Tuesday 19th September 2017,
Hope for Nigeria

THE SHAPE OF THE 2019 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – BY DELE MOMODU

Buhari and Osinbajo

Fellow Nigerians, let me do a recap of my last column for the benefit of those who might have missed that important forecast of who and what may determine our next President. I will try to predict the principles that would guide how people are likely to vote in that election. Some names have surfaced as potential aspirants and candidates for this all important election that will likely determine what lessons we have learnt and what the medium term future portends for our great country.

The first of the serious candidates, naturally, is President Muhammadu Buhari, who is allowed by the Nigerian Constitution to seek a second term. But this right does not grant him automatic return to power. Indeed, the example of President Goodluck Jonathan is a sobering indicator of this possibility. Going by his old age and present state of health, it may be ill-advised for President Buhari to seek a second time when he is already crawling and groaning to finish this first term. But, who knows, Nigeria is a country where the unthinkable continues to happen. Some vociferous aides of the President have started drumming it into our ears that Baba Buhari will run, come rain, come shine. Who are we to argue with them?

Buhari and Osinbajo

The second, is the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He’s on my list of frontline candidates, not because he has indicated interest, but because he may get the nod of his boss to continue the good job he’s been doing, if the boss chooses not to run. That is if President Buhari can snub and ignore the ethnic jingoists and religious bigots who always prefer to play the race and religious cards above that of merit and competence. Since ill-health has deprived Baba of the stamina to showcase his true vision for Nigeria, it is not too late to tap into the massive goodwill that his Vice President has managed to garner in the last few months and cash in on his substantial equity in the Nigerian polity to revalidate the trust once reposed in this government and its “Change” mantra. The theory is that Baba’s last card should be his ability to rise above ethnicity and religion which have both combined to give him a bad name over time, advertently or inadvertently, by doing what seems right for the country, namely the endorsement of the Acting President to complete the work that the ticket was entrusted with. It is going to be tough to groom a new and acceptable successor in the next few months and he may as well go for a man who is already doing him and Nigeria proud.

Osinbajo’s headache would be how to discourage so many ambitious politicians within and outside his party. They include his former boss, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of Nigeria’s most influential politicians. Barring any last minute change of mind, Tinubu is said to be gathering and garnering all his awesome strength and formidable arsenal in readiness for the epic battle ahead. The other major force within their party is former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. I doubt if he would jettison his spectacular ambition for anyone after hovering in the wings since 2003. For sure, at already over 70 years of age, this would be his last chance to grab that much coveted title of President and Commander-in-Chief. However, like Tinubu, Atiku has many foes who would rather die than see him at the helm of affairs in Nigeria. Those are the top players in APC.

There are other major contenders, just below the bigwigs I have just mentioned who are working hard to gain national appeal or build on what they already have. They include former Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso; The Governor of Sokoto State Waziri Aminu Tambuwal; Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai; The Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; The Senate President, also a former Governor, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and several others.

