President Buhari
  • Growing public discontent may dim his re-election bid
buhari 1
President Buhari

With the launch of his ‘Next Level’ campaign document last week – a concept that has been marred by controversy over possible copyright breaches – President Muhammadu Buhari began his campaign for 2019 in earnest. He faces former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who had also on Monday, unveiled a policy document of his own which he termed ‘My document to get Nigeria Working Again.’

Atiku said his document would steadily begin to restore a stronger, equitable, unprejudiced and more prosperous Nigeria, an apparent dig at the incumbent whose government has been characterised, many say, by unprecedented nepotism and crass clannishness; one that has seen nearly all security apparatus of the country concentrated in one section, the Hausa/Fulani, Muslim North.

Buhari who is seeking a mandate renewal outlined, in his Next Level document, areas his government will focus on if reelected next year. Among which include job creation, provision of infrastructure, promotion of business and entrepreneurship, boosting of healthcare and education and encouraging political inclusion.

But for a president who promised heaven in 2014 en route to power in 2015, but who has in many people’s reckoning, delivered the direct opposite in the nearly four years of his stewardship, the new set of promises is unlikely to resonate like his 2014 Change mantra did. And for the president, it could be a tough battle ahead, a seemingly unwinnable one. But there are reasons enough to expect Buhari back in Aso Rock in May 2019.

“My belief is that the change mantra that brought him to power in 2015 which have been substituted to the Next Level cannot save him in 2019,” said Abuja based legal practitioner and political analyst, Chidiebere Anthony.

“Most Nigerians are tired of this government, not because they are the root cause of the Nigeria problems but because the government flourished more on lies than truth. Nigerians have never had it so bad since independent like in this government.”

Without a doubt, many Nigerians are disappointed in Buhari and the reasons would seem quite obvious. Since his assumption of office, most development indices have headed south. Poverty is on the rise. A recent report by the Brookings Institution revealed 88 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty, making Nigeria the world’s poverty capital.

Unemployment have continued to rise. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that in 2017 alone, at least four million people lost jobs. The Bureau has opted not to release any figures for 2018, citing lack of funds. But many argue it could only be that the administration doesn’t want it released because it knows that it would be damaging.

“We never had it as bad as we do under this government,” said Oladotun Hassan, lawyer and president, Yoruba Council of Youths. “The president has demonstrated total lack of capacity to govern.”

Perhaps, a clear evidence of this failure is the fact that the president’s campaign has tried as much as possible to shift focus away from what it he has done in the past three and half years, to what he will do if reelected.

But from the look of things, not many are impressed. The Next Level campaign mantra has been dismissed on social media variously as ‘next level of poverty’, ‘next level of incessant killings by both Boko Haram’ – which has found new vigour of late in its campaign of bloodshed – and Fulani herdsmen, and indeed next level of everything that has gone wrong under the president’s watch.

It would seem obvious, going by the general mood of the masses, that Buhari would have little or no chance of retaining power in 2019. However, while such conclusion would be easy to reach based on what’s on ground, it could prove erroneous because ultimately, Buhari’s fate may not be decided by his record in office.

In Nigeria, as in other developing climes, elections are hardly won and lost on record of performance. And in Nigeria particularly, factors of ethnicity, region and religion loom large in determining who becomes president. And as 2019 approaches, it is becoming certain that this will be the case.

“Nigeria politics is driven by ethnocentrism and nepotism which doesn’t really look at merit,” Hassan admitted. “And that has always been the bane of our development.”

Besides attempting to shift the focus away from Buhari’s record, those running the president’s campaign have continued to make his second term bid to be about who gets to succeed him in 2023. While the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola has relentlessly pushed the idea that South West stands to gain a lot by voting president next year, as according to him, the zone would succeed him in 2023.

However, another of the same narrative has been pushed by the Presidency through the Secretary to the Government Mr. Boss Mustapha, who has continued to sell the same story to the South East in what is a clear attempt at ethnic baiting. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Abuja weeks ago, Fashola asked: “Did you know that power is rotating to the South-West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019?

“Your child cannot surrender her waist for an edifying bead and you will use the bead to decorate another child’s waist. A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.”

The Minister repeated the same argument on Tuesday last week while inaugurating the president’s campaign team in Lagos.

