It is our considered opinion that no matter who becomes its candidate, the APC would likely be the party best placed to win the presidential election in 2023. The PDP is courting an imminent implosion with the recent developments within the party. The infighting, driven by self interest and over bloated egos, will most likely continue into the 2023 election, which would significantly weaken the opposition party in the run-up to the poll.
We started this series penultimate week with permutations regarding the conventions and congresses of Nigeria’s two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the run-up to the 2023 general elections. Last week, we examined the different scenarios that may play out during the primaries of the two political parties. In the concluding part of this series, we shall pick up our crystal ball once more to see what may play out during the 2023 campaigns and the actual elections.
In about 17 months, on February 23, 2023 precisely, Nigerians will troop out to vote for a president who will succeed President Buhari and most likely lead Africa’s biggest economy into the third decade of the 21st century. The choice will be between the two major political parties, the APC and the PDP. Chances are that a third notable party might emerge to galvanise many interests that are not accommodated by the two major parties. This party we shall refer to as the “Unknown Galvanised Party”, just as a name describing a highly plausible category of analysis. As usual, many other smaller parties who survived the weeding by INEC will be on the ballot.
A study of the evolution of our electoral contest shows that every election has its own distinctive and unique character, even as the fundamentals of elections, generally, have not changed much. A victory for the ruling APC or opposition PDP will not necessarily mean public acceptance or approval of their respective policies and programmes. However, a victory for a third platform will represent a definitive statement by Nigerians that they have rejected the old order and want a new direction; a breadth of fresh air. I have my doubts about the possibility of this third electoral scenario, though.
Religion and ethnicity may not be the only determinants of the outcome of the presidential election, even though we acknowledge their huge impacts on it. The strength of the political platform or party affiliation, its organisational capability, resources, and network, may be the only constants to the choice of an electorate that is feeling frustrated by the policies and decisions of the two major political parties, but which has limited options. Party influence will not be based on conviction or ideology but perceived “herd mentality”. Political actors will drift to the perceived winning side. Therefore, I see a new electoral map of the country emerging after 2023.
All parties ought to face an electorate that wants to see a competent, cosmopolitan, and confident president, with a concise and coherent agenda to fix insecurity, address bourgeoning national poverty and unemployment, and revamp the economy. Yet, not less than 42 per cent of Nigerians, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (2020), live below the poverty line, as such their priorities might not be strategic economic development issues but mundane survival considerations. The major political parties will need strong messages, new narratives, and new campaign strategies to make impact, as citizens are weary of failed promises. Nigerians, mostly youths, are getting more sophisticated and frustrated. The greater number of the elites do not go out to vote and may, therefore, have no influence on the outcome of the elections. The 2023 presidential election may be a referendum on the future of Nigeria.
Five key issues could determine the outcome of the February 23 presidential election. These include: the geopolitical zones of the candidates, money, the dispostion of the incumbent president, the personality of the candidates, and voter turnout/party mobilisation. First, on the zone of origin of the candidates: There are clear indications that the mood of Nigerians in the Southern part of the country is for a president of Southern extraction this time around. Historical antecedents support this. Whenever the nation seems to be at a crossroads in our history, the Northern elite is always disposed towards building consensus to preserve the country’s unity. Nigerian politics have always been provincial, and very few can ignore the delicate balance of ethnicity. Any party that presents a Southern candidate ought to enjoy more support, going into 2023.
The president has enormous powers: He can influence the electoral body, security agencies and also raise money quickly. Whether having a do-or-die attitude to getting his own into office, is statesmanly or indifferent, the president’s disposition will substantially affect the outcome of the general elections. President Buhari has shown marked statesmanship in the past elections. Would he continue in this stead or do we expect a different disposition?
If both major national parties have candidates from the South, then it might be a fair contest. For instance, if the APC eventually picks its candidate from the Southern part of the country, against a Northern candidate on the platform of PDP, the party may make a deliberate attempt to sell the candidate as a symbol of national unity and cohesion. If PDP picks a candidate from the North, against a Southern candidate on the platform of APC, that might give them the chance of winning, since they may get a substantial bloc of Northern votes on the basis of ethnic sentiments. This could be vice versa.
The second issue is that of money, at a time that poverty and hunger have had devastating effects on the psyche of the people in the country. Elections cost money, and the party with a deeper pocket stands a better chance of influencing the electoral outcome. Nigeria has nearly 100 million people living below the poverty line and almost 54 per cent of employable youths are not gainfully engaged. This reality makes poverty and hunger powerful tools that would influence the outcome of the election.
Voting will most likely be transactional, as votes have monetary value in Nigeria and they will be sold and bought. Voters may prefer instant gratification. This anomaly is worse because voters feel there is no accountability in government, and as such they have a sense of entitlement to get their rewards instantly. Money will also play a key role in mobilisation and the logistics of getting voters out to exercise their suffrage. The set limit of the campaign and electoral expenditure will be meaningless, no matter how well monitored.
