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Published On: Mon, Feb 19th, 2018

2019: Can the Jagaban save Buhari?

Challenges for Tinubu over the re-election bid

By Obinna Ezugwu

On Tuesday last week, pictures of President Muhammadu Buhari posing with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, National leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Chief Bisi Akande, interim national chairman of the party filled the country’s media space. Both Tinubu and Akande had gone to visit Buhari at the State House, Abuja in what was clearly a move to mend fences ahead of 2019 general election in which the President will, apparently, be seeking a second term in office.

Already there were speculations last Friday that the meeting with APC governors in Daura would unfold his intention to re-contest for the presidency. Tinubu was instrumental to Buhari’s emergence as president in 2015. He led the South West alliance that ensured Buhari got the much needed Southern block vote to win at the fourth time of asking.

Sold as a man of high integrity, an incorruptible anti-corruption czar, Buhari was elected amid high expectations, and Tinubu was the man largely credited with presenting this image of the president through his media influence.

Buhari, apparently is counting on him to do so once again, and indeed he has started a subtle campaign for the presidency with his flagship newspaper, the Nation. But times have changed and the question is, can the former Lagos governor still save a president who has largely lost the goodwill of a large chunk of the masses?

The past three years have witnessed what many have called the unraveling of Buhari. Under his watch, the Nigerian economy went from six percent growth rate into recession in March 2016; a recession it only exited late last year with the improvement in the global oil price.

Unemployment has been at all time high, a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in December last year showed that eight million Nigerians lost jobs in 21 month. Inflation, although came down to 15.15 percent this January from 15.37 percent in December last year, it rose as high as 19 percent in 2016 high since he took over in 2015.

The value of the naira rapidly eroded and was at some point was exchanging for N500 for the dollar before stabilizing within the region of N360 at the parallel market and N305 official rate. It had exchanged between N197 and N200 towards the end of the last administration.

On the challenge of security which Buhari promised to deal decisively with a lot of progress has been made with respect to tackling Boko Haram in the North East. But that has largely been eroded by Fulani herdsmen who are on rampage across the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria, killing not only civilian populations in communities but also security agents, and the Buhari administration appears either not to have a solution or to willingly abate the menace. It has won him more than a few enemies.

Yet, the penchant for nepotism which had seen him concentrate the country’s entire security apparatus as well as other key revenue generating agencies in the hands of the Muslim North has not gone down well with many, especially in the South, including Tinubu’s South West constituency.

Indeed, the Buhari government it would seem set out ab initio to undermine Tinubu. This began with the apparent denial of Hon. James Faleke, a Tinubu loyalist who ran on a joint ticket with the late Abubakar Audu in Kogi State, was under strange circumstances denied the opportunity to become governor upon Audu’s death on the election day. It was a moved many say, was clearly targeted at the former Lagos governor.

The onslaught continued with the election of principal officers of the National Assembly during which his favoured candidates were shut out and ultimately the Ondo State governorship election where Rotimi Akeredolu emerged governor in spite of him

Nonetheless, with 2019 in view it seemed as though the government soon realized it would need Tinubu and began to make amends. First, the Oando scandal which the APC chieftain had interest in was swept under the carpet, and Munir Gwarzo, the erstwhile Director General of Security and Exchange Commission who allegedly refused to let the sleeping dogs lie was sacrificed.

Soon, Tinubu who was once told by Buhari himself that there was nothing like National Leader of APC, took his entourage to overseas trips and all was well again.

Tinubu was, last week, appointed by the President to lead the reconciliation effort of the ruling party which is engulfed in internal strife. At Tuesday’s meeting, he described the appointment as an honour while taking a dig at former presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who had asked Buhari to “honourably” step aside after 2019.

He maintained that APC would win in 2019 despite its internal issues and advised both Obasanjo and Babangida to retire.

