How time flies! It is already two years and several months since the then retired General Muhammadu Buhari mounted what was seen as his most formidable push for the biggest prize in a political context, the highest office in the land. As a former Head of State who had failed to get the nod of Nigerians for three consecutive times since he started asking in 2003, Buhari gave all he could the fourth time; he came out of his cocoons, extended his tentacles and hugged both friends and foes from across the Niger to stand a chance of winning. While he said it would be the last time he would ask Nigerians to elect him, he told the nation also that 2015 was their last chance of redemption which they must embrace with open arms.
Meanwhile, all the political undercurrents were actually working in his favour that time. Almost the entire political class from across all the groups, political parties, tribes, races and religions wanted his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, out by all means possible. Some of them who were big politicians, governors and former governors in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were ready to destroy the party from within if that was what it would take to get Jonathan out of office even if it means supporting Buhari; some of them who couldn’t share a hall with Buhari for a minute openly or clandestinely supported him because he was seen as the only one who could defeat Jonathan with the right degree of support.
Even the very ambitious politicians who battled with Buhari for the APC ticket and lost had agreed before the primaries to support whoever emerged as the candidate chose to honour their words and backed him for the job rather than decamping to seek redress elsewhere. For them, 2015 was Buhari’s time and there was no stopping him.
More importantly, Nigerian masses were tired of opening the newspapers and reading stories of mid-boggling cases of corruption and insurgency under the Jonathan Presidency, and Buhari was presented by the political class as the messiah who had the pedigree and magic wand to deal with the vices. The rest as they say is now history…
It’s now two years and some months since Buhari took office just as it’s only about a year to the beginning of another round of politicking and electioneering. Now that the President’s health has improved dramatically in the last few weeks and he would most likely seek reelection in 2019, it would amount to great political naivety for anyone to think the same factors which ensured Buhari practically strolled to victory in 2015, will still be in place this time.
To start with, there is no longer a common enemy, Goodluck Jonathan, to be defeated; the great enemy now, as far as ambitious politicians are concerned, is Muhammadu Buhari. Secondly, life they say is turn-by-turn, it is now the turn of Buhari to face Nigerians and tell them how far he has dealt with the twin scourge of insurgency and corruption which formed the basis for his election in the first place. In his own case, the economy, which has struggled for the better part of the last two years will be a bigger campaign topic than even corruption and security.
Apart from issues such as insurgency, economy and the fight against corruption that will define or dominate the 2019 campaigns, there is also a significant factor that will play a prominent role in who becomes the next President. And that factor is the support of the current political gladiators.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Buhari Presidency is a product of the support and sacrifices of many political gladiators such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and now Governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; and the then PDP governors that were frustrated by Jonathan namely Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto state), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers state), Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano state), Admiral Murtala Nyako (Adamawa state) and Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara state), among others.
With what has transpired between Buhari and most of these political gladiators in the last two and half years, will the President get their support If he decides to run for election in 2019?
Contrary to what most Nigerians, especially their respective supporters would say, Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar actually have a lot in common. They are both in their 70s. They are both of the Fulani ethnic stock. They are both Muslims. They have both seen it all in the service of the country. They both can command adequate financial war chest to prosecute a presidential campaign in 2019.
Some of the qualities that both of them share that will encourage Atiku to challenge Buhari in 2019 is that they are known to be resilient, consistent and insistent in their ambition to rule Nigeria.
Just like Buhari did in 2015, Atiku is mounting what may be the last and best shot at the Presidency in 2019. As part of measures to build bridges and garner votes from all corners of the country, Atiku has taken advantage of every podium he mounts to preach the gospel of true federalism and how he would restructure and turn the country around if given the chance. With his restructuring gospel and with Buhari’s relative unpopularity in both south-south and southeast, it is believed that Atiku will do well in the south generally and fight a good battle with the President in the north.
It is widely believed in political circles that if Buhari and Atiku seek the APC ticket and Atiku loses again to Buhari in 2018, he won’t handover his political machinery like he did in 2014. Rather, he will seek greener pasture elsewhere as he has done so often in the course of his political journey. Therefore, the battle royale Nigerians should be waiting for may be between the President flying the APC flag and Atiku flying the flag of another major party, may be the PDP, which has also zoned the Presidency to the north. So, if there is one man who will not stand with Buhari in 2019, it is Atiku.
HAJIYA AISHA ALHASSAN
If you are in doubt about the possibility of Atiku not supporting Buhari in 2019, ask Hajiya Aisha Jummai Alhassan, the President’s Minister of Women Affairs. Not often times you see a minister in this part of the world summon such courage or display that degree of bravado to tell her boss, a the President that if he dare announce his intent to seek reelection, he won’t get her support as her political godfather was more deserving of that. In these tense political times, she paid sallah homage to Atiku and called him “My President, 2019.” While people who taped her thought they had gotten her into trouble, she repeated the lines with more devastating bluntness in at least three more media interviews, one of them in the Presidential Villa, that the President won’t get her support in 2019. Buhari can rest assured that party delegates and voters from Taraba that are loyal to his Minister of Women Affairs are not for him in 2019.
