2019: The Contenders


The candidates Nigerians are talking about

With the positive leadership changes in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana and even the likes of Ethiopia, people are wondering if Nigeria would follow suit. Only last week, President Muhammadu Buhari told some APC governors, who visited him at the State House, Abuja, that he was yet to make up his mind on the 2019 presidential elections. Reports say he is still considering the pros and cons of the case for a second term or the arguments of those who advise that he, Buhari, should embrace the Mandela option given his age and health. And considering the fact that whatever he has not achieved or set in motion now, it would be difficult to achieve in four years, they say the President as set a new moral high for Nigerian leadership and laid a solid foundation for tackling corruption in high office. They fear that should Buhari run, his legacy could be tainted. Against the backdrop of whether the president will run or not, there has been a flurry of activity among political leaders across Nigeria with many positioning themselves to replace him, especially the young politicians, who claim they have the energy and vision required for Nigeria at this time, and feel that this is their last chance to take Nigeria to the next level.

This thinking, of course, has been accentuated by the recent positions of two former presidents. While former President Olusegun Obasanjo has advocated a third force, former Military President Ibrahim Babangida has canvassed a new leadership with digital disposition. In all this, THISDAY is identifying candidates who may not necessarily be in the race but who people are talking about. Here are 11 of such candidates. (The first of a two-part series)

Muhammadu Buhari / The man to beat

He is the incumbent, but President Muhammadu Buhari has maintained a stoic silence over his re-election in 2019, a decision he is constitutionally entitled to. Until his recent pronouncement at the State House during the visit of APC governors, Buhari had twice hinted at a possible presidential run. First at a summit on terrorism in Abidjan, C’ote d’Voire and second, when he visited Kano State weeks back on a working visit.

His body language to run the 2019 presidential election was given a new life, when his Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, quietly got President Buhari to re-appoint him as the Director-General of his re-election campaign. After all, Amaechi led the campaign to an electoral victory in 2015. However, while this appointment has not been officially announced due to internal intrigues, Amaechi is said to already have his letter of appointment, which he presented to the President to sign, a proof that Buhari might be considering seeking reelection, albeit reluctantly.

Yet, Buhari has not come out outright to speak about 2019. His ‘marketers’ in the South, argue it is politically correct to have a Buhari do another four years, than have the North do another eight years through another candidate, perhaps, a younger element. But until Buhari takes a stand, the extrapolations remain fluid and the field, still very much unfriendly to hop in. Though difficult to fully ascertain his take on reelection, Buhari remains the CONTENDER to beat.

Atiku Abubakar/ The old was horse

Arguably the most prepared and experienced of the other contenders outside of the ‘incumbency weight’ of the present occupier, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has never hidden his desire to rule Nigeria. While he has indicated interest in the nation’s top job at different times, he has only been able to be on the ballot once and that was in 2007, when he ran as the candidate of the Action Congress (AC).

His attempt in 2011 against former President Goodluck Jonathan failed at the level of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary even though he was adopted the northern candidate by a group of elders led by Alhaji Adamu Ciroma. Another effort in 2014 still did no go past the primaries as he came a distant third to Buhari and a former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, at the APC National Convention held at the National Stadium in Lagos.

But none of these has stifled Atiku from further pushing his presidential dream. Not surprisingly, he came out earlier than many others to re-indicate his interest in the job. He reignited the restructuring debate and set the stage for what to expect as far as the issues are concerned in 2019. He took his bid a notch further, when he left the APC and returned to his former party, the PDP. Atiku is not joking and is therefore a serious contender. But he would have to contend with a critical bloc in the party – PDP governors, some of whom are believed not to be disposed to his candidacy. At the end, Atiku is a strong CONTENDER.

Rabiu Kwankwaso/ The fighter

Like many others, who have their eyes on Nigeria’s presidency, former Kano State governor, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, has never hidden his intentions too. Unfortunately, until the APC national convention in 2014, Kwankwaso was slightly underrated. But at the end of the day, not only did he come second to Buhari, that he also relegated Atiku to a third position changed perceptions about him.

But since that engagement, he has not abandoned his bid to be president. Quietly, he has continued to oil his political machine, starting from his home state of Kano through the other states of the north before berthing down south. He is said to have set up committees of like-minds including strategists, who are currently working on his project.

Curiously, Kwankwaso’s ambition might have created serious problems for him in Kano as his successor and political godson, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, is frontally opposed to him all the way, a rivalry that is currently heating up Kano’s polity. How such an environment would aid a boisterous ambition is yet to be seen. But he remains a CONTENDER.

