Serial contestants in Nigeria’s electoral system

TUNDE AJAJA examines some politicians who have spent years jumping from one party to another seeking political office and have yet to win the respective seats

The three failed attempts by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to become the President before he eventually won in 2015 has become a classic example of how people should be resilient in their endeavour or political ventures.

A National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, made a caricature of the President’s serial attempts in his Abeokuta outburst few weeks ago when he said in Yoruba, ‘he tried the first time, he failed; he tried the second time, he failed; he tried again the third time, he failed. He even cried on national television but I told him to wipe his tears because crying wasn’t the next thing…’

That video, made a few days to the anticipated APC presidential primary, went viral prompting a rebuttal from the Presidency and a clarification from Tinubu that he didn’t mean to denigrate the President.

However, what is instructive is that Buhari contested the presidential election three times and failed until he won the fourth time after the merger that produced the APC. Likewise, in Nigeria’s four-cycle elections, at the state and federal levels, there are some Nigerians who have been contesting elections but have yet to win. Some are seen only during election season, while some have become a part of the Nigerian life whether or not it is election season.

Atiku: One of the popular names that readily come to mind is former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who is currently the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the February 25, 2023 election. Interestingly, the forthcoming election would be Atiku’s sixth attempt at becoming Nigeria’s president. In some instances, he lost during the primary and in some other instances, he flew the party’s flag but lost the main election. His first attempt at the number one seat was the popular 1993 election won by the late MKO Abiola. Atiku contested the primary of the Social Democratic Party but lost the ticket to Abiola. Some good news however; in the fourth republic that started in 1999, he won the governorship election in Adamawa State but left that to become President Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy, a position he occupied for eight years.

After falling out with Obasanjo over his bid to succeed him as president in 2007, Atiku joined the Action Congress and flew the party’s flag but lost the election and came third. Before the 2011 election, he had joined the PDP and contested the primary against the then incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan but he also lost to Jonathan. Ahead of the 2015 election when the ACN had morphed into the APC, he contested against Buhari in the primary and lost again. He later defected back to the PDP and flew the party’s flag in the 2019 election but lost again to Buhari. Now, he remains the candidate of the PDP for the forthcoming election. Having defected from one party to another about five times, his supporters are hopeful he would win this time round as they project that this might be his last chance to contest, considering his age. He’d clock 76 in November.

Ribadu: The former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, is also another aspirant who has contested the presidency and the governorship of Adamawa State a few times but has yet to win. In the 2011 presidential election, Ribadu was the candidate of the ACN but he lost the election. Ahead of the 2015 general elections, Ribadu dumped the ACN for the PDP and emerged as the governorship candidate of the party for the 2015 election. He defeated six other aspirants, including the acting governor of the state, Bala Ngilari, to pick the ticket but he lost the election to Jibrilla Bindow of the APC. Again, the former EFCC boss dumped the PDP for the APC and contested the governorship ticket against Bindow for the 2019 election but lost the ticket. He remained in the APC and contested the governorship ticket again in May 2022 but lost to the only female aspirant in the primary, Senator Aishatu Binani. In all, Ribadu has contested the presidency once and the governorship ticket/seat thrice.

Agbaje: A popular face in Lagos governorship contest is Mr Jimi Agbaje, a pharmacist. He has contested the governorship election in the state for about four times but didn’t win. He started with the Action Congress in 2007 and was interested in contesting the election on the party’s platform when Tinubu, who was about concluding his second term as the governor, indicated interest in another person, Babatunde Fashola. Agbaje then defected to the Democratic Peoples Alliance to contest the main election but lost to Fashola. In 2011, he joined the PDP and for the second time contested against Fashola. He lost again. In the 2015 and 2019 governorship elections, he contested against Akinwumi Ambode and Babajide Sanwo-Olu – both candidates of the APC – respectively but lost the elections. At the moment, Agbaje seems to have taken a break as he didn’t contest the primary of any party ahead of the 2023 elections.

Kwankwaso: A former two-term governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, is also taking a third shot at the presidency. Kwankwaso, who once served as the Minister of Defence, contested the primary of the APC ahead of the 2015 election, but lost the ticket to Buhari. In 2019, having defected to the PDP, he lost the ticket to Atiku. After leaving the PDP in protest against he said he was treated by the party, he’s currently the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party. His supporters are hopeful he will win the election in 2023.

Utomi: A professor of political economist, Prof Pat Utomi, is a passionate Nigerian who has also contested presidential and governorship primaries/elections a few times. In 2007, he was the presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress but lost the election to the late Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP. Also, in 2011, Utomi emerged as the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Mega Party but he again lost the election to Jonathan of the PDP. Meanwhile, in 2019, the don went back to his state, Delta, and sought to be the governor under the platform of the APC, of which he was a founding member. He however lost the ticket to Great Ogboru as the party recognised the faction that produced Ogboru as against his emergence in another primary. Responding to criticisms that he contested a governorship election having tried to be president, Utomi said there was nothing wrong with his quest, since both were about service to the people. In the ongoing electioneering, however, Utomi was a presidential aspirant in the Labour Party but stepped down for former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, who is now the party’s candidate.

Otti: After his exit as the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank in 2014, Mr Alex Otti joined politics and contested the governorship seat in his home state of Abia. He contested on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance but lost to Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP. However, the Court of Appeal in December 2015 declared him as the winner and sacked Ikpeazu, but that decision was later overturned by the Supreme Court in 2020. Again in 2019, he contested the election but lost to the PDP. In 2020, he dumped APGA for the APC. In the ongoing electioneering, however, having dumped the APC for the Labour Party a few weeks to the primaries, he is the candidate of the Labour Party for the 2023 governorship election in the state. He has assured the people of the state he wouldn’t take salary if elected the governor of the state, among other primaries.

Akpanudoedehe: The immediate past secretary of the APC caretaker committee, Senator James Akpanudoedehe, has also been on the field for some time. He served as the Minister of State for the FCT under Yar’Adua. In 2011, he was the candidate of the ACN for the governorship of Akwa Ibom State but lost the election to Senator Godswill Akpabio, who won his reelection. In 2015, he recontested on the platform of the APC but lost the ticket to Umana Umana. In 2019, again he lost the APC governorship ticket to Nsima Ekere, who eventually lost the main election to the incumbent, Udom Emmanuel. Currently, Akpanudoedehe has secured the ticket of the NNPP for the 2023 governorship election, and has expressed hope he would win the election. He left the APC a few weeks ago after he was allegedly denied the party’s ticket.

Meanwhile, is it important to note that there is no limit to how many times any individual could vie for an office, according to the 1999 constitution (As amended), however it is of interest how politicians move from one party to another to realise their ambitions.

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