Nigeria 2023: ‘The stage is set for a huge melodrama’

Donu Kogbara
By Donu Kogbara

Writer/broadcaster who shuttles between Nigeria and the UK

Posted on Friday, 24 February 2023 11:20
Branded notebooks with images of Nigerian presidential candidates are displayed at a shopping center in Abuja, Nigeria February 2, 2023. REUTERS/Abraham Achirga

D-Day is finally upon us. The stage is set for a huge melodrama – the seventh consecutive general elections (presidential and National Assembly) in the “giant of Africa” since the restoration of democracy in 1999.

Different scenes will play out in several different locations across Nigeria (there are 176,606 polling units in the country).

The stars of the show, garbed in their Sunday (or Saturday?) Best, are jostling for places in the spotlight and ready for their close ups.

The actors and extras await instructions from various directors.

A colourful cast of characters comprising the presidential candidates of 18 parties has been confidently treading the boards since last summer. Each party’s representative is loudly insisting that he will win.

However, realistically, only three of them – Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) – stand a chance of replacing President Muhammadu Buhari.

Buhari is infuriating APC loyalists. Having sabotaged Tinubu’s legendary vote-buying capacity by delegitimising old naira notes that Tinubu had allegedly been stockpiling for years, Buhari has refused to be consistently partisan during this campaign; and he has veered between half-heartedly urging Nigerians to vote for his party’s candidate and advising them to vote according to their consciences.

Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is assuring sceptics, who suspect it of bias and accuse it of incompetence, that it is willing and able to deliver free and fair polls.

Election observers, including a Commonwealth team (headed by no less a dignitary than former South African President Thabo Mbeki) are lined up to monitor and provide positive or negative feedback.

Election violence in the offing?

Security agencies have declared zero tolerance for the troublemakers who emerge from the woodwork every four years to disrupt elections and say that “hoodlums” will be ruthlessly dealt with.

Mainstream protagonists – flagbearers, apparatchiks and their aides   – have promised to respect a ban on hate speech and to avoid libel/slander…and have signed a violence-eschewing peace accord that sounds great, but won’t (in my opinion) work.

A sleazy video portraying Obi as a druglord who raped and trafficked a girl is all over the internet. Nobody serious is taking it seriously because it’s an obvious fake news hit job sponsored by adversaries desperate to put a vast dent in Obi’s enviable reputation.

Many of us feel like part of a captive audience that is trapped in a toxic theatre and forced to watch one terrible tragedy after another unfolding, again and again.

Only two days ago (Wednesday night), Mr Oyibo Chukwu, the senatorial candidate of the Labour Party in Enugu State in the South-Eastern geopolitical zone was waylaid in his car, assassinated and set ablaze. His five companions suffered the same horrifying fate.

Last week, a Labour Party follower had his hand amputated at a campaign rally in Lagos. Members of other parties have also lost their lives or been injured and abducted in all 4 corners of Nigeria.

Most of Nigeria’s 93,469,008 voters are appalled by this savagery; and I don’t think it is too fanciful to say that many of us feel like part of a captive audience that is trapped in a toxic theatre and forced to watch one terrible tragedy after another unfolding, again and again.

Anger about widespread insecurity is one of the factors that have contributed to the meteoric rise of Peter Obi, once regarded as a nonentity compared to Atiku and Tinubu – veteran political grandees – but now a substantial rival that they cannot dismiss.

Voters’ reasoning

Other factors that are weighing heavily on voters’ minds are ethnic, regional, religious, generational and socio-economic considerations.

Countless debates about the pros and cons of each candidate and countless burning issues have been had on print/electronic/social media platforms, in beer parlours and in distinguished fora like Nigerian Economic Summit Group meetings.

Topics that have been repeatedly mulled over include the crime rate, terrorism, corruption, tribalism, the fuel subsidy, hyperinflation, restructuring, and the ongoing controversy surrounding the naira redesign policy.

Having said this, random conversations with Nigerians from all walks of life in recent months have led me to conclude that Tinubu et al are liked or loathed for personal rather than policy-related reasons.

Few of the shareholders in Nigeria Ltd/Inc I’ve spoken to, educated voters included, are deeply concerned about where Obi, Tinubu or Atiku stand on Gross Domestic Product enhancement, containment of disgruntled elements in the oil-producing Niger Delta, etc.

Even so, all the voters I’ve spoken to ARE very interested in details around how Tinubu/Atiku/Obi became tycoons, whether they are physically and mentally strong, whether they are humble or arrogant, whether they are being truthful about their backstories; and so on.

Here we are on the eve of the poll, wondering how tomorrow will pan out. Thanks to the currency shortage and fear of violence, many voters are not willing or able to travel to their home states to vote.


Still, the turnout is expected to be high.

The energetic youths who form the backbone of Obi’s fan club and are determined to fight for brighter futures will definitely make their presence felt at ballot boxes, despite numerous risks and obstacles.

In the absence of a postal voting option, Nigerians (mostly Obi supporters) have been flying in from the Diaspora all week to participate in the biggest democratic exercise in the black world.

Nigeria is full of victims who are going through unimaginable suffering and winners who are making huge marks on the world.

This country, with its atrocious problems and enormous potential, is a paradox that is always hovering on the brink of greatness or failure; and its presidency is both a glittering prize that confers dizzying privileges and a poisoned chalice that inflicts painful responsibilities.

Who will Buhari hand over to on 29 May?

I don’t have a clue! And most pundits admit that they are also unable to predict results with confidence. It really seems too close to call.

Pertinent questions

Several opinion polls have described Obi as the clear frontrunner, but polls aren’t always accurate; and it is entirely possible that he will not coast to victory or even come second.

Some important questions that will be answered this weekend:

  • Will the currency swap subterfuge masterminded by Buhari and Central Bank Governor Emefiele succeed in obstructing vote buyers?
  • Will Obi, the only politically significant Christian candidate, get decent percentages in the Muslim North in his own right or via his Northern Muslim running mate?
  • Will Tinubu, a Southern Muslim who chose a Northern Muslim running mate, get decent percentages in any Christian areas?
  • Will Atiku, a Northern Muslim who has a Southern Christian running mate, lure Muslim voters away from the pure Muslim Tinubu-Shettima double act in the north?

Whatever the eventual outcome of this election, after months of endless speculation and arguments and cheerleading and heckling, many of us are suffering from extreme election fatigue.

The run-up to tomorrow has been the longest electioneering season Nigeria has ever experienced; and some folks – adrenaline addicts! – are loving the buzz and still have plenty of appetite left for campaign dramas and would even like the election to be postponed.

However, many of us are tired of waiting with bated breath to find out who our next leader will be; and we just want tomorrow to come and go, so we can take a break from election fever and psychologically prepare ourselves for the next phase in our history.

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