Nigeria 2023: Dancing senator’s victory over Tinubu candidate ignites Atiku hopes

By Akin Irede

Posted on Monday, 18 July 2022 14:07
Nigerian pop star Davido celebrates with his uncle, the victorious candidate for Governor of Osun State Ademola Nurudeen Adeleke

The shocking victory of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke (aka “the dancing senator”), in the Osun State governorship election, has re-ignited the hopes of the PDP Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, ahead of the 2023 election. Could it herald an Atiku victory? Not so fast, say supporters of Bola Tinubu, who may yet challenge the result in court.

Ademola Adeleke, a former Nigerian lawmaker better known for his amusing dance steps rather than his legislative track record, recently defeated Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Osun, a largely agrarian state in the southwest of the country.

Oyetola, who is a relative of APC Presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, had in 2018 defeated Adeleke by 353 votes in one of Nigeria’s most controversial elections. This victory dogged his administration’s legitimacy.

His closeness to Tinubu did not help matters with the state continuing to struggle under the huge debts incurred by the previous administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola.

A rematch

Undeterred by his 2018 defeat, Adeleke threw his hat into the ring once more to challenge Oyetola. His colourful campaign was boosted by his superstar nephew, Davido, who serenaded crowds that gathered at several political rallies.

Adeleke, whose late father and deceased elder brother were once senators, also received financial support from his wealthy family which runs the Pacific Holdings conglomerate and has close ties to Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.

Oyetola’s own campaign had been weakened by a feud he had with his predecessor and serving Minister of Interior, Aregbesola. Amid the raging feud, Tinubu openly took sides with his kinsman, further exacerbating the crisis.

“We followed him (Tinubu) dutifully with all sense of loyalty… We dealt with him without treachery but we never knew he planned evil for us. We exalted him beyond his status and he turned himself to a god over us and we had sworn to ridicule anyone who compares himself to God,” said Aregbesola while addressing his supporters in February.

With Aregbesola sidelined and disgraced, his teeming supporters decided to work against Oyetola.

To add insult to injury, a former lawmaker, Iyiola Omisore, an arch enemy of Aregbesola, was supported by Tinubu to become the national secretary of the APC, one of the party’s most powerful positions.

The elevation of Omisore, who was once accused of killing Attorney-General, Bola Ige, was condemned by many in the southwest including Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who argued that even the police would not be able to re-open investigations into the murder due to Omisore’s new appointment.

“With the emergence of the said prime suspect as national secretary of the ruling party, is the Inspector-General of Police equipped to confront political obstacles in a resumption of investigation? Is there any guarantee that the result will see the light of day?” Soyinka asked.

Heated campaign

Aware of the effect that the APC crisis could have on the party, the national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, stated last month that the party must do everything necessary to win the poll.

“I urge you to leave no stone unturned. I urge you to go there and do whatever is doable within the laws of Nigeria and our electoral laws to win. My tolerance level and this national working committee’s level for failure is really, really zero,” Adamu had stated.

He also set up a star-studded campaign council which included 22 APC governors, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Senate President Ahmad Lawan; and serving ministers. Their job was to ensure that Oyetola came out on top.

Tinubu himself also relocated to Osun State for a few days to help his cousin win. The Lagos godfather met with several party leaders and traditional rulers, stressing the need to ensure that Oyetola was re-elected.

At the rally that was held in order to draw support for Oyetola, Tinubu went on a tirade, cursing members of the opposition.

In a viral article, Oyetola’s media strategist, Peter Adeshina, argued that Osun did not need a dancing mascot but a serious governor.

“Adeleke’s misplaced convictions are derived from his ability to take the dance floor and his familial ties to a famous celebrity. Unfortunately for him, dancing as a skill ranks very low in the consideration for public office, otherwise Michael Jackson would have been the President of the world,” he wrote.

INEC shines

On Election Day, over 827,000 voters took to the various polling units to cast their ballots. Unlike previous elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission – the electoral umpire – performed better than expected.

It ensured that Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in almost all the polling units in the state worked. Election observer, Centre for Democracy and Development, scored the effectiveness of the machines at 99%, the highest ever.

The new technology adopted by INEC whereby results were uploaded from polling units to its viewing portal in real time also made it difficult to manipulate results as was done in the past. And although there were cases of vote buying, the election was generally believed to have been free and fair.

In the end, Adeleke won by nearly 30,000 votes in an election that was a cliff-hanger even before voting began.

Tinubu’s defeat, Atiku’s gain

Several analysts see Oyetola’s defeat as a rejection of Tinubu, a leading candidate in the presidential race. It weakens perceptions of Tinubu as invincible in the southwest of the country. The APC’s loss in Osun means that two big states in the southwest out of six are now in the grip of the PDP ahead of the crucial 2023 election.

The victory could also help unite the PDP which has been facing internal challenges at the national level since Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, and his clique of governors decided to distance themselves from Atiku’s campaign.

Historically, since 2007, the governing party in Osun State always wins the Presidential election in the state. With Osun now in the grip of the PDP, the party now believes this victory could be its launching pad to the Presidential Villa.

“This election was a referendum on the disastrous APC stewardship, and proves conclusively that Nigerians want PDP back. And, indeed, PDP is coming…With Osun done, next is the Villa,” says Iyorchia Ayu, the PDP national chairman.

But will Tinubu, who sees himself as the candidate of the southwest, be defeated in his home turf by Atiku, a northerner?

Paul Ibe, who is Atiku’s Spokesman, tells The Africa Report that the victory will give impetus to the campaign. He adds that Atiku is popular in every region of the country and is therefore capable of defeating Tinubu anywhere.

“We have always stated that this election of 2023 will be a referendum. The APC has made Nigeria the world poverty capital. The rejection of the APC has started with Osun where they had promised heaven but delivered hell. So, Osun is a reflection of what will happen in the next election,” he adds.

But Tinubu campaigner, Bosun Oladele, who is one of the leaders of the Southwest Agenda (SWAGA), tells The Africa Report that it would be wrong to conclude that the Osun election is a rejection of Tinubu.

According to him, the Osun defeat was caused by the friction in the party which Tinubu tried to manage but couldn’t. He added that there was similar friction ahead of the Ekiti governorship election in June which Tinubu was able to solve hence the victory of the APC in that particular election.

“Don’t forget that there was a division in the APC in Osun and the worst enemy you can have is the enemy within. Some worked against the party internally. They claimed to be for the APC but worked against us. You win some, you lose some but definitely, the Presidency is for us come 2023 no matter how much they try,” Oladele stated.

The Africa Report understands that Tinubu and his men have now gone back to the drawing board to see what went wrong and will make a decision on whether or not to challenge Adeleke’s victory in court. As with all elections in Nigeria, it is never really over till the Supreme Court sings.

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