2019: Political mixed bag in the making
Most Nigerians must have been amazed when former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently refuted media reports that he has counseled President Muhammadu Buhari against seeking a second term mandate. The former president had been a constant visitor to the seat of power, which he vacated in May 29, 2007; a pastime that he could not enjoy for long during the immediate past four years. He had in the past owned up to supportive remarks for President Buhari’s ability to fix the country. At one point he noted that the economy was where the president needs help, stressing that that was the only area the incumbent does not seem to be on top of the game.
However, being a man so much in love with the power game and leadership, it might not be out of place if the former military and civilian leader had on any of his visits shared experience or strategies with the incumbent, who practically served under his military regime as minister of petroleum.
One of Obasanjo’s unforgettable experiences in his second coming to the leadership of the country was that which had to do with succession politics. And having the same military background as President Buhari, there is the easy possibility that Baba must have probed the incumbent to see how his mind was working or, in his characteristic manner, offer insights and tactics.
But the speed with which the former president came out to put the record straight over the alleged advice, left more questions than answers. Possessing a keen ear to the ground and constantly gauging the mood of the nation, Obasanjo is known to always proffer unsolicited advice to sitting presidents when he is in good terms with them, only to resort to the long range volleys of acerbic letters when they find him irritating.
The part of Obasanjo’s rebuttal that was unmistakable is that pertaining to concerns for 2019, which currently dominates discussions and decisions in Abuja. Obasanjo, had in a statement signed by his media assistant, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi, disclosed that there has not been any communication in the past three years between him and the former media aide, Mr. Alex Nwokedi, whom the report was attributed to.
However, the former president stated “my belief is that democracy allows anybody, including President Buhari for that matter to contest any election.” But prior to the emergence of the controversial report on an online portal, the question of what becomes of the presidency by 2019 had remained the dominant political talk in the villa. It would be recalled that during the administration of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, precisely few months into the second year, some supporters led by a former chieftain of Nigeria Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Paulicarp Nwite, stated mobilizing for his second term.
But characteristic of the then president and in line with his insistence on the rule of law, the amorphous group was warned in clear and unmistakable terms, to desist. They were also reminded that apart from distracting the administration, it was too early in the day to engage in talks for another term.Nonetheless, unlike Yar’Adua, Buhari seems to depend to a large extent on the inferences and political schemes of his acolytes. The president’s inner men were said to have decided on different scenarios shortly after Obasanjo, on one of his many visits to the Villa, reportedly suggested that new tactics be applied to align the National Assembly with the vision of the executive, if President Buhari should succeed in office.
Sources in the presidency disclosed that although Obasanjo hinted on the issue of continuity and sustainability of major programme thrusts of the administration, he did not pointedly advise the president against seeking for a second term in office. “Baba said something about the future electoral success of the administration being dependent on its performance in right-tracking the economy and that this was the right time to start thinking about tomorrow,” the source explained.
But long before the issue of economy and future of the present administration cropped up, Buhari’s kitchen cabinet had settled it upon themselves that the mandate he got from Nigerians should not be limited to four years. Yet, as the realities of governance proved tasking and the challenges becoming somewhat overwhelming, the possibility that the president could sail through another presidential election victoriously began to wane.
On the face of the grim data being assembled by the powerful insiders, three scenarios were evaluated. The first strategy was to orchaestrate a crisis situation in the polity towards the build up to the 2019 general election, such that the kite of a government of national unity would be flown. In the implementation of this scheme, it was suggested that the former president should be involved for it to succeed.
The second strategy was said to be to conscript a presidential candidate that can be railroaded into the presidency in a skewed election that may trigger national outrage, which would then ultimately make option one feasible. But the third option, which is now being implemented covertly, involves the systematic reputational and fiscal damage of all “eligible and viable” presidential materials from the north, so as to leave the space for the incumbent to run as a consensus candidate. Under this option, the following three political actors from the North Central geopolitical zone are already receiving the heat:
Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso
IMMEDIATE past governor of Kano State, Kwankwaso, did not hide his serious ambition to be president in 2015. It was said that prior to the adoption of President Buhari, former president Obasanjo subtly canvassed the Kwankwaso option to serve as the point man in the plan to stop former President Goodluck Jonathan from making it back to a second term.
