Presidential aspirants across the major political parties in the 2023 general election are falling over one another for endorsements by prominent figures, elder statesmen and traditional rulers. ONYEKACHI EZE examines the difference this might make
Twenty-nine years after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which culminated into his self-exile, Senator Bola Ahmed Bola Tinubu, a prominent member of the National Democrat Coalition (NADECO), visited former military President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida had annulled the election, and Tinubu, a senator at that time and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) whose candidate Moshood Abiola, won the election, was in the forefront for the revalidation of the result of the election.
But he went on self -exile, came back at the dawn of this republic and joined politics. Since 1999 Tinubu was not known to have related with Babangida. But after declaring interest to contest the 2023 presidential election on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the former Lagos State governor has commenced junketing around the country for consultations.
Though Babangida is a member of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Tinubu was in Minna, Niger State in continuation of his nationwide consultation for his presidential ambition, and visited IBB.
The APC National leader told journalists: “There is no way I will visit Niger State without visiting IBB and receive his prayers. I cannot come to Niger State and not stop by to pay a courtesy call on the enigma, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
“He gave me his prayers. We are running a democracy. I took my decision voluntarily and I am running for the presidency of the country. When I made the declaration, I told you that I am still consulting and I will consult as widely as possible.” Before he went to Minna, the former governor met President Mohammadu Buhari at State House in Abuja and intimated him of his presidential ambition.
About two days later, Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi, was also at the presidential villa, to consult with Buhari about his presidential ambition. Like Tinubu, the Ebonyi governor is contesting on the APC platform. Tinubu and Umahi are not the only presidential aspirants scouting for endorsement.
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, got endorsement of the Emir of Lafia in Nasarawa State, Sidi Bage. Bage, a retired Justice of Supreme Court, who described Anyim as Nostradamus who had seen and understood what Nigeria should be like in future.
“He knows what Nigeria should be today and tomorrow. He made me believe that we still have leaders into whose hands we can entrust Nigeria,” Bage commented. Anyim is seeking the presidency on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The former President of the Senate who had earlier received the blessing of IBB also visited the first Republic Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, to seek his blessings.
He told Clark, who is also leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), that he would dedicate himself “with full enthusiasm and conviction to advance the vision of equity in Nigeria, the unity of our nation, the peace and prosperity of all citizens.”
Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu also visited the Hill Top, Minna, residence of Gen. Babangida. The former Abia State governor however, said his mission was a private one. Kalu was not forthcoming on his future political ambition, as he told journalists: “For now I am Senator and principal officer of the National Assembly, and if given the opportunity I would like to return to the Senate but if I am also given the opportunity to serve the country I won’t refuse.”
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to release the timetable for the 2023 general election, some politicians have already declared their intention to run for the exalted position. Among them are Tinubu, Umahi and former Imo State governor Rochas Okorocha who are contesting on the APC platform; Anyim, former President of the Senate Bukola Saraki, an industrialist Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa and Bashroun Dele Mamodu, a publisher, in PDP.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is yet to declare, but media mogul Dr. Raymond Dokpesi has been going round the country to mobilise support for him. Also, different political groups have been campaigning for Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, even though he is yet to declare interest in the nation’s number 1 job. The Vice President’s supporters had visited Babangida for his endorsement.
Ojo Foluso, National Convener of Osibanjo Grassroots Organisation said last year when the group visited Babangida, “We came to consult the oracle and the oracle has spoken; IBB is an oracle because he understands Nigeria.”
It has become a vogue among Nigeria politicians to undertake political voyage to the homes of elder statesmen to obtain their endorsement on their political ambition, notwithstanding the usual aphorism that ‘power belongs to the people.’ Such endorsements later become the ‘credential’ they would later flaunt while on national campaign.
Dele Momodu who incidentally, is one the presidential aspirants, explained why. Momodu was quoted in an interview to have said that the outcome of elections usually depends on the ‘owners’ of Nigeria.
The aspirant who was the candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2011 presidential election, stated that “The lesson is that it is not about voting ….You will know who will win the election after the two prominent political parties present their candidates. Any candidate apart from those two is a time-waster. The ‘owners’ of Nigeria usually determine the winner. I understand the game.”
Indeed, Momodu understood the game and is putting it into practice. He told journalists when he went to intimate the PDP leadership of his intention to contest on the party’s platform, that he told his colleagues contesting on platform of less parties, the likes of Kingsley Moghalu and Fola Durotoye, that they might not make any impact in their political career if they remain in the fringe parties.
According to Wikipedia, “a political endorsement is a public declaration of one’s personal or group’s support of a candidate for elected office. “In a multiparty system, where one party considers that it does not have enough support to win power, just prior to the election, the official representative of that party may give an official en
more likely to be a contender.
“There are also presidential endorsements. If an individual endorses a presidential candidate, they are voicing their support for them.” Babangida had told Osibanjo’s supporters that the Vice President: “has great passion for Nigeria, he is one that can communicate with the country and inspire people among other qualities; he is the best person to lead Nigeria in 2023. “I know the Vice President very well; he is a good man; a man who has conviction about Nigeria; a man who can communicate with the country and inspire people.
“Such a man is a worthy person to work with; we need a good man to lead Nigeria; a man who has passion for this country’s economy; Nigeria is a good country; the people of Nigeria are good.
“You must learn to understand people and constant discussion is key; I want to convey my best wishes to the vice president through you and I want you to tell him to stay the course; I know it’s not easy but he has the conviction; I wish him the best.” This was taken as his endorsement of Osinbajo’s aspiration, though the former military leader was later to deny endorsing him.
Also the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) denied endorsing Tinubu. MACBAN’s National Secretary Alhaji Baba Ngelzarma, said the association respects the aspirations of all presidential aspirants. Ngelzarma however added that “Those who endorsed Tinubu are doing so as individuals, as MACBAN should not in any way be dragged into the politics of endorsement at this stage.”
How does visit to the homes of elder statesmen and traditional rulers by aspirants to public office transform to gain at elections? In advanced democracies, public opinion is used to gauge the popularity and acceptability of a candidate in an election.
The candidate also engages the electorate in town hall meetings where he answers questions on how to improve their lives if elected. The reverse is the case in Nigeria because the voters know that whatever promise a politician makes during electioneering can never be fulfilled.
They undertake the visits to elder statesmen and traditional rulers as publicity stunts. In an article immediately after the 2019 presidential election, Remi Adekoya, a former political editor of the Warsaw Business Journal, said the Nigeria electorate lack trust in the politicians.
Adekoya noted that Pew Research conducted in 2018 showed that only 39 per cent Nigerians were satisfied with democracy in the country while 72 percent said most politicians were corrupt. That boils down to what Dele Momodu said, that ‘owners’ of Nigeria decide the outcome of elections.
And this is the reason for low voter turnout in elections, because the Nigerian electorate believe his vote no longer counts. In 2019, out of over 84 million registered voters, only 15.2 million (or 35 per cent) voted in the election. In fact, there had been a downward swing in voter turnout since 2011.
From 54 per cent in 2011, the figure went down to 44 per cent in 2015 and then 35 per cent in 2019. But the politicians are not bothered at the low voter turnout. They are rather concerned at winning the endorsement of ‘owners’ of Nigeria because they are the ones who decide who becomes President. They will rather engage them than engage the voters.