In his acceptance speech, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, having won the Presidential primary election of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu emphasised that we ‘must work to ensure PDP does not return to power after 16 years of colossal failure.’ Given the way the contest for the Presidential primary went, the challenge of uniting APC leaders to work for the victory of the party in the 2023 general elections and defeat all opposition parties, including the PDP is certainly an important precondition for winning the 2023 elections. Without doubt, the emergence of Asiwaju Tinubu as the Presidential candidate of the APC, once more prove that APC is a party that is commitment to addressing all the political challenges of the country. Given the cheap and reactionary campaign in APC aimed at pushing delegates at the National Convention to copy the PDP by electing a Presidential candidate from among Northern leaders, emergence of Asiwaju Tinubu demonstrated the superiority of the APC to other parties in the country in terms of providing level playing field to party members to compete and win internal party contests.
Against very strong sentiments and dominant ethnic and religious politics, which weigh heavily against Asiwaju, both within the APC, but perhaps more promoted by a very sectarian and conservative strategy of winning cheap votes of Nigerians by the PDP and their sympathisers, which led to the emergence of Alh. Atiku Abubakar as the PDP Presidential candidate for the 2023 elections, Asiwaju Tinubu emerged as the Presidential candidate of the APC. Being a Muslim from the Southern part of the country, the belief among many Nigerians, is that he may not attract the votes of citizens from the dominant Christian Southern parts of the country. And given contemporary challenges of producing a Presidential ticket, which should balance both ethnic and religious factors in the country, an Asiwaju Tinubu candidature is more likely to be lopsided to win the votes of dominant Muslim North.
This perception dominated internal debates in APC leading to the National Convention for the Presidential primary. Some party leaders attempted to manipulate the Convention in favour of the Senate President, Sen. Ahmed Lawan as the so-called consensus candidate. The process of producing the consensus was reduced to some manipulative strategy of invoking the name of President Buhari as the singular source of decision. Thanks to the commitment of President Buhari to ensure that all party leaders are consulted, the undemocratic approach of imposing a consensus candidate was defeated, and the primary election involving 23 aspirants held on June 7, 2022. Eventually, fourteen (14) aspirants contested the primary election as nine aspirants withdrew.
Asiwaju Tinubu won the contest indisputably. With his victory, the debate has now shifted to the choice of running mate. As usual, conservative and reactionary ethno-religious consideration are colouring the debate. Question of Muslim – Muslim ticket, implying that another Muslim from the North will most likely be Asiwaju’s running mate. Leading party members are already becoming strong advocates for or against a so-called Muslim – Muslim ticket. This debate is reproducing the old pre-convention reactionary and conservative campaign. If choices of leaders are dictated by ethno-religious factors, Nigerian politics will continue to be disadvantageous to many sections of the country. For instance, only Christian Southerners and Muslim Northerners will continue to have advantages. Most of those trying to use religious arguments to influence the choice of running mate for Asiwaju Tinubu are impliedly arguing that a Christian Northerner can only win Presidential election if his/her running mate is a Muslim from Southern Nigeria. In the same way, this will be politically disadvantageous, if not impossible for any Christian from the North or Muslim from the South to win Presidential election. Such a backward national mindset must be changed.
The challenge facing Nigerian politics is about opening the democratic space. It is not going to be easy, but Nigerians must be challenged to make hard choices. Important as ethnic and religious identities are, addressing challenges facing the country, require that political leaders are not allowed to ride on cheap sentiments of religion and ethnicity to opportunistically win elections. If Nigeria is to move forward, 2023 Presidential campaigns must not reduce important debates of moving Nigeria forward to sentimental considerations of ethnicity and religion. If the truth is to be told, both Islam and Christianity, as well as all our ethnic factors have been used in equal measure to hold Nigeria at a standstill. Many so-called religious and ethnic leaders have used and are still using religion and ethnicity to pollute the minds of Nigerians against one another. If Nigerian politics is to overcome the adversities of these so-called religious and ethnic leaders, religious and ethnic backgrounds of leaders must be subordinated to experiential attributes of persons being considered for leadership.
Perhaps, it is important to stress the point that whatever is the final choice of Asiwaju Tinubu and APC leaders with respect to who emerges as the running mate, the 2023 Presidential election will be keenly contested, irrespective of religious and ethnic identity of both Asiwaju Tinubu and whoever the running mate may be. APC leaders must acknowledge the fact that the 2023 elections present another golden opportunity for the APC to re-invent itself. With the landmark initiatives of President Buhari’s government in the last seven years, challenges of insecurity are being used by opposition parties, especially PDP, to falsely alleged that APC has failed. The claim is that APC government has mismanaged the economy, divided Nigerians and created insecurity. Part of the arguments is that Nigeria is now the ‘poverty capital of the world’, alleging also that the so-called poor performance of APC led government of President Buhari contrasts with so-called ‘achievements’ of sixteen years of PDP between 1999 and 2015. Many PDP leaders and their supporters have even claimed that if PDP failed to win the 2023 election, Nigeria will collapse.
APC must, as a party, use the 2023 Presidential campaign to effectively counter all these false narratives. Part of what must be done to achieve that is about developing effective communication strategy, which has been one of the strong weaknesses of both the APC as a party and as a governing party at Federal level. APC’s 2023 Presidential campaign must effectively correct all these false narratives and convincingly confirm to Nigerians that, President Buhari’s APC government has put Nigeria back on the roadmap to national development. APC’s 2023 Presidential campaign must use evidence-based politics to showcase the initiatives of President Buhari-led Federal Government.
