By Segun Ogunlade
The 2023 election is beginning to gain momentum as more politicians begin to join the presidential race across the two leading political parties in Nigeria. From March 1 2022 till date, Yemi Osinbajo, Nyesom Wike, Yahaya Bello, Rotimi Amaechi, Peter Obi, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal and Ibikunle Amosunhave all indicated interest to occupy the highest political office in the land. Before then, Bukola Saraki, Dave Umahi, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Orji Uzor Kalu, and Dele Momodu also declared interest. This put at double figures the number of men jostling with one another to be the helmsman of the country.
Of particular interest is the beef that is now brewing between the camps of Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) and Professor Yemi Osinbajo (PYO). The former has already stated clearly that he had no son that was old enough to contest for president when he was asked by a journalist in the wake of PYO’s declaration. BAT is a political godfather to many politicians especially in the South-west, and many see PYO as one of his political godsons. The duo had walked together between 1999 to 2007. The godfather was the governor of Lagos State and the godson was the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice. After that time, BAT grew to become one of the finest politician in Nigeria,eventually rising to become the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and PYO became the Vice-President of Nigeria after a while in the oblivion. Now, the godfather has one of his godsons to competing to be the nation’s number one citizen.
It was first a whisper. Then it became a rumour on the streets. Then the rumour metamorphosed into truth as we now have it. Every political-inclined is aware that the Asiwaju has his gaze on the presidential seat. Is he qualified? There is no doubt about that. But is he bodily fit and mentally equipped enough for the role considering his age and health? Well, there is an ongoing debate about that. If you believe his intelligence level is like that of the incumbent president, you have millions of people that want him on the throne to convince.
As a politician, his influence transcends Lagos that is his home. His tentacles spread outside his Bourdillion residence. He has numerous political allies among his immediate kinsmen in the west, and that extends to the north, east and south of the country. A former Senator, BAT is also a two-time governor of Lagos state, the economic capital of the nation. Many see him as the architect of modern Lagos that laid the groundwork for the development of the state. His efforts in good governance were consolidated by Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), between 2007 and 2015. Although Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has fallen remarkably short as a governor of the state that has seen both BAT and BRF rule, he has endeared himself to the Asiwaju by continued allegiance.
BAT’s health has come under scrutiny for some time now. Many believe he is just a little healthier than President Buhari who has a degree in medical tourism. According to a Sahara Reporters report in 2021, he underwent a knee surgery and physiotherapy in London. In February 2022, videos of BAT emerged, showing his hands shaking repeatedly, thereby raising concerns among his admirers and detractors alike. This came after he was alleged to have peed on himself during a visit to some monarchs in Ogun State. This has been denied by his support group but it is not enough to make the suspicion go away. He needs to prove he could cope with the pressure with ruling the most populous black nation.
Besides that, he needs to be wary of the threat his religious affiliation might pose to his ambition. BAT is a Muslim. His level of devotion to the things of Allah, that I cannot tell. As a Muslim, the problem he would face is getting a northern Christian that could command votes from the Muslim-dominated north. Many of the southerners that vied for the same position before him have been Christians and thus have had little problem picking strong Muslims running mate. The same applies to the northerners who have contested before now. The last time people of the same religious faith ran on a joint ticket was in1993 when the late MKO Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe contested under the aegis of Social Democratic Party (SDP). Nigeria has since grown to be a place where religion and ethnicity are determining factors at a time like this.
Should BAT clinch the APC ticket, picking a fellow Muslim from the north would be unwise unless he could successfully pitch a Muslim-Muslim ticket to the over 100 million Christians in Nigeria. That means he would need a strong Christian politician whose credibility can be vouched for in the most important northern states. If that person is neither from the North-east nor the North-West, it means he or she would be from one of the minor ethnic groups in the north-central. That is equally problematic as choosing a Muslim fellow. The major turnout of votes we have had from states in the north-west and the north-east was because their kinsmen were involved. And they are also Muslims.
Picking a southern Christian or anyone else for that matter from the south would mean jeopardizing his chance with the northerners. It would mean he is oblivious of the north-south alignment. And as a prospective presidential candidate of the APC, he cannot be oblivious of this fact. Doing so would be precarious. However, BAT as we know him is a man of remarkable political ingenuity and he would not allow this stand in his way should he emerge. I believe if he ever gets to that river, he would devise a way to cross it.
However, some people are of the belief that his godson is a better candidate. In fact, some would be happy to see the Asiwaju sacrifice his ambition for that of Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Apart from being apparently in a good physical condition than BAT, PYO is also believed to be more cerebral than his godfather. A father, a politician, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), he also seems to be a favourite of the younger generation of Nigerians. Many believe he could only be matched by Peter Obi in terms of intelligence and acumen.
