The year 2023 will no doubt be seen as a difficult one, a year of uncertainty. It is a year that defied prophesies and exposed the hollowness in the predictions of ‘Men of God.’ It is the year of the general elections when Nigerians embraced ample opportunity to elect a new President to succeed a regime that left them pauperised, if not outright despondent.
It is a time Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. Politically, a legion of events took place, particularly at the national and sub-national levels. What are these issues and how did they colour the 2023 calendar year?
The February 25 presidential election was held across the 774 local government areas across the country, with minimal challenges. For the first time, a new law known as the Electoral Act 2022 was put to the test. Before balloting, Nigerians were confident in the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission to get it right given the robust provisions in the Act.
Perhaps, the biggest provision of the Act was the direct transmission of election results to the IReV portal; an initiative many Nigerians believed would drastically reduce election rigging and manipulation. Although this provision was largely complied with at the National Assembly, governorship, and state Assemblies’ elections, the same could not be said of the presidential election.
At the end of balloting, INEC declared Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress the winner of the election and subsequently returned him as President and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. The former Lagos State Governor, according to INEC secured a total of 8,794,726 votes, representing 37 per cent of total votes cast to beat Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party who got 6,984,520 votes or 29 per cent of votes cast, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party who garnered 6,101,533 or 25 per cent of votes cast, to second and third place finish respectively.
Not only did Atiku and Obi reject the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the election, but they fought their way up to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the election as meeting the required standards, thus dismissing their applications as lacking in merit.
Tinubu’s election exposed many Pentecostal preachers in the land, who had predicted an outright victory for Obi whose ‘Obidient’ Movement, peopled by young netizens, took control of the social media, pledging their support in cash and kind to the realisation of the political aspiration of the former Anambra State governor.
Adamawa gov poll and Aisha Binani’s declaration
The March 18 governorship election in Adamawa was perhaps one of the most intriguing events of 2023. The incumbent governor and candidate of the PDP, Ahmadu Fintiri, had established a clear lead of 31,249 votes above his major challenger, Aisha ‘Binani’ Dahiru, of the APC. After the collation of results from 10 LGs, Fintiri was in a clear lead, but as the collation of results from supplementary polls was ongoing, the Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, arrived at the collation centre and announced Binani winner of the election.
Apart from the false declaration, it was not the duty of Yunusa-Ari to declare the winner of the election, but Mele Lamido, the returning officer. Following widespread condemnation, the disgraced Adamawa REC went into hiding but has since been arrested and is currently facing prosecution.
Senate presidency race
The presidency of the 10th Senate was a keenly contested exercise that initially had three former governors gunning for the exalted office. Godswill Akpabio, Orji Kalu, and Abdulaziz Yari, ex-governors of Akwa Ibom, Abia, and Zamfara states respectively all threw their hats in the ring, gunning for the plum office.
Orji later pulled out of the race, having given a solemn remark at the valedictory session of the 9th Senate. Although it is not clear if the former Abia State governor knew the hurdles on his path to the Senate Presidency, he rejected the negative names associated with his personality by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“Before I came into politics, I could buy anything money could buy. I am not a thief. Those that put me in prison know the reason. They took over my businesses and wanted to kill me, yet, I survived it and I am in the Senate with you. I have never lacked. While I was in the PDP where I served for two terms as governor, I brought the money that they used in forming the party; every penny in 1997 and 1998. People I gave transport money from my house in Victoria Island became agents. This is what Nigeria represents,” he said.
A few hours before the election, Kalu stepped down and pledged his support for Kyari who would go on to lose to Akpabio.
Like the Senate, the leadership of the House of Representatives pitted friends and political associates against one another. Yusuf Gagdi, Muktar Betara, and Tajudeen Abbas were the early birds to indicate interest in the office, only for them to pull out for Abbas, who was undoubtedly the preferred choice for the Presidency.
A few hours before the election, Gagdi and Betara pulled out, but Abbas soon had the likes of Sani Jaji and Ahmed Wase to contend with. During the election, Jaji and Wase secured three votes apiece, paving the way for a landslide victory for Abbas who represents Zaria Federal Constituency, Kaduna State on the platform of the APC.
El-Rufai denied ministerial position
The former governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai was one of the eminent APC leaders penciled down for a role in the Tinubu-led government. Before the screening, bookmakers tipped him for the Power portfolio. He would appear before the Senate, dressed in a well-tailored suit to field questions centred on issues and challenges in the power sector. In a sudden twist of fate, the author of ‘The Accidental Public Servant’ failed to get the security clearance required to bag a cabinet appointment.
