Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), disclosed that it has 93.4 million voters in its voter register. Not all these people will vote because of other intervening forces, but it marked a significant leap in the registeration of voters compared with previous elections. It also shows that voter consciousness is improving day by day, in addition to other factors that will make the next presidential election the most competitive and dramatic.
With improved technology as allowed by the 2022 Electoral Act came Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV), which have made rigging nearly impossible, on paper, so far with the exception of some governorship elections, even though presidential election is hugely different from governorship. In the past, massive rigging was perpetuated by politicians who used all means—fair and foul to help themselves to power. Those so elected are still in power lording it over us, but in the course of time and with improved technology, the bad eggs masquerading as leaders will be weeded out. I’m that optimistic. Already there are indications that it is no longer business as usual. The days of writing results in private residences or election results changing enroute collation centres are over.
This election means a lot, to those contesting and voters. It has turned former friends to foes; that is Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; and Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, all tearing themselves apart to get ahead of the other, and voters are eager to see their votes count. The social media and burgeoning youth population are huge reservoirs of voting population to tap from. The youth who now constitute a quarter of the voting populace of 37 million according to INEC are eager to exercise their franchise which they had been systematically denied over the years.
The Peter Obi factor has been a big push in the ongoing presidential campaign. Obi, who is turning out to be a disruptor has also become a rallying figure for the youth who are vociferous on social media and aggressive on the field. It is not a surprise that he is also receiving pot-shots from the conventional political parties and gladiator-candidates like Atiku and Tinubu. At no time since the return of civil rule in 1999 has the nation seen a ‘pragmatic’ candidate giving established figures a run for their money in political campaign as it is today. Obi is the real game-changer, the real deal that may upset the apple cart. Not to talk of the Kwankwasiyya movement giving the Northern political establishment reasons to rethink their campaign strategy.
By this time in 2015, pundits could predict where victory was tilting toward. That was the era of the Buhari phenomenon. However, with this election, no one has the crystal ball clarity to categorically predict the winner.
Understandably, the frontrunners are also getting desperate to get as many groups and voters generally to themselves
The despondency of candidates is further exacerbated by our agelong divisive issues of ethnicity and religion rearing their fangs again. In an attempt to sway support, candidates appeal to these sentiments of ‘I’m your own, give me your votes, and I’ll treat you specially’, reminiscent of the provincial cabal government of the Buhari administration.
In this category, many of them have been caught pants down. From Tinubu’s ‘emilokan’ to Atiku’s alleged rhetoric to Northern sentiment during his Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) engagement to Peter Obi’s subtle appeal to Christian voters. All of them, without exception are guilty by association.
Therefore, for the players in the industry, the 2023 election is a make or mar. Atiku has been contesting for the presidency since 2003 or since he was in his 50s. Now as an old man in his 70s, this is probably the last chance he has before he throws in the towel and bows out.
So, for him, it is either now or never, supposedly. Same thing applies to Tinubu who claimed the presidency is his lifetime ambition, and has thrown a lot of money into it and is equally advanced in age. Although, Obi is relatively young, there is no candidate from the South East that has got fanatical following and acceptable across the country like him.
So, while the leading candidates are scrambling to outdo one another in a desperate bid to become president, they throw everything at their disposal including patronage, material things and monetary inducements to court and draw the voters and influencers to themselves.
Look at the embarrassing revelations by a so-called former Atiku associate, Mike Achimugu about diverting contracts and that of Tinubu’s Support Group Coordinator in Kano state, Baffa Dan Agundi on how Tinubu’s daughter gave him the sum of 10 million as an appreciation for the success of Tinubu’s Kano outing. There is no length the candidates and their henchmen would not reach to win hearts and minds.
So, if you think the election is about the progress of Nigeria or good governance, think twice. With what we are seeing now, the patriotic ones are not yet born, and national interest is still a mirage.
Meanwhile, none of these candidates have spoken to the resurgence of insecurity such as the Edo train attack, the Zamfara kidnapping spree and the bestial incineration of a reverend father in Niger state.
While their campaigns are about personal attacks, whose corruption is bigger and direct insults, the slippery slope of the economy, the sky-rocketing cost of foods and reduction in quality of lives, against the impunity around
us do not matter much or so it seems.
Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist; she chairs Blueprint Editorial Board