2019: North and the jostle for Buhari’s office

A little more than a year to the expiration of his first term as the President, a number of political battles are currently on over who succeeds Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) come May 2019. These political permutations and moves come amid strong indications that the President, contrary to the expectations of many political gladiators within and outside the ruling party, will be seeking another term in office when his first term expires next year.

While President Buhari is yet to officially confirm or deny his interest in standing for election again in 2019, in spite of visible anxiety over what he would do politically at the end of his current term, sources within the ruling party and the presidency say recent developments around the President as well as the body language of many of his close aides and associates suggest that Buhari will be seeking to remain in office beyond 2019.

The waiting game begins

“The President has never told anybody that he will not be seeking another term. The party on its own is not unaware of this and we respect the fact that as the incumbent and the leader of the party, he deserves the right of first refusal. That is the situation for now. We are patiently waiting for the President to tell us what he wants. For now, he hasn’t said anything but I can assure you he will in due course,” a national officer of the APC said.

Speaking further, the APC chieftain said current activities and utterances of some of the President’s men however suggest he may be running for the presidency again in 2019. According to him, “a situation where you see serving ministers and Senators forming pressure groups to advance the cause of getting Buhari re-elected, you don’t need to wait for the President to talk before you arrive at the possibility of his re-contesting in 2019.

“Few days ago, we all saw the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, announcing the formation of a campaign group for President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s re-election. Afterwards, he visited the President and announced a date for the constitution of the Southwest arm of the group. He told reporters that he briefed Buhari about his activities.

“A few weeks earlier, two serving Senators led a group called Buhari Support Group to Aso Rock to meet the President. They claimed their mission is to work hard towards getting the President re-elected. They too met the President and had audience with him. Speaking afterwards, they announced the readiness of their group to go round the country and canvass support for Buhari. And they have been doing that. All these are indications of things to come.”

Shittu, had last Wednesday announced the formation of a campaign organisation for the re-election of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo in 2019.

The minister spoke with State House correspondents after the meeting with the president, saying the campaign team will be called the “Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group.”

“I informed Mr. President that I have appointed national chairman of the Board of Trustees of Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group and on January 20 we are commissioning the Southwest zonal office of the campaign organisation of Buhari/ Osinbajo.”

A consensus on the north

There seems to be a consensus amongst the political elite that the 2019 presidential election should be left to only northern candidates. Though a couple of southerners like Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Mumakhai Unagha, a chieftain of the APC in Delta State, have declared interest in the 2019 presidential tickets of the PDP and the APC respectively, not a few pundits say the tickets will surely go to northerners when the dust settles.

Both the APC and PDP are leaving nobody in doubt of their resolve to give their tickets to northerners. While the APC has not officially announced its own decision, its leading chieftains say considering the delicate political balance of the country, the party will not deny the northern part of the country an opportunity to rule the country for eight years. Buhari will be finishing his first term of four years in May, 2019.

“We are all aware of what happened in 2009. The north lost its chance to rule the country for eight years following the death of President Umar Yar’Adua. The South, which just had eight years through Obasanjo returned through Jonathan for another six years. So, APC leaders believing in equity, will support a northerner to clinch the presidency again in 2019 whether Buhari is running or not,” our source added.

On its part, the PDP has consistently announced that its presidential candidate will come from the north. Last August, after its non elective convention, the party announced that it was adopting the recommendation of a committee on zoning which had advised that the party’s presidential ticket for the 2019 general election be zoned to northern geo-political zones.

The then Chairman of PDP’s National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, had vowed party leaders would ensure that collective decisions of the party prevailed over individual interests at the end of the day. He explained that PDP would adopt what obtained in previous presidential primaries, where those that did not agree with decisions on zoning were allowed to contest; but at the end of the day, the party had its way.

The zoning committee headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, had recommended that the presidential flag bearer of the PDP should emerge from the North and the national chairman from the South; a decision that was upheld at the party’s convention. Makarfi said the decision had not changed, and the party was expecting all its members to abide by it.