Apparently worried about how he was schemed out, the former FCT Minister temporarily embraced reggae music, picking out the lyrics of the legendary Bob Marley in ‘Man to man is so unjust’, for solace.
The November 11 governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi, and Imo states lived up to pundits’ predictions. Expectedly, the APC retained Imo and Kogi states with the re-election of Governor Hope Uzodimma and Ahmed Ododo respectively. In Bayelsa where the PDP remains the party to beat, Duoye Diri won convincingly, leaving the bid of Timipre Sylva to return for a second and final term in office in tatters.
Zamfara, others A’Court judgment
The victory dance of Dauda Lawal, Caleb Mutfwang, and Abba Yusuf, governors of Zamfara, Plateau, and Kano states respectively was cut short, or so it appeared when the Appeal Court annulled their election, declaring that their election did not comply significantly with the provisions of the law.
While the appellate court in Abuja sacked Governor Lawal and declared the March governorship election in Zamfara State as inconclusive; it held that the Plateau State governor was not validly sponsored by his party, the PDP.
Similarly, the Court of Appeal nullified Yusuf’s election after disqualifying him from the Kano governorship race. The court upheld the decision of the lower election petition tribunal that earlier nullified the governor’s election.
For years, their political romance appeared as one destined for greatness. Philip Shaibu, a master of street politics and Deputy Governor of Edo State, was a pillar of support for Governor Godwin Obaseki, particularly when the banker-turned politician was frustrated out of the APC. He followed his boss to the PDP and together, they left the Adams Oshiomhole-backed Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the APC to retain the governorship seat of the state.
However, the two have parted ways with Shaibu’s ambition to succeed his boss in the 2024 Edo governorship poll believed to be the reason for their current rift. Obaseki wants power shift to Edo Central but Shaibu from Edo North argues that his party, the PDP, had not particularly been fair to his zone.
A few weeks ago, he ran to an Abuja High Court and secured a restraining order prohibiting Obaseki from initiating impeachment proceedings against him. Although he later withdrew the suit, the Jattu-born former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students has been subjected to degrading treatment, including alleged non-payments of allowances due to his office, and relocation of the Deputy Governor’s Office away from the Government House, among others.
Like in Edo, Rivers State is currently on the boil. Less than seven months after he bankrolled his godson and former Accountant General of Rivers State to succeed him, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike is realising that the sheepish loyalty he expected from Governor Siminalayi Fubara is gradually fading into thin air.
Several reports indicate that having been sworn in as the governor, Fubara wants to be left alone to implement his agenda of transforming the lives of Rivers people for good. But Wike who claimed to have purchased the nomination and expression of interest forms for Fubara is having none of it. With the rift degenerating into uncontrollable chaos, about seven commissioners and top government appointees resigned from the governor’s cabinet. This was sequel to the defection of 27 lawmakers from the PDP to the APC, a development that saw the governor presenting the 2024 budget proposal of N800bn to four members of the State Assembly.
Not one to run out of trouble, Fubara moved against the lawmakers as he rolled the bulldozers to level down the State Assembly Complex. President Tinubu has secured a truce but it remains to be seen how these two estranged leaders would manage the rift going forward.
Aiyedatiwa survives impeachment
In Ondo State, Lucky Aiyedatiwa stepped in as the acting Governor of the state after President Tinubu’s intervention in a political crisis that lingered for several months following the long absence of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu due to his health condition.
Akeredolu had written to inform the state House of Assembly that he was returning to Germany for a follow-up on his medical treatment. The ailing governor first went to Germany to seek medical treatment in June and returned in September. During the three months that he was away, his deputy operated as acting governor.
But evidence of a frosty relationship between him and his deputy (Aiyedatiwa) emerged after he sacked all his deputy’s media aides and the Assembly moved to impeach Aiyedatiwa for alleged gross misconduct he was accused of committing while operating as acting governor.
However, despite the political upheaval, On Thursday, Aiyedatiwa, for the second time, took office as acting governor.
There is no doubt that some of the major political events that shaped 2023 will spill over to 2024. Though many may see issues in Rivers, Ondo, and Edo states, among others as having come to an end, some of them may still be part of major occurrences that will determine where the country is headed politically in the first quarter of 2024.