On Saturday, tomorrow February 16, , Nigerians are going to polling centers across the country to cast their votes to either re-elect a sitting president Muhammudu Buhari or elect a new one – a former vice president Atiku Abubakar  fronting for the main opposition party, PDP, or a third force from a pool of different parties. This is not the first time my country men and women will be casting their votes for a president to lead at the center.  Since we returned to democratic rule in 1999 after almost 30 decades of military rule, we have elected four presidents within 19 years. But this Saturdays’ election is different and I will explain why. When the APC was formed in 2014 from a merger of AC, the Bola Tinubu led party, ANPP, some fallout from the PDP and APGA, and CPC, the Muhammadu Buhari led party, it was to wrestle power from the then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan whose party the PDP had been in power for 16 years. Those years which is widely believed to have been a waste, steeped in colossal failure when compared to the time, resources, energy and faith that was its disposal.

In those 16 years that the main opposition party had been trying to oust the PDP, no other president gave them a good impetus to succeed than Jonathan. Jonathan had continued from his late boss, Umaru Yar’adua, who just two years into his administration died from a protracted illness.  (Nigerians still believe that his government held so much beautiful promises that would have materialized into a new Nigeria). After the elapse of the remaining two years, he Jonathan contested and was elected President.  But that was not without some discontent within his party because of the sharing formula that was in place which meant that the north was to produce the president for 4 years to finish their turn of 8 years of rule. Nonetheless, Jonathan won the elections and was given the chance to do a great job. But he bungled that opportunity. Jonathan proved himself to be incompetent and lacked the strong will needed of a Nigerian president. He bagged the clueless tag – a leader who didn’t have the faintness direction to lead a country of over 180 million people. He was believed by a large percentage of Nigerians and APC to have failed spectacularly.  He failed to create jobs and tackle the raging insecurity spewing from Boko Haram that was threatening to over whelm the nation. Yet the greatest underdoing of his government was the flamboyant corruption in a lot of his Ministers and other public officials. There was the reputation of running a massively corrupted government that paved inordinate ways for his family and friends to enrich themselves. He didn’t help his case when on a national TV while answering questions proudly retorted that “stealing is not corruption” a statement that would hurt him, giving more arsenal to those seeking to dethrone him, and which they used as campaign material to convince Nigerians to kick him out at the 2015 polls. What also didn’t help his case was that he fell out with a lot of his party men and state governors, with five of them decamping to form the opposition party APC. They claimed he had become unflinchingly arrogant to heed advice from well-meaning folks like them. And so they connived with the rival party folks and plotted to remove him in order to teach him a lesson. They succeeded.

Thus the 2015 election brought Buhari in at the center with Jonathan calling him to congratulate and concede, giving credence to his famous quote that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian. And so the party with the broom and the chant of ‘Change’ came to presidential power with so much expectations from Nigerians. They were expected to fight and bury corruption. To decimate Boko Haram. To revive the economy, remove many Nigerians from the pit of poverty by creating millions of jobs, engaging the productivity of its youth, and to build world class infrastructure. This hasn’t happened in their almost four years of leading. There hasn’t been any much difference between them and their predecessor.

This is not just a belief I made up. There is palpable disillusionment with this administration. A lot of Nigerians had widely expected the APC to bring a big change and difference in attitude, economy, infrastructure and a lot of other things, but there hasn’t been any change or difference. Instead things have worsened. Nigeria has a new name of being home to the highest number of people living in extreme poverty, overtaking India. Poverty has risen to unprecedented height. There is so much insecurity at every corner of the country. Buhari – a man who contested elections and lost out three times but won on the fourth time is seen as a bigoted and nepotistic leader in a country with a federal quota system where every state is expected to be represented in government appointments yet he appointed his northern kinsmen into all the positions especially in the security apparatus. This is not surprising from a man who with the mindset of “97% vs. 5%”.

At the polls tomorrow, and with the choice to choose who will lead them for the next four in their hands tomorrow, whose court will Nigerians play the ball into? Is it into the court of a 76 year old president who has been tried, tested and whose results reeks of disappointing failures? One whose saintly and messiah image has been dismantled due to monumental incompetence on his part. Or is it into the court of another old man – a 72 years old Atiku Abubakar who has the notorious reputation of being a public thief and all the entanglement of corruption around his neck?

Or will Nigerians dare pull a surprise and play the ball into the court of any one of the presidential contestants of called the Third Force. (Nothing is impossible. An incumbent was removed from power for the first time in 2015, remember?) These Third Force – an entire and better alternative to the two evils are a crop of young men and women who have the antecedents of good character and competence. Their education and the results of their achievements from their private work and public engagement signal that if given a chance and elected, Nigerians will experience a big departure from incompetent, greedy, nepotistic and corrupt  leaders . I will name a few of the popular ones among these Third Force presidential contestants. There is Kingsley Moghalu on the ticket of YPP who is a political economist, university professor and a former CBN deputy governor with over 20 decades of competent experience in the private and public sectors. There is Omoyele Sowore of the AAC - a prolonged activist, widely noted for his activism from his UniLag days as the President of the students’ body and the owner of a popular online media – Sahara Reporters which has grown into a reputation of giving sleepless nights to public officials by under covering and exposing their nefarious clandestine activities. There is Tope Fasua with the ANRP ticket is a business man and economist who run runs a successful consulting firm. I have not exhausted the list of the Third Force, there many others but these ones named are the more popular ones who have taken serious steps to campaign, to seek for votes and pursue their ambition of leading Nigerians as their president.

This is not the first time that alternative candidates have emerged, different from the characteristics of presidential candidates in the ruling and main opposition party but this time there is a big difference. It is the strong rise of a crop of technocrats that are not the career politicians that the citizens are used to and who are strongly seeking to do things differently for real – and have pulled a vibrant and engaging national campaign.  It is the huge awareness that there is a big pool of credible and competence people for Nigerians to choose from – better alternatives to the two old, tried and failed evils running for presidential leadership in this 2019 polls. Can they – the Nigerians voters pull a surprise? Can they change the norm or will it be as usual till perhaps 2023?

Ogochukwu Paul is on Twitter @Ogochukwu_Paull

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