“That is the party’s position. Anything to do with the party, it is from the party leadership you will hear it, not from any other person; and that is why I am reaffirming that the position on zoning has not changed. It was the decision of the Port Harcourt convention held last May reiterated at our last convention and the decision of the convention is supreme,” he had explained.

Makarfi said the PDP believes in freedom of expression. “Let me also remind you that when the presidency was zoned to the South in 1999, some people from the North contested and went against it in their own right; but the party went with the decision it took. So it is not for an individual to make a case whether to abide by the decision of the party or to go against what the party says, at the end of the day, it is the position the party takes that will prevail,” he said.

A couple of weeks ago, the Southeast zone of the PDP endorsed the party’s zoning arrangement, which has zoned the office of president to the North. Rising from a meeting of a zonal executive committee of the party, held in Enugu, the leaders reiterated their commitment to national unity and also reaffirmed the party’s earlier agreement on zoning of positions within the party.

The meeting was attended by Governors of Enugu (Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi), Abia (Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu) and Ebonyi (David Umahi, represented by his deputy); Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, PDP (South East) Vice Chairman, Chief Austin Umahi, members of the National Assembly from the zone; the party’s former Caretaker Committee National Secretary, Senator Ben Obi, Speakers of Houses of Assembly and other principal officers.

Buhari and the 2019 race

Meanwhile, The Nation learnt that within the hierarchy of the ruling party and government, the popular opinion is that should Buhari decide to seek re-election; he should be supported to get the ticket. Party sources told our correspondent that many of the leading chieftains of the party strongly believe that with Buhari as its presidential candidate again, the APC will find it easier defeating the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2019.

“From the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to some other prominent leaders across the country, Buhari, irrespective of some challenges confronting his choice, still remains the best man to push forward as presidential candidate in 2019. You can see how Oyegun has turned himself to a campaigner for the President even before Buhari signifies interest to run,” another source said.

Oyegun recently gave reasons why President Buhari would run for a second term in 2019, claiming majority of Nigerians were happy with his leadership and wanted him to return in 2019. He insisted the President was God-sent to Nigeria and should be given enough time and support by all and sundry to finish the assignment he is sent to deliver to the Nigerian people.

“At the time he took over, there was no kobo anywhere in the treasury. The price of crude oil collapsed and that is why we are experiencing hardship today. But the good news is that for the first time, this country is building an economic base that is based on the sweat of Nigerians. We will never again suffer from the collapse of crude oil. Today agriculture is booming, today we are self- sufficient in the production of agro- products.

“We took over a totally collapsed country. But today, things have started to solidify. Our economy is growing and Nigeria will never experience that type of recession we witnessed. Let me emphasise that the change mantra is not electricity, it is not water, but changing our morals, doing what is right, changing our attitude, a system that rewards competence and productivity. So, we must change those bad aspects of our lives so that we will enjoy the Nigeria that we all crave for.”

Similarly, Shittu gave no indication that the president opposed his call for early re-election campaigns. Instead, he said, the president’s ardent supporters would prevail on him to run again. “I know he has not made up his mind but I can say that some of us can assist him in making up his mind so that Nigeria can continue to enjoy stability and progress in our land,” he said.

He added that there was no need to ask if the president would re-contest because he has done well in providing relief to Nigerians in all aspects. “It goes without saying. I mean, if you have a child who goes to primary school and does well, proceeds to secondary school does well, and you keep asking is he going to university? By the grace of God, we his ardent supporters who appreciate his worth on behalf of millions of Nigerians would urge him to re-contest,” the minister added.

Adding his voice to the pro-Buhari agitation is Buba Marwa, former Military Administrator of Lagos State and a chieftain of the APC, who said from political calculations, there is no other chieftain of the party that is more formidable than Buhari for the upcoming election. He added that with Buhari, APC’s victory in 2019 will be a huge landslide. He believes the APC will not change its winning candidate.

