Four and a half months after the whistle sounded, the campaigns for Nigeria’s seventh presidential election of the Fourth Republic entered the penultimate week today. There are only a few days of rallies left next week before the window is shut and all attention shifts to the ballots.
The four major candidates have only a few states left for their rallies as they press to take their messages to voters across the vast country. While the ballot papers will bear the logos of 18 parties, only four of the parties have been visible since the campaigns kicked off on 28 September. Those four have also dominated in advertisement and news appearances, vindicating the classification of this election by the media as a four-horse race.
Some of the minor parties seized a rare opportunity to remind voters of their existence last week when they obtained a court injunction to restrain the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria in the currency swap crisis. However, they were quickly elbowed back into the shadows by the intervention of the Supreme Court in the matter, at the urging of three northern state governments.
Among the active four, we have also seen different patterns of the campaign in the past several weeks. Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have held rallies only in the state capitals.
Those two parties have elected officials in every state and have used their local structures erected around those officials in mobilising party faithful and supporters from across the wards and local government areas to the rallies in the state capitals. The rallies have mostly been well attended, even in states where the parties are in opposition or suffer from internal rifts.
However, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), whose parties do not yet have strong local structures, have devised other means of reaching the voters. One of these has been to take the campaigns beyond the state capitals. Mr Obi has held rallies in old provincial headquarters like Kafanchan in Kaduna State and Biu in Borno. Mr Kwankwaso has also moved across the hinterlands of Northern Nigeria where he said most of his supporters reside.
Even when he appeared in state capitals, Mr Obi had also visited markets at Aba in Abia State, Alaba in Lagos and Kugbo in Abuja, speaking with traders who might be reluctant to close their shops to attend rallies. He also continued to show up at church programmes and large Christian gatherings, in some of which he had no speaking engagement but drew ovations from a mere acknowledgement of his presence.
So how effective have these contrasting styles been?
The sizes of their rallies indicate the APC and PDP remain the dominant parties across the country. But the results of most of the polls conducted by polling agencies have contradicted the optical evidence on the field.
Most of the polls project Mr Obi as the frontrunner, although hedging their projections with sizable figures of undecided voters and stressing the probability of a run-off. In reality, none of the polls has said Mr Obi would win. Instead, they have said he was leading the field in a race that may go to the wire. Agencies that have made such projections include the ANAP Polls, Stears, Nextiers and Bloomberg. A few polls have also returned different projections. Fitch last week doubled down on its earlier projection of a Tinubu victory.
Mr Obi’s opponents have largely dismissed the polls that put him ahead. They have raised questions about the integrity of the pollsters or their modalities of the polls.
An interesting development though is that polling agencies appeared to have displaced the Nigerian newspapers in the game of projecting election outcomes. Until the agencies made their entrance in about 2015, the newspapers had usually titillated their readers with projections of winners, especially on the eve of elections. Thisday newspaper is the only notable newspaper to have so far published a projection on the current presidential race.
But it is not only in the area of polling that the news media have lost influence in this election. Journalists help voters to make informed choices by scrutinising the candidates, their platforms and what they are offering the voters and the polity. They perform this role by engaging candidates on their manifestoes and their general understanding of policy and governance issues, through interviews with the candidates and public debates among the candidates.
The candidates for this election have had perhaps the fewest direct interviews with journalists ahead of any presidential elections in the history of the country. Mr Tinubu has not sat down with a Nigerian journalist or before a newspaper, radio or television station since he declared his bid for the presidency at the beginning of last year.
The tradition of debate among candidates on live television had gained traction in Nigeria since the ill-fated 1993 election between Moshood Abiola and Bashir Tofa. But this has also been disrupted in this cycle. Television stations like Channels and Arise announced elaborate schedules for debates and other programmes of engagement with the candidates but these have not had the usual impacts, also largely due to Mr Tinubu boycotting them.
The attitude of the ruling party’s candidate is perhaps in reaction to perceived antagonism to his candidature by a section of the media he believes to be aligned with the opposition. His campaign team had a bitter fight with the Thisday/Arise Television Group over this issue and that unfortunate development probably dampened public enthusiasm for debates and interviews.
