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This report was published in LEADERSHIP today.

The much-anticipated campaign for the nation’s top seat begins today as 18 presidential candidates begin the process of convincing Nigerians to vote for them and their political parties.

The candidates will seek to convince the 96.3 million voters why they deserve to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock from May 29, 2023.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had fixed September 28 for the formal commencement of the presidential campaigns.

According to INEC’s timetable, the presidential and National Assembly elections will be held on Saturday, February 25, 2023, followed by the governorship and State Assembly elections on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

The presidential candidates are Accord Party (AP), Imumolen Christopher; Action Alliance (AA), Al Mustapha Hamza; African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore; African Democratic Congress (ADC), Kachikwu Dumebi; Action Democratic Party (ADP), Sani Yabagi; All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu.

Also on the ballot are All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Umeadi Chukwudi; Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Ojei Princess Chichi; Action Peoples Party (APP), Nnadi Osita; Boot Party (BP), Adenuga Oluwafemi; Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi; New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso; National Rescue Movement (NRM), Osakwe Johnson; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Abiola Kolawole; Social Democratic Party (SDP), Adebayo Adewole; Young Peoples Party (YPP), Ado-Ibrahim Abdulmalik; and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Dan Nwanyanwu.

Although the campaigns formally kick off today, the candidates had since been embarking on what they called consultations, with their supporters engaging in activities which could pass for campaigns.

Amid rising calls for issues-based campaigns, checks by LEADERSHIP reveal that some of the key candidates and their spokespersons have been locked in brickbats over issues of ethnic divisions, same-faith tickets and intra-party squabbles.

Still, the issues of national cohesion, security, debt crisis, education reforms, healthcare decline and acute economic distress, corruption, and plugging of financial wastages have remained topic issues heading into the polls.

A recent survey by LEADERSHIP showed that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians want to vote candidates that can tackle the problems of insecurity, economic hardship and education among others head-on.

The survey by LEADERSHIP Data Mining Department to gauge the perception of Nigerians towards the 2023 elections revealed that Nigerians want to vote leaders that are credible, competent, and that party, religious and ethnic affiliations may not have much influence on their voting pattern in the 2023 elections.

The survey was conducted between August 1 and 31, 2022. Tools deployed to gather data and information for this survey include: Google forms (created and deployed by LEADERSHIP Data Mining Department), opinion poll (used in gathering more information via leadership.ng) and interviews.

So far, the candidates would have to grapple with proffering solutions to the rising inflation rate which increased to 19.64 per cent on a year-on-year basis in July 2022, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

They would also be faced with addressing the high number of unemployed individuals in the country which has hit 23 million, according to Jobberman in collaboration with Young Africa Works and Mastercard Foundation.

On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari has used every opportunity to express his unquenchable desire to return to his home, Daura, in Katsina State after the end of his eight-year tenure in 2023.

In July this year, he stated that he could not wait to return to his farm in Daura handed to him by his forefathers, noting that it is the next thing on his mind after leaving office next year.

PDP, LP, NNPP, Others Sweet-talk The Electorate

Meanwhile, major political parties in the country and their presidential candidates have started wooing Nigerians, especially eligible voters, with colourful speeches and political oratory ahead of the 2023 polls.

Yesterday, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was in Enugu State where he commended Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for his commitment to the success of his parley with PDP stakeholders in the South East.

He also thanked him for the elaborate arrangements made and ensuring that adequate preparations were made despite his communication shortcomings.

“That’s leadership; that’s commitment, that’s selflessness, and I highly appreciate you, Gburugburu,” he stated.

Atiku described his visit as part of his consultations with the leaders of the various zones to thank them for their support, to listen to them regarding the issues specific to their zones, both in terms of preparations for the campaigns and governance after the elections.

Atiku noted that they must be prepared to hit the ground running from day one, adding that if Nigerians give him their mandate, he would wriggle the country out of its present state.

“Our country is in very bad shape and rescuing it requires proper preparations and attention to details, not just in terms of general issues affecting the whole country but also issues specific to each zone and the states therein,” he stated.

He noted that the South East is close to his heart, adding that the zone supported him through thick and thin and he will always remember that.

He continued: “Your sons and daughters have played very positive roles in the development of our country. They were key personnel who played important roles in the PDP government in which I served as Vice President.

