Commentary: Mixed Feelings As Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Election Takes Shape

On Wednesday, Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress announced Bola Ahmed Tinubu as its Presidential candidate.

Tinubu had defeated other aspirants by a landslide, as he had 955 votes more than the next candidate with the highest votes, Rotimi Amaechi. The Minister of Transportation had 316 votes.

One of the most respected politicians in the country, and National Leader of the ruling party, Tinubu contended with Nigeria’s current Vice President, the Senate President and others, including state governors to emerge. 

The politicking that led to his emergence was shrouded in deep-rooted alliance and final-minute change of position by some aspirants.

Labeled a sort of kingmaker and a brilliant man to have in a politician’s corner, Tinubu labeled his desire to become President a “lifelong ambition” when he declared his interest earlier in January. 

Since he came to prominence in the 90s through his ordeals in the hands of the Nigerian military and his exile from the country, to his return to Nigeria’s democracy in 1999, Tinubu has always been seen as a potential Presidential candidate. Talks of his Presidential ambition have been a regular topic of discourse made in hushed tones, long before his declaration. 

His last political position was Lagos State governorship which he held between 1999 and 2007. Ever since, he has been a proponent of two failed Presidential bids – by Nuhu Ribadu and Atiku Abubakar, now his foremost opposition and was largely involved in the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. 

Tinubu’s emergence as the candidate of the APC has been seen by party insiders as a major political victory considering the calibre of candidates the party will be facing in the polls in 2023. Although a Yorùbá South Westerner, his political strides are recognised round the country and has a vast political reach across tribal and religious lines. 

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Tinubu Emerges As Ruling Party’s Flagbearer But Concerns Are Rife 

While Tinubu’s antecedents are rated highly in the country along political spheres, his popularity along Nigeria’s youthful population is perceptively reducing.

On social media, especially Twitter where there are divided opinions about what he represents, there are many critics of his health status and quite a number of people still link him to the EndSARS debacle.

His emergence on Wednesday was taken with mixed reactions as his supporters celebrated while others blamed the party for preparing to field an “unfit” man. 

Next year, Tinubu will be 71, an age range Nigerians are critical of considering the health struggles faced by Muhammadu Buhari early in his administration. Buhari became Nigeria’s President at 73, on his fourth attempt. 

Tinubu, credited by his supporters for being the ‘architect of modern Lagos’, Africa’s most populous city and a microcosmic image of Nigeria in its sprawling and fleeting beauty, and deep-rooted struggles, has however played this down and said he’s mentally fit to preside over the country. 

“A President’s job is not to climb mountain, a wrestling match, or carry concrete; it is to think and perform with his brain.

“We are not looking for WWE wrestling fighter; we are looking for a thinker to provide security for us; we are looking for a doer who will look at economic opportunities and turn it around to prosperity,” Tinubu stated in May. 

Tinubu vs Atiku: Battle of Old-time, now Geriatric Friends 

Atiku, the Presidential candidate of the PDP, currently Nigeria’s main opposition will be 77 in 2023. Rumoured to be Tinubu’s business associate, both men have come together at different points in the past, although it mostly ended in defeat.

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Their relationship has lasted at least three decades, although they’ve also been political rivals based on party affiliations at different points.

Their contest in 2023 is worrisome to Nigerian youths who say the nation’s governance is fast becoming a gerontocracy.

On paper, Atiku and Tinubu will be the most popular on the ballot in 2023 and arguably have the strongest clout of the candidates but a section of Nigeria’s massively youthful population believes it’s a wrong representation of what the country needs. 

Atiku has vied to become President four times since 1999 and has participated in every democratic election in the country since 1993. His desire to become President is as strong as that of his 2023 opposition, and at both men’s ages, they know it’s probably their last shot at becoming Nigeria’s biggest political office holder. 

However, what their emergence holds for the nation sparks little confidence among the bustling youths, many of whom claim to be tired of the old political class. 

Peter Obi, Rabiu Kwankwaso and a More Powerful Third Force 

Former Governor of Anambra State and Atiku’s running mate in 2019, Peter Obi is building a strong army of youthful followers. Their social media presence is of note and are impressively advancing.

Some notable Nigerian celebrities, believed to be of great social influence have so far offered a hand in pushing Obi’s candidacy to the people’s ears. 

Obi, who will be 61 in 2023 is seen as the ideal Presidential candidate due to his exposure, political antecedents, vast knowledge and age. While his clout is not as great as Tinubu or Atiku’s, Nigerian youths, especially on social media believe a significant seismic change can be achieved in convincing the average Nigerian to vote for Obi with the right efforts. 

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Flying the Labour Party flag, Obi represents the idea of a Nigerian President for many but his party, in a country of usually popularity-influenced voters has a great work on its hands. 

Completing what seems a four-horse race is the Presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPP, Rabiu Kwankwaso. 

A 65-year old former Kano State Governor and one of the biggest political figures in Northern Nigeria, Kwankwaso has an impressive army of loyal foot soldiers. 

His political reach traverses Nigeria with a strength in the North West of the country, especially Kano State. 

As a result of the huge population he controls in the North West, Kwankwaso’s candidacy is of significant importance to the final political calculation. 

With the 2023 election now taking shape, and candidates emerging, it’s time to see the games play out as Nigerians make their choices.

The country is currently broken along tribal, religious, ethnic and social lines, and the candidate who has the solution to these problems may seem the ideal one. However, Nigerian elections have often time been more about popularity contests than issues-based polity.  The coming months hold a lot in revelations. 

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