As the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria draws near, many commentators have continued to put the four major presidential candidates on the scale.
The four major contenders for the presidential race include Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Bola Tinubu of APC, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the NNPP.
Akwa Ibom State is not left out in the permutation.
With the constitutionally required 25 percent votes in 2/3 of the 36 States and the FCT, the votes of over two million (2,357,418) eligible voters in Akwa Ibom, according to INEC, should not be ignored.
A comparative look at the successive presidential elections from 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 in Akwa Ibom would show that it will no longer be business as usual in the 2023 elections as some factors have come into play and a lot of people from investigations may no longer want to maintain the status quo.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is the ruling party in Akwa Ibom right from 1999 and each governor has tried to deliver the presidential candidate in every general election. Even in 2015 when the All Progressives Congress took over at the national level, PDP still won at the state level.
However, the introduction of the third force, that is, the Labour Party, LP, has changed the political rhythm in Akwa Ibom as a good number of people have shown interest to participate in the elections because of the LP’s presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi.
Also INEC’s proposed use of the Bimodal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS) which combines fingerprint and face biometrics to verify voters’ identities and the electronic transmission of results from polling units directly to the INEC Result Viewing Portal have combined in emboldening the people to participate in the elections as they believe that their votes would count.
Nevertheless, some political analysts and commentators in an interview with our correspondent presumed the possible outcome of the presidential election in the State and considered the ability of the political leaders to influence the electorates to vote their preferred candidate.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP’s presidential candidate enjoyed enormous support from Akwa Ibom State in his 2019 presidential bid and is expected to enjoy more in 2023, especially from the ruling class as the governor of the state, Mr Udom Emmanuel is his Campaign Council Chairman.
Gov. Emmanuel had in different fora described PDP as a ‘religion’ in the state and promised to deliver the state 100% for Atiku at the 2023 polls.
But, from observations, that promise would be a herculean task for the governor as the presidential election may not be the normal “carry go” for the ruling party, PDP.
From the unfolding of events in the state, things have fallen apart after the PDP Primary, which had made some chieftains of the party to seek political salvation elsewhere. Some fought back to take their pound of flesh, while others remained mute nursing the ambition of supporting another party candidate.
Unlike in 2019 that Senator Akpabio left for APC, other PDP chieftains such as late Otuekong Idongesit Nkanga, Senator Anietie Okon, Senator Bassey Albert and other government functionaries who have good followership stayed united and worked for the reemergence of governor Emmanuel and the victory of Atiku in the State. That is to say that PDP even with its established structure needed more strength to win the presidential race of February 25.
According to a Political Scientist and Chairman, Akwa Ibom NUJ political Committee, Mr Aniekan Udofia, the presidential election of 2023 is going to be different in the state as people are no longer going to vote party but individual.
Udofia noted that there will be a lot of deception playing out in the 2023 election within the political class, as there is a tendency of people rallying support for a candidate or a leader in the morning and in the evening they will support another.
He said, “in the past, it was said that Akwa Ibom is PDP and Akwa Ibom will always vote for PDP but a lot of factors in the 2023 elections have changed that, because the choice of the presidential candidate by PDP does not answer the question of equity.
“Another thing in Akwa Ibom is that political leaders usually give direction but Akwa Ibom people have found out that these leaders are only for themselves. They give direction to serve their personal interest, the hunger in the land bites harder and the people now want to give a self direction.
“Another disadvantage to PDP is that after its primary, it had over 600 litigations. There are still disgruntled persons in the party who will also work against it at the polls.”
In his analysis, a member of NNPP and political strategist in the state, Mr Etim Etime said Atiku will come second, Obi will come first, Tinubu third, while Kwankwanso will take the last slot in that order.
Etim noted that the issue of president Mohammadu Buhari after eight years, and another northerner succeeding him immediately does not resonate well with Akwa Ibom people, adding that election has a lot to do with religious and ethnic sentiments.
