With Buhari’s healthier than expected return from medical vacation, many eyeing the Presidency in 2019, are in disarray and back to the drawing board, write Tokunbo Adedoja and Olawale Olaleye

The state of play in the period that President Muhammadu Buhari was away on medical grounds has changed.

At that time, there was a near consensus amongst a majority of the active political actors that the president might not seek re-election because of the state of his health. The political space was therefore open and free for all with several meetings and alliances across the land. The turf began to get really saturated with different characters and the accompanying projections on the path to 2019.

But after spending 103 days in London, the United Kingdom, on medical grounds, the second since he became president, Buhari returned to the country healthier, and has demonstrated his fitness going by his itinerary so far. Since his celebrated return, he has consciously unsettled a lot of political plans, conspiracy and dreams at the presidential level. Although he has not specifically disclosed his take on 2019, indications are daily becoming crystal clear that he might run. This assumption is supported by the subtle campaigns already being spearheaded by some of his followers.

But should he decide to seek re-election, there are challenges he would have to contend with on his path to a second term in office, which include the aspirations and grievances of certain key political figures, and the frequently changing political permutations.

ATIKU ABUBAKAR… READY, WILLING AND ABLE!

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is one politician with a lot of courage, resources, gusto and staying power. He has never pretended about his presidential ambition, a dream he has nursed for many years, even after his former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, ensured he ( Atiku) did not succeed him in 2007. Since then Atiku has been in the race, hoping that one day he would be the proud and most prepared occupant of the Presidential Villa in Aso Rock, Abuja. That he gave Buhari a good run in 2015 was not unexpected even though he came third at the convention of the party, which produced Buhari as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, immediate former Kano State governor, surprisingly, beat him to the second position.

However, that he would run again in 2019 has never been a secret within the political circle. He had launched his campaign immediately after the 2015 elections. Atiku, who plans to make the forthcoming election an issue-based exercise, had covertly kicked off his campaigns, using some of the lectures and speeches he delivered at different times. It was no surprise that it was he, who resuscitated the restructuring issue, which of course, promises to dominate debates in the next election.

The fact that there is no let-up in his ambition was given fillip a couple of weeks ago, when a serving Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, openly declared support for him, adding also that even if Buhari resolved to run in 2019, she would still root for Atiku. Alhassan is considered a major force in Taraba State and a longtime ally of Atiku. This development generated a lot of controversies, the last of which has not been seen yet. But Atiku has remained unfazed, regardless.

No one knows yet what the Atiku strategy is, but what appears evident is that he is quietly building a road to Aso Rock with alliances in the North East, North Central, South East, South West and South South. For the North West Atiku sees challenges, both from Buhari supporters and the regional State Governors from whom he expects little support given their own ambitions. But he has plans to rely on the Babangidas, Abdulsalaamis and Aliyu Gusaus, along with his experience on how to govern the country, based on his knowledge of what the problems are and the ideal solution that would effectively contain them, having served the country as vice president for eight years. What is left now is the platform he would contest on – APC or PDP? He has refused, so far, to leave APC believing that would be his best platform to win the Presidency. But he has many friends, old and new alliances in the PDP especially the Class of 1999 – 2007 Governors who may well be his bulwark against the increasing opposition to his ambition, especially with the so far unsubstantiated allegations of corruption that may have created a perception crisis for him. Then he is increasingly warming up and secretly meeting with Team Goodluck Jonathan hoping to build a willing and winning alliances with Jonathan followers and voters in 2019. In which case he will divide the North 40/60; divide the South West 45/55 and then take the South South and South East, 80/20. With these permutations, Abubakar has a date with 2019, and he remains a challenge that Buhari has to contend with.

BOLA TINUBU…. IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?

Former Governor of Lagos State and a leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, is a major force in the ruling party, not just on account of his role in the victory of the president, but more because the party is no less his baby. Tinubu, like Atiku, has never hidden his interest in the nation’s number one job, albeit cautiously with such conditions that he would not run against Muhammadu Buhari. He once said during the 2015 campaigns in Lagos that he had all it took to be president, but chose to back Buhari, because as it was with many nations that had passed through Nigeria’s kind of challenges, generals were usually the kind of materials needed in times of crisis.

