2019: Odds in Buhari’s favour

Alabi Williams

The declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari to be rewarded with another four years from 2019 has provided fresh opportunities for stakeholders to engage the next elections and the opportunities in it for Nigeria and the people. Since the president told his host Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Justin Welby in London, last week, that we all urged him to declare for 2019, we should also join to plot the way, so that nobody will be shortchanged at the end of the day.

The confidence Buhari exuded at last Monday’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of his party, where he made the declaration could not be missed. He was tactful about it at a time many expected the party to be unhinged, ceasing the tenure elongation debacle for chairman John Oyegun and others. It was supposed to be a tension-soaked session, but Buhari pulled off the valve and deflated the atmosphere. His declaration became the news, while other matters paled into insignificance. The President even offered Oyegun and his team some soft landing, asking for a waiver to enable them take part in next month’s elective convention of their party. Reason being that time available between dissolution of present excos at national, states and local governments will be short of the mandatory one- month resignation notice to make them eligible.

Thus, Buhari became the game changer, even offering bailout to others. If we recollect, this contrasts sharply with the Buhari of 2014/15, who then was in great need of allies to assist him clinch the coveted position of presidential candidate. Today, the story is different because we now have Buhari acting as leader of APC and calling the shots.

Some think his declaration was too early in the day. They worry that in the tradition of party politics in this clime, real governance will take back seat and campaigns will take over. But the refusal by Buhari to declare would have plunged the party into further disarray. And when a party is troubled, as the APC has seen in three years, governance suffers. So, head or tail, governance will still suffer.

One begins to wonder where Mr. President got his new energies from and how he thinks the road to 2019 is one he could accomplish without much effort. Whereas in 2014 he had no control of any of state institutions, now he is the President and Commander-in-Chief. Someone once observed that elections in Nigeria are fought like civil wars. One major feature of elections since 1999 is the high deployment of military personnel all over the place, reminiscent of days of military coups, when entire towns and cities are shutdown. We saw it in years the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in government. We also saw it in the recent elections conducted under the All Progressives Congress. Politicians in government know that intimidation is part of the game. They know that without deploying force of arms, they cannot convince anybody to vote for them. In places where they are not popular, they need soldiers and Police to monitor and manipulate movement of election materials.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised it will not require military assistance in 2019. That remains to be seen. After all, INEC does not determine when to deploy the forces. The Commander-in-Chief does. In the Benin governorship election of 2016, after INEC had announced dates and was set for deployments, an order came from Abuja, citing security reports that threaten the election and foisted a postponement on INEC. If in 2019 the Department of State Security takes a gaze at its crystal ball to conjure some reports, which require military deployment, there is little INEC can do. Therefore, in 2019, President Buhari is going to have at his beck and call the military. He did not enjoy that luxury in 2015, but now he has, especially the Police. We are told the IGP was in Kano as a commissioner in 2015. He assisted to create the enabling environment for high yield for the APC, almost recording no losses. You can imagine now that the stakes are higher, how efforts will be redoubled to achieve free and fair elections.

Another odd in Mr. President’s favour is the exercise of the discretion to appoint the INEC chair. Even though the electoral body is christened ‘independent’, we all know that the chairman of INEC and his team of commissioners owe their appointment solely to Mr. President’s discretion. Which is why the Muhammadu Lawal Uwias’ committee recommendation of 2008, to free INEC from governmental control remains only an ideal. Even the PDP government did not like the recommendations, which was why the report never enjoyed support of the political class. INEC personnel who are appointed are not elected but handpicked. In some very bad cases as we have seen and noted over the years, card-carrying members of ruling parties have served in very sensitive positions in our electoral history. I have not said that the men and women in INEC have no integrity; they have a high dose of it. It is not about individual integrity but institutional susceptibility. You cannot work for a man and plan for him to fail. This is what we have battled in the PDP and smelt a whiff of it in Ondo, Ekiti and Kogi of recent.

Now that Buhari is largely in control of their party, he has added advantage. Troublers like Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso have been rendered impotent. Atiku was fluid and he smartly returned to the PDP. Kwankwaso could not because the house he helped destroyed is still leaking. Governors who used to be strong checks on Presidents have become cheerleaders, urging Buhari to run faster than his legs. In the event of a presidential primary, Buhari will win landslide with governors on his side. The feat Kwankwaso achieved in the 2015 primary in Lagos is now for the records. Nobody would dare it this time around.

In terms of resources, the President of Africa’s most populous country can mobilise all the resources he needs to prosecute 2019 effortlessly. The other time, he told us he borrowed money to collect his nomination form. This time, hundreds of individuals will pick his form. I heard the London Chapter of APC has agreed to do that already. Maybe they learnt that example in the U.K, supposedly home of best practices. But that’s not the issue now.

Buhari was a poor man in 2015, now he controls the Central Bank and the NNPC. He also has the NPA. They say NPA has saved billions of dollars by blocking activities of middlemen who were put in place by previous administrations.

President Buhari does not need to steal one kobo. He hates the smell of money and does not need to come close to it. His foot soldiers will take care of all that. Monies have been recovered and we don’t even know how to spend them. Some bags of money were abandoned at the Kaduna airport. Nobody has talked about that. The Ikoyi Towers recoveries are there to be spent. Some huge remnants of Abacha loot just came in, right on time for 2019. How about the 2018 budget? They are still debating it and whenever it is signed, it will be useful for the elections.

Another thing in Buhari’s favour is the growing population of sycophants who are earnestly yearning for his continuous rule till eternity. In this business, there is no shame involved. In the history of politics in our country, sycophants come in different shades. There are youths, women, and tribalists, who will come to tell Buhari that he is the best thing to happen to Nigeria. Orji Uzor Kalu has volunteered free campaigns, even before INEC announces commencement. Here is one who benefitted from the PDP years of ‘misrule’, now disowning his past. He is a guest of EFCC, yet he is a marketer of Buhari. More of his kind will come.

With this, I hope I have explained the odds that will favour Buhari come 2019. I did not say all of this will come to past, I just painted a scenario we’re used to. But things might change, cause this is government of change!

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