A major objective of APC 2023 Presidential campaign should be to correct all the false narratives being propagated by opposition parties that APC government has failed. The campaign should instead focus more on showcasing the achievements of APC-led Federal Government, which is about rebuilding the country. For instance, achievements in the areas of social investment, infrastructure and agriculture can effectively provide APC’s contrasting scorecard. Since emerging as the governing party in 2015, APC Federal Government has implemented National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), which is far more than what any government in the past has done. Founded on four pillars of N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Home Grown School Feeding and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), millions of poor Nigerians are benefiting from these initiatives. For instance, GEEP has disbursed N36.9 billion in interest-free loans of between N50,000 to N350,000 to more than 2.3 million Nigerians. Under the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, 9.9 million primary 1 – 3 pupils in 54,952 public primary schools in 35 states are benefiting. Additional 107,000 cooks have been engaged. In the case of Conditional Cash Transfer, more than 3 million poor and vulnerable households have been registered on the National Social Register, out of which more than one million families are currently being paid N5,000 monthly.
In the area of infrastructure, when President Buhari’s administration assumed office in 2015, the total budget for Federal Roads by the outgoing PDP government of former President Goodluck Jonathan was 18 billion Naira, which is only about 25% of the Lagos State roads budget for that year. The persistent skeletal funding translated to abandoned or slow-moving road projects across the country. APC administration increased allocation to the roads budget to more than 200 billion Naira per annum. In addition, more resources were devoted to construction of road and transport infrastructure than any other administration since 1999, and the results are roads, bridges, highways, rail lines and stations, and air and seaport upgrades. Currently, there are around 900 active road contracts covering the construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation of more than 13,000km of Federal roads and highways across the country, out of a total of 35,000km of Federal roads in existence.
In the area of agriculture, APC led government of President Buhari established National Food Security Council (NFSC), Agriculture for Food and Jobs Plan (AFJP), National Livestock Transformation Plan, Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) and Creation of an Enabling Environment. Specifically, ABP for instance, implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2015, provided more than 300 billion Naira to more than 3.1 million smallholder farmers of 21 different commodities (including Rice, Wheat, Maize, Cotton, Cassava, Poultry, Soy Beans, Groundnut, Fish), across Nigeria, successfully cultivating over 3.8 million hectares of farmland. PFI has produced and delivered to the Nigerian market over 30 million 50kg bags equivalent of fertilizer, at reduced prices; and resulted in the revival or construction of no fewer than 40 moribund fertilizer blending plants across the country. Nigeria today has 44 functioning blending plants, with more on the way as a result of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI).
Apart from achievements in the areas of social investment, infrastructure and agriculture, there are other initiatives in other sectors. Initiatives in these three sectors substantiate the point that based on records of performance in government, APC remarkably moved Nigeria forward from the era of waste and large-scale diversion of public resources under sixteen years of PDP government between 1999 and 2015. For instance, recall the numerous cases of diversions of huge sums of financial resources in the guise of petroleum subsidy contained in many reports of investigation panels under PDP governments. There was also the case of corruption under the Police Pension Task Force. The case of $180 million Halliburton; $1.1 billion Malabo Oil; Princess Stella Oduah N255 million Aviation Ministry bulletproof cars; N10 billion jet scam involving the petroleum minister (2011 – 2015) Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke; and House of Representatives Capital Market probe; and N360 billion service-wide scam are also there. There was also the case of $2.1 billion arms deal involving retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Adviser under President Jonathan’s PDP administration.
APC must use the opportunity of the 2023 Presidential campaigns to remind Nigerians about these hard facts. Nigerians must be guided to make choices based on evidence and not just sentiment. In many respects, when Asiwaju Tinubu, in his acceptance speech enjoined fellow APC leaders to ‘ensure PDP does not return to power after 16 years of colossal failure’, he certainly must be referring to these issues. Notwithstanding all the achievements of APC-led government of President Buhari, it is however important to recognise the issues of insecurity, which has remained a major national challenge. It is important that assessment of performance of APC government is not reduced to opinions of opposition politicians. The reality is that both President Buhari and all APC leaders acknowledged the enormity of the challenges of insecurity in the country.
Noting that APC administration is taking steps to equip the security agencies and build morale, promote community-led solutions, develop new security infrastructure and operations across land and maritime environments, and address the underlying drivers of insecurity (poverty and youth unemployment), the need to rebuild the confidence of Nigerians that post 2023 APC Federal government can effectively respond to all our national challenges, with Asiwaju Tinubu as the President is very necessary. For instance, the need to mobilise large-scale funding to undertake massive recruitment of security personnel – police, military, airforce, naval, etc. must be given priority. Recognising that although serious challenges still exist, and there is still a long way to go in restoring a robust sense of security in the country, it is also very important that APC’s 2023 Presidential campaign is able to develop a far reaching proposals of re-organising and strengthening Nigerian security services to restore peace across every part of the country. The next APC government, under Asiwaju Tinubu should begin to orient itself to outline specific governance reforms that should end dastardly activity of terrorists and criminal elements in every part of the country, in whatever forms.
As it is today, all opposition to APC are more interested in using challenges facing the country to further divide Nigerians. APC’s 2023 Presidential campaign must be about uniting citizens to move Nigeria forward. It must be about issues and proposals for nation building. It must be about pushing Nigerians to take all the hard decisions based on respect, equity and fair representation. This is what the Presidential candidature of Asiwaju Tinubu should represent. APC should win the 2023 Presidential Election based on a convincing promise for national unity!