By OBINNA EZUGWU
With little or no realistic path to power in 2023, many had expected Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), having failed to agree to a merger with Peter Obi of Labour Party, to eventually agree to a deal to back either of Atiku Abubakar or Bola Tinubu, his counterparts in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), respectively.
But the former Kano governor has opted to finish the race, and while his chances remain very slim, he may well ensure that no clear winner emerges in the first ballot at the February election.
Coming from the Northwest, same zone as President Muhammadu Buhari, who will be completing his second term next year, Kwankwaso’s presidential bid, given the loud clamour for power rotation to the south in 2023, and the relative unpopularity of his party, had naturally seemed like an attempt to raise the stakes in anticipation for the right suitor from among the front-line contenders.
But politicians are generally incurable optimists, and the former Kano state governor, tough as the road might seem, has vowed to run the race till the end, dismissing suggestions that he might step down for another candidate, particularly Atiku, as “wishful thinking.”
Responding to speculations that he is being pressed to step down for Atiku during an engagement with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) in Lagos last week, he declared, “That rumour is coming from detractors; it is just wishful thinking. NNPP is all out to win the 2023 election and there is nothing anyone can do about it. I know l will get the required numbers.”
Surely, two things that are not lacking in the NNPP camp are optimism and determination. Over the course of last few weeks, the former Kano governor touched down in majority of the states in each of the six geopolitical zones, opening campaign offices and engaging with his supporters, with the firm belief that his party represents the future for the country.
“Now, people are not talking about parties. They are talking about candidates and individuals. The APC and PDP have failed Nigerians. That is why we are in this mess today,” he told the editors last week.
“I am ready for debates. Let us put our cards on the table. Some of the candidates are running away from debates. Some of them should look at themselves in the mirror and tell themselves the truth. Some of them are our seniors. You cannot cheat nature. Anybody who says 2023 is his turn is making a huge mistake.”
Widely considered fourth in the pecking order of real contenders for the presidency, behind the likes of Tinubu, Atiku and Obi of the APC, PDP and Labour Party, respectively, all with realistic chances of emerging victorious in 2023, Kwankwaso has refused to accept the idea of him not standing much of a chance.
Speaking to a crowd of his supporters in Kano, his home state and key base during the inauguration of his campaign office on Sunday, fortnight ago, he insisted that he would defeat the trio of Atiku, Tinubu and Obi, among other candidates to become president in 2023.
“This crowd signifies the need and urge for new leadership, not only in the state but the country at large. The biggest surprise will come when our party, the NNPP wins the 2023 presidential election, God willing,” he said.
Kwankwaso’s conviction is one that is evidently strong within his party’s camp. Speaking on Channels TV a fortnight ago, Buba Galadima, a member of the party’s national working committee, boasted that the former governor will win all the states in the north, and equally take votes across the south.
“PDP is not even on the ballot because its strength is in the Southeast, which has been eroded by Peter Obi. The next strength of PDP is in the South-South. With Wike not supporting Atiku, the South-South is gone.
“The Northeast is completely Kwankwaso because he will win Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, and Bauchi, including the governorship. He will win the North-East, North-Central, and the North-West. All combined, they have over 50-something million voters. Kwankwaso will poach the South-South, Southeast and part of the Southwest,” Galadima affirmed.
A widely popular figure in the Northwest’s most populous state, Kano, with nearly six million registered voters, Galadima may have a point about him winning Kano. While the ruling APC remains in charge of the state, even as the PDP with its candidate, Atiku, boasts of having enough foothold to take a huge chunk of the votes, many would agree that the NNPP candidate is a favourite in the state, even as he cannot be counted out completely in other states of the region.
But beyond Kano, and perhaps a few other Northwest states, Kwankwaso is somewhere between a flyweight and a non contender, and many would agree that Galadima is over the top with his projections. In much of the Northeast and North Central, Kwankwaso cannot be considered a favourite, and realistically, nowhere in the south does he stand a chance of securing 25 percent of votes.
“Kwankwaso is primarily a Kano politician,” said Husseini Mohammed, a political observer in Maiduguri, Borno State. “I think it would be unrealistic for anyone to believe that he can beat Tinubu or Atiku in any Northeast state for instance. I don’t see that happening.”
Kwankwaso’s course in the south has not been helped by his choice of Edo State born Bishop Isaac Idahosa, presiding bishop and senior pastor of God First Ministries Inc., Lagos, as his running mate. An unknown quantity even among the Christian community, Idahosa doesn’t pack a punch in the political arena.
“Kwankwaso will do well in the north, particularly northwest, but he is not a factor in the South” said Brown Nwechem, political analyst and coordinator of Southeast Watchdog.”He can win Kano, but will that be enough? Of course not. What he may succeed in doing is to push the contest into a runoff.
“If he manages to take Kano and probably do well in other states in the North, then the chances of either Atiku or Tinubu winning would be dealt a huge blow, and that’s why the 2023 election is very unpredictable.”
An alliance with Peter Obi, Labour Party candidate, was easily his best bet. But disagreement over who, between the two, should be the principal partner, led to the breakdown of talks, an outcome he evidently regrets, still.
“I thought the alliance would be good. If we had done that nobody would be talking about a second ballot in 2023. At our discussions, the issue was who will be the presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate. Both parties raised negotiation committees. Our team was led by Buba Galadima,” Kwankwaso noted during the meeting with editors last week.
“The committees looked at age, educational qualification, office held and experience. At the end the other committee did not want to go with this, they talked about power shifting to the South and to the Southeast. Nigeria has gone beyond that, nobody can be president of Nigeria now based on ethnic and regional considerations.”
Being older than Obi, and with richer political pedigree, having been governor, minister of defence, senator, among others, he certainly fancied himself as the natural senior partner to Obi who until becoming governor of Anambra in 2006, was a private businessman. And beyond serving for a short period as director general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2014, has not held any other public office.
But Kwankwaso is pushing on despite the challenges of his candidacy. A fortnight ago, he set up campaign offices across southern states, shuttling from the Southeast, the South South to the Southwest.
And in what could be counted as boost for his campaign, even if unlikely to translate into votes, he received the endorsement of New Afenifere, presumably a faction of Afenifere, Yoruba sociocultural group.
Ajibade Adeyeye, coordinator of the group, while endorsing the former Kano governor on Sunday last week, insisted that nobody should impose any candidate on them.
“We have called on our elder statesmen not to impose on us anymore but allow us to choose our preferred presidential candidate because we believe we are old enough to make decisions for ourselves and for our future,” he said.
“So, on behalf of the New Afenifere, we have decided to forge ahead and endorse Kwankwaso, together with his running mate, Bishop Isaac Idahosa.
Neither Ladipo Johnson, spokesperson for the Kwankwaso campaign council nor Agbo Major, national publicity secretary of NNPP, responded to enquiries about how the former Kano governor intends to sell himself effectively to voters in the south and out compete the like of Atiku and Tinubu in the north.