In a little over five months, millions of eligible voters in Nigeria will take their destiny in their hands as they decide who takes over the reins as President. February 2023’s general elections might be the most critical in the nation’s course to achieve sustainable growth and development, considering the dire socioeconomic and sociopolitical situation it has grappled with in recent years.
Going into election year, let’s take a look at the critical players in Nigeria’s polity that are under the spotlight for all Nigerians and keen international observers.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu
Perhaps the most important player in any election cycle in Nigeria, INEC is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring a free and fair election and the preservation of the country’s democracy.
Starting with the registration and issuance of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) to eligible voters, effective distribution of ballots across all communities on election day, and credible count and dissemination of results, INEC has its work cut out in maintaining the citizens’ trust in the electoral process.
Notably, the task of INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu has been given a boost with the signing of the new Electoral Act by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Electoral Act, 2022, seeks to regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Council elections and thereby provide Nigerians with an air of optimism that their will in the next general elections will prevail.
President Muhammadu Buhari
The outgoing President’s influence is widely regarded by political analysts and observers as a critical factor in the ruling party, All Progressive Congress’ candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ambition to lead Nigeria for the next four years. President Buhari remains a force in Nigeria’s political sphere and there is no doubt he will be throwing his weight behind Tinubu when the campaign floodgates are flung open in the coming weeks, as he’ll be seeking to establish his party’s dominance at the Federal level for another four years. How much of that weight he’d make available for the APC candidate remains to be seen as after running in five consecutive presidential elections himself, he may just be looking to sit this one out. Sit it out or not, his influence or his refusal to wield same will prove telling.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
The APC’s Presidential flag bearer in the 2023 elections, Bola Tinubu boasts a stronghold in Nigeria’s politics having influenced a shift in the country’s political landscape at the State level since 1999 and the Federal level in the last eight years.
A former Lagos State Governor, Tinubu was a key player in the ACN and CPC merger that brought an end to the PDP’s 16-year dominance in the Presidential elections which saw President Buhari emerge as a democratic leader on his fourth attempt in 2015.
Now in the hot seat as a candidate vying for the position of the country’s number one citizen, Tinubu, 70, will be hoping he has what it takes to convince Nigerians he is capable of turning their fortunes around for the better in order to secure their votes next year. Interestingly, this is his first ever run for the top job.
Like Buhari, Atiku has been relentless in his ambition to lead Africa’s largest economy. The Adamawa native has unsuccessfully contested five times for the Office of President of Nigeria, with the closest he has been to the political seat a Vice Presidential position from 1999 to 2007.
Now the Presidential flag bearer for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), one of Nigeria’s strongest political parties, Atiku will be hoping to be sixth time lucky in his quest to gain the seat at Aso Villa. Atiku’s chances, like other presidential aspirants, will be hinged on his ability to convince the electorate he has the most reliable strategies to drive the nation’s growth and development. There are many who believe this is going to be his last shot for the presidency, except he wins.
APC Chairman Senator Abdullahi Adamu Senator Abdullahi Adamu already succeeded where the PDP’s Adamu Muazu failed; keeping his party from imploding and strengthening it after a well contested primaries election. After the several delays and controversies before his emergence as the party’s choice for Chairman by a consensus, he helped to manage a party primaries process that seemed ready to consume the party. His experienced leadership and staying power helped navigate the party through those troubled waters. The former celebrated lawyer, farmer and veteran politician is now fully focused on ensuring the emergence of Bola Tinubu as Nigeria’s next president.
Although the onus lies with Adamu – first Governor of Nasarawa State – to curtail any internal ramblings within the APC camp ahead of the polls, more importantly, he will be looking to facilitate successful campaigns across all states in the country in the coming months to bolster Tinubu’s chances. Considering his political history and his ability to emerge as a winner more often than not, not many will bet against him.
Not a few people were surprised when Kachikwu defeated Kingsley Moghalu, Chukwuka Monye, and eight other aspirants to emerge as the 2023 presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) during the party’s primaries in June. Since then, many Nigerians have turned their attention to the businessman and Roots Television founder as he silently builds his reputation among the electorate.
A younger brother of Ibe Kachikwu, the Former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Kachikwu will fancy his chances at the polls alongside his counterparts from more popular political parties. He is running under a political party that was founded 20 years ago and has played its role in subsequent elections ever since. Kachikwu’s emergence as the ADC presidential candidate and in the manner in which many did not see that coming is seen as a reason many believe he’d have a joker up his belt. He is running with Ahmed Buhari, seen as a strategic choice of running mate because of his own popularity amongst young people in the north.
Having contested for the position of Vice President alongside Atiku in the 2019 elections and refusing to play second fiddle in the next election year, Peter Obi has left the PDP to become a force in the presidential race on the platform of the Labour Party.
The former Anambra Governor currently enjoys more goodwill than anyone else amongst the challengers to APC and PDP’s telling influence. His quest to become the country’s next president is largely built on a following that sees him as their biggest chance for a change in the old order. It hasn’t mattered that he served in the economic team of the immediate past president and was a PDP member only months ago. If the Labour Party were to deploy some order and strategy to the following that was initially driven by social media and now finds expression on the streets, not many will be shocked to see Obi emerge as one of the men to beat during the election next year.
Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso
Presidential candidate for the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Kwakwanso has proven himself to be a man of dogged determination, refusing to step down from his ambition to lead Nigeria for the next four years despite mounting pressure. The former Kano State governor has thrown himself into the mix of top-rated presidential candidates in the February 2023 general elections and continues to express confidence that the electorate would make the ultimate decision of picking him as the man to set Nigeria on a new path. He is considered a major factor in the elections and this is because whether he runs the race to its end or decides to back another candidate, his decision will prove telling on the distribution of votes and their attendant effect on the final result. Kwakwanso, unlike his challengers, built a political party from the ground up and while he hasn’t enjoyed as much social media attention as others, he is a time-tested politician and has a movement on ground capable of making a major impression next year.
Senator Aishatu Ahmed (Binani)
The first female governorship candidate in Adamawa, 51-year-old Aishatu Ahmed defeated former EFCC boss Nuhu Ribadu and former governor Bindow to clinch the parrty’s ticket. That in itself was a major statement of intent. She will test her popularity among the people of Adamawa against her male counterparts from other parties.
Currently a serving Senator representing Adamawa Central senatorial district in the 9th Assembly and also chairing the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Aishatu Ahmed has courted public goodwill for executing some community-friendly projects in the past few years.
If she wins, she would become Nigeria’s first elected female governor. Organisations like Elect-HER, led by Ibijoke Faborode, are working to get more women into politics and government, Binani would be serving them a lot of hope and adrenaline were she to emerge winner.
Governor Nyesom Wike
Perhaps the most intriguing character in the 2023 presidential race, Wike has polarised opinions on his willingness to remain PDP’s strong man going into the elections. Since the Rivers State governor, known for his political doggedness, narrowly missed out on securing his party’s presidential slot during the primaries, he has publicly been at the forefront of conversations around Atiku’s candidature with controversial innuendos and displays.
As he continues to demonstrate, Wike holds the cards to douse the ramblings within the PDP camp and is poised to play a pivotal role in the party and Atiku’s chances of becoming President when Nigerians file out to vote their choice in February. He is expected to ultimately commit himself to the PDP cause but were he to decide otherwise, that could prove on factor too much for Atiku’s chances in the south-south and south-east.
Williams, a social commentator wrote from Abuja.