With five months and nine days to the commencement of primaries for elective offices, 2018 is yet to assume the shape of a campaign year. But in reality, President Muhammadu Buhari remains either the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to beat, or a proxy candidate whose anointed successor must be stopped. In this piece, Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation, examines the varying scenarios of the re-election bid of the president.
EXCEPT for discussion in hushed tones, presidential parlour gossips from self-appointed whisperers, and kite-flying statements by some die-hard loyalist governors and ministers, everybody is scrambling to read the mind of President Muhammadu Buhari on whether he will seek re-election or not.
Despite the fact that Buhari’s shuttles to Kano, Nasarawa and Adamawa states appeared to be electoral laboratory tests, there has been a deafening silence on where he is headed.
When the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, at a session of the Federal Executive Council on February 7 allegedly braved the odds by asking if Buhari had constituted his 2019 re-election campaign, the President merely turned off the microphone.
He knew the minister was running some errands and wanted to bring him out of his cocoon to get a story line. As a lawyer, Dalung ought to know better that re-election or a second term in office is constitutionally guaranteed. He swam in political naivety and wobbled out of the council chamber in loneliness.
By virtue of Section 137 of the 1999 Constitution, the President has inalienable right to seek a second term except he thinks otherwise.
But while the President plays a hide and seek game with his second term aspiration, some of his loyalists, opponents and traducers have occupied public space for litmus test.
While the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has been basking in the glory of being re-appointed Director-General of Buhari’s Presidential Campaign Organization, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu (though not an insider in the power game at the Presidential Villa but an incurable loyalist of the President), has taken the lead in telling the nation that Buhari will run for second term.
In a crying-more-than-the-bereaved statement, Shittu on January 4, 2018 said for Buhari to seek a second term “goes without saying”. The minister, who coordinates an amorphous group called Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group, added: “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.
“I mean if you have a child who goes to primary school, does well, proceeds to secondary school, does well, and you keep asking, is he going to university? It goes without saying. 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 same Shittu caused a stir when he stormed the FEC meeting with Fez caps and vests signaling the re-election campaign of the President.
Having seen the obvious signs that Buhari was being goaded into a second term bid, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a lethal letter to scare and warn the President against such a constitutional venture. Laced with mischief and a few facts, Obasanjo went for the broke by announcing the formation of a Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) to “banish poverty, insecurity and despair from Nigeria”
WHY BUHARI HAS NOT DECLARED
A major factor for the President’s circumspection over a second term bid is the mood of the nation. A top source in government said: “It is not wise for the President to declare now because of the state of the nation, the security challenges, the situation in the party and the need to deliver more dividends of democracy. Do you know that Buhari is just managing the 2017 Budget because the 2018 Budget is still tottering in the National Assembly? It will amount to insensitivity for him to place priority on his re-election aspiration.”
Also, it was gathered that the President does not want to heat up the polity by violating the electoral guidelines on campaign. The government source added: “If the President declares his interest now, it will change the whole 2019 game and government business will be grounded. So, there is no point declaring now. For a sitting President, time is on his side to concentrate more on his programmes and projects which can come in handy during electioneering.”
Responding to a question from a national daily, the National Publicity Secretary of APC, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi said: “You will recall that the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, addressed this issue while responding to a question on the issue of 2019 at Tuesday’s briefing when he said, the President has not said he wants to contest and that for now, his focus is on the issue of governance. So the issue of endorsing him (President) for a second term in 2019 did not arise.”
According to the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), party primaries for the presidential, governorship, federal and state elections would begin on August 18 and end on October 7. INEC had on March 9, 2017 slated the Presidential Election for February 16, 2019 and Governorship and State Assembly Elections for March 2, 2019. With the National Assembly altering the order of elections, a pronouncement by the court may eventually decide the order of the next general elections.
Another source, however, attributed Buhari’s delay in declaring for second term to ongoing reconciliation with estranged party leaders, especially leaders from the defunct ‘New PDP’. The game changers are the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; ex-Governor Aliyu Wammako; ex-Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; ex-Governor Danjuma Goje; and ex-Governor Sani Yerima.
The source said: “Without genuine reconciliation with these leaders, the second term bid of Buhari will amount to nothing. If Buhari declares now, it will amount to damning the consequences which will prove fatal to his ambition. This explains why the President has saddled Asiwaju Bola Tinubu with this arduous task of reaching out to those aggrieved in the party.
