As Nigeria enters another election year, all eyes are on President Muhammadu Buhari, the heads of the security agencies, the Independent National Electoral Commission, major contestants and other dramatis personae to ensure free, fair and transparent elections that will be acceptable to all the contestants, observers and the international community, Ejiofor Alike reports
President Muhammadu Buhari
One of the factors that will shape Nigerian politics in 2023 is President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed commitment to ensure free, fair and credible general election that would be acceptable to all the contestants.
The president’s directives to the security agencies on the conduct of the elections and his support for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will have far-reaching implications on this year’s elections.
Buhari has consistently reiterated his administration’s resolve never to interfere with elections conducted by INEC.
Speaking in Lisbon, Portugal, at a meeting with representatives of Nigerians living in that country in July last year, Buhari cited the 2022 governorship elections in Anambra and Ekiti states, insisting his government had proven consistently its zero tolerance for interference with elections. Since then, he has been maintaining the promise any time he has the opportunity to speak on the forthcoming elections.
Buhari, whose party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will participate in 2023 elections, has insisted that Nigerians should be allowed to vote for the parties and candidates of their choice come 2023.
His position on the 2023 elections is a sharp contrast to the position of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had described the 2007 elections as a “do-or-die affair” and ensured that his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged victorious.
The 2007 presidential election was so fraudulent that even the greatest beneficiary, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, acknowledged that the election that brought him to power was not free and fair.
Buhari, who was a presidential candidate in the 2007 election, had noted that he had been a “victim of unfair electoral processes” in the past, saying as a result he would bequeath a robust electoral institution that would ensure the emergence of credible leaders.
If President Buhari matches his words and body language with actions, and order the security agencies to ensure a level-playing field for all the contestants and their political parties in the 2023 general election, the elections will beat the 2015 elections in terms of fairness and transparency.
President Buhari’s actions or inactions will no doubt be a major factor that will shape Nigerian politics this year.
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar is a strong political force that will help to shape the Nigerian politics in 2023. As a former vice president who had contested the presidential elections several times, Atiku has built alliances and bridges across all the states in the country. His wide contacts and connections will provide a formidable structure that will influence the outcome of the 2023 general election. As the candidate of the PDP, which is one of the three frontline political parties, Atiku is a major factor to watch in 2023. His political base, the North, with her intimidating voting population, will be a major determinant of the outcome of the elections.
The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu became a formidable national political force after he dismantled all the plots against him and emerged as the presidential candidate of the ruling party.
With his deep pocket, Tinubu, a political strategist, has built strong contacts and alliances in all the states across the country. His support groups have penetrated every nook and cranny of the country, promoting his presidential ambition. The former Lagos State governor had played a key role in the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election.
Tinubu is no doubt a strong factor in the 2023 politics.
Many political analysts did not take the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi serious when emerged as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP).
Before he joined the LP, Obi was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the PDP where he also contested the 2019 elections as the vice presidential candidate of the party.
Shortly before the presidential primary of the PDP, Obi resigned from the party and joined the LP, which many had described as a party without a structure that could win a presidential election.
However, no sooner than he joined the LP than the Nigerian youths who are his support base, elevated a political party without a formidable structure to a mass movement.
The youths organised massive pre-campaign rallies across the major cities in the country, which unlike other political rallies, were not influenced by monetary inducements.
Obi has consistently told his critics who claimed that he had no formidable structure to clinch power next year that those making such assertion were referring to political structures of corruption and criminality which he doesn’t have and strongly abhors.
Obi has also argued that the type of structures that his critics were talking about involves bribery and corruption; and also sharing money to acclaimed political stakeholders to enlist their support and help in rigging elections.
LP was said to lack structures but Obi’s supporters, mainly the youths, have formed formidable structures to promote his presidential aspiration.
Various states in the country stood still when these youths marched through their state capitals and these sent shock waves across the PDP and the APC. The former Anambra State governor is a major factor that will shape the 2023 politics.
