Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
How true – and how practicable – are the permutations about the presidency making the rounds ahead of the 2015 general election? Vincent Obia tries to find out
When last month reports appeared in the media that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had allegedly backed a plan to present Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State as presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively, at the 2015 poll, Obasanjo was quick to deny the claim.
“These media reports are not true,” Obasanjo’s media adviser, Mr. Garba Muhammad, said in a statement. “Far from thinking or planning for the 2015 elections, the former president is deeply concerned with more pressing national issues. However, the former president does recognise the rights and privileges of any Nigerian to vie for any elective office of his or her choice.”
Politicians have a penchant for prevarication and that makes it difficult to completely believe or disbelieve stories about them. President Goodluck Jonathan has not pronounced an intention to seek another term – even though some of his supporters have, and the president has not said he is not interested in a second term. What is, perhaps, not in doubt is Obasanjo’s obvious indisposition to Jonathan’s second term and the former president’s support for power shift to the North.
Speculation about the 2015 presidency now has wide currency. There is a long list of hopefuls – all second term governors from the North – that are being mentioned as possible replacement for Jonathan in 2015. Besides Lamido, Governors Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State, and Babangida Aliyu of Niger State are believed to be nursing presidential ambitions ahead of 2015.
Peoples Democratic Party controls 14 of the 19 northern states. Of the governors of the 14 PDP states, namely, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, and Taraba, 11 are doing their second and last constitutional terms. Only the governors of Kaduna, Kwara and Kogi states are in their first terms.
So far, northern governors in their second terms, who do not seem to show interest in the presidency in 2015, include Governors Gabriel Suswan of Benue State, Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, and David Jang of Plateau State.
Expectedly, the second term governors who are preparing to return to the society they have governed for eight years in 2015 would seek to please their communities and constituents rather than Abuja. And they may be inclined to more assertiveness in the pursuit of their political convictions.
Northern Political Leaders Forum
Logically, it would hardly be surprising to find an explosion of presidential ambitions among politicians in the northern parts of the country as the country goes towards the 2015 general election. A section of the elite in that part of the country had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to push the case for a president of northern Nigeria origin during last year’s presidential election. Spearheaded by the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum, they had perceived Jonathan’s overwhelming presidential bid as an attempt to short-change the North following the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, three years into his four-year tenure.
NPLF had focused on trying to stop Jonathan from contesting the last presidential election. Nigeria’s democracy has yet to witness the defeat of an incumbent president. So it was not surprising that they saw the candidacy of the country’s powerful chief executive as a certain abortion of their presidential dream.
Opinions are rife that northern politicians who had felt frustrated by the outcome of last year’s presidential election might be behind the current insurgency by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. Their aim, it is widely perceived, is to make the country ungovernable for Jonathan. The activities of the group, which had been mainly small-scale, assumed wider and deadlier dimensions in the period after the presidential poll in April last year.
Governors Take up the Gauntlet
But on the political scene, attention shifted to 2015 as soon as the last presidential poll was concluded. The campaign for a Nigerian president of northern extraction also shifted from the NPLF – which also had former military president Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar – to the Northern States Governors Forum.
NSGF chairman Aliyu has been leading efforts to unite political forces in the North to speak with one voice at the 2015 presidential poll. Aliyu told a meeting of the forum in May in Kaduna, “We must also know that by 2015, we are going as a united constituent group. There were times when we went as constitutionalists and federalists, and some as regionalists, this time around, we must do everything possible within the time period to unite ourselves and to go that time as a united group.
“The interest of the people is paramount. We must understand that political parties are platforms and it is the interest of our own people that should guide our actions, our interests, and our activities.”
Aliyu’s ‘Game Show’
But there is strong suspicion that Aliyu might actually be charting his own presidential course using the instrumentality of the NSGF. On the surface, however, the Niger State governor has not made public his intention to run for the presidency.
Aliyu is one of the few northern governors that have not been associated with sponsorship of armed gangs, a widespread tendency among politicians in the northern part of the country. It is being widely alleged that the Boko Haram insurgency is an offshoot of the armed groups formed by some of the politicians as apparatuses of defence or offence against their political opponents.
But Aliyu might be hurt by his increasingly fierce northern sentiments, which even impairs his relationship with many in areas outside the core North. His seeming meddlesomeness in favour of some ethnic groups in the Plateau crisis certainly goes against the grain among many in the Middle Belt. In a surprise comment recently, Aliyu queried the rationale behind the evacuation of residents of some communities in Riyom and Barkin Ladi Local Government areas of Plateau State that were evacuated by the Special Task Force on Jos crisis to facilitate military operations. The operation was meant to mop up arms used in frequent sectarian killings in the area. But curiously, Aliyu raised misgivings about its effect on the Fulani tribes-people in the local councils, as if they were the only ones affected.