“With the president, the party’s victory in 2019 will be a huge landslide. In 2015, Buhari defeated a sitting president. In 2019, tell me, who will he be facing? His victory is a foregone conclusion. Other parties should be strategising towards 2023 because 2019 would be a no contest. That is the reality. We are praying for his good health. In the business of running for the presidency, you must do some calculations. It is not a theoretical thing that you just look at somebody’s face, you like the face and say that he is going to win.

“Look at the performance, look at the votes that came out of Kano and what is possible and compare Kano votes, for instance, to the Southeast votes. By the time you remove Imo State that is APC, total the votes for the rest of the states in the southeast and Kano. That is one. Then, look at the votes of the northwest; the entire northwest votes, actually, are more than Southsouth and Southeast.

“Obviously, an unpopular candidate from the North can be beaten. But when you have somebody like President Buhari taking full advantage of the Northwest, add that to the Northeast, it is almost double of the votes from the Southsouth and the Southeast. In essence, the total registered voters of Southsouth and Southwest combined is equivalent to Northwest alone – each with about 17.6m voters.

“Assuming those cancel out in 2019, compare to 2015 results, the Southwest, an APC zone, breaks the equilibrium with nearly 14 million voters. Then comes the Northeast zone, with nine million voters and four APC governors out of six. And we still have Northcentral also with nine million voters and all six APC governors. And as a bonus, you look at the Northcentral and the Southwest, Lagos, for instance, which is an APC stronghold and not even to mention the other Southwest states,” Marwa said.

APC’s ‘reserves’

However, the rank of the ruling party is not totally devoid of some alternative permutations in spite of the wide appeal believed to be enjoyed by President Buhari ahead of the 2019 presidential election. The Nation gathered that within the party, there are whispers of some possible replacements should the President decide not to run in 2019 for whatsoever reason.

“We all know that a year, and even a week, is a long time in politics. While you may be right to say should Buhari decide to run, he will get the APC ticket ahead of any other contender, you may not be totally right to say Buhari will run. What if he decides not to run? Will the party be left without a replacement? That for now remains a possibility and I think it is not out of place for some people to be working on that,” our source said.

Amongst those believed to be eyeing the party’s ticket should the President fail to enter for the contest is Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. A former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), he is one of those believed to be quite close to Buhari. Though in his first term as Governor, some associates said he will not mind seeking the presidential ticket of the APC instead of running for re-election in Kaduna.

El-Rufai, who has been consistent in denying any attempt to drag the APC ticket with Buhari recently confirmed that he is being considered in some quarters as a possible presidential candidate of the ruling party when he said, “my name has continuously been mentioned as a presidential aspirant s‎ince 2007 after my years in the FCT, there is nothing new about that.

“What I want to say here very, very clearly is that I have never been a Presidential aspirant, I have never even been a gubernatorial aspirant. I am governor today by the grace of God because President Buhari called me and said go and run for Governor of Kaduna State. As far as 2019 is concerned, my position is the President (Buhari) is looking very well, he is recuperating very fast. My hope and prayer is he will contest in 2019,” he said.

Also being touted as a possible contender is the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal. A former Speaker of the House of Representatives, he is also a first term governor entitled to seeking another term. But not a few people within and outside the party have been talking about his interest in the presidency. His political profile as well as the fact that he was one of those tipped to grab the party’s ticket in 2015 make him a possible aspirant for the job.

So strong is Tambuwal’s possibility in the 2019 presidential race that it was even recently rumoured that he may be in talks with some PDP leaders ahead of a possible defection from the ruling party to the opposition in pursuit of his ambition. And despite repeated denials from his camp, the rumour refused to die off. His recent visit to a PDP governor revived talks of his dalliance with the opposition party.

Speaking to The Nation during the week, a close aide of the Governor said Tambuwal will not dump the APC for any reason as he is a trusted associate of the President. “As a loyal party man, he has no reason to dump the APC,” he explained. He however gave indications that the Sokoto Governor may be interested in Buhari’s job when he said, “you also said if Buhari is not running. So what stops Tambuwal from contesting in that case? He has what it takes to be President.”

