By OBINNA EZUGWU
Not lacking in confidence, and with some sprinklings of arrogance, Rabiu Kwankwaso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), having shrugged off pressure to step down for Atiku Abubakar, his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, has refused to entertain the possibility of defeat in Nigeria’s presidential election, a few days away, on February 25, despite the odds.
To win the presidential election, a candidate must secure the highest votes and 25 percent in two-thirds of all the states, which is a big ask for the former Kano governor and his new party which has no national spread, but obviously not in his own estimation.
“We will win the election because now, we’re strong in all the northern states,” Kwankwaso declared when he appeared on Channels TV on Thursday. “Why I’m here in the Southern part of the country is to see how we get additional five states in the South to fulfill the requirements of our constitution.”
Kwankwaso’s confidence is evidently buoyed up by the impressive numbers he continues to pull during his campaign rallies in states across the Northeast and Northwest. His claim of being strong in the region is not without some sort of evidence. But the reality of Nigeria’s politics is that anyone who is fairly strong can pull crowds, and despite the impressive numbers that attend his rallies, Kwankwaso falls behind the likes of Atiku, and Bola Tinubu, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in terms of candidates who are favourite to win plurality of northern votes.
Every statistics ahead of polls, points to the fact of Kwankwaso being a flyweight in comparison, and the former defence minister maybe guilty of grossly overrating his popularity, even in the north, his acclaimed strong base, where he apparently believes he has the numbers to win the presidential seat.
Generally regarded as fourth in the pecking order of leading candidates – behind Atiku, Tinubu and Peter Obi, candidate of the Labour Party – Kwankwaso, whose major political base is his home state of Kano; a state with 5,927,565 registered voters, or 6.34 per cent of the country’s total, second only to Lagos with 7,075,192 or 7.57 percent, and to a lesser extent, the core north, has come distant fourth in all the opinion polls conducted in the lead up to the election.
But remarkably adamant, and incurably optimistic, even in the face of contrary evidence, Kwankwaso has consistently dismissed the polls, most of which has Obi of Labour Party in the lead, as “fake,” and sponsored to achieve predetermined outcomes.
“Those guys who are sponsoring media and sponsoring opinion polls to go write fake results can go ahead. We know results will come out and Nigerians and even the international community will be surprised,” he told Aljazeera last week.
But many analysts have maintained that despite his optimism, the former Kano governor has no clear path to Aso Rock; his newly formed NNPP being primarily a Kano, or at most a northern based platform, with sparse presence in the southern half of the country.
“Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso may marginally win the plurality of votes in Kano, but there’s a sense everywhere else in the Muslim North that he is merely a petulant “spoiler” on whom people won’t “waste” their votes,” observed Farooq Kperogi, columnist and professor of communications.
Although Kwankwaso has continued to pull impressive crowds in the North during campaign rallies, the other reality is that his campaign is faltering in the same region, as a number of his key supporters and party officials, convinced that he has little or no chance of winning, have dumped him for either the APC or the PDP, but mostly the latter, as the north appears to be increasingly rallying behind Atiku in the face of mounting loss of goodwill within the APC camp in the region, amid plots by some elements in the presidency to ensure that the former Lagos governor doesn’t become president, and his failed attempts to flaunt his Muslim credentials to appeal to voters there.
“APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu is suffering a deep, organic, almost irrecoverable depletion of his political goodwill in the Muslim North among everyday voters as a direct consequence of his failed, politically ill-advised attempts to recite the fatiha on three different occasions,” noted Kperogi in a article on Saturday.
“The biggest beneficiary of the diminution of Tinubu’s religio-political capital in the Muslim North is PDP’s Atiku Abubakar about whom northern Muslim voters had been lukewarm at best.”
A self styled modern day Aminu Kano, Kwankwaso on a good day, could have been the beneficiary of Tinubu’s apparent misadventure in the north. He seems to be the apparent to President Muhammadu Buhari’s mass following, which could come handy in future elections. But as far as February is concerned, stakeholders in the region understand that his party lacks the required national spread to win, even as the fact of him being from the same Northwest geopolitical zone as Buhari makes his candidacy unattractive, and are increasingly opting for Atiku, at both Tinubu and Kwankwaso’s expense.
