2022: Top gladiators to watch

December 26, 2021
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Every year comes with its unique circumstance, events, and challenges. With the onset of a fresh season of politics in Nigeria, 2022 promises to be another eventful year. 

On the political scene, an increase in the level of political activities and electioneering are expected to throw up a number of gladiators who would shape the process of the next transition.

On the presidency,  in addition to former Vice President Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Senator Bukola Saraki, Anyim Pius Anyim, Nyesom Wike, Yemi Osinbajo, Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state, Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State are the state actors Nigerians would watch out for in the months ahead.


Since the advent of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has unsuccessfully contested four times for the office of president of Nigeria in 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019. Before then, he had contested the primaries of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993 and lost to the late MKO Abiola.

One of the low points of his ambition is his inconsistent political affiliation. For instance, while he failed to get the endorsement of his boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to pick the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to contest the 2007 presidential election, coming third to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Unable to realise his ambition, he reunited with the PDP and again slugged it out with President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 presidential primaries of the party, but equally lost. In the run-up to the 2015 general elections, he joined forces with the All Progressives Congress (APC) and contested the presidential ticket with President Muhammadu Buhari. He lost as well. 

In 2017, he returned to the PDP and eventually emerged the presidential candidate of the party for the 2019 general elections only for him to lose the race again to incumbent President Buhari.

By 2023, he would be 77. Yet, he is still warming up to take another shot at the presidency. In fact, he was the first person to kick when the PDP leadership announced its decision to concede the chairmanship position of the party to the North-central, saying that the Nigerian constitution does not permit zoning of elective positions. His scheming for the ticket of the PDP will be an interesting scenario to watch in the months ahead.   

   Senator Bukola Saraki

It is no longer news that Senator Bukola Saraki is interested in picking the presidential ticket of the PDP for the 2023 election. This is the second time he is taking a shot at the coveted seat. His father, Olusola Saraki, had the oldest political dynasty in Kwara State. With the age-old platform, he had governed the state for two terms and also served in the Senate for the same length of time, emerging as the Senate President.

While he held sway as the de facto authority in the state, he dictated who got what. But in 2019, the Otoge revolution that heralded the emergence of the incumbent Governor Abdulraham Abdulrasaq turned the tide against him and pulled the rug off his feet.

Having declared his intention to run for the presidency, Senator Saraki obviously has two major battles ahead of him: rebuilding the dynasty as well as securing the ticket of the PDP among an array of other contenders. When in the earlier part of his administration, Governor Abdulrasaq pulled down Ile-Arugbo (the traditional home of the late Oloye) in Ilorin; it was celebrated as symbolic destruction of the last vestiges of the Saraki dynasty. The embattled Senator will need to prove that the dynasty is still alive and kicking in the coming election. How this will happen is one exciting event people would like to watch in the months ahead.      

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Tinubu, the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is a shrewd political strategist whose step is very difficult to predict. Although he has not made a formal declaration of his intention to run for the presidency in 2023, his body language speaks volumes. The height of the intrigue trailing his secret ambition was the sudden appearance of campaign posters in the UK and US, while on a medical trip to London. In Nigeria, over 120 political movements are said to be mobilizing for him for the epic contest. These include Southwest Agenda SWAGA 2023 group, Tinubu Transformation Agenda 2023, Northern Alliance for Tinubu 2023, and Tinubu Peoples Network. Besides, he has been making secret consultations with other prominent politicians in the country.

Apart from all these, there is also insinuation about an unwritten agreement allegedly reached with the power-that-be to make him (Tinubu) succeed Buhari in 2023. As part of the power scheming, the struggle for the chairmanship position of the APC ahead of the national convention slated for February is said to be a straight battle between the presidency and the supporters of the APC national leader. These and many more are issues that would shape the future of the party as the next election approaches.

Prof Yemi Osinbajo

The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, is playing the ostrich in the power game. While his ambition to succeed his boss has been severally refuted, there is a strong indication that he is also an interested party in the 2023 presidential race. One of his support groups, Nigerians Ask for Osinbajo, described him as an “individual who has been tried, tested and has been found to possess the qualities required to accelerate the development of our nation.”

How he is going to wade through the murky water of politics and come out unscathed is one interesting thing many Nigerians would be looking forward to seeing in the months ahead.

Senator Anyim Pius Anyim

A former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, is also another political figure to watch in 2022.  Since the exit of the PDP from the reign of power in 2015, Anyim has been in the shadow lying low. At a point when his posters flooded the city of Abuja, the nation’s capital, he quickly dissociated himself from the unsolicited campaign. Now, coming back to the scene after a prolonged sabbatical, the erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation said he would take a shot at the presidency whether or not it is zoned to the Southeast.

One of the reasons the Southeast has remained largely marginalized is the inability of the stakeholders to speak in one voice. Although Ohanaeze has allayed the fear, working the talk requires more than rhetoric. Until other prospective aspirants who are equally eyeing the coveted seat from the region come out to declare their intent, the assurance of the apex body to build a consensus around a particular candidate remains, at best, a mere promissory note.

Beyond the narrow interest of the Southeast enclave, the most daunting challenge before Anyim or any other aspirant for that matter is getting the other zones to buy into the presidency of Igbo extraction .

