Lagos, Nigeria – Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is seen as the presidential candidate to beat in Nigeria’s elections on Saturday, has held his final rally in Lagos, the state he governed for eight years.
Tinubu’s rally was held on Tuesday in the 24,325-seat Teslim Balogun Stadium, two days ahead of the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission for all candidates to conclude their campaigns.
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The 70-year-old is aiming to replace President Muhammadu Buhari, who will complete his second and final term this May. Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress party is one of the frontrunners in a race that also includes 75-year-old Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, the main opposition.
Buhari spoke briefly at the Lagos rally, asking supporters to vote for the ruling party’s candidates. “I am calling on all of you to vote for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu,” Buhari said. “He is reliable, and I trust he will build on our achievements.”
Also present were former governors from the southwestern states of Ekiti, Ogun and Osun – Tinubu’s stronghold.
‘Till I die’
Party leaders arrived at the campaign ground to a near-empty stadium after thousands of supporters dispersed after waiting for more than seven hours.
“I have been waiting since 8 o’clock this morning,” Raliat Gbadebo, a 33-year-old trader told Al Jazeera in the afternoon. “I am a die-hard supporter of Asiwaju [Tinubu], and I will remain so till I die.”
She said she had to leave because her children’s school was closing and she needed to pick them up. “I’m just a little disappointed not to see our incoming president address us, but I will watch him on TV when I get home,” she said. “Nothing spoiled.”
Tinubu has promised to phase out expensive petrol subsidy payments, improve security, build infrastructure and tame burgeoning debt in Africa’s biggest economy.
“I will give Nigerians the hope to renew their faith in their country and will sustain their hope,” he said. “Those who look helpless today will be helpful in this country.”
There were murmurs from people at the rally about a lack of cash payments, saying it was a departure from previous campaign gatherings.
“This cashless policy is a big problem as you can see,” a supporter who gave his name only as Temitope said.
“Before, money would be flowing in this stadium, but now we can’t even get up to 20,000 naira [$43] after standing in the sun all day,” he said. “Nevertheless, we will vote for Tinubu because we know he represents our interests.”
‘We can no longer take it’
Peter Obi, 61, and Rabiu Kwankwaso, 66, former governors of Anambra and Kano states and candidates from smaller opposition parties, are also among the frontrunners in the 18-candidate presidential race.
Obi, in particular, has been projected by multiple polls as the expected winner even though his Labour Party appears to lack nationwide appeal.
Obi finished up his campaign on February 11 in front of a small crowd at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island district. Hundreds of his supporters had followed him through the streets of Lagos with music and pomp.
Obi, whose outsider campaign focusing on accountability has inspired a youth movement, was dressed in a flowing white robe, hat and long walking stick, an apparent allusion to the Eyo, Lagos’s most popular masquerade.
“For too long in this country, we have allowed people to come, tell us one thing and, when they get into office, they do another thing,” he said to cheers and applause. “We can no longer take it.”
Obi asked those present to jettison the ruling and main opposition parties, saying they are responsible for previous administrations that have swept them into poverty, and instead “vote for a human being”.
Under the current administration, inflation has reached a 17-year high, and an estimated 133 million people, or two-thirds of Nigeria’s population, live on less than $2 a day. Half of the country’s young people also live in poverty, and it is to this demographic that Obi’s campaign has mostly appealed to.
“We assure you that we are going to work hard to pull people out of poverty,” the candidate said. “How we are going to do it is that we will remove this country from consumption to production.”
Pop stars Psquare and African China performed at the rally. Economist Pat Utomi and Pa Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere, a Yoruba advocacy group, spoke to the crowd. Also present was Aisha Yesufu, an activist who asked “Obidients” to observe one minute of silence for those who were killed by the army during the October 2020 anti-police brutality protests.
“On February 25, 2023, we will let them know that the blood they shed two years ago, for everyone that was taken down, we will stand here, we will fight, we will not be defeated,” she said.
‘Obi will do it’
Obi’s promise to turn the country’s fortunes around and his reputation for financial shrewdness have persuaded Alhaji Kabiru Zaria, a Dogari, to become a supporter.
“I like Peter because he is the youngest of all the candidates and he really wants to change Nigeria,” the bodyguard for Sarkin Hausanwa, leader of the Hausa community, told Al Jazeera. “I am suffering and my children are suffering. How do we go on?”
Zaria, dressed in the Labour Party’s red, green and white colours and holding its flag, said Buhari had disappointed him and other Nigerians because he failed to fulfil his campaign promises. But he has found hope again, Zaria said, this time with Obi.
“He has the strength and capability, and I have heard about how he ruled in his state,” Zaria said. “Inshallah [God willing], Peter Obi will do it.”