As the number two citizen in a country that has seen so much decline into spates of killings, banditry, rising inflation and unemployment and economic hardship since 2015 when he first entered the Villa, that would count against him in many fronts when things are put into proper context. There have been many economic downs since the ascension of President Buhari, many of which the country needs to recover from as soon as possible.
For example, the official exchange rate that was between N150 and N200 naira per dollar before the APC takeover in 2015 has now risen to around N400 and N420 in 2022. This means the naira has suffered terrific depreciation under Professor Yemi Osinbajo and his boss. Add to that the inflation rate that has risen from 9.3% to 15.7% and the unemployment rate that has soared from 9.2% to 33.3% between 2015 and 2022. Foreign debt has increased from $10.3 billion in 2015 to $38 billion in 2022 while domestic debt has risen from N10.1 trillion in 2015 to N22.4 in 2022. Even more is the increase in the price of petrol, diesel and kerosene from N87, N151, and N198 in 2015 to N165, N650, and N415 in 2022 respectively.
Throughout this time, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is the head of the economic team. Could it be said that he is a square peg in a round hole occupying that position? Well, the opinion of people differs on that. Fortunately, many of the people that would vote at the primary election of his party and at the general election don’t know about these facts and those that know might make nothing of it when making their decisions. Besides, many people believe he is only a Vice-president and couldn’t do much of the things he would have loved to do both as he is not the captain of the ship.
In the midst of these economic uncertainties, the beneficiaries of his National Livestock Transformation Programme, Trader Moni, and N-Power would forever be grateful to him. These beneficiaries include the over 500,000 graduates that were engaged under the N-Power scheme, and owners of small businesses, petty traders, and market women who enjoyed collateral-free loan. Add to this the assertion in some quarters that his N2.3 trillion plan is the reason Nigeria got out of the recession that was brought about by the deadly Covid-19 that ravaged the whole world in 2020.
We are beginning to see PYO’S loyalty and trust being questioned ever since he declared his intention. Some people see him as a betrayer and others consider him an ingrate. All for coming out against his godfather. But Uncle Leke believes he has so much to offer Nigerians beginning from 2023.He had even promised to continue where his current boss would stop. That promise is riddled with meaning. But we are waiting to see if he could triumph over what the inadequacies of APC in office could bring his way should he emerge.
Will his ethnicity and religion also count against him should he emerge? In my opinion, they might be if his major opponent in the candidate of the PDP is either from the South-south or the South-east. It would mean two Southerners who are both Christians are the two leading candidates. As a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, PYO is already a darling of many Christians across the country. But as the APC flagbearer, he would need a running mate from the North-west or from the North-east at least. A southern presidential candidate from the PDP would also pick a running mate from the north. That means both the north and the south would be in a strong contention. If PYO as APC flagbearer goes out of either the north-west or the north-east to pick a Muslim running mate, it could be problematic. North-central doesn’t have the number of votes that either of the two regions could pull for a strong Muslim candidate.
In the west, Yoruba delegates in the APC would have a hard time choosing between BAT and PYO. The six governors in the region could be facing the same dilemma. Already, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State is in the opposition party and he would less likely desert his party candidate so any of his kinsmen could reign. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State is rock-solid behind BAT and has been seen in the company of the latter at many times. Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State also seem to be in support of BAT. The role of BAT in his emergence as the governor of Osun in 2018 made him politically indebted to him, although he now has an election of his own to contest in Osun. Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State seems to be indifferent about BAT and PYO and seems to be treading carefully at the moment. But Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State seems to be tending to his own ambition and some believe he could join the race himself. That means it could be hard to tell where his loyalty lies. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State seems to have an axe to grind with the Asiwaju. I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose the godson over the godfather. These men have power in their states and who they choose to give their loyalty to would get a considerable number of supporters from among their people.
Thus, both BAT and PYO need the support of their kinsmen at the helm of affairs of their states as they would the support of politicians from other regions. As they say, charity begins at home. If they couldn’t garner enough support among their people, they might find same hard to get outside. This is so especially as the Ohaneze Ndigbo is beginning to see the two men as men that could not be trusted since they are both aware that the Igbos want an Igbo president. After all, no president has ever come out from that region and they believe it is their turn to rule since they are often marginalized.
We are waiting to see if either of these APC favourites would clinch the party’s ticket or we have to look somewhere else.
Segun Ogunlade writes from Port Harcourt.