On Saturday the 16th day of February, which happens to be the seventh Saturday of the year, the fever occasioned by Valentine (with all the attendant lies and heartbreaks) would have disappeared from the atmosphere, and Nigeria’s active atmosphere would be at the polls. Journeys will be made for this, families have been divided for this, friendships have been lost for this, and (barring a monumental shakeup of events), the general elections would be taking place on that day.
The rallies have been witnessed, arguments for all sides have been made on and off (traditional and social) media, and now it is time for the people to decide (assuming, of course, that the elections will be free and fair). They could either choose to stick with the current commander in chief, or go for either of the litany of options, among whom are Atiku Abubakar, Omoyele Sowore, Kingsley Moghalu and about 67 others. Yes, as relayed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there are about 72 pairs of presidential and vice-presidential candidates contesting in this year’s elections.
Sure enough, the volume of interest in the nation’s highest political office is bordering on the ridiculous, but in practical terms, most of the buzz has centred on two contenders: Atiku, the flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari. Much has been made about the availability of a wide range of options, and advocates of this point of view have adduced their reasons for adopting their stance: the age of the candidates representing the two largest parties, the fact that these two have tasted power in the past, the (apparent) disillusionment with the recycling of politicians, and of course, the “not too young to run” philosophy.
Photo Credit: Premium Times
These reasons are valid, and the underlying sentiments are shared by many, but the cold hard fact is that so far, only two parties appear to be actively and realistically involved in this place (keep in mind that Nigeria’s political system works around parties, not individuals). The situation is similar to the Scottish Football Premier League, where it’s pretty much Celtic Football Club, Glasgow Rangers and the rest. This is not to say that a number of the other candidates are not pulling their weight, but as evidenced by social media conversations, opinion polls and general impressions, there seems to be a chasm between “the two” and the rest of the pack.
Full credit, it has to be said, should go to the candidates who genuinely pushed hard in their campaigns this year. There has been significant improvement since Reverend Chris Okotie gave public notice of his presidential ambitions in 2003 and 2007, and things look a lot more competitive since Remi Sonaiya ran under the platform of the KOWA Party in 2015. But wresting political power from the grasp of the establishment goes beyond passion, willpower, catchy phrases and campaigning on Twitter.
If we are to be perfectly honest, the “Third Force” (the unofficial name used to describe our political alternatives) started the onslaught really late, considering our fairly rigid system and our slow pace in responding to political stimulus. Kingsley Moghalu and Oby Ezekwesili only announced their intentions in 2018. Donald Duke was not quick in making his decision either. It reeks of backwardness, but the truth is that in these parts, twelve months (or less) is too short a time to muster any real political momentum, let alone embark on a strong campaign that will permeate the grassroots. Go to the backwaters, and you will find that many people do not even know who Sowore is. These things take time, and (aggressive) dedication too.
There is also need to consider the financial and political might of each candidate. Becoming the president of a country with Nigeria’s kind of terrain demands the breaking of sweat and shedding of tears, and as much as the electorate would want a breath of fresh air, it would take a lot of grit and persuasion to win them over. People need to be convinced by the blueprint and the structure, and quite frankly, none of the others bear any sort of Messianic semblance. A collaborative effort involving proponents of the new movement would have painted a more beautiful picture to the masses, but Moghalu and Durotoye lost credibility points when they failed to put up a united front with the PACT (Presidential Aspirants Coming Together) coalition. Another window was opened when Ezekwesili withdrew from the race (a move rejected by INEC), but by then it was too late. If there was any unity of purpose, the Third Force would have stood a better fighting chance.
Photo Credit: Thisday Live
The body language of some of the political parties could have also rubbed off the wrong way on the electorate. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) entertained a tussle between Donald Duke and Jerry Gana for the presidential ticket, and in a later development, a faction of the party declared its support for Buhari’s re-election bid. Ezekwesili’s (former) party, the Allied Peoples Movement of Nigeria (APMN), was quick to endorse Buhari after she pulled out of the race. These events have made room for conspiracy theories which hint at the possibility that the alternative platforms were only mere fronts created to distract the active population from the grander politicking schemes, and it would be hard to blame anyone who buys into said theories.
Ultimately, an upset is desirable (in certain quarters), but the chances of same occurring at the elections are slim and none. There are lessons to be learned, and it is hoped that future campaigns will implement the necessary measures, but it would take a miracle to facilitate the emergence of any victors other than the usual suspects.
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