By OBINNA EZUGWU
For President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) quest to retain power in 2019, little may have to do with his unimpressive first term as the quest for possible succession in 2023 gradually becomes a major deciding factor for the all important February polls.
The point that Buhari has performed far below expectations, and has lost vast amounts of goodwill across religious and ethnic divide cannot be overstated. Indeed, while conceding the fact that the President can beat his main challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the core Northern states where he had maintained political dominance since 2003, the truth for many, remains that should the 2019 polls reflect the general mood of the people, Buhari would catch the next flight to his home town of Daura on May 29, 2019.
However, the evidence of today’s reality is that it won’t. And for all his failures, Buhari is poised to escape the consequences as the question of who takes power in 2023 gradually becomes a major campaign topic in the South West, and to a lesser extent, the South East.
In 2015, one factor that was of critical importance for Buhari en route to victory over the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was his victory in the South West geopolitical zone. It was the president’s showing in the zone, and to a lesser degree, his surprising win in the traditional PDP states of the Middle Belt that handed him overall victory.
For the Middle Belt, it is a given that as far as states like Benue, Plateau and perhaps Kogi are concerned, Buhari will feel the impact of herdsmen carnage at the polls. However, the killing fields of these Middle Belt states remain, in some ways, foreign news in the streets of the South West and will have minimal impact in how people in the zone will vote.
Notwithstanding, disappointment with Buhari in the economy and other areas of national life, including security, is palpable in the zone. And it would be safe to say that should the election be issue based and reasonably free and fair, Buhari will receive a shocker there. But, increasingly, issues are being thrown overboard and the promoters of Buhari are making an aggressive case for power shift to the zone in 2023 as a basis for support.
“Vote for Buhari and get power in 2023,” has become the slogan of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; a sermon he is pushing in his South West constituency. And indeed, it is the same consideration that informs his predecessor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s continued support for the president.
Much of this was disclosed by Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki who noted recently that Tinubu had vowed in a conversation with him, that he would support Buhari, even if in a wheelchair, because he was sure power will return to the South West in 2023. It is with the intention to take control of the APC structure that he had pushed for the emergence of now embattled Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as chairman of the party. It is this push to consolidate political control of the zone that is causing crisis in Ogun State.
Tinubu who had desperately wanted to run as vice presidential candidate in 2015, but was met with stiff resistance by Buhari who insisted he could only nominate anybody of his choice, has overtly been positioning for power. And feelers suggest a power bid with Kano governor, Abdullahi Ganduje or Kaduna governor, Nasir el-Rufai is in the offing.
On face value one could not fault such projections. Of truth, the whole logic of APC is underpinned by the resolve of the South West to go for power in 2023; it is the oxygen energizing the party in the zone – the unwritten logic of the APC. The party was born, essentially, out of an alliance between the North West through Buhari’s CPC and the South West via Tinubu led ACN. Therefore, it would be logical that after the North West, the South West will go for power. But it is potentially a complicated scenario, not least because even within the South West, polarisation is emerging.
Why South West bid may falter
Without a doubt, Buhari stands as the prime beneficiary of South West’s quest for power in 2023. It is the major reason he could very possibly return as president in 2019. As it stands, various political leaders of the zone, despite having their own individual ideas about who the South West president would be, there seems to be a consensus on having Buhari reelected first, which they would feel, is the first precondition for a South West presidency.
But beyond Buhari, there is the likelihood of an already simmering polarisation among the potential contenders culminating into a crisis that could prove the zone’s undoing.
Undoubtedly, Tinubu remains the prime political figure in the zone, and the most obvious potential presidential candidate. He has been working tirelessly to position himself for what is to come. The first task would be to consolidate on his stronghold, the South West, and it is a task he is undertaking with a measure of dexterity.
He had declined leading President Buhari’s campaign, to according to him, focus his attention in the South West. Part of that consolidation is the installation of his loyalists as candidates in various elective positions in the zone, notably Dapo Abiodun, the ruling party’s governorship candidate in Ogun, having secured Osun where his cousin, Gboyega Oyetola is already governor.
He had also ensured that loyalists took national assembly tickets in Ondo, much to the chagrin of the state’s chief executive, Rotimi Akeredolu.
But while he is doing so, Fashola who apparently sees himself as another potential president not beholden to him, is setting up his own political structure using Buhari’s campaign as a guise.
The minister had recently inaugurated five thousand foot soldiers in all 20 local governments and 37 local development centres in Lagos with a mandate to build support base in their various areas, ostensibly campaign for Buhari. But the idea that it is a possible attempt at building a political base of his own ahead of 2023, is not lost on the Tinubu camp who are said to be kicking against the move and insisting that the minister could not set up a campaign team outside that of the mainstream Lagos campaign structure.
Of interest too, is the fact that while Tinubu and his political godson, Osinbajo appear to be on the same page now, the vice president is known to be nursing presidential ambition of his own. And while the obvious contenders in Tinubu, Osinbajo and Fashola will be attempting to sort themselves out, the wide cards in Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi and Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank (ADB), could swing a surprise.
Ultimately, the zone’s bid is somewhat predicated on anticipated reciprocal support from Buhari’s North West, and indeed core Northern constituency, a prospect some say is unrealistic given the disposition of Buhari towards Tinubu in particular.
