The 2023 presidential campaign is scheduled to begin on September 28. In this piece, Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU looks at the strengths and weaknesses of five presidential candidates, especially in the North.

Without underestimating the chances of candidates from the various parties for the 2023 presidential election, there seem to be five of them who have dominated the political space since they became flag bearers of their parties. The more resounding names are Senator Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Peter Obi of the Labor Party (LP), Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigerian People’s Party ( NNPP) and Mr Dumebi Kachikwu of the African Democratic Congress (ADC). For each election cycle, presidential candidates are known to campaign to every geopolitical zone of the country with the aim of getting as many votes as possible across the board. Whether in the north or south, the competition for votes is fierce as the winning candidate must receive a majority of the vote and more than 25 percent of the vote in at least 24 of the country’s 36 states.

The strategic north

The Northern Zone consists of three geopolitical zones: the Northwest, North-Central, and Northeast. With the number of votes from the north, there is always a serious battle for votes from the zone. In fact, the recently concluded Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) again justified the fact that the North will always be the beautiful bride of politicians in elections. In the exercise, the North had the highest number of 6,359,711 registrants versus the South with 5,939,233 new registrants. According to the current INEC registry, the Northwest Zone, which includes the seven states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi and Jigawa, has a total of 22.67 million registered voters, the highest number of registered voters. North Central with more than 14.1 million registered voters has the second highest number of registered voters, followed by the Northeast with more than 12.8 million registered voters. In the current electoral register, the Northern Region has at least half of the total number of voters in the country with a total number of 49.57 million. As always, the region will once again be an important battleground for all participants. In recent weeks, it is no coincidence that presidential candidates and their foot soldiers have continued to traverse the north, apparently in recognition of its electoral value.

Why North West is Critical

In the recent presidential elections of 2015 and 2019, the Northwest demonstrated that votes from the zone are crucial for who will win the election. For example, in both elections, President Muhammadu Buhari received the highest votes in the zone. While Buhari’s candidate polled 46 percent of all votes cast in 2015, he garnered 39 percent of the total votes cast in the 2019 elections. President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Again, the All Progressives Congress (APC) will hope for a similar electoral performance from the zone in 2023. Speaking about the critical nature of the Northwest, the APC’s senatorial candidate for Kaduna Central, Muhammad Sani Dattijo, said: West zone is critical to the party’s victory in 2023. So whoever wins in the zone becomes the next president.” National Vice-President of the APC North-West, Salihu Lukman, said the APC is doing everything it can to have the most votes in the North-West. “We will not give any breathing space to other parties to maneuver in next elections. The northwest is for APC,” Lukman said. The APC is leaving no stone unturned to gather as many votes from the zone as possible, as it has begun regular consultations with the seven states in the zone to see how the zonal office and state chapters can work together. The party has also reached out to aspirants who have lost the battle for tickets. The zonal office also consults widely to promote the Tinubu/Kashim Shettima ticket. Also, the APC seems to come in handy in the zone with six of the zone’s seven governors. Only the state of Sokoto is controlled by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). On various forums such as Governor Nasir El›rufai (Kaduna), Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Governor Bello Masari (Katsina), Governor Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Governor Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa) and Governor Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) all have promised to deliver their states for Tinubu. The governors also sponsor several Tinubu/Shettima support groups, including the Tinubu Support Group and the APC Northwest Stakeholders. While the APC appears optimistic about victory, it faces issues of high cost of living, insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling and anti-popular policies adopted by some state governments.