Again, at a function in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, he alluded to his qualification for the presidency but would rather throw his hat in the ring if Buhari was not going to seek re-election. It is not certain, however, if that caveat still subsists. The issue now is that Tinubu is like a wounded lion that has retreated to his den to heal and eagerly waiting to re-launch when the time is right.

Deliberately, he has kept quiet and refused to get involved anymore – completely off the turf. His decision to spend more time outside the country remains a source of concern for his political allies and opponents. Even more worrisome is the fact that his people are believed not to be happy too with the way he had been treated so far by a government he helped to install. But the basis for such anger or disappointment has been dismissed time and time again by other stakeholders, who have maintained that Tinubu has benefitted more than anyone else in the government, unknown to the generality of the people.

Perhaps, one thing that is still going on well for Tinubu is his belief in the North-west/South-west alliance – a tool he believes could come handy for his ambition if properly harnessed. An alliance he continues to believe will produce the President in 2019 if the South West is placated and kept happy. Tinubu has a strong network of associates in the northern parts of the country, the North-west especially. But whether or not he comes out to challenge Buhari in 2019, Tinubu definitely will fight to assert his place in the emerging equation and that could mean, possibly, combining forces to alter the current political landscape. But he seems to be at odds with Atiku Abubakar relying in the old doctrine, If not me, then who?

NORTHERN GOVERNORS… WAITING FOR THE BUHARI COAT TAILS.

Even though Buhari’s popularity among northern masses has not waned despite the pains inflicted by the economic recession, which the country recently exited, the changing political dynamics in the region may have further boosted his chances should he decide to seek reelection. This has to do with the rising support for him among governors of the region, most of who were elected on the platform of the APC. Though most of the governors in the zone rose to power on the back of Buhari’s popularity in 2015, as his health deteriorated one year into his presidency, some of them began to toy with the idea of taking a shot at the presidency in 2019.

His prolonged stay in the United Kingdom during his two medical visits this year further created a fertile ground for their presidential aspirations to begin to germinate. But his miraculous recovery after spending over 100 days in London during his last medical visit has not only quenched the flame of their aspirations, they have also scampered to safety as none of them could risk to be seen to be eyeing the seat of a president, whose popularity in the region remains high.

Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-rufai, for instance, who was rumoured to be eyeing the presidency, has personally taken up the task of leading campaign for Buhari’s reelection, using Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan’s verbal support for Atiku’s aspiration as a launch pad.

Many of the governors in the zone are also following that path because they are engaged in serious political fights with some of the key politicians in their states. This has to do with both the scrambling for sphere of influence and their re-election bids.

While El-rufai is engaged in a fierce political battle with Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) and Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North senatorial district), Bauchi State Governor Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar is having a running battle with Hon.Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives. In Kano, Governor Umar Ganduje is engaged in a political battle with his predecessor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who has vowed to make him a one-term governor.

In Buhari’s home State of Katsina, Governor Aminu Bello Masari and his predecessor, Ibrahim Shema, have continued to slug it out. Also, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal whose victory in the 2015 election was recently upheld by a Federal High Court is not unaware of a possible rematch in 2019 of the fierce contest between him and two of his opponents in the 2015 APC governorship primary who challenged his victory in court, Senator Umar Dahiru and Aliyu Abubakar Sanyinna. Even if his name is often mentioned as a possible presidential compromise candidate Tambuwal has remained focused on his home state insisting that all politics is local!

These governors are not oblivious of the fact that to overwhelm their political adversaries, they need Buhari, whose support is seen as the quickest and surest route to their reelection.

THE OSINBAJO… AN ADMIRED DEPUTY.

With a style atypical of the quintessential politician, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has lived true to type as a learned fellow. With his role clearly sculpted as Buhari’s help mate, the vice president used the period that his principal was away to prove his mettle, without disputing the fact, either by accident or design, that there is only one presidency.

Technically, Osinbajo has become a significant factor in the current Team Buhari. The two have not only complemented each other effectively, they have also redefined the very essence of team work, without undue bickering or attempt to undo each other. Evidently, the working understanding between both of them is what has helped to douse what would have been terrible fallout of speculated cracks in the presidency or the executive arm of government.