“Democracy is about conflict resolution process. You can’t do it without resolving conflicts. We can’t build it without understanding the conflicts and where we are coming from.

“But we want to leave the country with a legacy. It’s not about Mr. President. That is what he’s telling the country,” he said, describing Buhari as a rare breed.

On Wednesday, he held a meeting with the party’s National Working Committee in Abuja as he began his moves to mend fences. Given the enormity and dimensions of the crisis in the party however, a number of which was created by the president himself, it is going to be a tough task bringing everyone together ahead of the polls.

That notwithstanding, getting Tinubu back on board could prove very strategic to Buhari’s quest to retain power in 2019. Many had suggested that should he pool out of the APC as was anticipated in some quarters, it could mark the beginning of the end for Buhari whose popularity has eroded tremendously.

“For now, nothing is certain,” said Mr. Fred Oloyede, a political analyst, “but if Tinubu is going with Buhari, it would have an impact. It is true that Buhari has lost popularity here in the South West, but Tinubu has the wherewithal and followers who will join him wherever he goes.”

But it is a complex scenario. While the power, influence and wealth Tinubu possesses is not in doubt and would help Buhari a great deal in the South West, it may not be as overwhelming as it was in 2015 given that the President has not only largely lost the South West street, but also many notable elites like Pastor Tunde Bakare, Prof Wole Soyinka, Obasanjo among others who actively worked for him.

Indeed, his decision to support Buhari, some say is a gamble that could cost him dearly in the zone, given that such would amount to going against the wish of the people.

Chief Tola Adeniyi is a veteran columnist and administrator who founded the Global Intelligentsia for Buhari, ahead of 2015 polls, a group that raised Diaspora funds for the president’s campaign in the last election. He insists that Buhari has derailed and Tinubu is at risk if he decides to stick with him.

“With due respect to Tinubu and his political sagacity, it does not appear that he would be able to carry Yoruba people along in this adventure,” he said.

“For sure, Buhari, his principal has been dancing to a different tune from the music played to him by the APC under Tinubu. Now that he is dancing to a different music, it doesn’t appear that Tinubu’s music that brought him to power would be of any consequence.

“And this is saying that Tinubu may be advised to withdraw the support and show Buhari that without the South West, he could not have won the presidency.

“But if Tinubu should go ahead and openly canvass for support for Buhari, it may also erode his own influence among the Yoruba who have taken him as a voice to be reckoned with in political matters given his antecedents.”

Adeniyi pointed out specifically Buhari’s penchant for nepotism and his inability to tackle the rampaging herdsmen.

“The new music that Buhari is dancing to is not in consonance with the Yoruba world view,” he noted. “We don’t believe in killing and slaughtering people like cows. And if Buhari is perceived to be aiding and abating those who are slaughtering people all over the country, the Yoruba will certainly withdraw their support for him. And any Yoruba person who is seen to be supporting Buhari would be going contrary to the Yoruba wishes.

“Tinubu may be advised to take a second look at his pronouncements, especially regarding his unalloyed support for Buhari who has proven beyond doubt that he is the master of nepotism.  Rather than come to Tinubu rather than Tinubu falling over for him, it is better for him, Tinubu, to leave him in the hands of his cabal,” he concluded.

Obviously, it is a tough choice for Tinubu. He seems to be at a point where there are no easy choices. Ditching Buhari at this point could strengthen his bond with his South West constituency, and indeed many say it is the more reasonable cause to take, but it is a fight he cannot escape without bruises.

Continuing with Buhari, as he appears to have chosen, may help to deliver second term for the president, but this could be at a high price. Yet, there is no guarantee that once Buhari’s tenure is renewed, the onslaught against him will not continue. It is an outcome that many have suggested could consume him, and indeed other people.

In an interview recently, former Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu put it thus: “I’m sorry to say that if Buhari is reelected in 2019, it will not only consume Tinubu, it will consume other people. It may even lead to the disintegration of Nigeria.”

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