By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, unbeknown to many of our people, the battle for who becomes our next President has already started in earnest. Never mind the fact that the incumbent President is still firmly in power even if he’s spent more time outside than inside in recent times. Despite his absence, President Muhammadu Buhari continues to exert almost total control on the affairs of state through regular phone chats with the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who is deeply loyal and committed to their joint cause, and emissaries who criss-cross the two continents to transmit messages to him and relevant officials. Nonetheless, you can’t blame the gladiators for shaping up this early for the big contest that is looming. It is big because it is unlikely that the current incumbent President will run again because of the fragile state of his health. Like joke, like joke, the Buhari/Osinbajo government is in its third year. By this time next year, the general elections would just be about six months away. That’s just too close for comfort.
The Presidential race is always the biggest deal in most countries, Nigeria in particular. The reason is simple. The President of Nigeria is probably the most powerful black President in the world. This is why you find so many perpetual contestants who never get tired of seeking power. Let me just go straight to the meat of my message without wasting your precious time on any long preamble.
Some aspirants have actually started making subterranean moves, here and there, to prepare the grounds for their eventual launch. The most obvious ones include former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano. The boldest and most vocal visible aspirant is the current Governor of Ekiti State, Peter Fayose who has even announced a date for the official declaration of his bid for the Presidency. Fayose seems to have mastered the art and science of politics. He has warned that no one should underrate him. I won’t because nothing is impossible in our clime.
Anyway. Let’s move on. The main cause of the early moves is the general belief in political circles that President Buhari is not likely to contest in 2019. His poor health has virtually eliminated him from the race no matter how much and how well he recovers from his present ailment. I think so too. Baba himself had declared in one of his rare interviews that he’s never been this sick in his life. Only the cruellest human being would advise President Buhari to continue to subject himself to the rigours of the Presidential office when he returns. To add the vagaries of rough and tumble of a Presidential race to his recuperation would be inhuman indeed. God has been very kind to him and there is nothing more to prove or to achieve. Others must carry on the fight as his able Vice President, now Acting President has been doing.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar had shown interest in becoming Nigeria’s President since 1993 when he contested the Presidential primaries of the then Social Democratic Party alongside Chief Moshood Abiola and Baba Ghana Kingibe. He was persuaded to withdraw from the contest and throw his weight behind Chief Abiola on the basis of his relative youth amongst other things. Age, it was said, was on his side, and he had many years to seek the Presidency. Since then, he has never stopped dreaming and aspiring. Unfortunately, he has always just fallen short! He had made his next move in 2003, after he served as Vice President to President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999. The “abortive coup” (as it was described), to force Obasanjo out and bring Atiku in, by the all-powerful Governors of the time failed spectacularly. The cold war between Atiku and his boss exploded into full view and became a smouldering inferno. Atiku instantly became a marked man. He himself would be forced out of the party he helped to found and had to join others to form another party. But before too long Atiku was compelled by circumstances to scamper back to PDP. Not many felt that was a smart move. He was viewed as being too desperate and unprincipled. This flip-flop has been his major albatross. And he was not yet done! Atiku again jumped ship from the floundering PDP when some five Governors defected and joined the fulcrum of APC. There are already indications that he may be compelled to abandon ship again but where to, we don’t know. Some say that he is grooming PDM for this purpose and has already caused a crisis in his former movement.
There is no doubt that Atiku would make a good leader. He is a seasoned politician who is known to have the ability to unite Nigerians because of his extensive networks across the nation. He also has the penchant for recruiting the best brains to work with. If he becomes the President, he would be bringing in his wealth of experience in public service and private business that is almost second to none. But there are major setbacks against him. One is how to find the detergent to cleanse or unglue himself from the sticky mud his former boss President Obasanjo had generously splashed on him. He’s largely portrayed as a very corrupt and corruptible leader who may lead Nigerians into temptation and perdition with his acolytes. Whether this is a fair assessment or wicked blackmail is his business to deal with but it won’t be so easy to wish or wash away.
Atiku will find it difficult to clinch the APC ticket. There are obvious signs that he has already positioned some of his close associates in PDP, in case of emergency but he may be scammed at the end of the day if he takes the risk of pulling out of his present party. He needs to worry about his age. He has already crossed 70 and it is doubtful if most Nigerians want to be saddled with another old man who may collapse under the brutal weight of presidential stress and pressure. He would require more of a clean bill of health to persuade young Nigerians that he’s not carrying some health liabilities like others in the past. In summary, we have a reasonable bridge-builder and veteran administrator who may be too old and too late in seeking political office.
