It is less than two weeks to the 2023 general elections; the polls are significant because it is a transition that will lead to a change of government.
The fact that this year’s polls have thrown up at least four major contenders also underscored its uniqueness with Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party’s Rabiu Kwankwanso being the leading candidates jostling for 93.46 million votes in the elections. 18 presidential candidates will actually be on the ballot on February 25, 2023 but the four are obviously the main contenders.
However, the contenders know their chances of clinching the plumb job depend on their performances in some key states, especially in the northern part of the country including the Federal Capital Territory. The whole of the 19 states and FCT in the north accounts for 50.37 million of 93.46 million of the total number of eligible voters, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC).
The breakdown of the regions showed that the North-West geopolitical zone, which comprises the seven states of Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Jigawa has a total of 22.27m voters; it is the region with the highest number of voters in the country.
The North-Central, which is made up of Nasarawa, Kogi, Benue, Niger Kwara, and Plateau now has a total of 13.8m voters while the North- East which consists of Yobe, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Bauchi and Gombe added 1.07m new voters to reach 12.8m. FCT, Abuja has 1.5 million voters.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to highlight how voters in these regions behave in each presidential election, especially since 2003. The 1999 presidential election was unique because it was hurriedly put together and the two candidates Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae came from the same region, South-West which reflected in the dynamism of the polls.
By 2003 when the then General Muhammadu Buhari entered the race under the All Nigeria Peoples Party, the electoral pattern has been taking shape.
The PDP is the party that has retained its name and nomenclature since 1999 and was in power for 16 years until 2015 when it was swept out of Aso Rock by a new coalition that metamorphosed into APC. So, it is correct to situate this conversation around the way Northern voters vote for the PDP in the presidential elections vis-vis the performances of opposition parties at the polls.
Voters in the 19 states and FCT have different peculiarities and they could be grouped into three places; those that prefer to vote for opposition parties, another set that has always cast their ballot for the PDP and those that are unpredictable.
As strong as the PDP, the party has not won in any of the Gombe, Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kano, Kebbi, Bauchi, Katsina, Yobe, and Borno states since 2003. These states account for the highest number of voters and voter turnout in elections. It is also important to emphasise that the 10 states account for 44.72 million in the INEC list of registered voters. According to statistics obtained from INEC, these states usually record more than 50 per cent of voters turn out on election day.
Meanwhile, the PDP has always enjoyed patronage in six states of FCT, Plateau and Taraba, Adamawa, Benue and Nasarawa. The main opposition party has never lost a presidential election in these states in 24 years except in Adamawa, Benue and Nasarawa where the parties have lost once each. One peculiarity of these states is that they are populated by a substantial number of Christian voters but only 13.26 million are eligible to vote in the coming elections.
The four states of Kaduna, Niger, Kogi and Kwara are utterly unpredictable in the way they cast their votes. Results of presidential elections in those states are always almost uneven; several factors including the direction in which key political actors go usually determine the outcome of polls in those areas. The four states have a combined number of 10.67m voters in the coming election.
Obviously, Buhari’s foray into politics in 2003 significantly shape the pattern in each of these regions because the President, who eventually won in 2015 after four attempts, command cult-hero followership, especially in those 10 states that usually vote against PDP. Now that he will not be on the ballot, it remains to be seen if the candidate of his party Tinubu would be able to inherit his bumper electorate base.
He certainly will face a tough challenge from Atiku of the PDP who is now seen as the hope of the northern region to retain power after Buhari’s exit.
Meanwhile, Atiku knows he has to chop into the Buhari voters’ base and hurt Tinubu because the emergence of Obi of the Labour Party is threatening his chances in the traditional PDP states even in the north.
Obi could score a substantial number of votes and even trump Atiku in states like FCT, Plateau, Taraba, Benue and Nasarawa.