The 2023 presidential election may go down in history as one most strategically fought among the three leading contestants. I will rely mainly on the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is being disputed by the first runner up, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice-President, who ran on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Even the second runner-up, Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), has gone to court, asserting that he was cheated by both Tinubu and Atiku. He claimed he has enough evidence of his victory to overwhelm the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku. This would be the first time in Nigerian history that the second runner-up according to the electoral umpire, believes he actually won.
Tinubu, the President-elect, pursued his ambition with two strategic assumptions both of which proved to be wrong. He believed that his main opponent, the PDP, would pick its candidate from the South because that was the party’s lay-down convention about zoning. President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani Northerner is ending his eighth year in office and therefore it should be the turn of the South by the old PDP rule. Second assumption of Tinubu was that the Igbo of the Southeast have been so faithful to the PDP that the party would have no choice than to pick an Igbo candidate. The last PDP President, Goodluck Jonathan, is from the Southsouth state of Bayelsa. Therefore Tinubu was right to believe that the Igbo would stick to their beloved PDP come what may. So wrong!
Atiku also invested on some glaring wrong strategic assumptions. First he believed that the majority of Igbo would never vote for a Yoruba candidate. That has been the pattern since 1999. When Igbo voted for the PDP of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, it was because they believed that the Yoruba did not want him and therefore the PDP cannot be called a Yoruba party. Though it made spectacular electoral gains in 2003 and 2007 in the Southwest, the PDP never became the Yoruba mainstream political vehicle.
The Atiku strategists believe that confronted with the choice of a Fulani Northerner and a Yoruba from the Southwest, the majority of Igbo would not hesitate to vote for another Fulani man. When the majority of Igbo voters rejected the APC in two General Elections, the perception that APC is a Yoruba party may have played a big part. In February 2023, majority of Igbo did not vote for Tinubu. They did not vote for Atiku either. They voted for their own, Peter Obi, of the LP.
It was Atiku’s strategic error that gave birth to the LP phenomenon. Atiku had toppled the apple cart of rotation and zoning to emerge as the candidate of the PDP. He had calculated correctly that the Northerner would prefer a Northern Muslim to be President than a Southern Muslim. To counter such tactical manoeuvering, Tinubu had picked a Northern Muslim running mate, warning the Northern power-brokers that Atiku’s reckless positioning would jeopardise the delicate balance between the North and the South. Many Northern leaders believed him.
Neither Tinubu nor Atiku had put Peter Obi seriously into their calculation. Obi had been an itinerant pilgrim in the corridors of power. He was a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), an Igbocentric party, and became a protégé of late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the leader of the defunct Republic of Biafra. He won the governorship election for Anambra State on the platform of the party. He vowed that he would never leave APGA, but then harkened to the siren of power and moved on to the lumbering PDP.
In 2019, he was the golden boy, who became the running mate of Atiku when the latter again made a spectacular bid for the top job. This time around, Obi invested his faith in the PDP, believing rightly that it was the turn of the South to produce the presidential candidate of the party. When he realised that Atiku and his zealots would not let go, he moved over to the LP. History was beckoning to him.
The LP was the party that brought Segun Mimiko to power in Ondo State in 2007 and after eight giddy years, the party became exhausted and Mimiko relocated eventually into the PDP.
When Obi joined the party, he proved that in politics, there is life after death. Obi breathed life into the Labour Party and made it a serious contender for national power. He made two fundamental strategic alliances that undermined the traditional assumptions of the Nigerian power brokers. First, he appealed to Igbo nationalism and transformed the energy of his people into a potent political currency. Second, he appealed to Christians, bringing many big and influential Pentecostal pastors into his camp. He was calculating, cool, ruthless, energetic and charismatic. In truth, he was the only presidential candidate his followers were ready to die for. They were fervent, mostly young, educated Christians of the Pentecostal persuasion.
The Obidients chew the figures like their hero and were ready to serve him without collecting shishi. At last, one politician has discovered the key to fervent Igbo nationalism since the era of the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Obidients represent the future of Nigerian politics when ideology and manifesto would matter. Obi’s strategic combination was good and potent. It made him to travel fast, but whether he can travel far in the long run is another matter.
There again would be a test of strength among the three leading figures this Saturday across the country. Obi’s performance at the presidential election in Lagos State where he narrowly beat City Boy, Tinubu, has energised his followers for a repeat performance. The Igbo of Lagos are said to be mobilising to support the candidate of the LP to win the governorship election against incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The LP candidate, expectedly, is also a Lagos boy, who has an Igbo mother and wife.
The APC is putting everything into the battle, stating that the Igbo, who dominate the LP, are trying to seize Lagos State from the owners. The truth is that on Saturday, no one would be able to differentiate the Igbo ballot from the Yoruba ballot. Every voter, no matter his ethnic background or his faith and ideology, is equal. In democracy, majority carry the vote. One of the cardinal and accepted consequences of democracy is the right of the people to elect a bad government.
The truth is that Lagos has always played a central role in Igbo politics. Almost all the leading lights of Igbo politics in earlier days have their Lagos stories. Chief Ojukwu was fond of saying he was a Lagos boy. His father, Sir Louis Ojukwu, was one of the biggest Lagos landlords of the 1950s and 1960s and he was honoured with a chieftaincy title by the Oba of Lagos. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe used to say the guiding principle of his life was Surulere (Patience is profitable). He had most of his businesses, including the historic West African Pilot, in Lagos.
As a young entrepreneur in Lagos of the 1930s and ‘40s, Zik was patently impatient. He built his newspaper empire by dint of relentless industry and streak of ruthlessness. He badgered his way into the leadership of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), and when he could not seize control of it, shattered it and then moved on to team up with the old lion, the incomparable Herbert Macaulay, the founder and leader of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the first political party in Nigeria. He was bold, restless, dynamic, creative and handsome. He was the ultimate orator and master of hyperbole. “Let us move through all the pages of world history,” he declared at one of his lectures at the famous Glover Hall. How Lagosians loved him!
For Zik, there can be no limit. When the colonial Constitution created regions in 1951, Zik actually wanted to become leader of the West and install a surrogate in the East until he was checkmated by the rising petrel, Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the Action Group (AG). Zik was elected a member of the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan, by Lagos voters. So, in historic term, there is nothing new or novel with the energised LP biding for power in Lagos. The LP challenge in Lagos is real. The sheer audacity of it is poignant and pregnant with consequences.
Whatever may be the outcome of Saturday’s poll, Lagos State would never be the same again. Confronted with the outcome of the 1953 riots in some parts of the North during which scores of people were killed, Dr. Azikiwe said at the House of Representatives, Lagos: “Let us forget our differences.”
Ahmadu Bello, the leader of the North, countered: “Let us understand our differences.”
May be it is time for us to listen to the ancestors.