By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The nuance of Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s electrifying whistle-stop tours of the South-West geo-political zone and pockets of towns in some of the other zones, since the commencement of electioneering for the February 16 presidential poll, has raised the stakes in the battle for massive votes, especially in Yoruba land.
The vice president had already covered so much ground and was extending his tentacles to the Yoruba-speaking area of Kogi State last Saturday, when the helicopter carrying him and his ten-man team crash-landed in Kabba. But gratefully to God, none of them was hurt in the accident.
Osinbajo’s grassroots campaigns in the South-West with about 16 million registered voters, which is next to North-West with the highest registered voter population of about 18 million, have been very effective. The strategic electioneering had been designed to lock-in the maximum possible votes in the zone for the APC presidential ticket.
The calculation is that once done and the party’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the North-West, is able to reenact his traditional mojo in the zone that had, in the past, culminated in vote hauls, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, will have to work hard in the remaining four zones to cancel out the possible wide margins of lead in the South-West and North-West zones.
It is, however, instructive that both zones (South-West and North-West) account for about 34 million of the estimated 82 million registered voter population, leaving the remaining four geo-political zones with a total of 48 million registered voters. While Atiku’s North-East has about 11 million registered voter population, there are about 10 million registered voters in the South-East, the home base of his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi.
These scenarios leave open for intense battle the North-Central and South-South geo-political zones with 13 million and 12 million registered voters respectively. The cumulative voter figure of 34 million in both South-West and North-West is quite huge when compared to 21 million that is cumulatively in the kitties of Atiku’s North-East and Obi’s South-East.
North-Central and South-South zones cumulatively custody 26 million registered voters which, to simplistically put it, can be deployed in making up and doing the much-needed balancing by the Atiku/Obi presidential ticket, assuming that the ticket is firmly in control of the zones. But from all indications, the presidential poll will be down to the wire.
Reports by different pollsters indicate that Buhari and Atiku will run neck-and-neck to the finish line by the time all the returns are made. However, a winner is expected, by the prevailing permutations and projections, to emerge by a margin that is possibly not significant. The point is that whoever is going to win the presidential election cannot afford to lose by very wide margins in both the South-West and North-West zones.
This is the reason pressure is on the two frontline candidates to either widen the margin of victory or constrict it. Buhari and Osinbajo are working round the clock to ensure that the margin is widened in the South-West and North-West zones while Atiku/Obi are strategising towards constricting the margin, knowing fully that the votes in their respective zones cannot mitigate the damage that South-West and North-West votes for Buhari/Osibanjo ticket would cause assuming the ticket gets the bloc votes of the two zones.
The endorsement of the Atiku presidential candidature by leaders of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the Middle Belt Forum, Pan Niger Delta Forum, a section of Afenifere and Northern Leaders’ Forum, in Abuja, last Sunday, barely twenty four hours after the ill-fated crash landing of Osinbajo’s chopper in Kabba, is thus expected to conduce to swinging more countrywide votes for the Atiku/Obi ticket. Developments such as this and others will combine to alter political calculations, permutations and reasonable expectations ahead of and during the presidential election.
Although bookmakers favour the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket to win the majority votes in both zones, if it cannot run away with 75 percent to 25 percent, it could as well kiss victory in the poll goodbye because Atiku/Obi ticket is poised to lock in the majority of the votes in southeast and south-south zones by as wide a margin as 80 percent to 20 percent. Both tickets are expected to run neck-and-neck in the northeast and north central zones.
In 2015, Buhari won in all the North-West states by very wide margins while in the South-West states, he won in the five states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Osun with slim margins, losing only in Ekiti to Jonathan where he scored about 120,000 votes to about 179,000 votes recorded by Jonathan. By the time votes from other zones canceled out one another and the dusts finally settled, Buhari had won by scoring about 15 million votes to about 12 million votes scored by Jonathan.
So, if anyone did not quite understand Osinbajo’s strategic grassroots tour of the South-West states, the fluid shapes, forms and textures of the forthcoming presidential election, to be sure, provide a context for explication: this is not a battle between APC’s Buhari and a southern candidate on the PDP platform. It is different from the 2015 scenario. Both frontline presidential candidates are northerners, Muslims and Fulani.
The APC cannot afford to take things for granted, especially in the South-West zone. But while Buhari is understandably counting on his cult-like following in the North-West to deliver the zone emphatically to the APC, the vice president is doing everything possible not only to deliver South-West zone to the APC presidential ticket but also to garner massive votes that will make its win emphatic.
Osinbajo’s exertions in the final homestretch to the presidential election must be appreciated for what they are: occasions to touch base with the people who voted for the APC presidential ticket in 2015; opportunities to deepen the conversations and engagements with the people, many of whose lives have been somewhat positively impacted with tradermoni, marketmoniprogrammes, which Osinbajo drives on behalf of the administration; the N-Power and the rice farmers’ anchor borrower scheme of the administration, et al; and, chances to appeal to their sensibilities in the quest of the administration for mandate renewal.
Just like the superintending APC Presidential Campaign Organisation that has been electrifying in its campaigns – which have, of course, been laced with and contoured by dramatic incidents – the Osinbajo campaigns that are reinforcing the main presidential campaigns have been smooth and luminous until the crash land on Saturday, February 2, in Kabba by the chopper in which he arrived the North-Central Yoruba-speaking town in continuation of his next level engagements with and mobilisation of the people.
It is remarkable that Osinbajo is putting in everything into the campaigns for the re-election of the APC presidential ticket. He must necessarily commit himself to the power-retention process to justify a sense of entitlement to the vice presidential position on his personal merit, performance, reputation and delivery and not on the back or recommendations of some godfathers who position themselves in self-acclaimed superintendence over the vortex of presidential power calculus.
This time round, Osinbajo is working in concert with, over, within and around the power caucus or caucuses to determine and justify his continuing choice as vice presidential candidate in his own right. If he plays his cards well, it may just be that he is actually working for his unanimous endorsement by the North as a natural successor to Buhari in 2023, if the ticket wins in 2019.
The other nuance of chopper accident in the overall picture of the electioneering, though a blight on otherwise smooth whistle stops, may count for something in his consideration as the “Khalifa” to President Buhari in 2023.
▪ Ojeifo sent this piece via email@example.com