Nasir el-Rufai, Kayode Fayemi
el-Rufai, Fayemi

Towards 2023: El-Rufai, Fayemi poised to rock the boat

OBINNA EZUGWU

The clandestine moves by Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai to clinch power in 2023, which started soon after President, Muhammadu Buhari won reelection in 2019 has taken definite shape. On offing, from all indications, is a joint ticket with his Ekiti State counterpart, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. And the first project evidently is to clip the political wings of former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Not many would have given it serious thought when in December 2019, one of the popular prophets in Nigeria’s soft media space, Wale Olagunju, Presiding Bishop of Divine Seed of God Chapel Ministry, Ojoo, Ibadan, Oyo State, “prophesied” as part of his new year prophesy that ahead of 2023 presidential election, the joint ticket of el-Rufai and Fayemi will be the one to watch. But as the race for Buhari’s successor takes shape, Olagunju’s words are proving to be worthy of attention.

The prophet who is in the habit of predicting each year’s key political events both within and outside the country at the beginning of a new year, had noted, among other things that Nigerians “should not under-estimate the present governor of Kaduna State, Malam el-Rufai Nasir in the 2023 president election, he would publicly apologise to Christians.”

He had gone on to note that, “As revealed to me, Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State would become a beautiful bride in the 2023 presidential election. Cabal from the North will persuade him to be the running mate of el-Rufai.”

But even more awestriking, Olagunju had also said a few words about a potential Aminu Tambuwal and Nyesom Wike People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket in 2023. “The Lord God Almighty that knows the beginning and the end of everything revealed this to me. Come 2023, the plan to field Atiku as presidential candidate is on and at the same time some cabal would root for Tambuwal picking Wike as his running mate,” he had said.

Wike was in Sokoto last week on ‘courtesy’ visit to Tambuwal. But it’s a visit that has all the imprints of a 2023 presidential run. However, for those who don’t rate prophets, there is a good reason to doubt the Ibadan based man of God. He had also prophesied that Godwin Obaseki would lose Edo State governorship election should he leave the All Progressive Congress (APC). Obaseki did, of course, and is now a governor under the PDP.

Regardless, 2023 is already shaping up to be a contest between the duo of e-Rufa and Fayemi versus Wike and Tambuwal. But of the two, the former looks more certain.

Already years in the making, the two governors used the 50th Anniversary of Arewa House to hold a public lecture and indirectly announce their presidential bid.

The governors used the lecture which held on Saturday October 31 at the Arewa House in Kaduna to make a case for the hottest topic in the country’s polity: restructuring. But keen observers of Nigeria’s power game know exactly what it’s about.

“Mallam e-Rufai is a master strategist,” opined lawyer and political analyst, Collins Okereke, “He knows exactly what he is doing. He wants to use restructuring as a springboard to launch his presidential bid.”

Bred in Kaduna, the base of the famed Kaduna mafia that once loomed large on Nigeria’s political space, Mallam el-Rufai has evidently mastered the mafia game and is actively applying same to actualize his presidential project.

Having perhaps, identified Bola Tinubu as a key threat in the APC, the Kaduna governor has since set out to clip the Jagaban’s wings. And poaching his estranged lieutenant, Dr. Fayemi in a move that may well break his Southwest base and guarantee the retention of presidency in the country’s Northwest.

On Thursday, El-Rufai made another significant move. He paid a visit to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in Lagos, ostensibly to sympathize with him about destruction in the state by hoodlums who hijacked the protest against police brutality.

But the significance of the visit is obvious. Sanwo-Olu is a political son of Tinubu, and it would appear to be a calculated move to take the battle to his very compound, and it won’t be the first time.

It was on Sunday, May 5th, 2019, and el-Rufai was attending an event put together by the Bridge Club tagged, “An Evening with His Excellency Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State” right at the backyard of the Jagaban. At the event he lectured his audience on the art of ending godfatherism in Lagos.

“There were three or four politicians in Kaduna that you could not become anything unless you had them on your side,” he had told his attentive audience.

“Those were the godfathers of Kaduna politics and you had to carry them along and you know, the three words, ‘carry them along’ mean paying them regularly. But we chose a different path and the long and short of it now is that after this election in 2019, we have retired all of them; we had to.

“Here in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters; only about a million voted (in 2019 general election); five million did not vote. If I want to run for Governor of Lagos, I will start now.

“I will commission a study to know why those five million registered voters did not vote; where do they go on election day? Then I will start visiting them for the next four years. I will try and get just two million of them to come and vote for me; I will defeat any godfather.”

The Kaduna governor had fired the first shot. He has been relentless ever since, and has rarely spared an opportunity to take a swipe at Tinubu and make his position on him known.

The 60th birthday anniversary of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola weeks ago had provided him an opportunity. He had reportedlly remarked, “I’m not Asiwaju’s man and you (Aregbesola) are Asiwaju’s man, but I am your man any day. Asiwaju and I have differences but you and I have no differences.”

el-Rufai is increasingly setting himself up to be the candidate to beat in 2023. But his candidacy will have some obvious problems. First, he is from the same zone as Buhari who would be completing his eight year tenure in 2023. Though the North is evidently insisting on retaining power, the agitation for power return to the South is no less strong.

“It is common knowledge that Tinubu and Fayemi are not on one political page,” noted Okereke. “el-Rufai certainty knows what he is doing. But the question is whether Fayemi can guarantee him Southwest support given that the zone will be looking to produce the next president.

“I think the ticket would be easier to sell in the Southwest if Fayemi is the presidential candidate and el-Rufai the running mate. But again, that’s problematic because the North may then opt for PDP which would likely field a Northern candidate.”

Besides, his record in Kaduna is not very impressive. The state is currently battling serious security challenges. Added to the perception that he is anti Christians. He had instructively ended the age long practice of having a Muslim governor and Christian deputy governor in Kaduna State, even as many in Southern Kaduna have accused him of bias in the ongoing carnage in the zone.