In the South-south, Aliyu’s leading role in the agitation among the northern governors for restoration of the onshore/offshore dichotomy in the determination of derivation revenue from oil is arousing feelings of disgust and repulsion. As if to rub salt in the wound of the people following the feelings of unfairness in the distribution of the proceeds of oil, which the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta have been nursing for several decades, Aliyu is also leading a campaign for a downward review of the 13 per cent derivation currently received by the oil producing states.
Though, the Niger State governor is widely adjudged to be doing well in terms of infrastructural development and prudent management of public resources, his image in the Middle Belt and down South does not seem to be one that could support an effective presidential ambition.
A former aide to the Jigawa State governor, Mr. Adagbo Onoja, in a newspaper opinion last month called the alleged Lamido/Amaechi ticket “the credible but yet imaginary ticket.” This appears to be the North’s best bet, and the most popular forecast, at least for now. The project is also believed to be backed by former military president Ibrahim Babangida.
Former political foes whose differences had intensified during the process of Jonathan’s election and assumed embarrassing dimensions in August last year when they engaged in an open brawl in the media, Obasanjo and Babangida have been into some kind of political collaboration lately. Both men had in a joint statement in July raised concern about the growing insecurity in the country and called for strategic engagement with community stakeholders as a way of resolving the crisis.
As part of activities to mark the 21th anniversary of Jigawa State recently, Lamido hosted Babangida, whose regime had created the state in 1991. The former military leader was full of admiration for Lamido’s ways at the wheel of power during the event.
“I created Jigawa State in 1991, I know the state in the past and I went round the state this week I saw smiles in the faces of Jigawa people and I also noticed how they are cherishing their governor.
“This symbolised that you are connected with your people and you rekindle their hopes.
“We have one small military proverb which says, ‘It is not the weapon that matters but the person behind the weapon’. Lamido has proved this right, as Jigawa appeared to be the most rapidly progressing state in terms of human and physical development in the last five years,”
Babangida told his host.
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, who was Minister of External Affairs during the administration of the former military president, delivered the lecture at a symposium to mark the Jigawa anniversary, which further gives fillip to the feeling that there might be a reuniting of political forces, under Babangida’s watch, in support of Lamido.
Lamido has in the last few months hosted many prominent guests, including members of the PDP Board of Trustees, Northern Speakers Forum, conference of state PDP chairmen, and many first class chiefs from across the country. On the surface, the visitors had come to launch projects executed by the Lamido administration. But beneath the façade of project launch, observers see deep political connotations.
Though, Amaechi, who is chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, has denied the report of his collaboration with Lamido on the 2015 presidency project, of late, there has been little love lost between the Rivers State governor and the president. This, many believe, might be an indication of Amaechi’s disinclination to a Jonathan second term and, perhaps, also a sign that he might be willing to work with those backing the campaign for a power shift – a campaign Jonathan is wont to hate, particularly from his native South-south.
Like Lamido in the North, Amaechi is one of the governors in the South that is widely recognised for prudence and delivery of development. He seems to be the political bride of the moment for many among the northern elite.
The retired naval officer is believed to be one of the northern governors with presidential interest ahead of 2015. He has been consulting with political stakeholders in the North and South. There has also been talk of a possible Nyako/Amaechi presidential ticket, though, this does not seem to be popular among analysts. The Adamawa State governor is close to Obasanjo, but the former president may not be keen on backing him in place of Lamido.
Besides, some unfinished disagreements in the state from the past, especially from the last general election, may hurt Nyako’s ambition. He had had open differences with fellow Adamawa indigenes, like Alhaji Bamaga Tukur, who is the current PDP national chairman, and Atiku. Many think Nyako would face a daunting opposition from within his own state.
The Katsina State governor, just like Lamido and Nyako, is an associate of Obasanjo. The thinking in some quarters is that Shema may be sponsored by Obasanjo and the political elite as compensation to the people of Katsina State in honour of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Yuguda’s presidential ambition has also been a topic of discussion in political circles as the country goes towards 2015. He has not announced a presidential ambition, but observers say he may be nursing such. If that is true, Yuguda may be using the leverage of his marriage to a Yoruba, Biodun (nee Shasanya), from Abeokuta, in Ogun State, to try to get the support of the Sout-west. The Bauchi State governor was early this year honoured by the prestigious Island Club of Lagos in what might be part of efforts to win the favour of the elite in the South-west.
But neither the governor nor his aides have confirmed or denied his suspected interest in the presidency. In May, eight persons were prosecuted in the state for printing and pasting posters declaring Yuguda’s intention to contest for the presidential position in 2015.
For now, however, nothing is certain regarding the 2015 presidential election. Uncertainty simply reigns. The president has not pronounced his intention to go for another term and those who are believed to be seeking to replace him have remained noncommittal about their ambitions.
Beyond the present speculations, denials, and silence, the whole issue of the 2015 presidential contest, it does seem, would remain for some time what it is currently: a breeding ground of endless speculation.