Next is the former Governor of Kano State, Senator Mohammed Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a man with very vast political and administrative pedigree. He has gone through the whole gamut of governance at both executive and legislative levels. His performance as Governor of the massive state of Kano is an eloquent testimony to the fact that he may be the one to ignite the infrastructural revolution in Nigeria. He cuts the image of a frugal Aminu Kano with his simple mien. His grassroots non-governmental movement known as Kwankwasiyya Pillars of the Nation is well mobilised and may give him an edge over most aspirants. He also has in his favour the fact that Kano State has the highest number of registered voters and may be able to count on garnering a significant number of these. He is also expected to draw strength from his former colleagues in the Governors’ Forum across the nation but no one is sure how relevant they still are. Kwankwaso is 60 years old and falls the under the age of 65 that many want as the upper limit for contestants. On the negative side, he is not likely to have the formidable war chest of an Atiku Abubakar though this did not stop him from beating Atiku to third place in their last APC Primaries.
Say what you will, the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, must be factored into the equation by all means. The reason is that he seems to enjoy a special rapport with his ailing boss who may prefer to hand over fully to someone he knows well than risk certainty for uncertainty. Osinbajo has been a very loyal and dependable ally, the sort that are not common in this clime. This is no surprise because his vocation as a lawyer, his service as a teacher and his calling as a Pastor makes him imbued with integrity and dignity. Osinbajo has also succeeded in bringing Nigerians together and calming frayed nerves. His handling of the economy, security and national awareness is quite commendable and many Nigeria’s applaud his brilliance and performance in steering the affairs of state to its present comfortable position. His only worry would come from ethnic jingoists who do not care about merit but prefer only members of their tribe no matter how useless or incompetent they may be.
Osinbajo is likely to be vehemently opposed by such powerful forces who think only about themselves, although it seems to me that the people of the North are not with them on this occasion. There is no question that Osinbajo has restored hope and promise to Nigeria and should ordinarily be allowed to stabilise the polity and lead us out of the doldrums. The fact that he lacks his own political platforms may be a great disadvantage because he would need to lean on his political godfather and kingmaker, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who seems tired of fixing others into positions of power without being the ultimate King of Kings himself. However, Asiwaju is canny and wise and would prefer to be in the hallowed corridors of power with his protégé in charge than be outside it particularly given that he is himself ageing and would be over a couple of years over 65 by the time of the next elections.
There has always been speculation that the Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, is interested in being President. He is eminently qualified to do so. The way he has managed the Senate and worked assiduously on churning out unprecedented number of very efficacious bills is a pointer to his effectiveness as a modern and cosmopolitan leader who understands what the people want and how to give it to them. His biggest migraine apart from allegations of corruption and mismanagement of Societe Generale Bank which has seemingly not gone away, is that he comes from Kwara State. The State is geographically Northern but culturally Southern. His father was Olusola. He is Bukola. His wife is Toyin. His sister is Gbemisola. His Brother is Olaolu. His son is Olaseni. No one could be more Yoruba than Saraki. However, surprisingly, despite this great Yoruba credentials, the Yorubas do not also apparently view him as a Yoruba man but as a Northerner. I do not know how he plans to overcome that challenge of being neither cat nor rat.
The Governor of Sokoto State, Waziri Aminu Tambuwal, attempted very briefly to run the Presidential race in 2015 but seemed to have chickened out and pulled back to settle for the gubernatorial race, where he eventually emerged successful. It is being mentioned in informed circles that he may still want to try his luck. As a former Speaker of the House of representatives and now Governor, he comes with some intimidating arsenal as e is still clearly well loved by his old constituency, the Federal legislators. It is not certain if he would abandon his almost guaranteed second term as Governor for a not so certain Presidential bid. His antecedents in this regard would persuade me not to expect too much of a change in Tambuwal’s circumstances this time around.
The same goes for one of my favourite leaders, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State, one of the most cerebral, experienced and visionary leaders in Nigeria today. He is silently revolutionising Kaduna State although people see more of the controversial stuff coming out of that State because of its highly volatile religious mix of Muslims and Christians. Though he is yet to declare his interest openly, he is someone to watch…