Senate President Bukola Saraki is another man said to be watching the unfolding events within and outside the ruling party ahead of the 2019 presidential election. Though he has not hinted his interest to seek Buhari’s job, his name is always on the front burner whenever the topic is the next presidential election. Perhaps due to his political weight and spread, the former Kwara State Governor is seen as someone who will seek the APC ticket in Buhari’s absence from the race.

“It is not likely Bukola will want to remain Senate President under another President aside Buhari in 2019. He has always wanted to contest the presidency and he is still interested in the job. But he will work with the party anyway,” an aide said on request of anonymity. In Kwara, his home state, a couple of pressure groups have emerged, urging him to seek the presidency in 2019.

There are also talks about Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, former Governor of Kano State, who some analysts say is about the most popular northern politician after Buhari. “If Buhari is not in the race, most northerners will prefer Kwankwaso. Don’t also forget he came second in 2015 APC presidential primary election. So, he remains a frontline candidate for the job any day,” a source said.

PDP’s quest and the calculations

Outside the ruling APC, especially within the opposition PDP, some politicians of northern extraction are being buoyed to throw their hats into the ring for the 2019 presidential contest by the unambiguous opposition of some prominent northern elites to Buhari’s stay in office beyond 2019. These PDP chieftains are hoping to contest the election as the candidate of the PDP and defeat Buhari if he runs.

Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, while reacting to emerging indications that Buhari may seek re-election, said he sees no reason why the President should be given a second term in office. According to him, he is yet to see how the current administration has bettered the lives of the average Nigerian. He then warned those talking about 2019 that elections are not won on the pages of newspapers.

“I have not seen evidence as a Nigerian, who goes to the market that the life of the average Nigerian is getting better. As far as I am concerned, I have not seen rational evidence to the effect that somebody has achieved and therefore, deserves to be repaid with another term. They are making noise as if 2019 is achievable on the pages of newspapers. Sometimes people vote in Nigeria because of primordial sentiment and geopolitics,” he said.

Junaid is not alone in his opposition to Buhari’s re-election. Other northern political elites including Hameed Ibrahim Ali, Yahaya Sule Haman and even Buba Galadinma, an erstwhile ally of the President, have on several occasions spoken out against another term for Buhari. “These people and others are among those encouraging the opposition to come forward with alternative candidates to Buhari in 2019,” a source said.

Beyond the issues of performance and health considerations, which are being used to oppose the re-election of Buhari, there are also talks about the need for the north to seek the possibility of elongating its hold on the presidency beyond eight years by pushing forward a fresh candidate into office in 2019 instead of backing Buhari who cannot stay beyond eight years in office.

“The argument is that with Buhari, the north cannot exceed 2023 in the presidency. But if we succeed in bringing a new person into office in 2019, such a person can seek re-election in 2023 just the same way Jonathan did in 2015. He will be constitutionally qualified and the north can that way spend twelve years instead of eight years in the presidency.

“That will help us to bridge the gap in the number of years spent in power since 1999 between the north and the south. The south has spent fourteen years in power while the north has spent just five years. So, a lot of calculations are going on beyond just supporting a northerner to emerge as president in 2019. As a people, we are looking at what is best for us,” a source said.

Our source, a PDP chieftain, was quick to add that the above argument is one of the issues the PDP will raise when electioneering starts fully. The north must take its own opportunity. This is a game of power. If dumping Buhari now will give us a chance to stay longer at the helms of affairs, then it is expedient that we look beyond party affiliation and do just what is good for us,” he said.

Meanwhile, the PDP is not in short supply of northerners who are said to be angling to grab the party’s ticket and go ahead to give the APC a run for its money in the 2019 presidential election. And following the successful conclusion of its much talked about elective congress last December, the leading opposition party appears to be shifting its attention to who flies its flag in 2019.

