The weekend emergence of Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President and a staple of Nigeria’s presidential contests for three decades, as the 2023 presidential candidate of the PDP has all but affirmed the party’s neglect of the widespread call for an equitable shift of power to the southern region, and has provided its chief opponent, the All Progressives Congress, APC, with a tremendous opportunity to contrast the party on this important front and rally to a convincing win at the polls when INEC declares the contest open.
To take full advantage of this opportunity, the APC must look no further than Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the professorial Vice President whose stewardship has caused excitement in the North and South, and possesses the right mix of competence and social profile – including ethnicity and religion – to satisfy Nigeria’s sensitive power sharing arrangement and help the APC, unlike the PDP, shed its image as a party committed only to power entrenchment in the north.
It is a damaging perception that has deepened since the election of Senator Adamu Abdullahi as the National Chairman of the APC and his infamous reluctance to take a position on the party’s zoning formula ahead of its primary election, despite riding on the wave of same to the chairmanship position. The unwritten rule, which the PDP has violated to its own detriment, is that the party chairman and presidential candidate cannot share the same region. Hence when the chairmanship goes North, it is an assured sign that the presidential ticket must come south.
This careful arrangement has proved an effective way to promote a sense of belonging in all of the regions and motivate spirited vote mobilisation – given that it presents a path to power to all in an equitable and clearly defined way.
To deviate from it now as the PDP has done is to plant the seed of discord that would ultimately prove costly on Election Day. Although the PDP will bloviate and embark on an elaborate ‘reconciliation’ exercise following Atiku ramming his way to the ticket once again, the party is unlikely to pacify or douse the anger of major southern powerbrokers – including Nyesom Wike, the boisterous Rivers Governor – who feel cheated and hard done by. It is a fate the APC can avert with the election of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
In addition to his popularity in the southern region where his intellectual rigour and finesse have inspired steadfast followership among the old and the young, Vice President Osinbajo is also well primed to claim the North Central, parts of North East, and the North West where his loyalty to the President and leadership of the administration’s successful and widely popular social investments scheme will galvanize support and deliver the votes.
In Borno, for instance, Prof. Osinbajo’s approval rating is sky high, in part due to his establishment of the North East Children Trust, an entity that catered to orphans and children that fell victim to the Boko Haram insurgency and the devastation suffered by several communities. Also in other parts of the North East, his commitment to the protection of lives and the rebuilding of affected communities and sectors have won him genuine affection and support.
Unlike Atiku who will struggle – if not outrightly fail – to win votes in the southern region considering the permanent blot on his emergence and run as a northern conspiracy to retain power for another eight years at the expense of the North, Prof. Osinbajo will bear no such burden in the core Northern states and middle belt, especially if he is joined on the ticket by a Northern political stalwart and tested mobiliser.
Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President whose participation in the APC primary election has been a source of confusion and division, lacks the popularity and recognition to win a national contest. Even in his home state of Yobe, despite spending decades in the parliament, he lacks the desired household name status and is perceived as an opportunist politician whose strength lies in his ability to slip through the cracks, avoiding attention and scrutiny. It is neither a favourable nor convincing appraisal for a presidential aspirant.
Mohammed Badaru, the Governor of Jigawa State also in the APC contest, suffers similar deficit. He is largely unknown down South and lacks the political breadth up North to tip the scale in his favour in a direct match with Atiku Abubakar. There is also no striking feature about him and his years in power to market in order to motivate organic support and sway undecided voters.
Meanwhile, support for Prof. Osinbajo continues to swell across the country. His image as a different brand of politician, driven by a clear growth-focused ideology and precise plans for progress, has met with public acceptance and support. His clean record, having suffered no corruption taint, makes him even more appealing to the country’s middle and professional class – a rich source of votes and other important forms of support. Similarly, the international community has signaled its approval of Prof. Osinbajo’s emergence, having impressed on global stages where he represented Nigeria and Africa on matters of importance today and in the future.
Evidently, to counter the cynical strategy of the PDP, and in the interest of the country’s continued unity, Prof. Osinbajo is the APC’s best hope for victory in 2023.