Looking at the political history of Nigeria, in every presidential race, there are at least three levels of aspirants. There are the frontline contenders, the middle-level players, and the back-benchers, also referred to as the pretenders.
The frontline contenders are those with financial muscle and political structure to make maximum impact in the race. The middle-level players are those in the race with respectable antecedents. Although they may not have the type of resources and structures of the frontliners, they bank on different kinds of permutations to elevate their candidacy and pick the coveted ticket. In Nigeria, this happens so many times.
Those in this group may be banking for them to emerge as a consensus candidate on either an irreconcilable clash among the frontline contenders, a court case against a frontliner with huge baggage, or a sudden realisation by the political elite of the advantage in picking him or her as the party’s candidate.
The pretenders are those in the race either to prove a point, create some “nuisance value” to elevate their political profile, or negotiate for relevance in the next political dispensation. In their political heart, they know that they can’t win the race or even be among the first five in a free and fair electoral process. But just like most politicians, they are incurable optimists; so they hang on with the hope that somehow, something positive will emerge or they would be called for “settlement”.
In the race for the 2023 presidential ticket, Senator Ibikunle Amosun is a middle-level player. The interesting part is that political developments can propel a middle–level player to the level of frontline contender.
Amosun is politically savvy enough to visualise that in Nigeria, most frontline contenders don’t end up as winners. Research into the political lives of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Adamu Chiroma, Maitama Sule, Umaru Dikko, M.K.O Abiola, Peter Odili, and many others at different levels of their political lives will confirm that there could be some benefits, albeit historically, in entering the field as a middle-level player.
One thing that seems to be working for southern aspirants in the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is that the body language of the party is pointing down south. Comments from some northern elites like Gov. el-Rufai, Gov. Ganduje, and Gov. Zulum indicate their preference for a shift in line with the agreement among partners that formed the APC in 2015.
The biggest revelation to this preference is the current onslaught against opposition frontline candidate, Atiku Abubakar over his eligibility to contest. The elites of the ruling party might see him as a threat to any southern candidate that might emerge from APC so the race to rattle and weaken his camp to its foundation must have been flagged off with the case against Atiku’s citizenship.
With the expectation that the primaries would be largely against other southerners, a simpler strategy would be needed by middle-level players like Amosun. This should naturally be to collectively or individually checkmate the two southern frontline contenders, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
Part of that strategy since President Buhari came in for a 2nd term, has been for Amosun to fix plum federal jobs for his boys in the present dispensation. From various indications, he has also done this remarkably well.
Since the inception of the current dispensation, all federal appointments due to Ogun State, whether done discreetly or openly, have gone the way of people loyal to Amosun. As expected, this development has boosted his support base, especially by the beneficiaries and those still eyeing federal appointments.
This development was said to have shocked the current Ogun State governor who allegedly belongs to the camp of the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and Osoba.
Amosun’s childhood friend and his Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, during his 8-year term, Olamilekan Adegbite, was appointed the Minister of Mine and Steel Development by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In drawing from his goodwill with the President, Amosun also succeeded in pushing his cousin, Adeleke Adewolu, to be appointed the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Engagement, at the Nigerian Communications Commission.
In addition, Amosun was able to push for his former Commissioner for Agric and Urban and Physical Planning, Mrs. Ronke Sokefun, to be appointed chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NIDC).
Amosun was also instrumental to the appointment of the serving Postmaster-General/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Postal Services, Bisi Adegbuyi.
All these appointments and many others are believed to be part of Amosun’s calculations for human structures ahead of the 2023 presidential and general elections in Ogun state. These imply that Amosun remains highly influential in the scheme of things within the APC, particularly anything that has to do with the involvement of the President, in spite of his failure to field his preferred governorship candidate on the platform of the party in the last election.
Amosun, 62 years of age, was first elected Senator for the Ogun Central Senatorial District in April 2003. In April 2007, he made an unsuccessful bid for the governorship of Ogun State. He ran for governor again in 2011, and this time was elected on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria. He ran for office for the second term under the APC in 2015 and was re-elected and sworn into office on May 29, 2015. He is a close ally of President Buhari, who sent him a personal letter congratulating him on his 62nd birthday recently.
He is currently serving as the Senator representing Ogun Central in the National Assembly and he wants to be the first Nigerian to move from the Senate to the Presidency. Gov. Amosun is really counting on the reality that most Northern elites are not comfortable with Tinubu’s huge financial war chest and his independent-mindedness.
Most political elites and players feel Bola Tinubu could become arrogant and unapproachable as president. Some feel he might extend his iron grip on Lagos to the entire economy of Nigeria. So this group would gladly queue behind a seemingly more controllable candidate like Amosun who would have no option than to depend on their huge political structures for victory.
Even with all the support, can Amosun neutralize Bola Tinubu in the South? Can he even squeeze out Osinbajo from his newfound base of Ogun state?
The race to Aso rock will definitely be quite rugged and interesting. While some aspirants might want to depend on their financial strength and massive political structure, others would prefer to rely on the strength of their backers, political permutations, and their personal connections with the Nigerian elites. Whatever happens, the citizens would be watching to make their choice. That is what would count in the race in 2023.