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2019: Prospects, constraints of Buhari’s ambition


President Muhammadu Buhari has unfolded his re-election bid yesterday at the meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Executive Committee (NEC) and the National Working Committee (NWC) in Abuja. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU examines the prospects and constraints of his ambition for second term.

The race for the presidency commenced yesterday.

Unlike his predecessors who declared their re-election bids in big rallies, President Muhammdu Buhari informed All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders and officers that he would be running again in 2019. It was without funfair. The president gazed at the future with optimism and confidence, urging the ruling party and Nigerians to renew his service to the fatherland for another four years. The push for second term will dominate public discussions until the presidency is won and lost in next year’s elections.

The Commander-in-Chief was frugal in his speech to the members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the National Working Committee (NWC), who converged on the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for a critical meeting for the resolution of the logjam triggered by the tenure extension proposal. The president’s request to the political family was that there should be no vacancy in Aso Villa, the seat of government, in 2019.

The declaration is not devoid of logic. A basis can be found for it in law and political tradition. Since 1960, no civilian president or head of government has called it quits after his first term. Constitutionally, President Buhari is entitled to a second term, whether he has performed or not. Politics and morality exist in clear-cut antithetical relationship. In addition, he is favoured by rotational formula. Since the presidency has also been zoned to the larger North by his party, the party leader is qualified to run.

But, it has implications for general administration. Will the president still stay focused? Will the pursuit of a second term not distract his attention?

The declaration has ended some months of speculations about President Buhari’s intention. It may have altered the calculations of likely contenders, who thought the president would step aside for health reasons. Yet, the ambition of the President for continuity has polarised the polity. It is good news to his sincere fanatical supporters and praise singers hoping to profit from their eye service. President Buhari has challenged to a duel his major critics, particularly the internal opposition leaders, outside forces that have dared him to seek re-election and risk the consequences, and other stakeholders who have castigated him for leadership deficiency.

According to observers, President Buhari is seeking re-election, contrary to the advice of some critical opinion moulders, especially former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, who have continued to threaten fire and brimstone, contending that his second term may herald the liquidation of Nigeria. Another letter from Obasanjo may be imminent, in view of the declaration, to reinforce his earlier point. The president has also rejected the counsel of other highly placed citizens, including eminent leaders of the divided North, who, after weighing the odds, advised him not to run in national interest. In past elections, these entrenched northern forces had always turned their back against the Daura-born General. Now, the bold declaration has jolted them out of their delusion.

Sources said the president may have consulted with key party leaders before making the declaration. It is debatable as some party officers expressed shock at the sudden disclosure. The declaration has coincided with a period of anxiety for the ruling party. The APC is warming up for congresses and the national convention, unmindful of the crises the exercise may unleash, in the absence of an effective, time-tested reconciliation and crisis-resolution mechanism.

Indisputably, President Buhari may have also challenged his would-be opponents at the APC primary to unfold their aspirations. Caution is the watchword. Predictably, there is no chieftain of note who will compete with him for the ticket in the ruling party. But, the division in the APC, which may escalate, if the congresses and the convention are not properly managed, may give room for defection by ambitious presidential aspirants who may take refuge in the opposition parties.

Ahead of the declaration, President Buhari, for the first time, tried to put his house in order. He briskly corrected the mistake of sidelining some party elders who worked for his victory in 2015. He reached out, in particular, to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who he acknowledged as a master political strategist. To a large extent, he also demonstrated a rare dexterity in managing the tension generated by the tenure extension agenda, without necessarily offending the two blocs in the intra-party dispute. Instructively, members of the warring blocs are his trusted loyalists. As he is guiding the party to thread the path of the rule of law, he is also pacifying those who have lost out in the elongation drama by dangling the carrot of waivers.

The president’s immediate foot soldiers in the actualisation of his second term agenda are APC governors. Many of them have urged him to declare his ambition, promising to mobilise for him at the general election. They also hope to garner enormous returns from their political investment. Some of them are relying on the president’s clout and popularity to get second term mandate in their respective states in next year’s elections. The front liners are governors Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna),  Abdulazeez Yari (Zamfara), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano). The Kano governor has even threatened to sue the president, if he declines to re-contest. A source close to the Progressives Governors’ Forum disclosed that the onus is on these governors to kick-start the endorsement of the president for a second term in their respective states.

The president’s ambition has polarised the polity. Opinion is divided among Nigerians. Those pushing for continuity hinge their position on the achievements of the president in the last three years, despite the constraints. During the 2015 presidential campaigns, President Buhari promised to fight corruption, revive the economy, restore security and provide jobs for Nigerians. But, reality dawned on him that the situation on ground would limit his capacity to deliver with speed. He met an empty treasury. Oil earnings dropped abruptly, owing to the twin factors of crash in price in the world market and vandalisation of pipelines in the Niger Delta. He was accused of slow in taking decisions, but he claimed that he has been steady.

