Nigeria is having a general election next year. It promises to be the most interesting election since the 4th republic began in 1999 (the military handed over to civilians in that year). It will be interesting because there are 3 candidates, each of whom could plausibly win and 1 additional candidate who potentially has serious spoiler value. Secondly, the 3 candidates come from the 3 major tribes. It will be interesting to see if voters have become less parochial thus voting the merits of the candidates rather than on tribal basis.
The first candidate is Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT). He is the candidate of the ruling party – The All Progressives Congress (APC). He has the advantage of federal government power. He has the most money because he controls the government of Lagos state; the richest state in the country and has allegedly used that control to extract huge sums from the state’s revenues. He is a consummate politician who has been preparing for this campaign since 2007. Even the way he won the primaries is testament to his political skills. Unfortunately for him, his party, which has ruled the country since 2015, had performed woefully. The current president probably has the worst economic record since Nigeria’s creation. Further, BAT is old. While he claims to be 70, he is probably in his mid-80s. He is also visibly frail and unhealthy, so frail that when he won the party’s primaries, he could not even hold the party flag. Another disadvantage is his choice of running mate. Nigeria’s politics is split along religious and tribal/regional lines. For balance, candidates usually come from different tribes and religions. BAT is a Yoruba from the southwest. He is also Muslim. His running mate is a Muslim Kanuri from the Northeast. This has seriously angered the northern Christian population, which even though a minority, is a sizeable minority. While BAT’s choice of running mate is due to cold political calculations, appealing to the majority Muslim northern population, it would probably cost him Christian votes in the entire country.
The second candidate is Abubakar Atiku. He is a Muslim from the northeast, and he is probably Fulani. He was vice president from 1999 to 2007 under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He has been contesting for the presidency since 1992. Listening to him, he seems to be the most prepared to govern. His campaign seems to be the most organized despite vicious infighting. Even though it is not the ruling party, it is formidable because it ruled the country from 1999 to 2015. It is also popular in the north among both Muslims and Christians. However, he is hobbled by the party’s failures. The party’s 16-year rule, while not as bad as that of the APC, is only less bad because global economic conditions were not bad, Thus, the record is only campaign worthy for those who do not know or choose to forget economics and history. Atiku also has a reputation for corruption even though he has never been charged. His being Muslim and Fulani is a factor against him because the incumbent is a Muslim Fulani man. This disrupts the tacit arrangement where the presidency is rotated between Muslims and Christians and between the majority Christian south and the majority Muslim north. Further, the Fulani are unpopular for their disproportionate influence in the country’s politics. Finally, the traditional southern bloc votes that the PDP has always relied on do not seem to be available this time because of the 3rd candidate’s popularity.
The third candidate, Peter Obi (PO) of the Labour Party (LP), is the most popular candidate. Mr. Obi is Igbo and Christian, from the southeast. He was governor of Anambra state from 2006 to 2013. He was the running mate to Atiku in 2019. In his early 60s, he is younger than the other 2. He has no taint of stealing government money because he was wealthy before going into politics and the source of his money is business. He was a good governor, by Nigerian standards. While he arguably is not “THE IGBO CANDIDATE”, his being Igbo, which is the 3rd major tribe in Nigeria (after the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba) gives his campaign a slight moral justification because the tacit agreement that rotates the presidency between regions, religions, and tribes means it is the turn of the Igbo and it is the turn of the Christians. He is incredibly popular with young people and Christians, especially in the south. However, his party, LP, is weak. It has only ever won one state government election, and this was about 8 years ago. Further, Nigeria’s tribal tensions affect the Igbo most. Due to an insufficiency of land in their region, they are the most cosmopolitan tribe because they live all over the country. They are arguably the most successful. They are also the most disliked. Many people will not vote for Peter Obi because of this tribal sentiment. Additionally, the online antics of some of his supporters have annoyed a lot of people. They are unnecessarily aggressive and react rudely to any comment about PO that is not fawning adoration.
The fourth candidate is Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People's Party. He was a successful governor of Kano state. He has no chance of winning the election because his party is new, lacking a national spread and rightly seen as nothing more than a vehicle for his ego. However, his popularity in the northwest (which has the most votes) gives him incredible spoiler potential. He will probably cut a deal with APC or PDP.
I intend to vote for Peter Obi because:
1. His candidacy and party are the least offensive. While I do not have much of a problem with either BAT or Atiku, I cannot vote for either the APC or the PDP. Those parties do not deserve my vote.
2. For fairness, the Igbo should be given a shot at the presidency. PO is the best Igbo person to contest for the presidency since 2003. This is not to say I have ever voted for someone because of tribe or religion. But, since I am a member of the majority, I think this decision is positive discrimination, which is not bad intentioned. While this rotation is not democratic and needs to be junked, it is necessary for now. If it will be stopped, it should be after the initial conditions (a turn for each region) are met.
3. His popularity among young people is driving an organic, grassroots campaign that has a strong digital component. This digital aspect is probably driven by the impulses that powered the #ENDSARS protests in 2020. If he does win, it would be a blow to the traditional politicking methods that have enabled unfit and unpopular people to connive, bribe and deal themselves into office. It could be an improvement in our electioneering process which would be good for the country.
4. The final reason is a cynical one. The northern Muslim Fulani are demonized for ruining the country because they have produced (or influenced) most of our rulers since 1960. The section of the country most vocal in its criticism is the Igbo, especially because they did not vote for the current president. Thus, I am supporting the Igbo candidate because if he wins and succeeds, it is for the good of the country. If he fails, which is likely (given the unrealistic hopes people have, the intractable nature of our problems and probably a lack of capacity since he is promising to do things (like turning Nigeria into a producing nation when he has never produced anything) that he probably cannot do) it will shut the Igbo up because the failure will be proof that they are not better than the people they have been making snarky comments about.
I have not said anything about the candidates’ ideology or manifestos. That is because regardless of what they say while campaigning, they would probably govern the same way. All the parties in Nigeria have been sort of left of center, populist, paying lip service to social welfare, and increase the size of government in a spoils system. The only one that was different was that of Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007. And if it is true that his vice president, Atiku; was the driver of the reforms at that time, then it would not be bad if Atiku wins, provided he continues with the sorts of policies implemented during his time as vice president.
This will be an interesting election. It will be interesting to see what prevails between wealth + power (APC), organization + pedigree (PDP) and popularity (LP).