“As a south-west indigene, I will vote for the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket, because my people stand to gain more from it,” he said. “The south-west is presently occupying the position of the vice president. We have three sitting ministers and many different federal appointments from the present administration which we cannot afford to lose.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Mustapha repeated the well rehashed line that Ndigbo should back Buhari back Buhari in 2019 as doing so was their shortest route to power. But he did not explain what that means – 2023 or beyond. Again, Buhari has never said so himself.

“You remember there was a programme in the south-east where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I flew the kite by telling the South Eastern states that their quickest and easiest means to presidency is to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term,” he told journalists after some South East governors met with Buhari at the presidential villa.

“Meaning that they can short circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years and whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.”

On the surface, Mustapha’s logic sounds most illogical. Despite being out of power since the civil war, the prospect of South East presidency in 2023 doesn’t exist, more so in APC. But it is sure to provide a basis for the president’s campaign in the zone, especially in view of the fact that an increasing number of political leaders in the zone are pitching tent with the president.

Mustapha’s statement had come after the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu – who continues to nurse bitterness over the decision of Atiku to pick Peter Obi instead of him as running mate – led governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi – another friend of the president who has also kicked against the choice of Peter Obi; Enugu governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Abia governor, Okezie Ikpeazu to meet the president. These individuals may indeed fall for the 2023 bait and possibly use their resources to mobilize support for the president.

For the South West, the zone justifiably feels it has a chance should Buhari complete eight years. It is the main factor driving the president’s support in the zone. It is easily the only reason, former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is still pitching tent with him and he had revealed as much to Senate President, Bukola Saraki who disclosed that Tinubu told him he would support Buhari even if on wheelchair because he knew power will return to his zone after in 2013.

It is this prospect that will increasingly drive Buhari’s campaign in the zone, but the sad reality is the possibility of that happening is slim. The South West – which has had eight years of power in the current dispensation through Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 – is not the only zone that has cogent reasons to push for power in 2023.

As much as the zone would hope it should get it after Buhari on account of the APC alliance, the South East which has not tasted same ever cannot easily buy into South West’s bid. Indeed, the zone would feel betrayed. On the other hand, the North East which has not had power since Tafawa Balewa will stage a rigorous bid.

But the major challenge the South West could face may not come from either of the North East or South East, but from the very North West it has backed for power. Indeed, it is highly improbable that Buhari who had shown nothing but disdain for Tinubu upon winning the presidential election in 2015, and his men had ensured that the former Lagos governor’s interests were curtailed in Kogi, Ondo and even Ekiti, only to return to him in the interest of his 2019 bid, will later decide to hand over power to him in 2023.

“Mr. President will likely give the APC ticket to a Northerner. What they will end up doing is to set the South East and South West against each other which will cause a lot of damage between them. And while doing so, the North will say that since both cannot agree, power should remain in the North,” Hassan opined.

“I believe strongly that the calculation of Tinubu will fall like a pack of cards. For the president to undermine him and tell him straight to his face that there was nothing like National Leader of APC should have been a lesson to him not to expect anything from Buhari in 2023, but rather expect to find himself in the belly of the tiger he is currently riding on its back.”

Notwithstanding the effect of this increasing focus on 2023 is that the impact of Buhari failure on the outcome of 2019 polls will become increasingly minimized. And the more this is the case, the brighter his chances of winning.

Worse still, Atiku in choosing Mr. Peter Obi as running mate may have ended up creating a scenario where the 2019 polls could come down to a contest between the South East and the South West where the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo hails from.

Increasingly, the APC campaign on social media is becoming about how Atiku presidency is an Igbo agenda to replace Osinbajo with Peter Obi, and increasingly, the Yoruba are being encouraged not to trade their son for an Igbo son in Peter Obi. Buhari will be the ultimate beneficiary.

“Buhari is a very clever man,” said Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus, Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga. “He has not even said anything. He is just allowing the East and the West to forget the main thing, which is the assessment of his government and focus on who succeeds him.”

One could argue that these factors might not be enough to ensure that the president wins majority votes in the South. But for a president who has never conceded defeat since he started running for office in 2003, there is little to suggest he is ready to do so even if the popular vote doesn’t go in his favour in 2019.

What this growing support will guarantee, however, is that the ruling party will have enough foot soldiers to do possible dirty works for it and help it retain power.

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