President Buhari has made a modest contributions to the remaking of the country. He has tried to fight corruption with vigour, without a supportive legislature and judiciary. In fact, corruption is also fighting back. Although critics have berated his administration for a one-sided war, it is clear that nobody is insulated from the radar. Also, the president appears to be above board as the anti-corruption curator. He has not mocked his antecedent by joining the privileged class of corrupt Nigerians in the corridor of power.

President Buhari has contributed to electoral reforms by upholding the sanctity of the ballot box, even when the outcome of the poll is in favour of the opposition. He has not perceived supplementary elections held since 2015 as a do-or-die affair. Neither has the president given his nod to the indiscriminate deployment of the federal might for partisan reasons.

Also, despite the impediments, President Buahri has fought insurgency. But, the anti-terror war has not been completely won. Although the majority of abducted Dapchi girls were rescued, many Chibok girls are still languishing in captivity. Terrorists have also turned attention to soft targets. Thus, as the Army records a breakthrough in the troubled Northeast, more casualties of bombings by insurgents create a hollow in the anti-terror score card.

The economy is still work in progress. Although the country has exited recession, many Nigerians continue to wallow in poverty and squalor. Diversification through agriculture has been attempted with measured success and jobs created. But, it has been a drop in the ocean. Under President Buhari, the economy has not been totally healed. Unemployment is soaring in geometric proportions. Families are in want of three square meals. Many Nigerians live in agony.

The anti-second term campaigners believe that the president has failed on the economic front. Also, the president has been criticised by his style of governance, particularly his snailpace approach to decision making. There was an allegation that he has allowed the cabals to hijack his government. Thus, those sidelined from the party and the government believed that he is not effectively in charge. The perception is that President Buhari has a reputation for dumping those who assisted him to get to power after consolidating his hold on the exalted office.

Also, President Buhari’s ratings may have dropped, following his poor handling of the farmers/herdsmen clashes in the North. Many lives have been lost due to the conflict in Benue, Taraba and Zamfara. Recently, former Defence Minister Lt-Gen. Yakubu Danjuma, cried out that the Army had colluded with herdsmen to kill many innocent people in the region. His allegation is still being investigated by the government.

Before the President unfolded his re-election bid, there were speculations that a few chieftains were eyeing the presidency. They include Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Senate President Bukola Saraki.

At the weekend, Saraki’s media aide Yusuph Olaniyonu, debunked the rumour, saying that his principal is not in the race. But, will Tambuwal and Kwankwaso still run? Do they have any chance at the primary? Can either of them beat the president at the shadow poll? Will they slug it out with the president at the primary or defect to another party to realise their ambitions?

According to observers, the outcome of the congresses and convention may have implications for the APC and the president’s second term bid. Gladiators are spoiling for war. The battle of supremacy is raging in some chapters. Governors and senators are fighting for the soul of the party in some states. If the congresses are marred by crises, aggrieved chieftains may defect to rival parties under the guise of division in the ruling party. This may have implications for the electoral fortune of the APC in 2019.

If the President secures the ticket of the APC to run, can he beat the flag bearers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is being perceived as the third force?

Presidential aspirants in the PDP include: former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who has declared his ambition in Rivers State and hired former Ogun State Governor Gbenga Daniel as his Mobilisation Officer/Campaign Coordinator for the Southwest, former Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, his Kano, Sokoto and Kaduna counterparts; Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa and Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Gombe State Governor Ibrahim Damkabo and Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, who has insisted on contesting, despite the fact that the party has zoned the slot to the North. Can any of them beat the president at the poll? Will the PDP survive the politics of presidential nomination? How will the PDP convince Nigerians that the mistakes of the past 16 year will not be repeated?

Analysts believe that, if the cracks in the APC are not mended, and there is a wave of defections, the tragedy that hit the PDP in 2015 may not be averted.

Many APC senators and House of Representatives members have been at loggerheads with the presidency. Will they sheathe their swords or jump the ship, ahead of next elections? Does the President has the skill and capacity to keep the house united?

Sources close to the National Chairman of the SDP, Chief Olu Falae, disclosed that the party is not opposed to an alliance with the PDP and other smaller parties. So far, no APC chieftain has defected to the SDP in any of the APC-controlled states, except in Adamawa. However, aggrieved PDP chieftains in the Southwest, particularly in Ekiti, have gone to the SDP.

But, will the Obasanjo-inspired SDP have an accord with the PDP, which the former president has discredited? If aggrieved chieftains defect from the APC, will the SDP be the beneficiary? Can the PDP/SDP alliance stop Buhari?

Will President Buhari overcome the odds and achieve his aspiration? Time will tell.

First Bank

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