Political events that shaped 2023

Events that shaped 2023

Richard Elesho  

For Nigerians, the outgoing year 2023 wobbled in slowly amidst grave economic concerns and heightened political activities. A controversial currency redesign, Naira scarcity, and flying inflation had made life more miserable for the common man. While struggling for survival, however, the people had their eyes on the ongoing process of shopping for new leaders.

From the first day of January to the last of December, the year 2023 was filled with politics. It was appropriately tagged a ‘general election year.’ All eyes were on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the body saddled with the conduct of the polls. Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to participate in the election of a president, 28 state governors, and law makers at national and state levels in the main exercise.

That is not all. Three states also had their off-cycle governorship elections in the year. To a lesser degree, local government elections were marked in some states across the country. The following were the major political landmarks of the country in the passing year.

Presidential/ National Assembly elections

National Assembly

The year opened with the continuation of campaigns by political parties and their candidates for the February 25 election. No less than 18 prominent Nigerians had secured the tickets of their respective political parties to signify interest in President Muhammodu Buhari’s work.

In spite of the large crowd of candidates, however, it was clear from the start that only four were in contention. They were Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC; Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; Peter Obi of Labour Party, LP; and Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP. While Atiku is a former vice president, the remaining three Tinubu, Obi, and Kwakwanso are former governors of Lagos, Anambra, and Kano, respectively.

The men and their supporters defied petrol, and Naira scarcities to crisscross the length and breadth of the country scavenging for votes. The jamboree-like campaigns were heavy on trivialities but light on the real issues. Contradictory and largely partisan predictions on the outcome of the poll by supposed men of God were let loose on gullible Nigerians, without let or hindrance.

The big parties, especially the main opposition PDP, were unable to rise above the rancour of their primary election, and it tinged their outings throughout the campaigns. Nyeson Wike, then Rivers state governor and former presidential aspirant, led four other governors in cowboy’s style to demand the resignation of Iyorchia Ayu as Party National Chairman. They shunned the party’s rallies for the presidency. Similarly, some former APC presidential ticket bidders like then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former governor Rotimi Amechi mostly kept away from the campaigns.

In addition, the perceived opposition of the presidency to one of the candidates provided more content for the underground campaign blues.

The condition of the parties notwithstanding, the election held as scheduled. INEC introduced the use of Biometric Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, an innovation that reduced rigging. For most of National Assembly election, the electoral umpire also uploaded Polling Unit results on its Irev, short for INEC Result Verification, portal. It was however, unable to deliver on the same promise for the presidential poll.

At the end of the exercise, Tinubu won with wide margins. He polled 8,794,726 votes, representing 37 per cent of total votes cast to beat Atiku who got 6,984,520 votes or 29 per cent of votes cast, and Obi who garnered 6,101,533 or 25 per cent of votes cast, to second and third place finish respectively. Kwakwanso came fourth with 1,496,687 representing 6.23% of total votes cast.

L-R: Obi, Tinubu, Atiku and Kwankwaso

The elections into the bicameral National Assembly followed the same trend. The APC has more members in the Senate and House of Representatives. It is followed by the PDP, LP and NNPP in that order. In the same vein SDP, APGA, and ADC won some few seats in the election.

State elections and Adamawa blues

The first three months of the year were also characterised by permutations for state elections. Indeed, campaigns for the national and state elections went on concurrently across the country.

INEC originally scheduled the election for 11 March. It was, however, postponed by one week to 18 March because of the need to reconfigure the BVAS. Only 28 states had their governorship elections on that day due to orevious judicial pronouncements in the remaining eight states. Nevertheless, the House of Assembly election took place in all the states on the same date.

The elections went on smoothly in all the states until an unexpected perfidious drama broke out in Adamawa State. Incumbent governor and PDP candidate Umaru Fintiri was coasting to victory as collation got underway. Results from supplementary polls were being awaited when the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, curiously arrived at the collation centre and announced Aisha Binani of the APC winner of the election.

Aside from not backing up his claim with data, it was not his duty to announce the results, but that of Mele Lamido, the Returning Officer. Following the infringement, Yinusa Ari disappeared. The error was promptly corrected, and the ursurper later arrested.

Inauguration/ Proclamation

With the general election conducted, relative calm returned to the nation’s political space. The president-elect and other winners upped preparations for their swearing in, but not without some distractions. Parties that lost in the elections hysterically assailed the judiciary with complaints about it. The tribunals started work in earnest.