Apart from his presidential ambition, Kwankwaso’s role in the defeat of Buhari in the 2011 presidential poll; was being held against him by the power brokers in the presidency. As such, he was marked for demolition very early in the life of the administration.Despite the ongoing political altercation between the senator and Governor Ganduje, sources said that more grievous battles await the former Kano governor in the next phase of the fight against corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was said to be putting finishing touches to the allegations of graft and contract inflation against the senator. It is believed that after the prolonged trials, Kwankwaso would have been so deflated that he might not have the liver or financial muscle to purchase the nomination form for either the senatorial or presidential election.
Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau
OF all the political actors being targeted in the north, the case of the immediate past Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, is very revealing. Shekarau’s offences are in three-fold. The former Kano State governor was said to have courted the ire of Buhari’s inner men by his sterling performance in the 2011 presidential poll after the incumbent was displaced from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
The former minister, who was reported to parade an unblemished record in his eight years tenure as governor, decided to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when it became obvious that forces in APC wanted to rubbish his political future by superimposing Kwankwaso’s leadership on him in the new party. For joining forces with the PDP against Buhari, unlike some of the PDP governors, Shekarau is said to be penciled for some big lessons.But sources in Kano said that the major issue the powers that be in Abuja hold against Mallam was the shining record of achievement, which endears him to the masses. For instance, the Kano State Roadmap for Development (KSRD: 2010 – 2020), which is a legacy document was produced by Shekarau as a plan that symbolizes Kano State’s contribution to the Nigerian Vision 20:2020.
It was said that within that road map that Shekarau documented his successes in the Education sector, which compelled former President Jonathan to appoint him Minister of Education. His administration was said to have successfully improved school enrolment in all tiers of education. For instance, while enrolment figures in primary schools rose from 1,264,636 in 2003 to 1,972,101 in 2010 (48 percent increase), secondary schools figures were 238,134 and 433,888 (82 percent increase).
Further the former governor introduced free tuition for girls in secondary schools, which in addition to other measures, was responsible for increased enrolment by 64 percent in primary schools and 113 percent in secondary schools during his eight years in office (from 2003 – 2010). Shekarau also established the first ever Information Communication Technology (ICT) Park in Nigeria at Gidan Ado Bayero to spur economic growth, in addition to success stories in water supply and agriculture.
Nigerians still remember the first-rate performance of Mallam Shekarau during the presidential debates in 2011. But those have become the source of political encumbrance against the former Education Minister. After searching for areas to trouble the man without success, the EFCC recently detained him and ordered the freezing of his bank account. The former governor is known to operate only one bank account.
While other persons that collected PDP campaign funds and refunded same did not face such humiliation, Shekarau’s only offence was that a record of disbursement indicated that he was to be given N25m. Incidentally, the person who was to pass on the money failed to give him the money and acknowledged that fact. Searches have been conducted on his house, part of which from 2014 serves as PDP meeting place in Kano, but there is nothing showing that he received money from any quarters for the campaigns.
Although Shekarau told journalists that his arrest and detention was not political, those in the know say that it was part of the plan to dent the image of popular presidential materials in the North.
Governor Sule Lamido
FORMER governor of Jigawa State did not surreptitiously work for the election of President Buhari in 2015, even when he was convinced that the election would go in APC’s favour. Not that alone, the two-term governor declined to contest for the senate seat after his tenure like other of his colleagues. A proud and intelligent politician, Lamido made his popular statement that he could not divide himself into three when acolytes pressured him to go to the senate. But for his conscientious obedience to party loyalty, the new power players insist that the Jigawa strong man should go down so as not to make things hard for him in 2019.Sources disclosed that the former governor’s travails with the EFCC would prove interminable as there are plans to substitute and elongate charges to keep him distracted till 2019.
