It should be easily understandable when even some atheists cannot resist the temptation to read the emergence of the above gentlemen as presidential candidates of small and big parties at the same time as God’s own electoral examination for Nigerians. Otherwise, how might anyone explain or expect a deeply, deeply divided national community to be able to choose one out of a list, each of whom is a signification of the Nigerian tragedy?
Peter Obi speaks to youth preference for neo-populist injection into democracy, notwithstanding the ideological limitations of populism. Al Mustapha who superintended General Sani Abacha’s personal security in the Presidency at that time and was put away in prison for quite some time speaks to a variant of the ‘come back kid’ just as Kola Abiola will strike a portion of the electorate as the scion of the Abiola family who deserves some more compensation. Such people will vote for the People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) whose presidential candidate Kola is. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is some puzzle in his ability to bounce back, both in Kano and now in Nigeria. This is not to talk about Atiku Abubakar about whom the idealism of ‘let’s give him a chance to see why he so much wants to be president’. And, lastly, Asiwaju Tinubu, the kingmaker’s kingmaker fighting out the kingmaker’s paradox.
From this list, the country is supposed to be able to make a choice at a time insularity and localism are the definitive prisms undergirding political choices across the national space. Interestingly, they are making the choices in a manner that is making the impossible possible. In the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), Atiku Abubakar emerged swiftly as presidential flag bearer. In the All Progressives’s Congress, (APC) – the party in power, Asiwaju Tinubu was able to puncture all the road blocks to emerge as well. The party conventions where this happened may only be likened to Act 1, Scene 1 of the drama, they nevertheless speak to the possibility of a new model of doing things to the extent that, as elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai observed, none of these gentlemen has a military background except just one: Hamza Al Mustapha of the Action Alliance, (AA). Hamza Al Mustapha may have signification but the party itself is not that known, certainly not in the same rank as the Labour Party where Peter Obi drifted from the PDP to pitch his tent.
So, how might the voters make the choice? Atiku Abubakar was the presidential candidate of the Action Congress, (AC) in 2007 where Asiwaju Tinubu had been the landlord before embarking on his kingmaking career to bring back candidate Buhari in 2015. But 2015 was not his first move. Tinubu had proposed a merger between the AC and Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC) in 2011. In other words, Atiku and Tinubu are not new to each other, ideologically and empirically. So, which of them would make a better president in the opinion of the majority?
Although no major player has threatened to go on exile should Atiku Abubakar win the presidential contest in 2023 in the same manner that Chief Bode George, for example, has threatened should Asiwaju win, both candidates have people with strong opinion against their person and politics, quite some of that documented. The assumption is that back channel actors would now swing into action to calm such voices because, unless Peter Obi can sustain his flock into a conquering multitude, Atiku and Tinubu are all the country is faced with. And no intra-elite explosion further than what already exists is needed at this point when a large number of ordinary Nigerians have been reduced to conditions unworthy of human beings.
The university system – the only most reliable guarantor of social mobility – has basically collapsed into what a columnist calls centres for production of stark illiterates. A writer observed recently that “The trauma that people are experiencing from the acute sense of insecurity will shortly translate into all manner of ailments and psychological challenges that can trigger further security challenges”. The truism and implication of that is beyond challenge in the case of Nigeria in the last seven years. High profile attacks such as the one on an Abuja-Kaduna train, the one on a Church in Owo in Ondo State, hair-raising mass murder in Katsina and Borno on a consistent basis, all of which are rightly and wrongly blamed on the government cannot but produce the trauma this writer is referring to.
The substantive question thrown up by the totality of the challenges is the imperative for a new model, what that model would be and which of the candidates can guarantee it. And how? Neither Asiwaju nor Atiku have any document containing a statement on ideological commitment. What Atiku, for example, has is no more than a check list of what he would do. The ideological framework for accomplishing those things is missing. Asiwaju has once made an ideologically interesting statement when he appeared at the Bala Usman Memorial in 2015 but no one has heard anything from him again on that. Which of them can discipline capitalism from the present chaos, corruption and speculation, therefore, lies in speculation. The assumption is that they will end the anti-corruption rhetoric even. While that is possible, a lot of what they do eventually will not depend completely on what they wish.
It is interesting that Atiku is already talking about inclusive government. Asiwaju is talking about decentralization, if the social media is to be believed. Inclusion and decentralization are part of the discursive conditions foregrounding Nigerian politics at the moment, arising mainly from the Buhari regime’s inexplicable approaches to some of these issues.
But the question is: who of the two gets it? It would remain difficult to say until the results are out. A lot would depend on who makes the most mistakes, especially in pregnant statements to their credit already and provocative pronouncements during the coming campaign. Students of discourse analysis, especially of the post-Marxist variant, will find a lot of work to do on this when the campaign starts.
Choice of Vice-President can be such a decisive factor. Atiku will create a problem for Tinubu if he were to choose Nyesom Wike as his deputy, for instance. Although volcanic in temper, Wike is rated a great mobiliser and, above all, a signifier for both regional, religious and party resistance to the Buhari regime. Added to that is an emergent list of Southsouth sentiments in the post – Goodluck Jonathan era bordering on a perceived raw deal for the Southsouth in terms of concentration of (oil) investments outside that geography and which Wike or any politician from that region can quickly personify. It is not for nothing, said analysts, that the first runner- up in both the APC and the PDP are all from the Southsouth. That is Nyesom Wike in the PDP and Rotimi Amaechi in the APC.
So, if Wike were to quickly unlearn his Wikespeak as to be chosen, the PDP can become a nightmare for Asiwaju who may not get a ‘vulcanic’ politician like Wike from the Christian North as a Muslim-Muslim ticket has become a no-go area in Nigerian politics. Prayers are already going on here and there that the only opportunity for a Christian Northerner at that level of power since General Gowon would not be given to someone lacking in the knowledge or analytical level to be an irresistible asset to the president in the management of the modern state; lacking in the self-assuredness required to bring diverse cultural and political elements under him and who is not so selfish that s/he cannot reproduce him or herself in any discursive and/or material level while in office and thereafter. In other words, someone who has transcended the Middle Belt psychosis as to be able to flow very well in the Muslim North, Southsouth, Yorubaland and in the East is needed. Might or would the Asiwaju find the solution in a Christian Northerner who brings the gender added value to the table? And who might that be?
How it all goes promises to be interesting. This transition is the only banner of hope in town. It is very, very unlikely to be a tectonic shift in any serious ideological sense but even then what exists as the bourgeoisie in Nigeria is not a homogenous entity. There are regional, religious and cultural differences within it. It is to that extent that the 2023 election is worth the attention of critical observatory!