Tinubu sworn in as President on 29 May 2023

At a time, the vice-presidential candidate of LP, Baba Datti Ahmed, called for the cancellation of Tinubu’s inauguration, describing it as unconstitutional Addressing President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the LP vice-presidential candidate made the argument that going ahead with Tinubu’s inauguration would be wrong because of the cases in court.

“Mr President, do not hold that inauguration. CJN, Your Lordship, do not partake in unconstitutionality,” he said. Some religious leaders claiming clairvoyance also added colour, asserting that the inauguration would not hold.

The efforts were dead on arrival. Tinubu and Shettima were inaugurated as president and vice-president on 29 May, as scheduled in a loud ceremony and without hitches. The governors were also inaugurated in the 28 states on the same date.

Members of the 10th National Assembly were promulgated on 13 June by President Tinubu. The state lawmakers were also sworn in the same month. The inauguration put an end to months of permutations, consultations, and agitations over the leadership of the legislature.

Three former governors, namely Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), and Abduaziz Yari (Zamfara) were in the race for the Senate President. Apkabio, apparently Aso Rock’s preference, eventually won the race. Tajudeen Abbas from Kaduna State emerged Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Cabinet formation

President Tinubu took quick decisions from his first day in office. Among his early appointments were those of former Benue State governor George Akume as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF and Femi Gbajabiamila, immediate past House of Representatives Speaker as his Chief of Staff. The new helmsman also appointed a kitchen cabinet of advisers, including Dele Alake for Information and Strategy and Nuhu Ribadu for National Security.

New Ministers

In July, the President started transmitting names of his ministerial nominees to the NASS for clearance. The names were sent in three batches. The process witnessed one sudden withdrawal and non clearance of former Kaduna governor Nasir el-Rufai, but the Senate confirmed the others in August. In all, the cabinet is made up of 48 members, the largest in the nation’s history.

46 of the ministers assumed office in August. The remaining two did not start work until October. The president also fortified his Media Team with the appointment of veteran journalists Bayo Onanuga and Ajuri Ngelari as Special Advisers.

Off-cycle guber polls

The conclusion of the general election in March literally marked the frenzied preparations for off-season gubernatorial polls. The first set of this took place in three states, Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo, on Saturday, 11 November. Thus, whereas other parts of the country rested from the hustles and bustles of politics after the elections, the story was different in the three states.

Primaries for the election of candidates were conducted by the parties under the supervision of INEC in April. The tickers of the major political parties were fiercely fought for in all the states. The governors of Bayelsa, Douye Diri, and Imo Hope Uzodimma picked their second term tickets with relative ease as expected.

Violence was a major concern during the campaigns; on election day and after. Security breaches were recorded in the three states, especially in Kogi, where all the 18 registered political parties had candidates. Bayelsa and Imo had 17 candidates each.

At the end of the election, both Diri of PDP and Uzodima of APC won their second terms in Bayelsa and Imo, respectively. APC also retained its hold on Kogi through the victory of Ahmed Usman Ododo, its candidate and kinsman of outgoing Governor Yahaya Adoiza Bello.

God-father/ son crises and others

Nigerians witnessed a breakdown of relationships between some political associates in the about-to-end year. Notable among them was the one between Rivers governor Siminalayi Fubara and FCT Minister Nyesom Wike, his predecessor and godfather. Others include between former Ondo State governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy Aiyedatiwa; and Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki against his deputy Philip Shaibu.

The crisis in Rivers was over the control of government resources, appointments, and political structure. Fubara was accused of disloyalty to his former boss. The crisis caused a division in the House of Assembly, where 27 Wike lawmakers who decamped to the APC attempted to impeach the governor. Five members remained with the embattled Fubara

The one in Ondo ensued over the protracted sickness of the governor and agitation for his deputy to step into his shoes. President Tinubu intervened in both cases. However, the death of Akeredolu on Christmas day meant a supernatural settlement of the Ondo imbroglio. Aiyedatiwa has since assumed the duties of a substantive governor. Tinubu’s intervention has also brought a semblance of peace to Rivers. Akeredolu died this month and Aiyedatiwa was sworn in as Governor

In Edo Shaibu is at loggerheads with his boss over his succession plan. The deputy governor is in the race for Obaseki’s successor, but the governor apparently has his mind on someone else. The two were still in battle regalia at press time.