As the governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, Nyesom Wike used the unlimited resources at his disposal to make remarkable impact in the presidential primary of the PDP. But despite the huge resources he deployed to pursue his ambition, he lost the presidential ticket to the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
He also lost the party’s vice presidential ticket to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State. Since he lost both tickets, he has aligned with four other governors – Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Samuel Ortom (Benue) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), to work against Atiku. Wike and his allies, who are referred to as G-5, are insisting that the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, should relinquish his position to the southerner as a condition to support Atiku.
The five governors led by Wike have not made known their preferred presidential candidate between Bola Tinubu of APC and Peter Obi of the LP but it is expected that they will reveal their choice in the coming days.
Wike had last week vowed to unveil his preferred presidential candidate for the 2023 election this month.
“So, all of you who have been in suspense, who have been saying all kinds of things, abusing me; wait, January is here,” Wike stated, while commissioning a flyover in Port Harcourt.
Wike said he would not only tell his people who to vote for but would campaign for his choice of presidential candidate throughout the country. “Nothing will happen,” he added.
With the large voting population in Rivers State, Wike’s choice of presidential election, which may potentially be the choice of the G-5, will be a game changer in the 2023 politics.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has demonstrated a determination to conduct credible elections in 2023 by coming up with technological innovations that would make rigging impossible for politicians.
INEC had sensitised Nigerians to put pressure on the National Assembly and the Executive arm of the government to ensure the signing of the amended Electoral Act 2022. This electoral law helped to define off-season elections conducted in 2022 by curbing malpractices.
INEC’s technological innovations have compelled politicians to sit up ahead of the 2023 general election since it won’t be business as usual.
Three out-of-season elections in the FCT, Ekiti, Anambra and Osun states held in 2022 benefited from this improved electoral law.
With INEC’s technology, alteration of votes at polling units, distortion of number of accredited voters, collation of false results, mutilation of results and computational errors, swapping of results sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of results sheets, obtaining declaration and return involuntarily, making declaration and return while result collation is still in progress and poor record-keeping, will no longer be prevalent in future elections.
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is one of the technological innovations devised to identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting. It is also used for capturing images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet online.
The commission’s Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) is another technology in the form of online portal where polling unit-level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published for the public.
Yakubu’s determination to use these technologies in 2023 elections has unruffled some feathers but the electoral umpire has demonstrated a strong determination to put the election riggers out of business in next year’s polls.
However, a worrisome development that may affect the commission’s capacity to conduct credible polls in 2023 is the incessant attacks on its critical assets by gunmen and arsonists across several states since two years ago.
General Lucky Irabor
The role of the security agencies is critical in the conduct of fair, free and transparent elections. Many political analysts believe that only the security agencies and INEC hold the key to credible polls. With the general election commencing next month, all eyes are on the armed forces, the police, Department of State Services (DSS) and other security agencies to ensure adequate security and also provide level-playing field for all the political actors by remaining neutral in the course of carrying out their assignment.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor and other security chiefs had assured of adequate security before, during and after the elections.
Irabor, who had earlier last month disclosed that security agencies were under intense pressure from all corners to compromise the elections, however, allayed fears of a truncated process.
He called on Nigerians to put their trust in the security forces as they remained wholly committed to remaining neutral before, during and after the 2023 general election.
Irabor, who appeared on the Ministerial Media Briefing anchored by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, revealed that security personnel came under pressure through sundry inducements.
He, however, promised that measures were being put in place to ensure that the officers and men obey the directive to remain neutral.
Answering a question on how prepared the military is to ward off pressure to compromise elections given the President’s directive for neutrality, he said: “I’m glad that you reiterated the Commander-in-Chief’s directive to the armed forces.
“I’m afraid you say you have a worry. Rather than worry, I would rather think that trust should be the anchor. Why?
“Of course, there will always be pressure from all quarters, wanting to induce security forces, not just the military. And that’s what criminal enterprise is all about.
“But what makes the difference is the professional approach to dealing with those issues. And that’s what as the military, we are committed to doing.
“So, please cease from worrying. Rather, trust and also engage others to trust that we will keep faith to these desires,” Irabor explained.