“I think the outcome of the reconciliation will to a large extent determine when Buhari will declare his intention. If Tinubu is able to win back these aggrieved leaders, Buhari’s second term is sealed but if otherwise, the battle will overstretch Buhari before he can be re-elected because the political tentacles of these ex-New PDP leaders have widened with more potency.”
Our findings show that the president and his strategists are also doing a lot of homework on the public mood, the regrouping of the forces in the opposition and how far they can go; and whether or not the winning template for 2015 poll was still valid or tainted.
A reliable strategist said: “On daily basis, we are doing the state by state analysis of where we were in 2015 and the situation now. In politics, the dynamics of your support base is not static.”
TICKET VIA THE BACKDOOR OR CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS
Going by the script of some of the president’s strategists, an automatic endorsement for a second term ticket for Buhari was plotted and hatched twice by some governors, led by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, but it did not succeed at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting.
The foundation chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande, is one of the leaders insisting on due constitutional process instead of a backdoor approach at NEC session.
He said: “He (Buhari) has not told us. Anybody in our party is free to become the president of Nigeria. As soon as they indicate interest, we will set a process through which a candidate will be selected. If he (Buhari) is lucky to have the ticket, then we will have no other thing to do than to present him as our candidate.”
As a sitting president, there is no doubt that Buhari will exercise the right of first refusal regarding the APC presidential ticket over other aspirants. And in spite of the suspense, his body language indicates he is already eyeing the ticket. About 150 organizations, under the auspices of the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups (NCPSG) have also sprung up to make a case for his re-election in 2019. They include Buhari Support Group, Buhari Support Organization, the Council for New Nigeria, the Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations and Muhammadu Buhari/Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group among others.
THE INCUMBENCY FACTOR
Since the return of democracy in 1999, virtually all successive presidents (with the exception of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who died in office) have sought the second term. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was allegedly held hostage over the issue by his erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar, such that the wound is yet to heal.
The same Obasanjo tried his luck on a third term project but his magic did not work. For ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, his failed second term aspiration earned him a place in history as the first incumbent president in Nigeria to be defeated and to have conceded his loss of power. History trails Buhari too on the second race project.
With the incumbency factor, the president will scale through the APC presidential primaries with ease because many governors and stakeholders had been working round the clock to make it a walk-over for Buhari.
The consequences of shutting out or lording it over other presidential aspirants might lead to the exit of some leaders from the party. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, foresaw the likely closure of the presidential space in APC and bolted. It is uncertain if other presidential hopefuls like ex-Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso , Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Senator Bukola Saraki, will remain in the party or defect to another party to slug it out with Buhari.
Alternatively, at their own risk, these aspirants can remain in APC and engage in anti-party activities against Buhari. Either way, they are politically dangerous unless adequately appeased through meticulous and binding negotiation.
Another reality facing Buhari’s 2019 aspiration is the fragile nature of APC on which he is going to contest. The President has been accused of allegedly favouring members of his defunct Congress Progressives Change (CPC) with juicy appointments to the detriment of other legacy parties (the defunct ACN and ANPP) which merged into APC.
CRISIS IN APC
As a result of the badly-managed internal squabbles in APC over the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly in June 2015, the party remains fractured, such that it may take the grace of God for it to survive.
Besides disunity among its leaders, the party is not well-funded leaving the leadership to scavenge for funds from governors who now want to control it.
About 10 to 14 APC governors, including el-Rufai, are said to be in the good books of the national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and his team. The struggle for the soul of the party has beclouded plans to reorganize the National Working Committee (NWC). It is presently embroiled in a tenure extension war for the NWC.
There are those who wanted Oyegun’s NWC out and there are some APC leaders (mostly pro-Oyegun) who believe it is inauspicious to sack the party leadership in an election year.
Speaking with newsmen after the APC National Executive Council meeting in the week, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, said: “Considering the time left for the party to conduct all the congresses, we cannot afford to approach general elections with more dispute and crises. So, relying on Article 13 of our Constitution, which empowers the NEC to carry out the function of the convention, the NEC has decided to extend the tenure of the current NWC.”
But barely few hours after, the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulazeez Yari, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, said: “what has been done is a mere expression of interest. The power of the Convention to extend tenure is exercised only by way of a constitution amendment. The power of the National Executive Committee of our party cannot go beyond doing so by way of constitution amendment.