Now, the media have been left with reporting rallies and analysing issues, developments and events from the campaigns ahead of an election that they had projected as the most critical since Nigeria regained democratic civil rule.
Intra-party crisis has become a prominent feature of this election, largely within the dominant parties. The APC initially seemed to have avoided a post-convention crisis, in spite of its primary being almost blighted by shenanigans at the highest level. After paying N100 million each to participate in the primary, most of the over two dozen aspirants stepped down, one after the other, at the convention just before the delegates began voting. Even more remarkably, the few who remained until they were trashed in Mr Tinubu’s eventual landslide victory have avoided throwing a wrench into the works, even though they have not been showing their faces on the campaign.
However, the last few weeks showed that the shadowy forces that almost stalemated the APC nomination process have not desisted. According to Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, some elements around President Muhammadu Buhari, who had tried to impose a different candidate on the party, have sworn to thwart Mr Tinubu’s bid. The governor cited protracted fuel shortages, which seemed to worsen across the country as Election Day drew closer; and the redesign of the national currency, which led to severe cash scarcity across the country too, as deliberate acts of mischief by the vengeful unnamed elements.
Mr Buhari, whom Mr El-Rufai projected as at best an unwitting collaborator in the alleged mischief, subsequently appeared to have suddenly shaken himself free from his aloofness to Mr Tinubu’s campaigns. He has since appeared at a series of rallies in key northern states where he made effusive pledges of support that contradict his usually unprompted oft-repeated call on Nigerians to pick whichever of the 18 candidates they prefer.
READ ALSO: PT State of the Race: Will Nigeria’s presidential election hold on 25 February?
The president had also stated that an objective of the currency redesign policy was to deny politicians access to the cash they may need to buy votes. Since only the parties in government, more especially his own, have access to the public till that can supply cash in such a quantum, it is no surprise that Mr Tinubu and the APC were assumed to be the target of the policy.
A growing number of states run by the APC has joined in asking the Supreme Court to order the federal government to review the implementation of the policy. The National Assembly, through Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila who had a private meeting with the president on Friday, have also asked him to remove the deadline for the swapping of the banknotes.
So while the president appeared to have found interest in campaigning for his party’s flag bearer, he has so far refused to review a policy that his party desperately wants him to but which the opposition desperately supports. The president had the preceding week asked his party’s state governors to give him seven days to consider his options. Since that period expired last week, he has not announced a decision. Even the advice from the Council of State, at a meeting he called over the crisis, has not encouraged him to review the implementation of the policy.
PDP and G5
The PDP post-convention crisis, until that of the APC appeared, was the biggest issue in this election cycle. After seven months of a cat-and-mouse game, the party has found neither the guile to pacify its five rebellious governors nor the guts to punish them. Atiku has instead adopted the tactics of patience. He has avoided uttering a harsh word against Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike, the leader and most vociferous of the five governors who has almost daily thrown darts at the candidate, even though his aides seem no longer able to contain their own irritation.
Atiku’s tactics have apparently yielded some results. In most of the states led by the dissidents, the local party authorities have peeled away from the governors to organise support for Atiku.
But Mr Wike has also fought them with an iron fist in Rivers. A group of party stalwarts were rounded up by the police at a meeting and arraigned before a magistrate for alleged involvement in cultism. The magistrate promptly granted the police leave to keep them in custody until the day after the general election.
Mr Wike also cancelled a permit granted to the Atiku campaign for its rally in Port Harcourt. After the local party officials decided to prepare an alternative venue, the governor reissued the original permit and the police towed away equipment being used to prepare the alternative venue for the rally. Atiku has now postponed the rally. Even more concerning for the PDP, local officials have reported that Mr Wike has directed party supporters, government officials and traditional rulers to switch their support to Mr Tinubu of the APC.
In Abia, Oyo and Benue, the governors also did not show up at Atiku’s rallies in their state capitals. Last week, the party expelled some candidates connected to them. But it seems the PDP still does not know what to do about the dissident governors. With Mr Obi evidently threatening its stronghold in the South-east, the PDP understandably cannot write off Mr Wike and company until the final glow of reconciliation is extinguished.
Next week, we will look at how the candidates stand in the race in the final week of the campaigns.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999