BY ADEDAYO ODULAJA
The speculation surrounding the likelihood of Alhaji Kola Abiola throwing his hat into the ring to contest for the biggest office in the land started long before this year. For many at the time, however, it was nothing more than an emotional throwback into a well-paved juncture of Nigeria’s rich political history.
But it came as a punch of reality when he obtained the nomination form of People’s Redemption Party (PRP) in May and ended up as the candidate of the party once the primary took place. PRP, styled as the type of social democratic political movement created by supporters of the revered Mallam Aminu Kano following his withdrawal from the National Party of Nigeria, it is a sort of reincarnation of both the Northern Elements Progressive Union of the Second Republic and the PRP of the Fourth Republic
The tally of total votes during the PRP primary was a statement that political commentators took note of. Abiola’s impressive 2,097 tally was far more than former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who got the nod of 1,271 delegates, needed to clinch the ticket of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
On the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) side of the spectrum, the scales were even much lower, with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar only winning the party’s nomination with 371 votes out of 767 total valid votes.
Whoever expected Kola Abiola to team up with either the ruling party or the main opposition didn’t consider choosing the easy path or being given to sentiments don’t count among the strong points of late Chief MKO Abiola, acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election. A proud son of his father alright, he is a man who has come into his own as demonstrated by his antecedents in education, business, recent foray into the political arena and refusal to toe the “popular” path as far as the Nigerian political terrain is concerned.
The clearest indication about his desire to respect the plurality of opinions, a cardinal tenet of democracy towards building national cohesion, came to the fore when he obtained the nomination form of his party back in May. According to him, he took time to look at the party to join and his choice of PRP was not arrived at in a hurry. During a session with journalists after obtaining the nomination form of his party, Abiola made it clear he was opposed to a consensus arrangement, adding that it was down to him and the other aspirants to arrive at a decision about who will fly the party’s flag in the 2023 general election.
“We have two other candidates. We believe in internal party democracy. We are not doing consensus. It is a transparent party. The more candidates we have the better.
“Whoever wins, we will all come together and work for the party and not somebody calling for consensus where someone will step down for another.
“Let’s go and have a competitive environment, it will be transparent and we will uphold internal democracy and be able to have proper democracy,” the 60-year-old had said at the time.
At the end of the primary, a measure of his popularity in the party, Abiola garnered 2,097 votes spread across the 36 states including the FCT, to defeat formidable contenders including Dr Usman Bugaje, who came second with 813 votes.
According to Abiola, the biggest role the PRP would play at the forthcoming general election would be serving as a bridge for the current generation of Nigerian youths.
“We are going to bring the younger generation into politics, governance and leadership.
Also recognising the role of youths towards truly putting Nigeria on the march to greatness, Abiola paid special attention to this while receiving his certificate of return from the national chairman of PRP, Alhaji Falalu Bello.
“I’m appealing to youths to regard us as the vehicle of change; we should make sure that at the next election, we have the highest voter turnout. By this, we will make your voices and number count,’’ he enthused.
Perhaps more than the mismanagement of the economy, the biggest challenge for Nigerians from all walks of life at the moment is security, an area Kola Abiola did not shy away from talking about. As far as he is concerned, the root cause lies at the treatment of the rank and file of the armed forces and total erosion of trust in the country’s leadership.
“We need to address the security architecture. The will is there, we need to ensure implementation and look at the welfare of our armed forces. The trust has been eroded, the common man cannot feel the presence of a government, I’m coming with zeal to change this mindset,” he noted at the recently-held Presidential Town Hall Meeting Series organized by Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) in collaboration with Arise TV.
But beyond the issue of insecurity, economic downturn and endemic corruption, Alhaji Abiola is of the view that a complete overhaul at different levels is needed for Nigeria to get back on the path to greatness, a daunting task but one he is willing to confront with zeal.
While dwelling on youth involvement in the political process, again, Abiola displayed his penchant for inclusion of youths by urging them to get involved beyond the level of appointments.
“I want to be president because I believe it is time for complete reset of Nigeria. And I did not make any mistake by joining PRPI did my homework thoroughly before joining the PRP. And I joined it because it is the only party that has no baggage, no problems or legacy issues. It is the only party that can convince the younger generation to get involved in the game, and not just to elect leaders.”
A 30-year-old during the 1993 presidential election, the younger Abiola did a lot more than he has been given credit for during his father’s quest to succeed the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. He explained that he led the planning and execution of the campaign that delivered votes for his late father.
Although he has been in the limelight all his life on account of his family name, many Nigerians don’t know the strong educational pedigree and diversity of experiences Kola Abiola possesses.
He had his primary and secondary education in Ogun State, attending the Baptist Boys High School along with a term at Maryland Comprehensive Secondary School before completing his education in at Aiyetoro, also in Ogun State.
He was first at Berkeley and then Colorado State University in the United States, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and an MBA in Business Administration respectively. Upon returning to the country, he had his compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) service to fatherland in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Joining his father to run the sprawling business empire, Kola Abiola is credited with helping to reorganise some of his father’s companies and has since brought his expertise to bear on running his own firms.
It is not for nothing that former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Attahiru Jega, has endorsed Kola Abiola’s campaign. Although a member of the party, Jega, noted for his meticulous handling of issues, expressed support during the party’s ‘Manifesto Debate and Mobilisation Drive’ programme in Abuja while urging Nigerians to put the searchlight on all candidates.
On his own, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said Kola Abiola looks the best bet to fix the country among the candidates after a careful study of plans and manifestos put forward by the parties in the contest.
Abiola’s running mate is Haruna Haro Zego, a Christian from the southern part of Kaduna, another indication that inclusion is high on his priorities. Although it would be wishful thinking to expect Nigerians and the media to do away with their perennial focus on the All Progressive Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), PRP, a social democratic party as platform and Kola Abiola as candidate, the union is one to watch as 2023 draws even closer.
- Adedayo Odulaja, a journalist and public affairs commentator, is based in Lagos.