After a four-year wait, the D-day is here; Nigerians will troop out today to elect their leaders in a general election that promises so much. The highest office in the land, that of the President, is up for grabs after months of campaigns by 18 candidates of different political parties.
Eighteen candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, but pundits believe that the contest is between the candidates of the ruling All Progressives Party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, who is a former vice-president; and Labour Party, Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State.
For Tinubu and Atiku, the election represents perhaps their last hurrah. Both men are advanced in age – the former vice-president is 76-year-old, while Tinubu, who is popularly known as the ‘City Boy’ is 70. By the time the next election circle comes, they will be 80 and 74, respectively.
In a nation that is increasingly becoming conscious of the age and agility of its president, 2027 will come too late for the duo of Tinubu and Atiku. That throws up Obi, who at 61, carries the hope of the youth as someone they can easily relate to, and who has posed the greatest challenge to the status quo.
Though somehow overshadowed by the presidential contest, Saturday will also decide the fate of 1,101 candidates, who are vying for 109 senatorial seats, and 3,122 candidates for House of Representatives seats, making a total of 4,223 candidates contesting for 469 legislative positions.
“In terms of gender distribution, 3,875 candidates are male, made up of 35 for presidential and vice-presidential; 1,008 for Senate and 2,832 for House of Representatives. Similarly, 381 females comprising one for presidential, 92 for Senate, and 288 for House of Representatives are contesting. There are also 11 persons with disability in the race,” the Independent National Electoral Commission stated.
For Atiku, who served as former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy between 1999 and 2007, this election makes it the sixth time that he will be aspiring for the top job. He lost in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
The 2023 presidential election is the first time that Tinubu will be gunning for the presidency. The former senator left office as a two-term governor of Lagos State in 2007 and is credited with leading the coalition that ousted the PDP from power in 2015 and has extended his influence beyond the South-West region in recent years.
Obi, on the other hand, served as governor of Anambra from March to November 2006, February to May 2007, and June 2007 to March 2014. In 2019, he became the PDP vice-presidential nominee running alongside Atiku. In 2022, Obi ran as a running mate under the PDP, but left for the LP in May 2022 to emerge as its presidential candidate.
Other presidential candidates are Dumebi Kachikwu of the African Democratic Congress; Rabiu Kwankwaso, New Nigeria People’s Party; Kola Abiola, People’s Redemption Party; Omoyele Sowore, Africa Action Congress; Adewole Adebayo, Social Democratic Party; Malik Ado-Ibrahim, Young Progressive Party; Prof Christopher Imumulen, Accord Party; Prof Peter Umeadi, All Progressives Grand Alliance; and Yusuf Mamman Dan Talle, Allied Peoples Movement.
The list also includes Hamza Al-Mustapha, Action Alliance; Sani Yusuf, Action Democratic Party; Nnnadi Osita, Action Peoples Party; Oluwafemi Adenuga, Boot Party; Osakwe Felix Johnson, National Rescue Movement; and Nwanyanwu Daniel Daberechukwu, Zenith Labour Party.
Dominant campaign issues
This year’s electioneering threw up many issues with observers saying it is perhaps the most discussed in the history of Nigeria. Never has social media played a prominent role in the electoral process than this year.
The youth have used social media to raise a lot of issues, market their preferred candidates, de-market others and harangue those who do not share their sentiments. For the first time in history, the youth have organised themselves into a movement for one of the candidates with the social media providing the platform for them. Whether this will translate into electoral victory or not will be known in the next few hours.
The issue of the health of the contestants also featured prominently in the campaigns with many expressing concern about the state of health and mind of the leading presidential candidates during the gruelling electioneering that took the gladiators to most states of the federation.
Closely related to that were the many gaffes of the candidates, leading party members and spokespersons, while verbal insults were a commonplace. Supporters of the various candidates were not left out as they took to the social media space to fight real and imaginary enemies.
The crisis that followed the naira redesign policy of the Federal Government as announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria caused much ruckus in the political landscape as it was alleged that it was targeted at preventing vote-buying by politicians, who had stockpiled billions of naira in old notes, which were declared no longer legal tender.
Protests followed the cash crunch that followed the withdrawal of the old N1,000, N500 and N200 notes before the latter was allowed to circulate till April 10. Many state governments also dragged the Federal Government before the Supreme Court over the crisis. The cases will only be decided after the presidential election.