Shortly before the December convention, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, had joined the PDP from the ruling APC in pursuit of his presidential ambition. The belief in many quarters back then was that the former APC presidential aspirant had been assured of automatically clinching the PDP presidential ticket for him to dump the ruling APC. But events after he jumped ship reveals the contrary.

Today, though Atiku’s political camp is still active and strategising ahead 2019, the enthusiasm with which he moved into the PDP is no more following remarks by leading chieftains of his new party that he cannot have the ticket for the asking. But sources close to Atiku says he is not deterred in his quest to get the presidential ticket of the PDP. “Atiku joined the PDP to contest the presidency and that he will do,” an associate told The Nation.

Atiku served as the vice president from 1999 to 2007, on the platform of the PDP under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former vice president left PDP to join the APC on February 2, 2014 and attempted to be its presidential flag-bearer. If he runs in 2019, it would be his fourth attempt as he had contested for the presidency earlier in 1992, 2006 and 2011.

Similarly, the camp of former Minister of Education, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau is agog with activities aimed at propagating his aspiration to contest the presidency on the platform of the PDP. Confirming his aspiration recently to The Nation, his spokesperson, Malam Sule Ya’u Sule, said Shekarau, a former Governor of Kano State, sent notification letters to the PDP and all relevant stakeholders last year.

He added that his principal is committed to helping Nigeria and Nigerians overcome the many problems confronting the country in recent times. He said soon after the 2015 general elections, there had been various calls on Shekarau by individuals and groups from many quarters urging him to contest for the presidency in 2019. He added that the former Kano State governor has been consulting since and decided to heed the call and contest the presidential election in 2019 on the platform of the opposition PDP.

The Nation learnt that those pushing Shekarau’s candidature are banking on his popularity in Kano State to see him defeat Buhari should the APC field the President again in 2019. Shekarau, like Buhari, enjoys a cult followership among the masses in the northwestern state. He rode on the strength of this acceptability to defeat the incumbent in 2003 and win re-election in 2007 as governor of the state.

“If the PDP is serious about defeating Buhari and the APC in 2019, Shekarau is the man to push forward. Many of those plotting ahead of the 2019 election are not being realistic. Our leaders in PDP must put sentiments aside and base their decision on the reality on ground. Shekarau may not be close to them, but we are talking about defeating Buhari, the man who can do that today in the north is Shakarau,” a source added.

The PDP also boasts of another ex-governor, Sule Lamido, as a presidential aspirant on its platform. The former Jigawa State helmsman last October wrote the leadership of his party signifying his interest in its presidential ticket ahead of the 2019 general election.

“I am no means claiming to be the only capable material, any PDP member given the trust and support can fly our flag, and I expect many more aspirants will express the desire to run. My hope and prayer is that at the end of all the process which I hope will be open, fair transparent and credible is to give Nigeria in 2019 candidate who will lead the party and Nigeria. This is because there is no alternative to PDP in 2019, it will be a defining moment in the Nigerian political evolution,” Lamido said in the letter.

However, within the same PDP, a powerful group within the party are said to have resolved that the immediate past Chairman of its National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, should get the presidential ticket. Party sources said the group has embarked on subtle campaign for the former Kaduna State governor ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The Nation gathered that Makarfi enjoys the support of a good number of PDP governors, the National Working Committee (NWC) as well as state chairmen of the party and may find it easier emerging as the presidential candidate of the PDP in 2019. It was also gathered that the decision to have Makarfi as the presidential candidate of the party may have been taken long before the December convention.

“Makarfi is the choice of the current controllers of PDP. These are the PDP governors. He worked closely with them to get PDP out of leadership crisis that nearly crippled it. He was in agreement with them ahead of the December convention and he allowed them have their ways. They trust him and they are willing to push him forward in 2019 as the man to confront the candidate of the APC.

“Apart from being in the good book of the Governors, many people in the party see Makarfi as a better candidate than other contenders because he is not known to have any scandal hanging on his neck. Many of the others have EFCC cases and other controversies trailing them. PDP cannot afford to play into the hands of the ruling party so the need for a clean candidate,” a party leader said.

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