can tell the ultimate fallout?

If Osinbajo loses to Tinubu or indeed to anyone else in the primaries, how would he feel and what will be the consequences, politically and otherwise? And what would people say? At this point, it is important to note that this is not about tribal politics. Some pundits have tried to push the Tinubu quest as a Yoruba affair. But the man has been known to do more for non-Yorubas than for Yorubas. Yorubas – in my view – should not be clamoring for the presidency as if they’ve been marginalised since. It is really not our turn but for what I believe is the self-hurting politics played by the Igbos who can lay such claim. Tinubu and Osinbajo have been pan-Nigerian in outlook, but Tinubu has more experience and reach in that regard, and much more opportunity to have positioned over time as a tribal champion. He has been lampooned and hammered too many times for promoting the idea of one Nigeria too.

If Osinbajo wins, he will get a good northern Muslim vice president – in the mold of El Rufai or Zulum but may be pitched against an experienced Atiku (if the PDP was wise in my view). Atiku may pair again with Peter Obi, and even though eastern votes hardly swing the results nationally, but Peter has quite a few admirers in the south-west and may pull the entire east for Atiku. Osinbajo had the Redeemed Church factor, but this is predominant in the south-west, where at least 40% of inhabitants are Muslims who may not go with that ticket depending on how Tinubu is treated. Will Tinubu release his structures willingly? Or will those famed structures be easily neutralised by other players in the party?

If Tinubu wins, he has to contend with another hurdle – a Muslim/Muslim ticket. His handlers will have a lot of work on their hands and can only conjure the spirit of Abiola/Kingibe in 1993, while hoping that if they win, they will not be denied the opportunity to run the country as happened to Abiola. A keen contest will happen between a Tinubu/Zulum or ElRufai and Atiku/Peter Obi for instance. For me, that is what I want to see; two experienced horses, whom I believe may be able to commit class suicide by doing the right thing for the vast poor people of this country, driving up productivity nationally, and leveraging on the mistakes of the past. Both have also been known to be good headhunters and with minds much quicker than Buhari’s. I am not seeking a job from either though. What I have seen is that really serving Nigeria is a thankless job.

What happens to the other players? I had hoped that Moghalu will get a consensus going to pave way for a young president from the east. I believe only a clear, pan-Nigerian consensus can make that happen at this time and he has put himself in pole position. But time is fast running out. The new entrants like Chuka Monye, Khadijat Okunnu, and my philosopher friend Wole Adebayo (who I believe has a better strategy and a larger potential following than the rest), will learn, as we did in 2019, and perhaps try another day. Wole has apparently been working on this for a while. Not only does he sit on a respectable haul of liquidity, but he owns a TV and radio station that could help with his broadcasts and campaigns. He is also solidly on the ground at the grassroots, plus he has experience as a lawyer who has handled many electoral cases. His connection is formidable, but getting a platform that can upturn PDP and APC is a major issue.

Like many of us, he is not willing to become part of the sicknesses of those parties. But an unknown unknown may happen that will torpedo the best plans of Atiku, Tinubu and other bigwigs and open the autobahn for any of the chaps that have dared to be at the stage. Who knows? Or, some of the gladiators could distinguish themselves so well in the campaign and upcoming debates, such that they are offered ministerial and other positions in what could be an inclusive, national government if we are lucky to get a president that is more open-minded and result-oriented than what we are saddled with today. Time shall tell.

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