By OBINNA EZUGWU
It is now a matter of when, not if, President Muhammadu Buhari will throw his hat in the ring and officially declare for his second term bid ahead of the February 16, 2019 presidential election, a year and few months from now.
It is certain the president is running for second term as has been confirmed by several sources at the presidency, and from the political maneuvering taking place of late, it’s all too clear that Buhari has started subtle campaigns ahead of the polls.
A second term for the president portends a mixed bag of issues for the party. For APC to retain power it needs the president to run and the party and the Aso Rock cabal are in agreement. But a coalition of forces and interests especially in the north is not disposed to this outcome because it will kill the political ambition of some of the governors such as Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state, and his predecessor, Wammako; Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna state, Kashim Shitima of Borno, and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso.
Also Buharis running for second term would jeopardize the strategic interest of the north to retain power after him for eight more years to match souths tenure since 1999. The plan, according to informed sources, is for Buhari to run for a term and hand over to another northerner who will do two terms.
There had been a lot of back and forth moves within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with some governors of the party, especially in the South West insisting that the party’s national chairman, Chief John Oyegun steps down over allegations of not carrying party members along. But the key issue, sources say, has been Buhari’s second term bid and Oyegun’s insistence on having the party endorse the President outright.
Late last month, South West governors boycotted the party’s Consultative Meeting put together by Oyegun led National Working Committee at it’s National Secretariat, Abuja in what was described as sending a message to the leadership of the party.
It was gathered that Oyegun, alongside some governors loyal to Buhari planned to use the meeting to endorse him for second term, but the idea was shelved when two governors present; one from the North East and the other from the North West, pointed out that doing so could prove to be unwise as it would further polarise the party and make it vulnerable.
The party’s governors, it has emerged, are already divided between those who want an automatic ticket for the president as well as want Oyegun to continue as chairman, and those who are opposed to it. The latter are said to be in the majority and largely loyal to Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Key political figures of South West APC, it has been noted, are not keen on Buhari whom they accuse of largely incompetent and performing below expectations, which is damaging the party interests image as well as neglecting the zone and especially Tinubu.
In an attempt to put things in order, especially ahead of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting billed for Tuesday last week, Buhari met with Tinubu at the State House. After the meeting the former Lagos state governor told State House reporters that he had a fruitful discussion with the President, insisting that he had no issues with him and that suggestions to that effect were “fake news.”
He however, deferred questions on the second term topic saying: Dont discuss that one with me.
At Tuesday’s NEC meeting, further attempts were made to secure the party’s endorsement for Buhari with an “informal” motion moved by some members for the passage of a vote of confidence on Buhari and Oyegun as well as endorsing the President for second term. However, the committee only elected to pass a vote of confidence on the duo, but deferred the idea of endorsement.
Todays meeting was not about 2019 elections. When we talk about 2019 in the context of the agenda you saw, we are talking about membership registration, the drive for membership and others. We are not talking about elections,” House of Reps Speaker, Yakubu Dogara said at the end of the meeting on Tuesday.
“Even though there was a motion on the floor that called for a vote of confidence on the President, some of us felt it was not necessary because there is no where that his confidence is shaking. But the motion was taken and passed.
“But there was a second leg to that motion which called for the adoption of the candidature of the President, it was differed for now and no decision was taken because that is not the major reason why we were here.”
Notwithstanding, governors loyal to the president had gone ahead on arrival, to endorse him for second term. The governors, including Simon Lalong of Plateau, Rochas Okorocha Imo, Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa and Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi collectively agreed that President Buhari had done well enough to be given an offer of first refusal.
In all however, what seems clear is that Buhari will run again in 2019. The question however is whether or not he will get the support of Tinubu, and by extension, the South West as well as secure enough goodwill across the country to be able to win.
A number of key political figures in the zone spoken to on the condition of anonymity say it would be unlikely that the zone would give Buhari the needed support, as according to them, he has not done well enough. Some argued that even if Tinubu accepts to go with him (the President), it would not be a guarantee that the zone will vote for him.
“In as much as President Buhari is constitutionally allowed to contest for second term in 2019, winning will be a herculean task,” said Bar. Oladotun Hassan, President and founder, Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide.
“These facts are visible. Most Nigerians trusted the change mantra, had hopes for better life and good governance, but what we have seen so far is only wanton display of arrogance, fleets of corruption cases involving those he appointed. It would be an albatross for him to survive another election.
“The Southwest has been told that their votes do not matter when it comes to election by some field men of the Northern oligarchy. Without caution, they disappointed many right thinking Yoruba and other domiciled interest in South West.
“I speak on behalf of all the youth organizations in South West. When the time is ripe, we shall collectively decide our next line of action, he said.”
In 2015, votes from the South West and North Central proved key in insuring that Buhari beat the then incumbent Goodluck Jonathan as the South East and South South on one hand, and North West and North East on the other hand, formed the key support base of the former president and the incumbent respectively. But ahead of 2019, the president has lost much of his goodwill in the two critical zones while at the same time, escalating the subtle political divide between the North West states of Kano and Katsina.
In the North Central, apart from the general economic challenges now faced across the country, the president’s poor handling of the raging farmers versus herdsmen clashes has stoked anger amongst the people. Hundreds of individuals have been killed in attacks by herdsmen in places like Benue, Plateau, Southern Kaduna and even Taraba in the North East and the administration has been accused of turning a blind eye to the bloodshed.