“I believe strongly that the calculation of Tinubu will fall like a pack of cards,” said Oladotun Hassan, President, Yoruba Council of Youths. “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.”
Hassan’s fears are not misplaced. In truth, it would seem 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 where James Faleke, his political son, was robbed of his governorship post, as well as the events in Ondo and Ekiti, only to return to him in the interest of their 2019 bid, will later decide to hand over power to him in 2023.
Instructively, too, while the South West is preparing for the 2023 bid, the Secretary to government, Boss Mustapha has been selling same to the South East as what the zone stands to gain by supporting Buhari’s 2019 bid.
An unrealistic proposal, it might seem, but it is emerging as the main plank of the president’s campaign in the zone, one that the original members of the ruling party such as Labour Minister, Chris Ngige and BON DG, Osita Okechukwu as well as new converts to the president’s second term projects in the PDP such as Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and governors of the zone – all of who are apparently upset with the choice of Peter Obi as vice presidential candidate of their party, are latching on to. A recipe, some say, for a potential clash between the two southern zones.
“Buhari will likely give the APC ticket to a Northerner,” said Hassan “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.”
“Muhammadu 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.”
PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in choosing Mr. Peter Obi, a South Easterner, 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, Osinbajo’s constituency. But, more importantly, the prospect of Atiku’s presidency will effectively end the hopes of the South West, and precisely, Tinubu’s 2023 hopes. It’s a prospect he wouldn’t want to contemplate, hence his decision to stick with Buhari against all odds.
The choice of Obi has become an added impetus to South West’s support for Buhari. And with key PDP figures in the South East kicking against the ticket for same reason, the choice could prove Atiku’s greatest undoing, and Buhari’s master stroke.
The South East dilemma
Clamour for South East presidency has been on since the return of democracy in 1999. Former vice president, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme had put up a spirited bid for power between 1999 and 2003, but was ultimately undone by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Since the Ekwueme era, power shift has remained a reoccurring argument in the South East and as 2019 approaches, certain political leaders in the zone are once again making a case for it in 2023 when the North would have had eight years with Buhari. They argue therefore, that the zone should support the president to get power in 2023.
But despite being out of power since the civil war, the prospect of South East presidency in 2023 almost doesn’t exist, more so in APC. Not only because the zone cannot expect to secure the nod of the ruling party when it had not been part of it, but also due to the obvious fact that there is hardly anyone effectively positioning himself for the nation’s top job. The argument of succeeding Buhari, Uwazurike says, is only to bamboozle.
“They want to becloud our views, to bamboozle us. But as far as we are concerned, they will fail.”
Indeed, it could be said that Dr. Ekwueme remains the only true presidential material the South East has had since civilian rule returned in 1999.
For all his media appearances and beautiful ideas, Peter Obi remains a flyweight who is unable to consolidate his would be political base. He has proven to be a bad team player who is unable to rally the South East PDP behind him, even as the vice presidential candidate of the dominant party in the zone, the PDP.
Undoubtedly, Obi proved, with his performance as governor of Anambra, to be an administrator par excellence. But his failure to realise that in a clime where mass unemployment and poverty is prevalent, frugality is hardly a virtue as far as building following is concerned, has not helped his course.
Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi is another presidential hopeful – a 2023 wild card. He has been courting President Buhari’s friendship for a possible 2023 power bid. It probably this prospect that informs his opposition to the Atiku/Obi ticket, seeing the ticket as a possible threat to his own ambitions.
But it is a largely unrealistic power quest. Apart from him not having the necessary clout, it is improbable that Buhari back South East bid in view of the fact that the zone did not support him in 2015 and is unlikely to do so in 2019. Much as the political leaders are increasingly leaning towards him, the street remains staunchly opposed to him and this will translate to votes against him.
Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State has also been angling for power and would think that being the only governor of the APC in the South East, he stands a chance. But recent events in the party has betrayed such projections. Okorocha is a man now struggling for political survival, having lost his bid to install his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as governor, and his senatorial ambition being under threat.
What the South East power bid may achieve in the end, is to set the zone up for collision with the South West and perhaps, set the stage for the North to retain power.
Why North could still retain power in 2023
Going by the unwritten logic of the APC, the South West is in pole position to take power after Buhari in 2023, should he win in 2019. But the reality, however, is that 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 the bid.
Indeed, the South East could feel betrayed. On the other hand, the North East which has not had power since Tafawa Balewa will stage a rigorous bid of theirs. Yet 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.
It is unrealistic to assume that, for whatever reason, Northerners will not bid for power in 2023, when even at the moment, several individuals from the South are candidates of various political parties. And indeed, Buhari had emerged on the political scene initially to stop Obasanjo, a Southern president at a time when it was believed to be the turn of the South.
Indeed, as much as individuals like Tinubu, Fashola, Osinbajo and others are positioning for 2023, it is obvious that the likes of former Kano governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; Sokoto governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Bukola Saraki and a host of others, will stage rigorous bid of their own in the event that Buhari is able to return.
But it could be a North East show. And the current chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai is said to be interested in the job.