Tinubu and the eighth-year itch applies a marriage superstition to the current Nigerian political situation. Every marriage experiences diminishing returns from their seventh year, or so the legend goes. Partners are bored or dissatisfied in the relationship from the seventh year. Some claim. In 1955, these claims birthed a comedy movie that featured the sexiest lady alive at the time, Marylyn Monroe. In the movie, she played the love interest of Tom Ewel, the protagonist. Ewel imagined himself in a relationship with her after shipping his wife and children to the countryside on holidays. The movie was aptly titled The Seven-Year Itch.

I remembered The Seven Year Itch immediately Gov Bola Ahmed Tinubu won the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential primaries. In this case, Nigeria appears to have caught a bug that we shall call The Eighth-Year Itch. Every eight year since 2007, we fielded without fail a frail presidential candidate. The candidates went on to win and thereafter leave the country im a worst state than he met it.

It was President Olusegun Obasanjo that infected Nigeria with this bug in 2006. He nudged an ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua into office and a predicted disaster happened. Eight years later, the northern establishment foisted Gen Muhammadu Buhari, another ailing candidate, on the nation. Both presidentd from the same State of Katsina, shuttled from hospital bed to the seat of power through their tenure. Eight years later, we watched as APC delegates shoed Bola Tinubi, another old, frail candidate into the race for 2023.

Why are powermongers so desperate to field and install another old man with obvious health challenges as our President? And forgetting that he will take over from someone who spent almost 40 percent of his reign on hospital beds?

Before we explore the answers, it is important to out another intriguing tragedy. Prior to 2007, the wrong people usually won presidential elections. The young were usually dark horses without pedigree and unwilling candidates.

The astute leader of Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Saudana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, could have become Nigeria’s first indigenous leader. He didn’t want the job, preferring to tend his northern flock. So he sent his deputy, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to Lagos to shoulder suffer Nigeria’s headache as prime minister.

In 1998, National Party of Nigeria presented Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a dark horse and unwilling candidate. In 1999, the military chose Gen Obasanjo to rule. He was fresh out of prison and the last thing on his mind was becoming president. Although OBJ also chose an unwilling successor, Yar’Aduas health challenge apparently recommended him over capable others.

Nigeria copied the OBJ template from 2006 onwards, changing from the unwilling to the unhealthy in the leadership selection process. The Jagaban Borgu is reportedly an octogenarian and the candidate of the governing party. He is likely to enjoy powerful presidential backing, all things being equal. He also looks and acts frail, given unmistakable public symptoms of an illness. His recent trips abroad – ostensibly on health grounds – calls into question the rationale for his selecion.

Why do we do this? To answer this question leads us into a deeper look not only on his selection but also his subsequent choice of same-faith ticket to prosecute the campaign. Has the APC presented a masterstroke or is the party whistling in the dark? Will these choices catapult the Jagaban to the Presidency or will they boomerang?

The first, and most popular street wisdom is that northern Muslims neither trust Northern Christians nor Southern Muslims. And this for a reason. Northern politicians felt shortchanged that President Yar’Adua died and was succeeded by a Southerner. The thought that a similar scenario may play out accounts for the choice of another Muslim to pair with Tinubu. But the message it sends is incredible. It says in effect that the North would not be shortchanged a second time with a Christian Northerner as president. This thinking shows how low the Northern Christian has always been rated and continues to be. It is always assumed that Northern Christians will toe the line of subservience. What about the threat from Babachir Lawal and Yakubu Dogara to galvanize Northern Christians against the ticket?

The second reason why Jagaban was chosen, beyond emi lo kan, is undoubtedly the familiar divide-and-rule for ethnic southern voters. In this climate of distrust among the North, East, West, Christian, and Muslim, how will APC’s same-faith ticket fare? The Muslim-Muslim ticket is also a calculated risk with three potential advantages. It effectively divides the Southwest vote, yielding the required quarter vote for both Obi and Tinubu. If northern politicians play hardball, they could take away a large chunk of the Christian vote. One method is to use both Igbo fear-mongering and appeal to regional pride. There is always the confidence that the docile northern Christian minority will play ball.

The choice of Muslim-Muslim ticket however targets Buhari’s religious base. APC hopes to muster massive votes from Kano, Kaduna, and Katsina States. Political distrust among the regions is a potent weapon that powermongers deploy to shoot down electoral dissent.

Let me end this with a true story. We were having a group discussion at an hotel in Enugu. In our group was a Fulani, a minority Northern Christian, and many Igbo. The Fulani’s demeanour changed when he realized the person he was speaking to is Hausa Christian from the same state

“You are a conquered slave, and you are supposed to bow to me and serve me,” he declared. I examined his face to see whether this was a joke. I couldn’t detect any hint of playfulness. More worrisome was that the threatened person suddenly lost his composure and thenceforth conducted himself in a more deferential manner. I learnt the necessity to be more cautious when applying the divisive handles to social discourse.

Dstrust did not start today; it began long before Nigeria gained her independence. The only difference is the current promotion of discord between northern Muslims and Christians through the same-faith ticket.

How would this national distrust determine the 2023 vote? The answer is the eigth-year itch. All partners in our citizenship association are either bored or dissatisfied with the long-term relationship. People assume that the distrust we harbor for ourselves is a Sword of Damocles hanging over Peter Obi’s head. I see it as a two-edged sword that could potentially lead to defeat of Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu.

Atiku hopes to inherit the vote of the Buhari base and use his running mate to clean out the south-south. Tinubu hopes for the same Buhari base and solid southwest voting block to reenact the magic of 2015 and 2019. Can Obi can win the election if three things happen. The youth vote holds. Northern Christians revolt against same-faith ticket. Northern powermongers throw their weight behind Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed. And southwest come through with majority votes for him in Ondo, Osun, and Oyo. If this were to happen, it will be the first time that a candidate will post a true pan-Nigerian victory.

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Ogbuagu Anikwe: Tinubu and the eighth-year itch