“And they have continued to excel in other roles across the world. You are a key contributor to economic activities in this country and a government that wants to revive our economy and provide opportunities for our people must carry the South East along. I am a businessman and I know that businesses need supporting environments to thrive and when they thrive the country thrives”.

We’re Ready For Issue-based Campaigns – LP

Also, the Nigeria Labour Party (LP) yesterday said it was ready for issue-based campaigns ahead of the 2023 general election.

In a statement by its national chairman, Barrister Julius Abure, LP said it is prepared for the campaigns.

Abure commended INEC on its position on incumbent political office holders who use the power of incumbency to deny the opposition access to public facilities for campaigns, an action which the Commission said was illegal and would attract sanctions as spelt out in the Electoral Act 2022.

LP said, “The position of INEC is germane with the recent attacks on the supporters of Labour Party candidates across the nation particularly in Ebonyi, Enugu, Katsina and Kaduna amongst others.

“It is a fact that the popularity and influence of Labour Party recently has been astonishing wherein it has witnessed exponential and geometric growth across the states, the fear factor being expressed by the other political parties which has pushed them into resorting to obstructing and in some cases manhandling of otherwise, Labour party supporters who have been embarking on peaceful rallies, is a threat to our democracy.

“We seize this opportunity to call on the incumbent political office holders to ensure that political terrain is demilitarised and level playing ground provided for all political activities. This will ensure that the choice of the people on who represents them at whatever level is respected.

“As a political party, we promised Nigerians that the party would run an issue based campaign. We have also put our house in order, and we will be coming up with a formidable team that will run the campaign and that will deliver power to the real owners, the people”.

“The Labour Party will not just bring a government in place with the help of the people, but will go as far as holding the government accountable to the Nigerian people who voted them into office.

“This 2023 general election and the campaign is all about the people, they are the ones that will drive the process. They are the ones already driving it as you can see across the length and breadth of Nigeria. We are only giving direction to it.

“We are going to enthrone leadership that will work for the people and that leadership is going to be held accountable for the people. We are going to make sure Peter Obi and all other candidates that win on the Labour Party platform are held accountable to the people”.

APC, Tinubu May Go Overboard Funding Campaign As Protests Forces Increase In Team Size

There were indications yesterday that the All progressives congress (APC) and its presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) may spend a fortune funding the party’s presidential campaign council following plans to increase the list of those appointed as members of the campaign team.

The decision to increase the size of the APC campaign team followed outcry by members of the governing party, including some governors, members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and prominent party chieftains who felt shortchanged because they were not carried along in the selection of members of the campaign team.

Secretary of the campaign council, Hon James Faleke, had at the weekend released a list containing 422 members of the APC presidential campaign council ahead of the official flag-off of the campaign today.

According to the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the campaigns for the 2023 general election officially begin today.

In a swift reaction to the protest that trailed the list, the director, Media and Publicity, of the campaign council, Bayo Onanuga, in a statement on Monday, called for calm, stating nominees of the aggrieved governors and other party members would be included in the list.

He said the 422-member list was a “partial list” containing only the directors, deputy directors, secretaries of directorates and key stakeholders, adding that the final list would be released.

Consequently, the APC yesterday suspended the flag-off of its campaign indefinitely.

The director general of the campaign council and Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong,  said the decision to postpone the kick-off of the campaign is aimed at accommodating more members of the party.

He assured that a new date and timetable for the formal take-off of the campaign will be announced soon.

“Recall that we had earlier earmarked a peace walk and prayers for Wednesday, September 28, 2022, to officially kick-off our campaigns for the 2023 Presidential Elections.

“We had also announced that the members of the Campaign Council report at the Campaign Headquarters on that day to collect their letters of appointments.

“However, due to the expansion of the list to accommodate more stakeholders and interests within the APC family, we have decided to adjust the timetable of these activities in order to ensure everyone is on board before activities officially commence. Consequently, the activities earlier announced for the 28th of September will no longer hold

“As the ruling and most attractive party in Nigeria, we understand the sacrifices and understanding of our teeming members who are more than willing to volunteer themselves for this great task ahead. It also shows the enormous love that the party members have for our candidates,” the campaign DG stated.

A source in the Tinubu/Shetimma campaign office told LEADERSHIP that there are concerns within the campaign team about issues of funding, as the number of the campaign council may increase from 422 to over 1,000.

