The season of campaigns is already here and politicians all over the country are putting their best foot forward as they run form pillar to post to garner support from Nigerians. It is also a season of mudslinging, blackmail and release of acerbic statements from all the major candidates and their parties.
Last week, governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised that they will focus on issue-based campaigns this time around. Although there are over 20 presidential candidates, political analysts aver that the presidential election will be a straight fight between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Already, the campaigns have subtly kicked off even though the timeframe provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is still about one month away. Below are some of the issues that have and will continue to dominate the campaigns.
President Buhari was voted into power in 2015 on the premise that he would fight corruption to a standstill and put Nigeria back on the path of prosperity. Three years after, the jury is still out on that. Opposition and critics have accused the president of being selective in the fight against corruption.
On the other hand, even though he has never been convicted on any allegation of corruption, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has been branded a corrupt politician by some Nigerians. He has tried unsuccessfully to prove that the corruption toga on him is just mere allegations that are yet to be proven.
There is no doubt that APC will want to play up Atiku as being corrupt and try to convince Nigerians that a vote for him will be a return to the dark days of looting the common patrimony by the opposition PDP. The opposition on the other hand will cite cases of malfeasance in the current administration, which President Buhari has turned a blind eye to. It remains to be seen if both arguments would sway the Nigerian voters.
No doubt, another big issue for campaign will be the killings across the country resulting from herders/farmers clashes. Few months ago, the Fulani herdsmen were one of the hated and vilified in Nigeria, no thanks to the senseless and incessant killings by criminal elements among them. According to a UN report, the Fulani herdsmen are the fourth most dangerous terrorist group in world. In a twist of fate, both President Buhari and Atiku are Fulani by tribe.
Although in the last few weeks they has been a sharp drop in herdsmen killings, the president's handling of the killings have been severely criticised. He has been accused of siding the herdsmen, an allegation the president vehemently denied several times.
Expectedly, the president would lose a large chunk of votes in the North Central and in the Christian population in the North West and North East because of his perceived slow response to Fulani herdsmen killings. If the killings reduce considerably before February next year, it may swing the pendulum to President Buhari's side. The opposition would want to play up the fact that a vote for Buhari connotes a vote for killings by herdsmen if the atrocities of the killer herdsmen are not checked before the general elections.
The economy will be a major talking point in the campaigns. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo fired the first shot last week when he declared that the next Nigerian president must understand the economy. In their campaign, the PDP would want to cite reports that since 2015, Nigeria slipped into recession and has become the poverty capital of the world.
The ruling APC, on the other hand, would try to point accusing finger at the PDP for mismanaging the economy through the grand corruption in their time. The governing party would say PDP is the reason why Nigeria went into recession.
APC's success in the agricultural sector is a plus for the administration as the country is gradually moving from a mono economy. The improvement in Nigeria 's ranking in the ease of doing business is another boost for the administration.
Although the call for restructuring has simmered in the past few weeks, analysts expect the call to go a notch higher with the emergence of Atiku as the PDP presidential candidate. Atiku has been vocal in his call for restructuring the country and this has endeared him to voters in the South West and South South. It is no secret that President Buhari is not enthusiastic about calls for restructuring.
The president had always called on advocates of restructuring to channel their grievances to the National Assembly. Atiku, on the other hand, has been campaigning for restructuring for some years now. While the calls for restructuring has been on the front burner in the southern part of the country, it is a hard sell in the North. However, it is expected the calls for restructuring to be on the front burner during the campaigns.
One area that President Buhari has done creditably well is in degrading of the Boko Haram insurgents. Prior to 2015, the sect took over towns and hoisted their flags. They were in total control of more than 24 local government areas in the North East. Bombing was a regular occurrence in Abuja, Kano, Kaduna and Bauchi. Since assumption of office by the president in office in 2015, the activities of the insurgent group has been degraded substantially in the country, as their activities are only limited to some few local governments in the North.
Although the president has recorded success in containing Boko Haram, there have been a significant rise in the activities of herdsmen, gunmen, bandits and kidnappers in the country. Some roads like the Abuja - Kaduna road, Birni Gwari and Abuja Lokoja roads have been virtually taken over by kidnappers. Everyday there are gory tales of kidnapping on those roads. Bandits have completely taken over some states in the North West like Zamfara and Katsina.
The continued detention of Leah Sharibu who is the only remaining Dapchi girl in the hands of the insurgents would also be a major campaign issue. According to political observers, the handling of Boko Haram and the abduction of the Chibok Girls were some of the major reasons former President Goodluck Jonathan lost out in 2015. It is expected that the opposition will put the activities of bandits, kidnappers and the continued detention of Leah Sharibu on the front burner during the campaigns.
Unity of the Country
Some keen observers of the polity have contented that Nigeria has never been so divided along ethnic and religious lines since the civil war. The President's 97% to 5% analogy has been cited as the reason for emergence of secessionist groups like IPOB in the country. The president has been accused of nepotism and clannishness by opposition and critics alike. They infer that Buhari had been dividing the fault lines in the country. The president's handlers, on the other hand, blame politicians who view every appointments and killings along ethnic and religious lines for the division in the country. Some observers also blame politicians who lost out in the power game for fueling ethnic and religious crisis in the country.