2023: The Familiar As Unknown By Dr. Dakuku Peterside (III)

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 People’s 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 actual elections.

In about 17 months, on 23rd February 2023, precisely, Nigerians will troop out to vote for a president that will succeed President Buhari and most likely lead Africa’s biggest economy to 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 major party may emerge to galvanise many interests that are not accommodated by the two major parties. This party we shall refer to as “Unknown Galvanised Party”, for want of a better name. As usual, many other smaller parties who survived the weeding by INEC will be on the ballot.

A study of our electoral contest evolution shows that every election has its own distinctive and unique character but the fundamentals 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 this third electoral scenario, though.

Religion and ethnicity may not be the only determinants of the presidential election outcome, even though we acknowledge their huge impact. Strength of the platform or party affiliation, for its organisational capability, resources and network, may be the only constant in the choice of an electorate that is feeling frustrated by the policies and decisions of the two major political parties but have limited options. Party influence will not be based on conviction or ideology but perceived “herd mentality”. Political actors will go 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 poverty and unemployment, and revamp the economy. Yet, not less than 42% of Nigerians according to National Bureau of Statistics 2020, live below the poverty line, so their priority may not be strategic economic development issues but on mundane survival considerations. The major political parties will need a strong message, new narrative, and new campaign strategies to make impact as citizens are weary of failed promises. Nigerians, mostly youths, are getting more sophisticated and frustrated. The majority of elite class members do not come out to vote and may not influence the outcome of the elections. The 2023 election may be a referendum for the future of Nigeria.

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Five key issues could determine the outcome of the 23rd February Presidential election. These include the issue of geopolitical zone of the candidates , money, the incumbent President’s disposition, personality of the candidates, and voter turnout/party mobilisation. First is the issue of the zone of the candidates . There are clear indicators that the mood of Nigerians in the southern part of the country is for a president of southern extraction at this time. Historical antecedents support this. Whenever the nation seems to be at a crossroads in our history, the northern elite is always disposed to 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.

If both major national parties have candidates from the south, then it might be a fair contest. For instance, if the APC eventually picks their 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 for national unity and cohesion. If PDP picks a candidate from the North against a southern candidate on the platform of APC ,it may claim that gives them the chance of winning since they may get a substantial Northern vote on ethnic sentiments. This is vice versa.

The second issue is that of money at a time poverty and hunger has had a devastating effect on the psyche of the populace . Elections cost money, and the party with a deeper pocket stands a better chance to influence the election outcome. Nigeria has nearly 100 million persons living below the poverty line and almost 54% of employable youths being unemployed. This reality makes poverty and hunger a powerful tool to influence the outcome of the election.

Voting will most likely be transactional as votes will have monetary value and will be sold and bought. Voters may prefer instant gratification. This anomaly is worse because the voters feel there is no accountability in government, so they have a sense of entitlement to get their reward instantly. Money will also play a key role in mobilisation and logistics to get voters to go out and vote. The set limit of the campaign and electoral expenditure will be meaningless no matter how well monitored.

The third issue is the incumbent President’s disposition. The president has enormous powers. He can influence the electoral body, security agencies and can raise money quickly. If do-or-die, 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 an attempt to deify the flagbearers of the two major political parties and sell them as the messiah that 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 that is above 40 years 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 any campaign promises from the candidates promising change or improvement.

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The fifth issue is voters’ mobilisation and turnout. The 2023 presidential election campaigns 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. The 16 years of the PDP, in many quarters, is considered a period of squandered opportunities, wasted resources and institutionalisation of corruption and impunity. A school of thought believes that the PDP put the country in a deep hole that APC couldn’t exit the bottomless pit. The two parties are also bereft of ideology, so nothing from that area would move the needle for most Nigerians. The APC and PDP have well-crafted excellent manifestos. But that is on paper. On the actual implementation of policies or performance in office, both parties were driven by personal interests, political,  tribal, religious, and other exigent selfish considerations. It has never been about ideological leanings or concerns.

By the way, Nigerian politicians switch political parties at will in such a nauseating manner that clearly shows that the parties are only platforms to attain political power. Political office holders willing to change parties are accepted with fanfare irrespective of achievements or lack thereof in office.

Surprisingly, development and policy issues are not among the top five factors determining the 23rd February 2023 election. With a population that suffers material deprivation, less than 5% usually pays attention to strategic policy issues. The electorates are issues- averse ; only a tiny section of the elite care about development issues.

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 would have no bearing on the outcome of the elections. 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 candidates that mobilised excellent voter turnout and convinced them to vote for them, which requires hard work and deployment 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?

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It is our considered opinion that no matter who becomes their candidate, APC would likely be the party best placed to win the presidential election in 2023. The PDP is  courting imminent implosion with the recent developments within the party. The infighting, driven by self interest and over bloated ego,  will most likely continue to the 2023 elections, which would significantly weaken the opposition party in the run-up to the election. The party has been losing essential members like state governors and members of National Assembly to the APC. Most of the governors who will stay back in the party may not have much at stake, becoming virtually lame duck and their immunity coming to an end, they may not be keen to commit substantial resources to the party’s presidential campaign. The APC also has its 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. Nigerians’ security and economic challenges are so dire. As it is, any attempt to subvert the will of the populace by rigging the 2023 elections may take the country across the cliff from where we may never recover. 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 the country may not recover from it.

In conclusion, ethnicity or geopolitics, hunger and its twin money politics, petty sentiments, and a party platform with no meaning will always trump over difficult choices needed to build a prosperous nation out of a fractured, disoriented country. The election in February 2023 will reveal the option Nigerians prefer.

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