There are many people like Aisha Jummai Alhassan in the President’s cabinet and other sensitive positions that would not support him in 2019, but are, perhaps, too timid to show their true colour early enough.
DR ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI
The Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki is one major political gladiator that you will ignore at your peril, especially if you want to be the President of Nigeria in 2019. Saraki has faced a lot challenges and has fought (and is still fighting) series of legal battles over allegations of corruption and self-enrichment despite the fact that he is the Number Three Citizen in a country where his party is in charge at the centre and in some states. There is the likelihood that 2019 will be his payback time to his traducers.
KWANKWASO, WAMAKKO AND CO
It is difficult to say where the likes of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, Senator Danjuma Goje, Senator Abdullahi Adamu etc belong individually or collectively as the race for 2019 moves closer. Kwankwaso lost to Buhari in the 2015 primaries and may want to challenge the President again. All of them have been largely silent on 2019, so no one knows what they are cooking.
ASIWAJU BOLA AHMED TINUBU
Former Lagos state governor and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, has been a recurring decimal in presidential elections in recent years. Tinubu is believed to have secretly used his far-reaching influence to deliver the southwest to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in the 2011 elections even though his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), fielded former chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, as its candidate. Jonathan needed the southwest to neutralise the dominance of his main challenger, Buhari in the north and to also get the required nationwide spread. Tinubu changed the game for Jonathan.
The ‘Lion of Bourdilon’ has also played a leading role in the funding and birth of All Progressives Congress and also in the funding of Buhari’s campaign in 2015. With the in-roads Atiku is making in the south, the President needs Tinubu now for the primaries and general elections more than ever before. There are, however, rumours of a breakdown in relationship between the duo as Tinubu has been said to have been uncomfortable with too many decisions made by the President and the fact that a cabal has hijacked him to his (Tinubu) disadvantage.
Many of the President’s strategists are, however, said to be of the belief that whatever gulf that exists between the President’s inner circles and Tinubu’s camp can be easily closed to pave way for the former in 2019. Meanwhile, it is believed that the latter may have an ambition of his own, but it is easy to convince him that he would have his way in 2023 if he supports Buhari in 2019 instead of going for Atiku or another northerner who will want to start an eight-year tenure.
Aside this, Tinubu and Atiku never seem to be on the same page politically even as they belong to the same party. Except there is a dark horse somewhere that pundits do not know about yet, the Tinubu/Buhari romance may be resurrected ahead of 2019, especially with Professor Yemi Osinbajo as Vice President.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is also one major voice from the southwest that is believed to have played key roles in the emergence of many Nigerian leaders in the past. He also unofficially leads a very powerful group of influential former leaders and elder statesmen who do not sit on the fence when it is time to decide the next Nigerian leader. But a pattern of his behaviour has changed under Buhari which seem to be in favour of the President ahead of 2019.
Obasanjo is known to start criticizing Presidents shortly after supporting their emergence or even imposing them. He did so with late Umar Musa Yar’adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan. But surprisingly, over two years into Buhari’s tenure, Obasanjo’s body language shows he is still with the President. In a recent interview with the BBC, the ‘Ebora Owu’ commended the President for his efforts in fighting corruption and insurgency and said he will support him for a second term if he sustains a good overral performance. He said: “If he (Buhari) says he will re-contest, I will look at his overall performance before I take a decision.” Neither Yar’adua nor Jonathan was lucky to get this kind of endorsement from the former President. Even as there is no permanent friend or foe in politics, Obasanjo is believed to be perennially against the idea of an Atiku presidency and this situation may work in favour of Buhari in 2019.
DISGRUNTLED APC MEMBERS
To underscore the fact that the APC is a marriage of convenience and a union of strange bedfellows, the party has been sharply divided along its fault lines since 2015 and if the President must seek reelection in 2019, he must stop ignoring his responsibilities as the leader of the party. Whether the President is contesting or choosing a successor within the party, APC must unite before it is able to mount a serious challenge. All the feuding factions must find a way to rally behind a candidate to stand a chance. The myth of incumbency powers has been shattered by the way and manner Jonathan and the PDP lost out in 2015, and there is the likelihood that the APC may face the same faith if care is not taken.
Majority of Nigerian voters will stand with the President or otherwise on the basis of his performance, especially in three areas where his 2015 campaign was anchored on – corruption, security and economy. These three key things would shape the President’s acceptability or otherwise in the 2019 elections.
However, majority of the voters in the South-East and South-South may find it difficult to stand with him or his preferred candidates even if he turns Nigeria to a First World country in the next 18 months. Rightly or wrongly, the people have consistently maintained a pattern of not standing with him since 2003, and events of the last two years have not offered hope of any change in the status quo.
The President is believed to have done and said a lot to further alienate them than give himself a chance of being loved by the people of the two zones, and in a seeming reciprocal approach, it has become a political culture in the South-East and South-South to say ‘anyone but Buhari.’
Except something dramatic is done and urgently too, it then means that only voters in the remaining four geo-political zones – South-West, North-Central, North-East and North-West – would even examine the performance of the President on the basis of his campaign promises and decide if he is doing a second term or not. A strong performance in these zones may however be enough for him to win in 2019.