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RUN-OFF? NOT AS STRATEGY, PLEASE

By NBF News
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The way the political game is playing out, it's so easy to think and believe that a winner may not emerge outright after the presidential polls on April 9, and a run-off may be required. A large number of people have opined that for the first time, Nigeria will go into second ballot in electing a president. Why? Due to the configuration of registered voters, and the way campaigns are going. Religion, ethnicity and region consciousness are not factors that should naturally play major roles in national elections, but in Nigeria of today, those factors are well and alive. We may not like it and pretend that it is not so, but if we tell ourselves the truth, the presidential election is largely about religion, ethnicity, and where we come from. Sad, regrettable, but true.

What does the final voter register tell you? North-West has 19,803,689 eligible voters. North-East, 10,749,059, North-Central, 10,684,017, South-South, 9,465,427, South-East, 7,577,212, South-West, 14,296,163, Federal Capital Territory, 943,473. At a point, most people felt President Goodluck Jonathan, with the advantage of incumbency and access to official resources, was home and dry. Add to that the power of coercion and intimidation, which has been used to whip most governors into line, and you readily give the diadem to Jonathan. But not so fast. The campaigns are indicating a pulsating, close race ahead. And the result may go any way.

Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is proving to be much more than the hurricane I'd called him. He's a typhoon, cyclone and hurricane rolled into one. A few months ago, sceptics said he was only popular in the North-West, but after sweeping through most parts of the country, making conquests in the past few weeks, the cynics are changing their opinions. Did you see Buhari's rally in Niger State? Was that part of North-West? Did you see the one in Borno, was that also North-West? How about the one in Ibadan, oh it was North-West also? I tell you, something new is happening in this country.

How about the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN? From its base in the South-West, it is making deep forays into other parts of the country. Did you see the rally of the party in Gboko? Or in Uyo. Or Benin? I tell you, things are going to happen in the election next month. Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will win chunk votes in the South-South and the South-East, but after that, what? North-Central will be shared with the other parties, South-West will be shared by the ACN, PDP and CPC, most likely in that order. CPC may win by landslide in North-West, North-East, and share North-Central and South-West with other parties. What will be the end result? No clear winner in line with constitutional requirement. Then, a run-off will be necessary between the two front runners.

I agree, the above is a potent possibility, but then, I don't like it as a strategy. Nobody goes to war with a plan to emerge second best. You either win, or you're vanquished. Respected members of the opposition in the country have talked about run-off in a way that unsettles me. Yes, we want to get rid of the PDP after 12 years of non-performance, but the way to do it is not to bank on a run-off before the election holds.

Shekarau shines at debate
Did you watch the presidential debate on NN24 last Friday? You missed something, if you did not. On hand to slug it out were General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Gen. Buhari was his typical reserved self, not wasting words, making his answers short and sharp. Obviously, he would not score an'A' in oratory, but that by no means reduced from his charisma and sincerity, which sparkled even from the television screen. Mallam Ribadu was also typical. Too emotional, if not slightly disrespectful to the other candidates. He pretended to know more than he knew, and didn't appear humble at all. Brash is the word for him, and more than ever, I was convinced that he would scatter this country within six months through immaturity, if he ever became president now. He might be a candidate of the future, after he has been tempered by time.

Ibrahim Shekarau? He won the day. Give it to the Kano State governor, he was the star of the night. He took every question methodically, with reason and rhyme. He proved that he was a worthy teacher, later a school principal, who then rose to be permanent secretary, and later governor.

Last year, when I reviewed candidates from the North, I had given Shekarau high endorsement, but noted that his party was weak. The ANPP is still weak, but I tell you, this Shekarau is a strong man, a man of fluid speech and plenty ideas, who is acquitting himself quite well.