He further noted that the issue of Naira scarcity would not allow the ruling party or other money bags in the state to have a total grip and influence on the people at the presidential poll in the state.
“The outcome of the presidential election in Akwa Ibom will be a very big disappointment to the governor. People of the State have the mind of their own. Also with the Naira redesign, the issue of money politics will be seriously curtailed,” he said.
On his part, the Chairman of Coalition of Civil Societies in Akwa Ibom, Dr Harry Udoh said Atiku will get some votes in Akwa Ibom but Peter Obi will win the State.
He said the situation at hand is beyond the governor as the electorates in the state are ready to make a statement at the poll.
Udoh added that with the heightened awareness of BVAS, the electorate will likely have the mind of their own.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, popularly known as Jagaban is the presidential candidate of the ruling APC. During the past elections in Akwa Ibom, the APC was the main opposition party in the state and has a good number of ardent followers.
But according to Aniekan Udofia, going by the level of suffering and hardship in the country, a lot of people feel that voting along party lines won’t solve any problem and the people are eager to come out of the situation they were allegedly subjected to by the APC-led administration.
Etim Etime, who was a member of APC in the state, said the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket is not welcomed by Akwa Ibom people going by the fact that Akwa Ibom is a Christian state.
Asked if the internal crisis in Akwa Ibom APC would affect the chances of Tinubu in the state, Etime said, “No, despite the rancour among the APC members in Akwa Ibom, all of them in their different camps are for Tinubu but the way I see things in this State, he will not win here, rather he will take third position.”
Etime also said the defection of Senator James John Udoedehe to NNPP with his numerous supporters had further depleted the voting base of Tinubu.
The presidential candidate of NNPP whom all the persons interviewed placed on the fourth position in Akwa Ibom is expected to have votes only from the supporters of the governorship candidate of the party in the state, Senator Udoedehe.
Mr Peter Obi is the presidential candidate of the Labor party. It is assumed that Obi will win the presidential election in Akwa Ibom state given the massive support from members of the public who tagged themselves ‘Obidients’.
According to the Chairman of the Coalition of CSOs, Dr Udoh, with the advent of the Labour party and the introduction of BVAS, the electorate will like to have the mind of their own.
His words, “It is amazing that the Labour Party has become the elephant in the room because its candidate is speaking the minds of the people. Akwa Ibom people are really tired of the status quo.
“For the presidential election, Peter Obi will have the required 25% in the state and over 80% as a whole. The truth is that even the APC members and the PDP members want Peter Obi to win. From their utterances and body language, it showed that they want something different, the candidate of APC hasn’t helped matters from the glitches he makes every day.
“I’m very sure that even those in governor Emmanuel’s cabinet want Peter Obi to win but they won’t come out to say. Even the governor himself will be happy if Obi wins the election. There is nobody who does not like good things.”
Aniekan Udofia on his part said the kind of followership Peter Obi enjoys in Akwa Ibom is inexplicable as people who are following and supporting him are not necessarily members of Labour Party.
He said, “this is a movement. At Obidients’ mega rally, the number of people that turned out for Obi were even more than the number of votes ever cast in Akwa Ibom, that again is a very strong statement.
“Also there is a sentiment that Obi is married to an Akwa Ibom woman. I don’t know how many states that would have a prospect of having a first lady and would not try to utilise it. For instance, Delta State enjoyed it with Miriam Babangida, Edo State enjoyed it with Stella Obasanjo and we in Akwa Ibom, we want to enjoy it too with Margaret Obi. That is a strong sentiment. Gov Emmanuel being Atiku’s PCC chairman does not change anything because he is not running for any election but our sister and daughter is.
“The followership of Peter Obi does not answer to a political party; I’ve seen card carrying members of other political parties following Peter Obi and everybody wants genuine change.”
However, despite the permutations over the presidential election, voting is still done through a secret ballot and result determined at the end of the exercise, any of the candidates could get a last minute support from Akwa Ibom people to emerge the winner at the poll.