The election would be decided by the following principles, amongst others. The first hurdle would be who gets the tickets of the top two parties, APC and PDP. This will be a do or die affair. If Buhari decides to run, the party apparatchik would have no choice but to defer and concede to him in order not to subject him to possible humiliation. This may break the party into pieces. A few of the aspirants would be tempted to jump ship but PDP may be too saturated to accept and absorb more ambitious politicians. A third force may be on the cards but trust me, it won’t fly and it is likely to be a monumental misadventure.
The godfathers of Nigerian politics always penetrate the parties to decide who gets what. Nigeria is controlled by some Mafia groups but at the highest echelon is the military fraternity. Former President Obasanjo seems to be the capo di tutti capi here because of his humongous international connections and networks. His robust knowledge of Nigeria is second to none. He enjoys incredible camaraderie with the silent power house, former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. And wherever Babangida goes, his protégé, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar crawls after him like a snail and its shell. By virtue of his sharp intellect, uncommon bravery and bottomless pockets, Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma holds some powerful aces. There is no way they would not be adequately consulted by local and international stakeholders. There are other distinguished members of the military Mafia. Let’s leave them alone for now.
The youths of Nigeria who are desperate for inclusion in the political process still have a long way to go. No one is going to hand the baton to them, just like that, on a platter of gold. They would have to wrestle tirelessly for it. None of those on the battle lines at the moment would be less than 55 in 2019. The youngest of them would still be aged over 50 at the very least, I believe.
Please, don’t write off PDP, and don’t rule out former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan yet. If you understand Nigerian politics a bit, you will appreciate the axiom of “one man’s meat is another man’s poison…” A Presidential game is ruled by big names, pedigree, experience, performance, loads of cash, raw emotion and sentiments. Sometimes it does not matter how bad the experience has been or how woefully the person has performed. Jonathan is therefore still the biggest name PDP can put forward today. Despite the abysmally corrupt practices of his administration and the public odium that continues to trail it, some in the PDP still view Jonathan as the charismatic leader that they can rally around.  What makes the possibility of this nightmarish scenario becoming reality is the poverty and ignorance in our land. There are always more illiterates, jobless people, disoriented youths in every nation. The bourgeois and aristocrats may debate and argue all they like about the impossibility of Jonathan or any of his cohorts returning to power but they pooh pooh and ignore such a freakish occurrence at their peril. In America, all the intellectual elites practically stuck out their necks for Hillary Clinton while the not so educated people pushed out their chests for Donald Trump. You will be shocked at how the same way the hatred for Jonathan got him sacked from power may be replayed in 2019, if APC mismanages the rabid sentiment some people have against Buhari. This theory is based on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend…”
I have said repeatedly, there are no rigid principles, philosophy and ideologies guiding Nigerian politics. Nearly all the bad guys in PDP have virtually migrated to APC without any remorse or repercussions. And the same people can still do their shifting cultivation anytime, almost effortlessly. Home, sweet home, they will be welcome. I’ve been in places where people were arguing for and against Jonathan. It is certain that all it will take for Jonathan or PDP to return to power is for APC to make some more wrong moves particularly, in their choice of candidate. From the absurd, to the ridiculous, comes the prospect of Governor Ayodele Fayose, who says he wants to run, getting his party ticket and truly becoming a candidate. I leave the rest to your imagination but, again, Fayose’s stomach infrastructure propaganda propelled him like a shooting star to Ekiti Government House. Who says the same hunger is not afflicting the vast majority of our national population. Such a policy may well resonate.
The other aspirants can be broken into the following categories. The military class. Former Senate President, David Mark, is said to be interested. Like Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, he has the financial muscle to kick-start a major campaign within PDP. It is not known if Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa is still nursing his Presidential ambition, this former military Governor is one of the most educated and refined Generals turned politician. His name has been cropping up here and there.
The Governor’s Forum would wish to have one of their own in the presidential villa. Tinubu, Saraki, Kwankwaso, Sule Lamido, and current Governors Tambuwal and El Rufai, Rochas Okorocha, Peter Obi, Orji Uzor Kalu, would certainly be in the forefront as presidential or Vice Presidential candidates. Three men, many young Nigerians would love to see in the race, in one capacity or the other are the unforgettable former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke and former Governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akwabio. The infrastructure development they achieved in the past, when they had executive power, is their greatest selling point. Their biggest challenge is that their current level of performance, particularly Fashola and Akpabio, in the disparate roles that they have currently found themselves erodes into the considerable goodwill that they enjoyed as Governors. Donald Duke fortunately does not have such an issue as he has silently gone about his business in the private sector. The fact that he clearly does not see politics as a vocation continues to endear him to people. What is clear is that these achievers have shown that they can’t perform much when they are bogged down by elaborate bureaucracy. There are whispers that the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode may be dragged into the race to assuage the feeling of the youths who seem tired of the old leaders. It is believed that he has displayed exceptional brilliance, capacity and vision in just over two years and that such a man is needed urgently to correct the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria. Nigeria can no longer afford to be saddled with those who lack the vision and the speed for development.
Now, don’t laugh. In case you’ve not heard of this arrangement, Alhaji Aliko Dangote has been under pressure to run the Presidential race. The promoters of this idea believe Nigeria would never move forward until it is rescued from hard core politicians and run like a business. Others have mentioned the UBA Chairman, Tony Elumelu, in a similar vein. It is believed that running a global bank in about 19 countries, like Dangote’s expansive businesses in 14 countries, constitutes great experience and exposure for both. Chief Moshood Abiola attempted this in 1993 and almost succeeded before his landmark victory was summarily and cruelly aborted. Many point to business guru, Trump’s, emergence as American President as the sort of miracle that could happen in Nigeria given the public’s increasing disenchantment with the establishment and the call for a new orientation and a business-like approach to government.

 

Nigerians are desperately seeking leaders who can perform and deliver and not mere representative of a tribe or religious sect. at the end of the day, the choice may well be a stark one. It could lead to a rosy or gloomy future. What is certain is Nigerians do not want failure again. That does not mean that they know how to avoid this.  This is mostly true of the poor masses in who really lies the power to do and undo although they obviously do not appreciate this. At the end of it all, if we fail again, then we can only have ourselves to blame once more for our collective stupidity and potential doom. Finito.

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