The biting fuel scarcity in the nation since October last year was also capitalised on by political actors in their favour and against their opponents.
Parties express readiness
Speaking on what will be the immediate priority of Tinubu if wins the election, the Special Adviser on Media, Communications and Public Affairs to the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Mr Dele Alake, said, “I can tell you that in the next 100 days, he will reduce whatever tension is occasioned by the current challenges facing the country. Tinubu will usher in an era of peace, tranquillity, economic progress, prosperity, security and all those challenges that Nigerians are experiencing now will be resolved.
The most important thing is the visionary leadership, knowledge and courage that Tinubu is noted for, which he will bring on board. These are critical attributes of progressive leadership. None of the other contestants have it. We all know Tinubu has the courage; he will push through hard policies and break all institutional and corporate barriers to achieve his goal for the greatest good.”
The Director of Strategic Communication, PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Chief Dele Momodu, said, “I am convinced that Atiku is the best candidate for Nigeria at this point in time. He has the structure needed to actualise his dream. It has taken him a long time to come this far, but I believe he is a man whose time has come.
“There is no apprehension whatsoever. I am convinced of his victory. Contrary to what some people are saying, it is going to be a landslide for Atiku. This is because he is the only pan-Nigeria candidate in the race.”
The chief spokesman for the LP Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, stated, “As far as we are concerned, we are determined to win this election by a landslide…we don’t think it will get to a run-off. We want to win the election in the first ballot. We have the number on our side and we strongly believe it will work for us.
“If our candidate wins, expect practical actions in the first 100 days after his swearing-in based on his seven-point agenda. In terms of security, you will see improvements. In the economy, I have shown you how we will encourage people to return to farming. Infrastructural development is there as well as cutting waste in government in alignment with the Stephen Oronsaye report. There will be employment opportunities and legal reform will be looked into. These are achievable and Obi and his running mate will hit the ground running once they are elected.”
On his part, the spokesman for the NNPP Presidential Campaign Council, Ladipo Johnson, said, “We are confident that our message has resonated with the people at the grass roots, and I will say we are quietly confident of victory at the polls. We believe the people of this country want a brighter and more rewarding future. They want access to good health, education, housing, infrastructure and proper security and they know that Kwankwaso is the man with the experience, capacity and competence to deliver on these things.
“Young people in this country want younger and more dynamic leaders that can lead us right in the next four to eight years. We have come out of the pandemic but we have not come out of its economic effects. We need someone that can think outside the box, someone who has the capacity and competence to rule and has the political will to challenge the business intent that women represent.”
Security personnel deployed
The various security agencies have given assurances of their readiness to ensure free and fair conduct of the poll, and warned troublemakers to stay away from polling units. The Nigeria Police Force, which is the primary agency responsible for election security, deployed 310,973 officers and men for the poll.
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, on Friday, directed the deployment of four Commissioners of Police in Delta State for the election.
The spokesman for the Delta State Police Command, Bright Edafe, said in a statement that the deployment was to ensure effective policing and adequate security during the exercise.
The statement said John Babangida would be in charge of Delta, Mamman Sanda would handle Delta North, Zachariah Fera would be in charge of Delta South, while Adebola Hamzat would take charge of Delta Central.
It said the police would work with sister agencies to provide adequate security at polling units, collation centres and INEC offices.
It further noted that marine police officers were deployed to secure the waterways to ensure free movement of voting materials, officials and the electorate.
Edafe restated the ban on vehicular movement between 12am and 6pm on Election Day, noting, “Only officials on emergency and essential duties will be allowed passage during this period. The ban on security escorts for politicians during the election still stands, (and) politicians are advised not to move with their security details on Election Day.”
The statement said vigilance groups and anti-cult volunteers would not be allowed to play any role during the elections.
The IG had earlier ordered the deployment of three Commissioners of Police in Imo State.
The CPs deployed were Banji Ogunrinde in charge of Imo East Zone (Owerri zone), Chris Aimionowane, Imo West Zone( Orlu zone) and Alex Wannang, Imo North (Okigwe zone).
A statement issued by Imo police spokesperson, Henry Okoye, read, “In compliance with the IGP’s directives, three commissioners of police have been deployed in Imo State to provide watertight security before, during and after the 2023 elections; the officers have resumed duty and are strategising on the already existing security architecture in order to provide effective security before, during and after the elections in all nooks and crannies of the state.”
The Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of election monitoring, South-South zone, Moses Jituboh, said the police were adequately prepared for the presidential and National Assembly elections.
He stated that all policemen deployed for the polls would be neutral in the discharge of their constitutional duties while protecting lives and property.
Jituboh, who stated this while addressing men and officers of the Bayelsa State Police Command at the Police Officers’ Mess in Yenagoa on Friday, said the police remained an apolitical institution.
The DIG was accompanied by Assistant Inspector-General Amaechi Elumelu and Police Commissioner for Delta State, Mohammed Ari, who were both deployed in Bayelsa for election duty.
Jituboh said, “We are prepared for the elections. We have been gingered; we have been trained and we are ready. We have come, we have seen and we will conquer.
“The police force is apolitical; the police are not in any political party; the NPF is a national institution. So, our neutrality is to protect lives and property and to defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are neither here nor there, but we are straight.
“I am just coming from Port Harcourt, the preparation there is top. I was in Uyo, everything is in place; so Bayelsa State will not be different with the array of officers on the ground.”
He assured the officers and men of the command that the IG was already doing something positive about their welfare, and encouraged them to go about their duties professionally.
The Federal Road Safety Corps claimed to have deployed 21,000 of its personnel for the poll, while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps put the number of its officers and men on election duty at 51,000.
Similarly, the Nigeria Immigration Service put on standby 21,640 personnel to man border posts and ensure that foreigners do not infiltrate the country during the period of the election, while the Nigeria Correctional Service deployed 11,336 to provide security cover for the various correctional centres
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had put 9,447 and 350 personnel on standby for election duty.
Soldiers were sighted in military vehicles and motorcycles in Lagos, Magboro and Abeokuta in Ogun State in apparent show of force.
The police had earlier announced the restriction of both human and vehicular movement between midnight and 6pm today (Saturday).
The police said security aides attached to public office holders were not allowed to escort their principals to polling units
The restriction order also affects state-owned security outfits.
All land and sea borders as well as airports have been closed.
87.2 million voters
According to the INEC, a total of 87,209,007 voters out of the 93,469,008 registered voters, who have collected their Permanent Voter Cards, will determine the next set of leaders. Of the total eligible voters, 49,054,162 (52.5 per cent) are male. Female voters constitute 47.5 per cent, with 44,414,846.
Elections will be held in 176,606 polling units located in 8,809 registration areas or electoral wards in 774 local government areas nationwide. The commission, however, said voting would not take place in 240 polling units mainly because of insecurity or because communities there have been displaced by violence.
INEC says it will need 707,384 presiding and assistant presiding officers, 17,685 supervisory presiding officers, 9,620 returning officers and 530,538 security officials to oversee the elections.
Polling stations will be open for six hours, from 8.30am to 2.30pm. Voters who are still in the queue as of 2.30 pm will be allowed to go through and cast their ballots.
Over 200,000 Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems are being deployed to verify voter identity through fingerprint or facial recognition to help combat fraud, corruption and tallying errors.
To be declared winner of the presidential election, a candidate must have obtained the highest number of votes and must also poll at least 25 per cent of the ballots in at least two-third of the 36 states and Abuja. If none of the candidates meets the requirements, there will be a run-off between the two top candidates within 21 days.
‘Fake’ audio clip
Meanwhile, Atiku on Friday described as “utter rubbish” an audio clip circulating in social media wherein he alongside his running mate, Ifeanyi Okowa, and the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, allegedly hatched plans to scuttle the election.
In a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Public Communication, Mr Phrank Shaibu, the former vice-president said the clip confirmed his alarm that the ruling party would take propaganda to new heights a few hours to balloting.
The statement read in part, “We warned last week that as the election approaches, there would be a spike in the rate of propaganda on social media. With barely 24 hours to the poll, we have witnessed propaganda from not just the All Progressives Congress, but the Labour Party as well.
“In this latest drivel, a montage of speeches delivered by Atiku, Tambuwal and Okowa since last year were manipulated and pieced together to give an impression that they were discussing plans to rig Saturday’s election. In this age of artificial intelligence technology, even dead people can be portrayed as delivering speeches. This is nothing new!
“For the record, Atiku has run in two presidential elections and has never been indicted or prosecuted for election violence or vote-buying.
But some people think they can sell a narrative of Atiku manipulating this election. This is indeed the height of desperation, the last kick of a dying horse. The APC and the Labour Party must note that elections are not won on social media but at the polling units.”