Atiku campaign gathers momentum ahead of Saturday’s Election

The huge crowd that attended the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) rallies seem to be competing with each other in terms of their sizes. From Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos to the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano and other previous rallies in Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kebbi States signals a huge shift in momentum for the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who has labored to shift the election narrative from one centered on anti-corruption to one focused more on the economy – employment, poverty alleviation and economic growth.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), conscious of the poor performance of his administration on the economic front, the worsening unemployment and poverty levels, and the vacuous election programs that lack real vision and intellectual rigors, has, however, worked hard to make anti-corruption the central issue in the elections.

The president and his party have constantly blamed all the ills of the country on the corrupt “16 years of PDP” rule and have harped on the need to prevent those same corrupt politicians from coming back to power. But corruption is less of an issue in the 2019 elections, unlike in 2015.

“Unlike 2015, corruption as an issue is considerably less important than employment and poverty alleviation – the people are looking for a president who can address these issues,” said an August 2018 study on public attitudes in Nigeria by Williams and Associates Opinion Research and Consulting.

But Atiku has focused his campaign on the economy, setting out a comprehensive and radical vision of economic as well as public sector reforms anchored on deregulation and liberalizations to free the economy from the shackles of the state.

Despite Atiku’s impressive plans, however, and the predictions by a slew of international research firms that the PDP presidential candidate is likely to win the elections, his campaigns took a while to gain momentum and President Buhari and his party continued to dominate and dictate the election discourse until last week.

The Northwest and Northeast states have always been considered as stronghold of the president and impenetrable to the opposition. In 2015, Buhari won in the regions by 78 percent and 83 percent, respectively. He had always won in those regions since 2003 when he began contesting for the presidency, making many analysts believe the regions are firmly pro-Buhari and out of reach of the opposition.But over the past few week, Atiku’s rallies in Jigawa, Kaduna and Katsina, home state of the president, witnessed such unprecedented turnout that the crowd could not have been paid to attend as is usual in Nigerian political campaigns. This has left many in the ruling party wondering whether they had a firm grip of the region like they had always thought.

Especially Atiku’s rally in Kano which defied all expectations. Kano is a former Buhari stronghold where Buhari secured over 2 million votes in 2015 and the state governor promised him 5 million votes this time around. However, on the arrival of the Atiku campaign team they were greeted with such huge crowds lining the streets of the city that it took the former vice president and his team up to four hours to get to the palace of the Emir of Kano, an otherwise 20 minutes’ journey, and another three hours to get to the 16,000-capacity Sani Abacha Stadium which was also packed full with the party’s supporters.

There is a mental shift the country has taken, the people have spoken with their voices and with their turnout at rallies, let us hope the results are fairly reflected when they turn out to vote.