Nyesom Wike

Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, is one of the power brokers in the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His second term ends in 2023, but he is yet to declare his next political move, though some are already speculating his presidential or vice-presidential ambition.

Beyond that, he is at the forefront of the agitation for control of the Value Added Tax (VAT) by the states. Wike had approached the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to challenge the right of the Federal Inland Revenue Service to collect Value Added Taxes based on the perceived injustice inherent in the sharing formula and got favourable judgment. According to Wike,  Rivers State generated about N15 billion as VAT in June 2021, but received only N4.7 billion, whereas Kano State generated N2.8 billion and also got N2.8 billion as allocation. The trial judge, Justice Stephen Pam, in his ruling, restrained FIRS and the Attorney-General of the Federation, both 1st and 2nd defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening, and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, both PIT and VAT.

The Lagos State government subsequently joined the suit at the Court of Appeal. Because of the implication of the matter on the capacity of the Federal Government’s revenue-generating agency, many people are suggesting a political solution to the stalemate. Wike is at the centre of that solution.

Dave Umahi

Like his counterpart in Rivers State, Governor Dave Umahi’s second tenure expires in 2023. A former member of the PDP, Umahi had led the gale of defections that almost swept away the opposition in 2020, when he declared his support for the ruling APC, a move many people saw as a step towards the realization of his presidential ambition. But he dismissed the insinuation, saying “I did not negotiate with the presidency or anyone to contest the position under the APC.

“My next line of action after my governorship is in God’s hands and there is nothing God cannot do.”

This is even as Ebonyi State Council of Elders recently declared support for Umahi to vie for president in 2023, describing him as the most suitable to lead the country after President Buhari’s tenure.

The council, which comprises traditional rulers, elder statesmen, and politicians cutting across political affiliations in the state, stated that Anyim had not intimated them about his purported presidential ambition. Indeed, Umahi has his superlative performance in Ebonyi State standing him out from his colleagues in the Southeast and most other states in the country having given Ebonyi a tremendous face-lift.

However, for now, the ambition of Governor Umahi to succeed President Buhari is still in the realm of speculation. By the time political activities commence in full swing, the picture of who wants to go for what would become clearer in the Southeast region.

Kayode Fayemi

Kayode Fayemi is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and a former minister of Solid Mineral Development who enjoyed a good listening ear of the president. His second term terminates in 2023. Ahead of the next general elections, there is already a swirling rumour of his ambition to succeed President Buhari, a move that is said to have created a crack within the rank of the Ekiti State chapter of the APC between the supporters of Asiwaju Tinubu and his own faction.

Compared to Tinubu, lack of formidable political structure as well as lean resources could be his major limiting factors. But he appears to be undaunted by these barriers, as insinuation is rife that he might have been working with the Chairman of Extraordinary Convention Caretaker Committee of the party, Mai Mala Buni, to curb the political influence of the national leader of the party.

The intrigue is part of the scheming that would determine the shape of the National Convention that is scheduled to hold in February.

For the record, Tinubu was instrumental to judicial battle through which Fayemi reclaimed his mandate from former Governor Segun Oni in his first tenure. Now, he is warming up to confront his godfather in an epic battle for the 2023 presidential contest.

Saliu Mustapha

Erstwhile National Chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the leading parties that  merged to form the APC, Saliu Mustapha, is leading the pack of APC gladiators angling to clinch the chairmanship position of the party in February. The youthful politician and successful businessman many believe will strengthen the fortunes of the APC if allowed to steer the affairs of the ruling party. The Kwara State-born politician has already thrown his hat to the ring to contest the plum position.

Tanko Al-Makura

Former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Tanko Al-Makura is also another top contender in the national chairmanship of the APC. Two things are likely to work in his favour. One, he is a member of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) like Mustapha and a loyal disciple of President Buhari. The second factor is the zoning of the position to the North-central. Notwithstanding the intrigues about the zoning arrangement, this is also an array of other contenders from the North. This includes former governors Abdulazaiz Yari (Zamfara), Kashim Shettima (Borno), Isa Yaguda (Bauchi), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi), Ali Modu Sheriff (Borno) Danjuma Goje (Gombe) and George Akume (Benue) and Senator Sani Mohammed from Niger State.

Yahaya Bello

It is also an open secret that the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, is interested in the presidential contest. However, the decision by his party, APC, to concede the chairmanship slot to the North-central may have technically nailed his ambition. Nonetheless, several political groups have been intensifying their campaigns to mobilise for Yahaya Bello, stressing the advantage of his age and youthful energy in leading the country.     

Yakub Mahood

Prof Yakub Mahmood is the cynosure of all eyes. The Chairman of the electoral umpire has been applauded for the successful conduct of the recent Anambra State governorship election. In 2022, the Osun and Ekiti states governorship elections are also coming up. Expectations are high that he would be able to improve on the previous performance and deliver more credible elections in the two states.

Controversy is also raging over the use of electronic transmission of results as well as the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) technology to conduct the next general elections. Despite President Buhari’s refusal to assent to the amended electoral law, Mahmood has insisted that the new technology would be used for future elections.

He has a duty to do the right thing no matter whose horse is gored.

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