Ploy Against Obasanjo
While one of the strategies being placed on the table to ensure an extended tenure of the Buhari presidency includes a possible involvement of Obasanjo, sources within the presidency disclosed that immediately the former president started talking about the administration’s performance on the economy being linked to the future, the inner men felt he was trying to push the candidacy of any of his preferred candidates for 2019.
It was also said that the powerful men from Katsina recalled how Obasanjo brought the late Yar’Adua to spite the north, stressing that he had no options than his belated support for Buhari by the time he endorsed the incumbent for the 2015 presidential election. But somehow, it was said that the former president got wind of the plan to use him as a decoy to achieve a political motive and decided to carve new tracks. It was based on the knowledge that Obasanjo had decoded the real strategy behind option one, the source said, that news of his advice against Buhari’s second term was planted.
Shadowing Sheriff Visit On Obasanjo
THE recent visit by the embattled former national chairman of PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was initially planned to be a clandestine meeting. However, when it became obvious that some journalists have been tipped off, Obasanjo consented to the publicity that was to attend the visit.Sheriff acknowledged Obasanjo’s position in the empowerment and demolition of PDP, stressing that whether in or out of politics, he possesses the essential knowledge that could lead to the restoration of the soul of the fractured party.
Yet, even as Obasanjo maintained that PDP was a dying baby placed in the hands of Sheriff as a possible undertaker, the fact of SAS’ visit that was not made public is that his camp would never reconcile with Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s camp.It was revealed that Obasanjo’s interest in the PDP after his notorious destruction of his membership card was to ensure that the platform was not made available to certain characters he has sworn should not be president. The former president had after the 2011 presidential election told Shekarau that since he “refused to come to us,” he would not be president. It is very unclear whom Baba meant by ‘us’. But a compound evaluation of the post military garrison politics points to the military apparatchik.
Could it then be that the military wants to influence the 2019 presidential election once again? Are politicians ready to play ball as usual? At Sheriff’s visit, Obasanjo kept emphasizing the need for strong political parties. Could the former president be said to be for or against a strong and resurgent PDP? And having seen the weakness of APC, could it be said that he was alluding to strong party in the mold of PDP under his garrison command?
With Obasanjo’s likely inputs, the two paths available to the Sheriff Camp are either to align with the APC or float a new political party for the 2019 election. These options seem to rank among the reasons that motivated the visit on Obasanjo, whose political godsons in the North, it should be noted, are facing intense heat. A new party option may be a veritable way for Baba to influence schemes in the build up to 2019, or better still, force APC to start casting away their feeble deference to him.
Sheriff supporters insist that the road back to PDP has been foreclosed; stressing that there is no way for them to go and kowtow to the ‘renegade governors’ in the Makarfi faction. It was against that premise that Sheriff pointedly told Obasanjo that “I am the national chairman, there is no faction.”
Though Obasanjo’s position on the two alternative options open to the Sheriff Camp was not revealed, it was gathered that SAS was enjoined to continue what he was doing. And as part of the understanding that he should continue the battle, Sheriff plans to undertake a nationwide tour to meet with the party’s structures, beginning with visits to the headquarters of some leading media organizations to lay out “critical issues and his stand on the PDP dispute”.
Sources within Sheriff’s camp confided in The Guardian that the chairman would soon kick off the visit to media organs after the Sallah festivities, adding that “from the look of things, there is no hope for a meeting point in the negotiations with the Board of Trustees or the reconciliation committee it set up.”
From the look of things, 2019 would throw up another political mixed bag for Nigeria. How will the masses react if Buhari adopts Obasanjo’s tactics to return for a second term, despite his rumoured disinterest in another four years? Or, would he ask for additional two years post 2019 to conduct a presidential election that he would not partake?
While the various options are undergoing the vagaries of political shifting sands, some of the President’s men are already fighting among themselves for supremacy. The internal wrangling within APC is what would actually accentuate the dark clouds over 2019.