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For the PDP and Atiku, the Northwest was once its stronghold until 2015 when it lost control to the APC. The job for the PDP is clearly to devise a strategy to return to settlement in the zone. True to the task ahead, there are several support groups, including Atiku Support Organizations, Atiku PDP Ambassadors, and Atikuulated, which reach out to people and market their presidential candidate. The party counts on its only PDP governor, Governor Aminu Tamubwal (Sokoto), its few senators, members of the House of Representatives, members of the House of Representatives to persuade voters to vote its presidential candidate, Atiku. The PDP still prides itself on being a formidable force in the zone and has produced national party leaders, former ministers, former senators, generals, ambassadors and party elders. In campaigns, the PDP will also talk about its mission to rescue and relieve Nigerians from the hardships many are currently facing. However, there are those who argue that people have yet to forget the sour past antecedents of the party. Therefore, some experts are skeptical about whether the party can regain power.

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Meanwhile, the Labor Party and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, are still trying to gain a foothold in the zone. The party is just not popular in the zone. Recently, however, the party has been gaining popularity among the young. Undoubtedly, Northwest Zone youths are among the 71 percent of those who signed up to pick up their voter card. Based on the enormous number of youth voters, the PvdA may be faced with surprises. Suffice it to say that the concerted efforts of a few elites to push for Obi’s candidacy have been futile. Northern Elders Forum spokesman Hakeem Baba Ahmed openly supported Obi’s candidacy. But some experts have claimed that he is doing this because of his brother, Labor Party vice presidential candidate Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.

Many people in the zone see Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, the NNPP’s candidate, as a ‘spoiler role’ rather than an opportunity to win the election. Experts believe that his new party, the NNPP, will have the biggest impact in Kano, out of one or two other states in the zone. For several observers, NNPP is a party for the future.

ADC’s Dubemi Kachikwu is largely unknown in the zone. Two weeks ago, his party came to Kaduna to mobilize supporters from the northwest during a lecture series at the Arewa House. It will be the hardest for Kachikwu’s candidacy to fly in the zone.

Candidates’ strengths and weaknesses in North Central

The North Central, which consists of Nasarawa, Kogi, Benue, Niger, Kwara and Plateau, now has 14.1 million voters on the INEC registry. The zone is the second most important zone in the region due to its voice strength. Of the five governors in the zone, APC has four governors, while PDP has the governor of Benue. With this in mind, chances are the APC or Tinubu will have more votes than other presidential candidates. But like the northwest, the zone is also a strong base for the PDP when the party once held sway. All five states were once the stronghold of PDP from 1999 to 2015, until they were wiped out by the APC tsunami. In the 2023 elections, the APC is eager to repeat its 2015 and 2019 feats of arms. However, it is a fact that in the zone, religion plays a role in people’s choice to vote for. However, the power of the incumbent can be used to get votes for the APC presidential candidate Tinubu. Tinubu is expected to get quite a few votes from Nasarawa, where the party’s national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, is from; Kogi, who has a seasoned Buhari supporter as governor in person of Niger state governor Yahaya Bello and governor Sani Bello, who may be supported by a general to gather votes for their presidential candidate. Plateau Governor Simon Lalong, the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, can also use his influence to get votes. But in states like Kwara and Benue, Atiku may have the upper hand. Although Kwara has an APC governor, it is expected to be an exciting battle for votes as the influence of a former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, is undeniable. The NNPP is not popular in the zone. Meanwhile, religion will play an important role, with North Central being mainly dominated by Christians. The religion factor may ensure that Labor Party and ADC candidates get some votes in the zone.

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Candidate Opportunities in North East

The northeast consists of Yobe, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi and Gombe with a total of 12.8 million registered voters. Interestingly, it also has two political gladiators who will test their supremacy in the zone. Like the Northwest, the Northeast will also be a battleground for the presidential candidates. Four of the six governors in the zone are APC extraction, while two are PDP governors. Of the four APC governors, two states, Borno and Yobe have consistently voted for APC over the past two decades. So, with a PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and APC vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima out of the zone, the battle for votes will be fierce. Both APC and PDP are popular in the zone. The candidates from NNPP, LP and ADC can only get a few votes as the real battle will be between Atiku and Shettima who come out of the zone. Whether the APC’s Muslim-Muslim card issue will have an impact will be determined by how well the minority is united.

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