Presidential Candidates: Running on the strength of their deputies

2011-02-10
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Abimbola Adelakun

The presidential election in April will no doubt be competitive from all indications. The candidates are reaching for every tool in their bags that is likely to enhance their chances. One of the tools is the choice of running mates. One after the other, the choices of running mates in the various camps have been made clear and the sagacity of the choices challenged. For anyone to win the presidential election, such a person needs to get at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-thirds, or 24, of the 36 states of the federation, and also score the majority of the votes.



The presidential candidates of various parties have chosen candidates, who they believe will have appeal along ethnic and religious lines. For candidates from the North such as Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam Ibrahim Skekarau, the real contest will be to divide the votes of the region among themselves. The North has 19 states and going by the primaries of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the myth of the monolithic north is greatly punctured. The votes might not be given to any particular candidate as a whole. To that effect, Buhari, Ribadu, Shekarau know that what will favour them has to go beyond the region. The potential winner also faces the challenge of winning at least a quarter of the votes cast in five states in the entire South-West. Their choices of running mates are, therefore, to enhance their chances of winning their region and the South.



For southern candidates like President Goodluck Jonathan and Bashorun Dele Momodu, the same political calculations suffice. If they win the entire 15 states in the South, they still need another nine states in the North to be able to scale one of the basic requirements needed to win.



Also, the dynamics of Nigerian politics at present suggest that this election will not all be about prior alliances. The recently concluded voter registration saw a lot of Nigerians participating in the exercise. Within a period of three weeks, there were more than 60 million eligible voters, who showed high level of enthusiasm to participate in the forthcoming elections. These eligible voters, at that high rate, however, do not belong to political parties and will not be voting along party lines. They will be casting their votes based on appeal of the individual tickets and this is why the choice of running mate matters a lot. Each running mate must have electoral appeal, be politically viable and must be an asset to the ticket in many ways. For the five running mates – Mohammed Sambo of the PDP; Tunde Bakare of Congress for Progressive Change; John Odigie-Oyegun of the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party; Tanko Yusuf of the National Conscience Party and Sunny Ugochukwu of the Action Congress of Nigeria- the various factors that will come to play are numerous.



Ethnic appeal



All the tickets are balanced in the North/South tilt but the question is how much the people in the region will vote for the candidates’ deputy on the basis of ethnic appeal. For instance, while Jonathan’s running mate, Sambo might be of the highest advantage in this area because he was the incumbent governor of Kaduna State before he was picked for as vice-president, it does not translate into a wide appeal from that region. The other candidates like Bakare do not have political followings that can rival Sambo’s. Bakare is a pastor with a law practice. His religious followership is definitely not mega even though he has high visibility. Of the five, he is the one whose entrant into the arena has generated the strongest media buzz. The question of whether the buzz will last till April is another issue altogether. The other candidates, Yusuf and Odigie-Oyegun only come after him in terms of visibility. Ugochukwu does not even live in Nigeria.



Age appeal



In this category, the strongest team is Momodu and Yunusa. Both are aged 51 and 45 respectively. In terms of use of generational paraphernalia such as social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, Momodu got there first before Jonathan. Jonathan and Momodu both took up this device to reach the younger generation of potential voters. It has since been taken up by other candidates with Jonathan being the most popular. The oldest team is Shekarau/Odigie-Oyegun team with both men aged 56 and 72 respectively.



The average age of the various teams ranges from 48 to 64. The Goodluck Sambo team, 56; Buhari/Bakare, 63; Shekarau/Odigie-Oyegun, 64; Momodu/Yunusa, 48 and Ribadu/Ugochukwu, 45.



With the younger generation clamouring for generation shift, then the age appeal might not favour the older candidates.



Religion



This is another factor that has always dictated the direction of Nigerian politics. In 1993 presidential election, both men were Muslims and were widely accepted. However, such a feat has not been repeated since then. One of the basic requirements of any ticket is to have both religions represented. In all the instances, this sentiment has been well pandered to. For Bakare, who also happens to be a pastor, it is a case of both an advantage and a disadvantage. Bakare is a pastor and activist, who has not shied from using the altar to spread the message of liberation. While he helps Buhari to dispel the image of a Sharia fundamentalist, his joining the ticket gives the impression of two hard core religionists who will turn Aso Rock into a religious house. Of all the issues raised around the team, the religion is about the most paramount.



Antecedents



Almost all the running mates have strong political antecedents except for Bakare. Sambo is an architect and has served as a commissioner and several other public offices. By being VP, he is about the strongest visible politician from the northern region, but if it will translate into votes is another issue. For the PDP primaries, Jonathan got 82 votes in Kaduna while his major opponent, Atiku Abubakar, got 41. If Atiku can penetrate his stronghold that much, then maybe his political strength might be exaggerated. Bakare, on his own, got into politics, first by prophecies and then activism. He is the founder of pressure group, Save Nigeria Group, but neither a card-carrying member of the CPC nor a politician. His emergence is supposed to be to for political and religious expediency. He has supporters but if they will be able to transfer the support they have given him as an activist to a politician will be determined soon.



Odigie-Oyegun is a politician of the Third Republic and an executive of the ANPP. The oldest of the lot, the retired civil servant’s political administration experience began when he became the first executive governor of Edo State under the platform of the Social Democratic Party. An indigene of Edo State, the ANPP is virtually non-existent in his state. It is difficult to see how his antecedents will favour Shekarau.



Tanko has an activist background and is a professional in politics. He has been around for a while, though he is not so visible on the political scene. Apart from being a northerner, he might not do much for Momodu. If, however, Tanko is deemed as not being visible, then it is worse for the ACN running mate who neither lives in Nigeria nor is visible on the scene. The closest he comes to politics is his being on the same team as the Biafran warlord and leader of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Dim Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu.



Money/political influence



Of all the running mates who are expected to bring something to the table to support their principals, the person who should have the deepest pocket is Sambo considering the fact that he had been a governor and he is the incumbent vice-president. He has that in his favour and with the incumbency factor added, he might be able to support Jonathan with enough money more than any other.



Bakare, on the other hand, is successful as a lawyer even though he has not been involved in litigation. Also, he is a pastor of a big church. Both factors ensure that he is not a poor man. Whether he can muster enough strength financially, to support Buhari who is not known to be a financially prosperous man without depleting his fortune is an issue he will have to work out.

 

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