“Article 30 of the APC Constitution states: ‘This constitution and the schedules hereto, can be amended only by the National Convention of the party. The process of amending the constitution is also expressly provided in Article 30 sub section 2. These states: “Notice of any proposed amendment by any member or organ of the party shall be given to the National Secretary at least 14 days before the date of the National Convention. The Notice shall be in writing, shall contain a clear statement of the proposed amendment and reasons for it. What was done today (yesterday) is only an expression of a desire to extend the tenure of Chief Oyegun-led National Executives.”
On Friday, the tenure extension crisis shifted to the Federal High Court in Abuja from the backyard of Governor Rochas Okorocha. One Okere Uzochukwu, who claimed he is a member of the APC in Imo State, asked the court to void the extension of the tenure of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC)by its National Executive Committee (NEC).
He said the extension of the tenure of officials of the party at various levels was “the primary function and responsibility of the national convention” by virtue of the provisions of Article 13 and 13 (3) (ii) of the Constitution of the APC 2014 (as amended). He asked the court to determine the following:
Whether or not the NEC of the party “has the constitutional powers to extend the tenure of the National Working Committee, State Working Committee, Local Government Area Executive Committee and Ward Executive Committee of the All progressives by one year howsoever purported in view of Section 223 (1) (a) and (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) .”
Whether or not the purported one year extension of the tenure of John Odigie- Oyegun led the National Working Committee, State Working Committee, Local Government Area. Executive Committee and Ward Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress by the National Executive Committee (NEC), commencing from June 2018 to June 2019 is illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effects whatsoever; in view of the combined reading of Section 223 (1) (a) and (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)”.
The action, which appeared to be a product of a proxy war, was avoidable by the APC because Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) drew the attention of the NEC meeting to the danger of the illegality to be perpetrated for Oyegun and his team.
But the governors, who had met a day before NEC, overruled him since Oyegun’s tenure extension fits into their plans to plant their successors and determine who will secure tickets for offices. They ignored the fact that only a legally constituted NWC can nominate Buhari and any candidate for 2019.
A likely consequence of the scheming at the NEC meeting is that if Oyegun’s NWC tenure extension by NEC subsists, the nomination of Buhari might be challenged by the People’s Democratic Party and other opposition parties as invalid.
While it may be in the interest of Buhari to follow the spirit and the letter of the party’s constitution by subjecting such a proposal to the ratification of APC National Convention, the Oyegun camp is thrilled by the sense that it has checkmated the emergence of ex-Governor Adams Oshiomhole as his successor.
The anti-Oyegun forces are of the opinion that Oshiomhole is a good marketer needed to sell Buhari’s second term. But the governors and some strategists of Buhari prefer Oyegun who appears pliant. In spite of the changing poll scenarios, they point to the fact that Oyegun led the party to victory in 2015.
Like the last general elections, Buhari’s promises, achievements and setbacks will take the centre stage during the campaign. He needs to present his scorecard to the masses and convince them that he deserves to be re-elected. He has a tall order having come in with a change agenda.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, recently argued that the government has achieved a lot. He said the accomplishments include shoring up of foreign reserves to $40billion, increase in food production, social investment programme and massive investment in infrastructure. He said: “This Administration is making steady progress in its determined effort to revamp the economy, and the results are showing:
* Foreign Reserves have peaked at $40b, the highest level in about four years, and up from $24 billion just a year ago, even though when we came in, the price of oil had crashed woefully.
* According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC), headline inflation has fallen for 11 consecutive months, standing at 15.37% as at Dec. 2017. This is the lowest inflation rate since Jan 2017, and it has met and surpassed the target set for inflation in the Administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
* Our determined implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has stopped the hemorrhaging of the treasury. Some 108 billion Naira has been saved from removal of maintenance fees payable to banks, pre-TSA. The nation is being saved 24.7 billion Naira monthly with the full implementation of the TSA.
* The elimination of ghost workers has saved the nation 120 billion Naira
* At about 1.8 billion dollars, the capital inflows in the second quarter of 2017 were almost double the $908 million in the first quarter.
* In the wake of a stable Naira and increased investment inflows, Nigeria’s stock market emerged one of the best-performing in the world, delivering returns in excess of 40 percent.
* Nigeria rose to 24 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, and earned a place on the List of Top 10 Reformers in the world.
* According to Q3 2017 figures, agriculture export is up year-on-year by 25%, solid minerals exports are up year-on-year by 78%, raw materials exports are up 70% year-on-year and manufactured goods exports are up 22% year-on-year.