A fortnight ago, hundreds of thousands of people in the Northeast dumped him for Atiku.
Babayo Liman, NNPP Northeast zonal secretary who announced the defection while addressing newsmen in Damaturu, the Yobe state capital, noted that over 2.8 million members of the party across the six states in the zone, decided to resign and “join PDP in support of the presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.”
He called on Kwankwaso to also support Atiku to clinch the nation’s apex seat later this month, while urging the remaining members in the zone to dump the party for PDP, saying Atiku is the only political leader that can salvage the country from its socio-economic, political and insecurity problems.
Indeed, pressure has continued to mount on Kwankwaso to step down for Atiku, whose traditional support base in the South, namely, the Southeast and South South, has been balkanized by Peter Obi, his running mate in 2019, now Labour Party candidate who is proving very much capable of upsetting the political establishment.
On Thursday, a northern interest group, the Northern Unity and Development Movement (NUDM), accused him of undermining northern interest by refusing to step down for the former vice president.
The group in a statement by its national coordinator, Comrade Ishiaku Abubakar Usman in Kaduna, also accused Kwankwaso of working underground to actualize the presidential bid of Tinubu.
“We are embarrassed by the conduct of our brother, Sen. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who has consistently brushed aside wise counsel from leaders in the North who have continued to persuade him to step down for his elder brother, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar,” the group said.
“Members of our group are also amused by the utterances of Kwankwaso against the former Vice President. These are not in good taste and we are calling on him to retrace his steps in the interest of the whole North at this critical time.”
The statement also accused Kwankwaso of surreptitiously working for the APC presidential candidate whom he plans to step down for in the long run against his fellow Northerner.
“We know what is afoot, we have our intelligence which suggests that Kwankwaso is working for Tinubu and that he would eventually step down for him in the build up to the election.” He said.
According to the group, the former Kano State governor has been securing sponsorship for his campaign from Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike who himself is said to dump his candidate, Atiku Abubakar for Tinubu.
“It’s a well known facts that Gov. Wike is the very person funding Sen. Kwankwaso to undermine the northern region and it’s people”
“In several instances, Gov. Wike boosted on National television that he will be giving financial assistance and logistics to Sen. Kwankwaso.
“This didn’t just start now, this unholy alliance started during the PDP presidential primary where Sen. Kwankwaso directed all kano delegates to vote Gov. Wike which they did” he revealed.
He said nobody in the region takes Kwankwaso aspiration serious anymore because of his past political antecedent.
“As you can see thousands keep defecting from his party (NNPP) in droves, the party has collapsed, many more will dump him before elections”, Usman said.
But despite the pressure, Kwankwaso remains unfazed, maintaining that both the APC and the PDP have expired, and that Nigerians want a change.
Responding to the claim by Atiku last week that he’s in talks with him and Obi, the former Kano governor said he could not consider stepping down for the candidate of the PDP, a party he left to join NNPP on account of it being rejected by Nigerians.
“How can somebody in a party I left, and which has been rejected by Nigerians, while my new party is growing in popularity, say that we are talking? Talking about what?” he wondered.
“It’s part of the strategy to weaken our base, but our supporters are our supporters. Even without me, I don’t think any of our supporters will go to the PDP, given the circumstances that I left it, and the fact that Nigerians have rejected the party.”
While Kwankwaso is unlikely to win, however, his insistence on going all the way, may have huge impact on the overall outcome of the election.
He could potentially win Kano, and take good numbers from other states in the North, which could ensure that the election heads to a runoff, a possibility he’s not dismissing either.
“We know that many people, including INEC, are saying that it would be difficult for the election to be won in the first ballot,” he said on Channels last week. “So, maybe there will be a need for second ballot. Under the circumstance, all the parties will sit and see how they can come together. But I believe that we will be number one.”