How ethnicity, religion may influence voting pattern in 2023 presidential election.
Since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, several factors including ethnicity, religion, zoning and other sentiments, have always influenced the candidate and political party that wins the presidential election.
As politicking ahead of next year’s presidential election becomes intense, it is becoming increasingly certain that the twin factors ethnic and religion would be major factors in influencing the election.
Prior to now, the Southern Governors Forum had raised the issue of returning power to the south after the expiration of incumbent president, Muhammmadu Buhari’s tenure in 2023. This argument has gained majority support across the South and the Middle Belt regions.
Among the presidential candidates that have emerged on various political platforms so far, four seem to be somewhat popular and with a chance to emerge winner in the presidential poll.
Among the presidential candidates are former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Leader of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, former Governor of Anambra, Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) and former Governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP).
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Although, the 1999 Constitution is silent on the zoning principle, the north and south believes the presidency must rotate to ensure justice, equity and fairness after the end of every two terms of a president.
But in the last 23 years, the principle of rotational presidency has also been influenced by other factors like religion and unforeseen circumstances like the country witnessed in 2009 when former President Umaru Yar’Adua of northern extraction died and his vice, Goodluck Jonathan from the South South took over.
In 1999, even though the military predecessors of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the first democratically elected president in the Fourth Republic, were all Muslims, religion or ethnicity was not key in facilitating Obasanjo’s victory. Rather, there was the general sympathy for the Southwest region because of the way former Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd), annulled the June 12 1993 Presidential Election, which was acclaimed to have been won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, a Yoruba.
Unfortunately Abiola died in detention under the military regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar. Consequent upon the development, there was a general sentiment across the country and within the military hierarchy, which was then dominated by the North, that to sustain the nation’s unity, power must be given to the Yoruba.
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But in spite of that agreement, ethnic sentiment was not the major reason Obasanjo won. It was obvious that the Yoruba instead preferred the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, who was the candidate of Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP).
However, with massive support from the north, Southeast and South South, Obasanjo defeated Falae, even though the former president lost in his hometown Abeokuta. AD won all the governorship seats in Southwest and majority seats in state and National Assemblies.
In the 2003 election when President Buhari contested on the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) platform against Obasanjo, who was seeking re-election on PDP’s platform, the Yoruba massively voted for Obasanjo based on ethnic sentiment not minding how the former military Head of State had seized local council allocation belonging to Lagos State.
In 2007, zoning and rotational agreement played out successfully in the then ruling PDP. The party’s presidential ticket was handed over to late President Umaru Yar’Adua from Katsina State. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua died in office and his vice, former President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man from South Sohth stepped in to complete the tenure.
In 2011, Jonathan contested but his aspiration was seriously challenged by some northerners, who argued that the principle of rotational arrangement between the north and south would be breached if Jonathan contested. The argument was countered, especially among the minority groups that the Niger Delta zone, which is the cash cow of the country, could never have had a better opportunity to rule the country.
At the end, the minority argument prevailed and the north, especially Atiku, who emerged as the Northern Elders consensus arrangement lost the party’s ticket to Jonathan while Jonathan went ahead to defeat President Buhari, who is from the north, in the general election.
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The situation changed in 2015, when the north insisted it had to produce the president and that Jonathan could not re-contest for a second term. The then ruling party was seriously fractured and major stakeholders from the north decamped to join the APC. Buhari, who emerged as APC presidential candidate won the election apparently based on an alleged gentleman agreement that power will return to the South and particularly Southwest after the north spends two terms.
It could be said that Buhari won in 2015 basically because of ethnic factor and the campaign of corruption raised against the Jonathan-led administration.
Meanwhile, among the presidential candidates contesting the 2023 election, are four leading candidates who appear to have what it takes to emerge winner – Atiku, Kwankwaso, Obi, and Tinubu. While Atiku and Kwankwaso represent the interest of the north, Tinubu and Obi represent the interest of South.
Former Lagos governor, Tinubu, who is regarded as the most consistent politician since 1999 may bank on the support of the 12 northern governors of APC, who insisted that to sustain the unity of the country, power must rotate to the South after President Buhari’s tenure expires next year. He is also going to get some support in most of the states in Southwest where APC controls, like Ondo, Lagos and Ekiti.
Obviously also, Tinubu may perform better in Osun state where the incumbent governor, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola lost in the July 16, 2022 election to Senator Ademola Adeleke of PDP.
The former Postmaster General of the Federation, Bisi Adegnuyi told The Guardian that irrespective of the fact that the electorate in Osun state rejected APC in the governorship election, majority of the voters would still prefer to vote for Tinubu in the presidential election and not for another northerner to succeed President Buhari.