* Government agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service are reporting highest-ever revenue collection, while JAMB, under the new management appointed by President Buhari in 2016, remitted N7.8 billion to the coffers of the federal government. The total amount remitted by JAMB between 2010 and 2016 was a paltry N51 million!
“These positive indices may not have immediately impacted positively on Nigerians, but Nigerians will definitely get a new lease of life a short while from now. This is because the good news from the agricultural sector, which is recording a bumper harvest, will bring down the cost of foodstuffs, especially such staple as rice, and our massive Social Investment Programme will ease the pain of the most vulnerable in the society.
“When we assumed office in 2015, some 6 million farmers were involved in rice production. Thanks to the Anchor Borrowers’ programme of this Administration, we have grown that number to over 12 million farmers.
“The result is that our rice import from Thailand alone has dropped from 644 metric tons to 22,000 MT in just two years. This is phenomenal.
“Apart from rice, Nigeria is also doing well in other grains, especially Millet, Sorghum and Maize. We are now the second largest producer of sorghum after the US, the third in millet after India and our breweries are now enjoying local sourcing of those commodities.
“For maize, we are producing 10 million tons while we need about 13 million tons for both human and animal nutrition. Nigeria leads the world in the yam and cassava production. We account for 70% of the world’s yam production. In two years, we hope to be the world’s largest exporter of yam! Overall, our ambition is that agriculture should rise from 25% to 40% of GDP, so that we can banish poverty and overcome our economic anxiety.
“Our Social Investment Programme is Nigeria’s most ambitious social welfare programme ever. Currently, 5.2 million primary school children in 28,249 schools in 19 states are being fed daily; 200,000 unemployed graduates have enlisted into the N-power Job Scheme, and a quarter of a million loans already distributed to artisans, traders, and farmers.
Finally, our investment in infrastructure is simply unprecedented. This is because infrastructure is key to faster economic growth and development.
Notwithstanding the justification of his tenure, Buhari would have to explain to Nigerians why the nation is going through security challenges with incessant killings of hapless citizens in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba; the herders-farmers crises; why the unemployment rate has risen to 7.74 million between 2016 and September 2017 with combined unemployment and underemployment rate hitting 40.0% as declared by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS); recourse to more ethnic bigotry by Nigerians and increased divisiveness; alleged disobedience of court orders and others.
Even his latest backer, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, admitted some failings on the part of Buhari. In his vitriolic attacks against Obasanjo, the ex-governor of Nasarawa State said: “Every administration grapples with problems thrown at it by circumstances beyond its control. President Buhari inherited an economy that was unsteady on its feet. He also inherited the security problems such as Boko Haram, armed robberies and kidnappings. Yes, I agree that under his watch these problems should grow less, not more. But the solution to problems such as these, is a slow and agonizing process since he has no powers to simply make them disappear overnight.”
ABDUCTION OF DAPCHI GIRLS AS AN ALBATROSS
Like the case in 2014 with the abduction of Chibok girls by Boko Haram, the abduction and rescue of 110 girls from the Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi and adequate security in Internally Displaced Persons’ camps will define the President’s fate in the forthcoming general elections.
Although the administration has tried to decimate Boko Haram, the persistent attacks on soft targets by the insurgents have international implications for his image and support for re-election by countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Japan and others. These super powers have the capacity to influence our internal politics as evidenced by events leading to the exit of ex-President Jonathan from power.
If Buhari liberates the Dapchi girls unhurt, he would have confirmed his pre-2015 rating as a take-charge, no-nonsense leader. Locally, Nigerians would have noticed a glaring difference between him and Jonathan which can earn him enhanced sympathy at the poll for a second term.
NEW ELECTORAL SCENARIOS IN STATES
A recap of the results of the 2015 presidential election revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari defeated ex-President Goodluck Jonathan by 2, 571,759. While the President secured 15,424,921(53.96%) votes, Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) earned 12,853,162 (44.96%) Depending on filtered opportunities, political miscalculation and sheer ego, either APC or PDP could close or widen the gap of the 2.5million votes. The vote haul on geopolitical basis was as follows: North Central (6 states + FCT) – Buhari (2,411,013) and Jonathan –(1,715,818); North-East (6 states) – Buhari (2,848,678) and Jonathan (796,588); North -West (7 states) – Buhari (7,115,199) and Jonathan (1,339,709); South East (5 states) – Buhari (198,248) and Jonathan (2,464,906); South-South (6 states) – Buhari ( 418,590) and Jonathan ( 4,714,725); and the South West (6 states) – Buhari (2,433,193) and Jonathan (1,821,416).