The third issue is that of the disposition of the incumbent president. The president has enormous powers: He can influence the electoral body, security agencies and also raise money quickly. Whether having a do-or-die attitude to getting his own into office, is statesmanly or indifferent, the president’s disposition will substantially affect the outcome of the general elections. President Buhari has shown marked statesmanship in the past elections. Would he continue in this stead or do we expect a different disposition?
The fourth issue is the personality of the candidates and their records. Likely, the 2023 election campaigns would be about the individuals on the ballot, those representing the two major political parties, or what they symbolise. There would be attempts to deify the flagbearers of the two major political parties and sell them as the messiahs who would turn the country into an Eldorado. There may also be an attempt to sell what the individual represents, for instance, the ‘youthfulness’ of a presidential candidate. Ordinarily, anyone who is above 40 years of age cannot be a ‘youth’. However, Nigeria currently runs some quasi-gerontocracy, and any candidate below the age of 60 is considered ‘youthful’. The APC and PDP have run out of new promises to make to Nigerians. There are hardly substantive things with which to entice the populace. So, 2023 may be a time to clutch to straws. Little has changed in Nigeria after 16 years of PDP and six years of APC in power. So, the electorate may be tired of campaign promises from the candidates promising change or improvement.
The fifth issue is the mobilisation and turnout of voters. The campaigns of the 2023 presidential election would be very challenging for the two major political parties. APC can no longer run its campaign on the message of change. The PDP too would find it difficult to sell ‘change’ to Nigerians to get back to power at the centre, maybe because most Nigerians do not remember the days of the PDP with nostalgia. In many quarters, the 16-year rule of the Peoples Democratic Party is considered a period of squandered opportunities, wasted resources, and the institutionalisation of corruption and impunity. A school of thought believes that the PDP put the country in a deep hole, and that the APC cannot exit this bottomless pit. The two parties are also bereft of ideology, as such nothing in that regard would move the needle for most Nigerians. The APC and PDP have well-crafted and excellent manifestos. But those are only on paper. On the actual implementation of policies or performance in office, both parties have been driven by personal interests, political, ethnic, religious, and other exigent selfish considerations. It has never been about ideological leanings or concerns.
The country is currently on tenterhooks.The security and economic challenges that Nigerians are facing are so dire. As it is, any attempt to subvert the will of the people by rigging the 2023 election may take the country across the cliff, from where recovery may be impossible. To this end, both the Independent National Electoral Commission and the major political players should realise that it would not be business as usual in 2023
By the way, Nigerian politicians switch political parties at will in such a nauseating manner that clearly shows that the parties are only platforms for the attainment of political power. Political office holders willing to change parties are accepted with fanfare in their destinations, irrespective of their achievements or lack thereof in office.
Surprisingly, development and policy issues are not among the top five factors that will determine the February 23, 2023 election. With a population that suffers material deprivation, less than 5 per cent usually pays attention to strategic policy issues. The electorates are generally issues-averse, and only a tiny section of the elite care about development concerns.
The state of the economy, insecurity, transparency and accountability in government and their corollary will only be issues among a negligible per cent of the elite, and these would have no bearing on the outcome of the election. Beyond the acronym and symbols of the parties, most Nigerian voters do not know what they stand for or how they plan to address key development challenges. Winning the election will depend on the candidate that mobilises an excellent turnout of voters and convinces them to vote for him/her, which requires hard work and the deployment of huge volumes of cash. The real battle is between those wishing to win the election and those working hard to win for the sake of the country they want. Those who go to work will always triumph, but the question is, what kind of country do they want?
It is our considered opinion that no matter who becomes its candidate, the APC would likely be the party best placed to win the presidential election in 2023. The PDP is courting an imminent implosion with the recent developments within the party. The infighting, driven by self interest and over bloated egos, will most likely continue into the 2023 election, which would significantly weaken the opposition party in the run-up to the poll. The party has been losing essential members like state governors and members of the National Assembly to the APC. Most of the governors who will stay back in the party may not have much at stake, and they would become virtually lame ducks. With their immunity from criminal prosecution coming to an end, they may not be keen on committing substantial resources to the party’s presidential campaign. The APC also has its own crisis. However, the power and pull of incumbency would always force some members to bury their grievances and work to see that the party wins the election.
The country is currently on tenterhooks.The security and economic challenges that Nigerians are facing are so dire. As it is, any attempt to subvert the will of the people by rigging the 2023 election may take the country across the cliff, from where recovery may be impossible. To this end, both the Independent National Electoral Commission and the major political players should realise that it would not be business as usual in 2023. If most Nigerians feel that their votes did not count, the subsequent cataclysm may be such that may bury the country permanently.
In conclusion, ethnicity or geopolitics, hunger and its twin – money politics, petty sentiments, and a party platform with no meaning will always trump over the difficult choices needed to build a prosperous nation out of a fractured, disoriented country. The election in February 2023 will reveal the option that Nigerians prefer.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.
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