One writer in an article I saw online captured the mood of the moment with a headline: “Atikulate, Emilokan and Obidient.” It was his own funny way of describing the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, respectively. This is not out of place.

The Atiku supporters say they are “Atikulated” and proudly claim that their candidate, having intelligently articulated the problems of Nigeria and proffering solutions for them, he is the candidate to beat. Supporters of Tinubu prefer BAT (Bola Ahmed Tinubu), even though those who taunt them pin to their necks the sobriquet, “Emilokan” – It is my turn) because of their candidate’s earlier claim to the presidency. Those who root for Obi call themselves Obidients, confidently telling Nigerians to “obey” the call to vote for positive change and even rubbing it in by saying: “Obedient is better than sacrifice,” in reference to a scriptural command. In all, it is fun time in a serious situation.

Indeed, as the curtains fall for the year 2022 tomorrow and the season of Christmas passes by, with the New Year just some hours away, what is obvious is that it is a season of politics, a season of Atiku, Tinubu and Obi, most especially, in the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. It is a season of Atiku, Tinubu and Obi because Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State, from all indications, is an outsider in the race. He may be serious in his desire to be President of Nigeria, but the indices show that he does not stand any chance in the presidential race. He is a candidate who has overrated himself, with the press amplifying his daydreaming and illusion. Like the 15 other presidential candidates, he is figuratively a butterfly which thinks it is a bird.

It is clear why Atiku, Tinubu and Obi have become phenomena in the presidential race. They are coming with a force that cannot be ignored, which has brought about the postulation, rightly or wrongly, that the presidential election may not be decided in the first ballot but in a re-run after a stalemate in the first round of voting. Atiku is an issue because he’s the presidential candidate of the main opposition political party in the country, the PDP. The PDP ruled Nigeria at the federal level for 16 years, producing three Presidents within the period. The PDP is in control of 12 states at the moment. In the past, the PDP had controlled up to two-thirds of the country. The PDP has something to point to as achievements while its members occupied the office of President in the past. The political party can thump its chest that, in the years it was in charge of the federal government, Nigeria was better than what it is today, despite the fact that the circumstances are not the same.

Atiku is an issue in the presidential race because he has a respectable pedigree and antecedent. He was a two-term Vice President of Nigeria. He was former elected governor, even though he did not assume the office, having been nominated for the position of Vice President and elected into the office. He has political clout, structure and goodwill across the country. He has local and international connections in different spheres of human endeavour. His name resonates, having participated in national politics since 1992.

Tinubu, on his part, is reckoned with in the presidential race because he’s the candidate of the governing political party, the APC. The APC is in control of the Federal Government at present. The APC has  been in charge of the affairs of government and politics for seven and a half years. The APC is in control of 23 states of the federation at present. Tinubu is a former two-term governor of Lagos State. He was a senator who represented Lagos State. He was part of the struggle against military rule in the country, with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) as the pivot, an effort that contributed to the enthronement of the current democracy. He has some level of goodwill, political clout and structure nationwide. He has local and international contacts. He is a known face in national politics, having been around for years.

Obi is the new political kid on the block. He is a political underdog transmogrified to a mass movement within a short time.  He is a former two-term governor of Anambra State. He was chairman of a bank, which had rapid transformation and is still waxing strong in the financial sector. He is the darling of Nigerian youths and the previously non-aligned who want a shift from the past. His candidacy is seen as a protest against the status quo and the old order, which is reverberating in many parts of the country. He may not have been a national force before now, but the acceptance of his message and personality has given him nationwide political clout that cannot be ignored. He has local and international contacts too.

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In their own rights, the three candidates are men of achievements. They have served Nigeria in various capacities and distinguished themselves. However, despite their past achievements, Nigerian voters, in deciding who would be President in February 2023, are wont to look at their current status and stature. The present is actually what is most important. The questions to ask, therefore, are:  How prepared are the candidates? What is the state of their health and mind? What plans do the candidates have for the country? What would they do, in specific terms, to tackle insecurity, disunity, bad economy and to ensure equity and justice in the country? How would they address the problem of corruption, especially in relation to oil theft, embezzlement, fraud and sundry crimes in office? What plans do they have to restore the dignity of Nigerians, in the face of disrespect and ill-treatment abroad?

The choice of the President of Nigeria, therefore, goes beyond sentiments and primordial considerations. There must be a thorough interrogation of the candidates, with regard to their character and fitness, physically, psychological and otherwise. The mistake of the past, wherein Nigerians said there was no need to question preferred candidates because there was this unexplained determination to have the incumbent replaced, should not arise again. Where there are concerns about the health or character of candidates, for instance, this should be convincingly addressed.

Twice, issues bordering on the state of health of two previous candidates who were eventually elected President were raised. These concerns were dismissed by those who supported the candidates. In the final analysis, however, the fears were founded, as the Presidents were in and out of hospital while in office. One of them, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, died in office after many months’ in-patient admission in hospital at intervals. The second, President Buhari, survived but spent months in hospital at intervals. With that experience, it is a fact that the health status of candidates matters. The state of health of Atiku, Tinubu and Obi, therefore, cannot be overlooked, as in the case of Yar’Adua and Buhari. The country cannot afford, at a critical time like this, to play dumb. A frequently sick President would not only be a distraction to socio-economic development efforts but would also create a pseudo-government run by a cabal of unelected individuals.

In leadership, character is everything. Mental and moral qualities are important ingredients that define a man. People with dual personalities, people with questionable character, people who do not have the courage or strength of character to answer questions relating to their past, personality, conduct and records should be dispassionately scrutinised. Next year’s election should be a defining moment for Nigeria as a country and Nigerians as a people to take a critical decision with the future in mind. With the politics of choosing candidates by the political parties over, the ability of the candidates to deliver the goods should be paramount, instead of where they come from and their feelings of entitlement. The campaign slogan of a candidate who says that people should not vote for him because of where he comes from but because of his capability sounds better to me than a man whose major credential in running for the topmost political position in the country is because “it is his turn to be President.”

With electioneering rising to a crescendo nationwide, one can only expect that the candidates would be allowed a level playing field. The candidates should campaign anywhere in the country unfettered. There should be no denial of campaign venue. There should be no intimidation. There should be no molestation. There should be no deprivation. As long as the process to the presidential election is credible and the election itself transparent, with people freely exercising their franchise without let or hindrance, every vote cast accounted for and actually determining the winner, it does not matter who emerges victorious eventually.

Nigerians who have been perceptive enough to know what has transpired in the country under democracy, from 1999 to date, should be able to know where the rain started beating them. They should know who, among the candidates, would better address the hydra-headed problems of the country and get a good result. It is theirs to make the right or wrong choice. However, whatever choice they make has consequences. As Nigerians say in local parlance, the election is time for voters to “shine their eyes.”