This, the source said, may put the presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, and the party under pressure to spend beyond their budget for the campaign if they yield to the demand of governors and other party bigwigs insisting on the inclusion of their nominees in the campaign train.

“The campaign team can accommodate all APC members, but the problem is how the council would be able to pay the allowance of these additional members. We all know that the idea of the list is to specify those working at the campaign secretariat, while all members of the party are members of the APC campaign.

“The decision to get a sizable number of the campaign council was to ensure that running the campaign is cost effective, but with the increase in the size of the council, the party and its presidential candidate would have to spend a fortune,” the source who did not want his name in print told our correspondent.

Meanwhile, co-director, Strategic Communication, of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Dr Danladi Bako, has described the media department of the council as a formidable team with the capacity, capability and character to drive the media agenda of the Tinubu/ Shettima campaign.

In a statement he issued yesterday, Bako said from what he knows of the class of 2023 media moguls, they would observe decorum, good conduct and a huge dose of civility in line with the Tinubu/Shettima philosophy.

He said, “The very careful, deliberate and definitive assemblage of some of the finest, some of the most cerebral and some of the most audacious yet most civil temperate hands in Nigeria’s journalistic eco-system is barometer to measure and evaluate the seriousness and importance the All Progressive Congress Presidential Council, the National Working Committee and indeed the party attaches to the Electioneering campaign imminent upon us.

“The extent to which print, electronic media have grown exponentially along with the unmistakable impact the media has globally on electioneering, the electoral process and its outcomes did not escape the attention of the APC presidential candidate Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his running mate Sen Kashim Shettima in putting this armada together in readiness for the 5 month long battle ahead.

“From the indefatigable editor and former Managing Director of Nigeria’s News Agency Bayo Onanuga to the irrepressible Senior Advocate of Nigeria Festus Keyamo, to the unflappable and audacious Femi Fani-Kayode to the unparalleled resourceful broadcaster Danladi Bako , the All Progressive Congress leadership couldn’t have made better choices for the task ahead. Add “General Overseer” Dele Alake and Blueprint newspaper’s Mohammed Idris to the mix and the die is cast.

“Without doubt this team has not only  the capacity , capability and character to drive the media agenda of the Tinubu/ Shettima campaign but also to win the presidential ballot convincingly.”

Afenifere’s Support For Peter Obi, A Boost For Nigeria’s Unity – SERG

Meanwhile, the pan-Igbo sociopolitical pressure organisation, the South East Revival Group (SERG), has commended the leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, and the entire membership of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group for reiterating their continued support for the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The president and national coordinator of SERG, Chief Willy Ezugwu, in a statement issued in Abuja, noted that “the unequivocal support coming from credible South West political bloc, which the Afenifere represents, is a support for equity and justice, which will boost Nigeria’s national unity.”

The South East group maintained that the renewed declaration of support for the Peter Obi presidential bid, alongside his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, by the Afenifere has demonstrated that there are still individuals and groups around who love the country and would sacrifice anything to keep the Nigeria united and prosperous.

It said the support by Afenifere is in line with the advocacy sustained by the former executive governor of Kaduna State and elder statesman, Alhaji Balarabe Musa ahead of the 2023 general elections before his death.

CSOs Warn Politicians Against Violence

Meanwhile, as electioneering campaigns commence today ahead of the general elections next year, a coalition of  Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has warned desperate politicians against adversarial dispositions in the course of wooing the electorates for support.

Civil Space Watch (CSW), the Palladium, working in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peace-building and Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), cautioned politicians in Akwa Ibom State to imbibe decorum and by the rules.

The groups also advocated the creation of what they described as “grievances mechanism” by all the 18 political parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the polls in Akwa Ibom state.

Addressing registered voters, political parties’ stakeholders and youths in Uyo, the state capital, the executive director (ED), COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peace-building, Saviour Akpan, warned that “as campaigns kick- off, politicians must desist from destroying their opponents with vituperations”.

He said the establishment of the grievances mechanism by parties is aimed at preventing minor conflicts that might arise during campaigns from escalating into major crises.

“As parties are going for campaigns, all political parties fielding candidates in Akwa Ibom State and by extension, neighbouring states should establish a grievance committee.

“The reason is that, in the course of electioneering, no candidate, whether from the government party or opposition party should forget that it is not going to be a level playing field. There are places people will throw sachet water. There are also places a party can be denied access”, the CSOs stated.

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