By implications, while the PDP remains stronger in the South-South and South-East, Buhari is far ahead in the North-East and with appreciable strength in the North-West excluding Kano and Kaduna where crisis in APC may whittle down his votes in 2019. Out of Buhari/APC votes of 7,115,199 in the North-West, Kaduna (1,127, 760) and Kano with (1,903,999) accounted for 3,031,759. And out of the 2,411,013 garnered by Buhari/APC in North-Central in 2015, Benue and Plateau fetched 803, 101 votes. While APC/ Buhari secured 373,961 votes during the presidential poll in 2015, PDP made 303, 737 votes. In Plateau State, PDP/ Jonathan earned 549, 615 votes and APC/Buhari got 429, 140.
Unlike in 2015, new swing states have emerged in the last three years which can redefine voting patterns in 2019. Findings confirmed that the scenarios will change from ethnic permutations to religious colouration; capacity debate; health factor; indicators of performance/ achievement; equity and fairness; and application of Federal Character Principle and division within APC.
All these have added up to have more swing states in the last three years. These states have been rated as swing types in view of the internal crisis in APC; slow response to crisis of confidence among APC chieftains in some of the states; the alleged alienation of some of the leaders who contributed to the victory of President Buhari; security challenges in some; lack of impact of federal presence; voters’ rabid loyalty to their political leaders and the ability of APC leaders to sink their differences; and the desperation of PDP to make political capital of situation in the affected states.
Some of these swing states are Kano, Kaduna, Osun, Imo, Gombe, Kogi, Bauchi, Kwara, Jigawa, Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Sokoto, and Ekiti. The readiness of the President and APC leaders to accept the terms of reconciliation, which may be tabled by the Bola Tinubu Committee, will go a long way to retain the states. Investigation revealed that in some states, the APC may have to wield the big stick by asking some leaders to forego their ambitions.
For instance, in Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha would have to drop his ambition of making his son-in-law his successor otherwise, PDP will easily coast home to victory. Jolted by the fears of losing Ekiti State, the PDP raised a committee headed by a former President of the Senate, Chief David Mark.
A communiqué at the end of the reconciliation committee yesterday suggested the reversal of the decision of Governor Ayodele Fayose to impose his deputy, Professor Kolapo Olusola Eleka, as the party’s governorship candidate. The ticket has been thrown open to all aspirants.
A statement by Paul Mumeh, media aide to Mark, said: “All the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) aspirants for Ekiti State 2018 governorship election would now face party primary unhindered. The aspirants who have indicated interest for the position so far are: the current Deputy governor, Professor Kolapo Olusola Eleka, Senator Biodun Olujimi , Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Ambassador Dare Bejide and Barr Owoseni Ajayi . These were the outcome of a PDP reconciliation committee meeting headed by former President of the Senate Senator David Mark held in Abuja yesterday evening.
Reeling out the resolutions of the peace parley, the Secretary of the reconciliation committee, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, said the state governor Ayo Fayose and all the aspirants attended the meeting. Olafeso said all the parties agreed to a free, fair and credible primary to elect a gubernatorial candidate for the July polls.
Interestingly, Olafeso added that governor Fayose pledged to work with any of the contestants who emerges at the primary . He said nobody was persuaded or compelled to withdraw from the race .The Senator David Mark-led reconciliation committee members included Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, Ambassador Ibrahim Kazaure, Alhaji Yusuf Ayitogo, Ambassador Fidelia Njeze and Dr. Eddy Olafeso (Secretary).
WHERE WILL BUHARI STAND IN 2019?
More than anything, Buhari’s integrity remains his most marketable attribute. This was attested to by the leaders of African Union who appointed him as the chair of anti-corruption campaign in Africa, the highest level of confidence ever bestowed on a Nigerian leader. He is a leader who has not abused his office or looted the treasury blind. The integrity question has also created nightmares for PDP which is searching for a credible presidential candidate, including readiness to poach one from the APC. But can integrity alone avail Buhari of victory in 2019?
In the face of herdsmen atrocities, lingering recession, allegations of nepotism, Nigerian voters would have to be convinced that as a people, they are better off in 2018 than they were in 2015. But before confronting the voters, only after satisfying himself with a positive answer can the process of Buhari’s 2019 declaration gather steam.