In fact, the military had been accused of directly aiding herdsmen in the latest attacks in Plateau. To this extent, many people spoken to in the North Central say most people in the area no longer wish to hear about the APC.
“No, it would be difficult for Buhari to win in the North Central,” said Oyiwodu Aje, “In my state Benue particularly, majority want nothing to do with APC anymore.”
Benue is one of the states worst hit by herdsmen crisis, and Aje suggests it has had a huge impact.
Kogi has not particularly been so unlucky, but Mr Yusuf Mohammed, an indigene says the president would not find it easy either.
“Those urging him to run are doing so for their selfish interests. If the notion that people go the way their leaders go is anything to go by, there is time for him to correct some of his wrongs,” he said.
“For instance, he has said that he would re-shuffle his cabinet. He will appoint new board members. This is a campaign strategy. He is trying to appease aggrieved members of the party. He is trying to appease those that give direction to the masses.
“As for the North Central, it depends on how well Buhari plays his card. The average person from the middle-belt is not happy with the way he is handling the Fulani herdsmen situation. On the political front, many of those who worked for him to win in most North Central States in 2015 have been sidelined. If he can appease them ahead of 2019, he may stand a chance.”
The North West and North East remains the presidents primary constituencies and he is sure to do extremely well there. But according to feelers, a number of politicians are no longer keen on him and are allegedly planning to pull away and field an alternative candidate in a party to be formed with a combination of APC and opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) members.
Yet, in Kano where he polled the highest number of votes the last time, there are indications that certain groups are unhappy with the President’s focus on his home state of Katsina in key appointments. But this will do little to threaten his grip on the two zones, although the rift between Governor Ganduje.and Kwankwaso if not resolved may cut into his support base.
The South East and South South is stronghold of the opposition PDP, and Buhari has since coming to office, further alienated the zones, especially the South East in terms of appointments having famously noted that he would not treat those who gave him five percent votes equal with those who gave him 97 percent. He has largely kept this promise.
As it stands, nobody from the South East heads any security establishment in the country, and non in the president’s kitchen cabinet. Added to this is the high handedness displayed in handling pro Biafra agitators in the zone. As it stands, it is hard to see the APC and Buhari making any headway there.
The president seems to have slowed down however. Early last month, he hosted leaders of the South East at the presidential villa where he insisted that he has not marginalised them as widely believed. Weeks later, he approved payment of pension to former Biafra war police officers.
Again, last week, he agreed to pay N88 billion as compensation to civil war victims in accordance with the verdict of ECOWAS court. This, observers say, is an attempt to woo the affected states of the South East and South South. But will it go far enough?
“It is a step in the right direction,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, President emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “And what is good about it is that it is by consent of court. It is an order; we need more of such judgment.”
But Uwazurike argues that the decision of the government will not have impact on election.
“I don’t know whether the aim is election, but whatever it is we have to grab it with both hands. It does not stop us from voting for whoever we want to vote for. Government is a continuum. And the judgment is already there. Since it’s a consent judgment, you won’t be talking of appeal. It is already there, let it be on record. There are many other judgments that will come.”
In the streets of Enugu, APC remains a pariah. “No, we cannot vote APC for any reason,” insisted Ezeaku Kelechi. “He better step down.”
The president’s snub of the zone in the appointment of Secretary to the Government of the Federation had also generated backlash.
Beyond the issues of governance however, a lot will depend on whether the President is able to win Tinubu’s support and which candidates the opposition PDP will field.
“Tinubu’s position on 2019 is very important,” says Mohammed. “Look around, do you see anyone who can lead the South-West against Buhari other than him?”
The PDP has since zoned presidential candidate to the North, with possible preference for the North East and vice presidential candidate to the South, and South East is being tipped. Observers say this is a miscalculation that could prove costly.
The idea being that such arrangement could force the South West to stick with the APC and Buhari since it is already assured of vice presidential slot. It would be difficult to find a candidate that can beat Buhari in the North East and North West states. Despite some of the already detailed issues of non performance, the two zones still believe the president will protect their interests more than any other.
Therefore, where you have a situation where the South West is compelled to lead the Buhari campaign, and alongside the North, vote for him, the APC will be home and dry.
On the other hand, if the PDP had zoned vice presidential slot to the South West, it would serve to at the very least, split votes in the zone while the South East and South South would still vote for it nonetheless.
Former Vice president, Atiku Abubakar is the most visible potential candidate from the North East, and some note that a ticket that would have him running alongside Tinubu will sweep votes across the South, North Central and parts of North East and will be assured of victory.
But an Atiku and Tinubu ticket is highly unlikely, and this is why it would seem that despite his many failings, Buhari could return to power in 2019 all the same. Members of his party are confident he will return.
“If he re-contests, he will win soundly,” said Hon. Hycenth Ngwu, APC spokesman in Enugu State. “In terms of what is happening with the economy, Nigerians should be grateful that we have somebody like Buhari at this point in time. Without him, our economy which was based solely on oil could have collapsed. If it were not for him, we won’t have been out of recession by now.”
The above is a line described as mere propaganda by former UBA chairman, Ambassador Joe Keshi.
“On what basis would the economy have collapsed?” he queried. “The very first day the government came in, they started spending money. Where did they money come from? What would have made the country to collapse?
“On the other hand, when you came in, the economy was growing at 5.6 percent, but because you basically did nothing; the investing community was waiting to see action, everyone held their money, you did nothing, and the words coming from you were not encouraging, as a result there was capital flight, and the economy went into a recession,” he cautioned.