But in spite of all these, Osinbajo is soon to prove the true meaning of loyalty and no other time presents this opportunity than 2019. His sojourn in national politics was generally known and believed to have been orchestrated by Tinubu. Even when there was controversy as to how he became the vice president, he quickly laid the issues bare and confirmed it was Tinubu who made him Buhari’s running mate.

Unfortunately, his principal (Buhari) and his benefactor (Tinubu) are no longer on the same page and may have to engage in a battle for supremacy in 2019. So, where will Osinbajo stand and why? What if Buhari chooses to drop him on account of new considerations, will he fight back by aligning with his benefactor? On the flip side, if Buhari retains him and his benefactor is on the other side, how will he handle such situation?

The scenario may not be particularly pleasant for this professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), if his principal and his benefactor are on opposing sides. Yet, he remains a factor that must be considered as the nation journeys towards 2019 given that in the brief time he acted as President he has won praise and admiration from the business and economic elite. But his problem remains his lack of grassroots political structures beyond his church.

SARAKI … A LOYAL NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

Of all the arms of government, the National Assembly has been the most loyal to Mohammadu Buhari while on medical vacation and Senate President Bukola Saraki seems to have dropped any presidential ambition preferring to lead the National Assembly having successfully blocked all anti Buhari moves in the legislative branch. Many believe, however that Saraki is a fox awaiting his opportunity, as for now he sees no road to the Presidency and has decided to stay with Buhari 100 percent while looking out for the interest of his senators and assemblymen.

THE DARK HORSES…. WHERE ARE THEY?

There are many dark horses in this race, bidding their time, and watching every Buhari move….. THISDAY will be on the watch in part 2 of this series.

HOW THE REGIONS STAND…

With a resurgent agriculture anchored on cheap fertiliser and CBN funding for farmers, Buhari’s base remains the North West.

A periodic analysis of how the regions stand as events unfold may have become a routine task from now till the time of the elections, following the pace at which things are happening, often times against the run of play. There is no pretending that the North West region is still very much behind the president, his challenges notwithstanding. His provision of cheap affordable Presidential fertiliser and CBN funding for agriculture has led to bumper harvest across the region, making poor farmers a lot richer. All the states in the zone are controlled by APC. If anyone had doubted the state of his popularity rating before now, the hero’s welcome he was treated to after his return from his medical vacation recently disapproved of any such thinking.

But Buhari might be challenged a bit in the North Central which is now grumbling loudly due to the pains of the economy; and parts of North-east because of the Atiku influence. Unfortunately, again, for the former vice-president, Buhari’s effective handling of the Boko Haram scourge in that part of the country would competitively swing the votes in his favour. In the North central, activities of marauding herdsmen may have widened the opposition base, but with APC in control of all the states in the zone, it remains safe for Buhari. While not underplaying Atiku’s influence and acceptability as far as the presidential election is concerned, Buhari still appears to hold the aces as the whole North may likely swim together. The understanding of the North when it comes to the power game does not contemplate frivolity or uncalculated risk. That is the edge that Buhari seems to be enjoying.

However, in the South, the whole of the South-east and the South-south regions remain a no-go-area (for now) for the president, especially with the growing Biafran sentiment, exacerbated by the recent deployment of the military (Operation Python Dance II) to that part of the country to quell the simmering unrest there. It is important to establish that some of the sentiments that guided voting in this part of the country in 2015 have not quite changed and rather, become more volatile.

Thus, the South-west, in this case, might be the battleground region in the 2019 elections. This is not to say that the Tinubu factor is totally discountenanced here. Indeed, the Tinubu factor still carries a lot of weight, although limited to a few states like Lagos and Osun, his capacity and political sagacity to rally the other states in the region for a common cause cannot be over-emphasised. This, therefore, makes South-west the battleground states for Buhari, whose ministers, at least a few of them, are generally regarded as not politically firm on the ground to actively swing things in his favour.

Interestingly, while the ministers in the South-east and the South-south are also not fancied enough by the people to pull any significant surprise, save for one or two, one or two of the South-west ministers, who are believed to have aligned properly can actually spring some surprise for Buhari. But they will have the Tinubu factor to deal with. At the end of the day, the jury is still out and dynamics are changing everyday.