Even in Oyo where PDP currently rules under Governor Seyi Makinde, the majority of Yoruba voters in the state are ready to support their kinsmen than to vote for another northerner or an Ibo man. Makinde, who is seeking re-election, will slug it out with the APC, Senator Teslim Folarin. The outcome of the presidential election may have a backlash effect on who will win the Oyo gubernatorial election between the incumbent and APC flag bearer.
Ethnic sentiment may also play out in Lagos State where APC currently controls. There is the fear of a backlash of the 2020 #EndSARS Youth protests and alleged killings of some protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. The incident was alleged to have been somewhat influenced by Tinubu and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Majority of the youths are said to be preparing to vote enmasse against APC and Tinubu and to in turn support Obi. But whether the Labour Party has the solid and well-oiled political structure to dislodge APC in metropolitan Lagos remains to be seen? This is a question many may not be able to answer in the affirmative.
The much orchestrated massive youth registration to vote is not convincing enough to justify the possibility of either PDP or LP dislocating the Tinubu political grip in Lagos. The same scenario is currently playing out in Ogun where APC seems not to be as popular as before. But that does not indicate that the Ogun people will abandon Tinubu to vote for either Atiku or Obi.
However Ondo and Ekiti states appear to be strong for Tinubu since the two governors are of the APC. With the massive support Tinubu is looking up to get from the North and few he would receive from South South and Southeast, it could be said as of now that the national leader stands a good chance to win depending on how he carefully navigates through the challenges of the Muslim-Muslim ticket, which is posing some kind of threat.
To also point out how ethnic loyalty may play out in the next general election, some popular Yoruba socio-political groups who have been critical of Tinubu’s style of politics are currently having issues with their fellow Yoruba people. Such are being accused of leaving their fellow kinsman, Tinubu, to support a candidate from another ethnic background.
At present the major support base and structure of Obi is within the Southeast and on the social media. How this can translate to victory in the presidential election is what observers have been pondering.
While Obi may contend for votes in the South South region because of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who is running mate to Atiku is from the region, the current popularity of Obi on social media is also a challenge other candidates must not underrate as the election inches close. This is because of the ‘Obidient movement,’ that is dominated by youths who are tired of the old politicians like Tinubu, Atiku and others.
But what might likely be the gains of Obi could as well be lost, if the Igbo fail to manage their sentiments. The managers of Obi need do a lot in educating their supporters so as not to dissuade other followers from other regions.
Obi also stands a good chance to get the votes of Christians across the North if the various Christian bodies insist on rejecting Tinubu over the Muslim-Muslim sentiment.
The fact that Atiku, Tinubu and Kwankwaso may split the votes in the North is another factor Obi may benefit from.
The conviction that the 2023 election cannot be rigged is still very much in contention. Those banking on what happened during the Osun governorship election may still have to contend with the fact that the party in power may not be willing to relinquish power easily.
Overall, Obi remains a factor to reckon with in the 2023 election and his chances of defeating Tinubu and Atiku cannot be underestimated as the youths look unto him as a ‘redeemer’.
Among the presidential candidates, Atiku stands the biggest risk of losing because of the crisis PDP is currently enmeshed in. At present, there is a big mistrust between the northern and southern stakeholders of the PDP basically on the leadership settings of the party, which favours only the north.
Perhaps the PDP leaders, especially from the north do not take into cognisance that the ruling pattern of Buhari and how power has been concentrated in the north within the last seven and half years would not make the Southern stakeholders sit and fold their arms with regards to the way PDP is currently structured.
For instance, southern stakeholders are kicking that only the north cannot produce the party’s presidential candidate, National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu and chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT). A former deputy national chairman, Chief Bode George recently warned that PDP may not have the moral justification to come to the South to campaign with the current structure.
The party is looking for means to resolve the ongoing crisis between Governor Nyesom Wike, who was runner up to Atiku in the presidential primary of PDP. The party may not also get support in Southeast because the Ibo believe their kinsmen ought to have been given the ticket like APC gave to Tinubu.
The guarantee that Atiku will also make considerable votes from the north is in doubt with Kwankwaso and Tinubu’s presence in the region.
But a former Minister of Aviation, Felix Hyat, shared a different opinion saying that the chances of Atiku, are extraordinarily bright.
He said apart from the fact that Atiku is a well known name in Nigeria and no other name is equal to his, having been a former Vice President for eight years and got 11 million votes in the 2019 presidential election, stands his out among other contestants.
He added that while Atiku and PDP will have issues to campaign with, there is nothing the ruling party will tell Nigerians now and they will believe because of what the country has gone through in the last seven years.
He said Atiku can conveniently speak on security and how to bring unity to the country, which APC might not be able to do.
Using Kaduna as an example, Hyat said: “The ruling party has already lost in that state because of state of insecurity. This is also the same across the North.”
Another supporter of the former vice president said no matter the negative perception of anyone against Atiku, “Certainly the Turaki of Adamawa can not rule Nigeria the same way the incumbent has done since 2015.”
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