Indeed, the neutrality of the armed forces is critical to ensure credible elections given what happened in the previous elections, particularly in 2019 elections where it took the doggedness of women to resist soldiers that perpetrated electoral fraud in Rivers State.
Irabor’s statements were quite reassuring but whether or not the officers and men of the armed forces who will be in the field during the elections will have the capacity to resist inducements from politicians is a different ball game.
Experience has shown that the most easily compromised security agents during elections are policemen as they are the lead security agents that provide security for election officers, materials and voters right inside the polling booths and collation centres. While the other security agents are stationed several metres away from the polling stations and collation centres, the police keep an eagle eye on those centres to monitor accreditation, voting and counting of votes as the lead security agency.
There were instances in the past where police officers on election duty were compromised to do the bidding of politicians.
Even the police hierarchy involved in posting commissioners to the states was known to have posted compromised police commissioners to some states at the requests of politicians.
So, the neutrality of the police is critical in 2023 elections.
The Inspector General of Police (IG), Usman Baba, had already declared that the Nigeria Police, the military and other security forces were fully prepared to ensure free, fair, credible and acceptable polls in 2023.
He stated that contrary to speculations in some quarters that the forthcoming polls may not hold in some parts of the country due to security concerns, the elections would hold nationwide as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The IG had also warned political actors to play by the rules of the game and to stop overheating the system, saying the era of ballot box snatching was gone for good in the country based on the various innovations introduced into the system by INEC.
Baba declared that the security forces were fully prepared to ensure “free, fair, credible and acceptable polls come 2023.”
“We are assuring Nigerians and the international community that the 2023 general elections will hold as planned by the Independent National Electoral Commission in all the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The country is enjoying relative peace now and we are going to sustain this, the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari has promised times without numbers to give the nation peaceful, free and fair elections, come 2023.
“The president has been keeping to his words by encouraging us and the security forces towards achieving this, we will have no excuse to fail the nation. Nigerians too have been helping the police and other security agencies with credible information in their localities,” he reportedly said.
With the critical role played by the police during elections, Baba’s role will shape Nigerian politics in 2023.
How the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) manages the agitation for the resignation of its national chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu is critical in the 2023 elections
Ayu will be a strong factor in Nigerian politics in 2023 due to the crisis rocking his party following the calls for his resignation.
Ayu emerged at a time the main opposition party was enmeshed in crisis over the zoning of 2023 presidency and the tenure of Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC).
Many had thought that the former university lecturer would concentrate efforts to navigate the party through the raging storms.
Little did analysts know that his emergence would inflict more wounds on the party.
The emergence of Ayu as the National Chairman of the party in its October 30, 2021 National Convention had given the initial impression that the main opposition party was going to zone the presidency to the South. But the party threw the position open to all the six geopolitical zones. This led to the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the party to the dissatisfaction of many southern leaders of the party, including Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, among other party leaders from South. Even Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State also voiced his preference for a southern presidential candidate.
When the former vice president won the primary, Wike and four other governors insisted that Ayu should resign but his supporters insisted that he would only resign if Atiku wins the 2023 presidency.
With the refusal of Ayu to resign, Wike and the four other governors have been working against Atiku. The Rivers State governor and his allies are set to unveil their preferred choice of presidential candidate. Many believe that no matter how the pendulum swings, the Ayu factor will shape the politics of 2023.
The presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Mr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, will also be a force to reckon with in the politics of 2023. Though none of the various local and international polls has favoured him, his popularity in Kano State in particular can erode the votes of any of the three major candidates and change the political permutations that could lead to a runoff.
The efforts made for Kwankwaso and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) to form a joint ticket failed as the former Kano State governor insisted that he would be the presidential candidate in the joint ticket. Interestingly, the various polls conducted at different times predicted victory for the presidential candidates of the three major political parties – Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Obi of the LP. None of the various polls favoured Kwankwaso as he was said to be popular only in his home state, which however, has the second-largest voting population, after Lagos State. Many political analysts have predicted that his alliance with any of the three major candidates can be a game changer. However, such an alliance is still unlikely, in view of his body language and comments.