Bukola Saraki / The sleek fish in troubled waters

Perhaps, not many knew his capacity at political strategy till he emerged President of the Senate against all odds. Dr. Bukola Saraki, a two term governor of Kwara State, is today one of the most influential politicians in the country. He has never hidden his desire to be Nigeria’s president with a new vision for generation. And at different times when the opportunity availed itself, he tested the waters and only retreated when he found out that the equation did not favour his bid. Yet again, 2019 might as well present another opportunity.

Although he has not said he was interested in Buhari’s job, what is certain is that if Buhari decides to embrace the Mandela Option, Saraki is certainly one of those who would throw their hats in the ring. And as president of the senate and chairman of the National Assembly, he has built bridges across the country, a critical asset for any successful presidential run. And he belongs to a loosely coalesced group of friends that would make him a strong CONTENDER should he run given that he can build support in at least 4 geopolitical zones with a fighting chance in the other 2.

Bola Tinubu / the lion heart

National leader of the APC and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is one politician whose name comes up each time speculations are made about 2019. In the thick of the 2015 campaigns in Lagos, he said to an elated crowd that he had what it takes to rule Nigeria, adding that he was qualified by all standards but only yielded the opportunity to Buhari, because during national crises, nations yield to generals. He cited America, UK and even France as having taken to that regime in time past.

He would later follow up at a function in Ibadan, Oyo State over a year ago, when during an interview with journalists, he said he would not mind to run for the nation’s presidency but only if Buhari was not running. Ever since, he has been equivocal about responses to his presidential dream.

Interestingly, he is believed to have taken his current assignment as the party’s peace-maker seriously because a divided party would be useless ultimately. It was no wonder that he cried out days ago that the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was sabotaging him. Right now many believe Tinubu is eying control of the APC as condition for backing a Buhari second term. With that control he can influence APC candidates for the 2019 elections and ultimately his own bid in 2023, should Buhari do a 2nd term. However, Tinubu would run now, if Buhari does not, and he does not pretend about it. And should he run, Tinubu would be strong CONTENDER.

Aminu Tambuwal / The fox

The Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, was that one man, who almost threw spanner in the works for Buhari, when in 2014, he obtained a presidential intention form. His decision had rattled the ranks of the Buhari camp till he was prevailed upon to drop the idea by other stakeholders of the party and he did. The governorship ended up being his compensation.

Although his first shot at the presidency, it has since kept him in the equation as a constant mention of his name shows that Tambuwal might have become some kind of force to reckon with with broad support across Nigeria. A first time governor, he is not only eligilble for reelection, he does not seem to have any strong obstacle to achieving that. But as it is, the question is: will Tambuwal be willing to sacrifice certainty for uncertainty in 2019. And like Saraki, he belongs to a loosely coalesced group of friends that would make him a strong CONTENDER should he run for president in 2019.

Nasir El-rufai/ The gladiator

As far back as 2007, the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-rufai has had his eyes on the presidency as he strived to succeed former President Obasanjo, who appointed him the Minister for Federal Capital Territory. But his scheming failed as the former president had his reservations, even when he publicly admitted El-rufai was exceptionally brilliant.

But while he is currently a close ally of President Buhari, he is believed to have his eyes on the job. Even when he is one of those running around, insisting Buhari must serve another term, there is a swirling belief that he is merely waiting on the side to reap from what many think would be Buhari’s ultimate decision: the Mandela option.

Yet again, like Tambuwal, will El-rufai be willing to sacrifice his almost certain but tough re-election for a very tough presidential run? It appears El-rufai has been around for a while and knows quite well when to retreat at a battle front. For now, he intentionally does not come across as a strong contender except that he is waiting to cash-in on any sudden opening and with Rotimi Amaechi he belongs to a group of governors determined to influence who becomes President in 2019, with their first choice being president Buhari – and if Buhari does not run El- Rufai and Amaechi would be seeking the role for them selves thus many see him as a CONTENDER.

Donald Duke / The Idealist

Former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, is fondly referred to as Nigeria’s Barack Obama by the younger generation, because of his finesse and civilised politics of development and intellectual engagement. In fact, there is an unconfirmed story of how he narrowly missed being vice president, because he thought he was too good to be anybody’s running mate. But he has always nursed a presidential ambition.

He is now out to try a good shot at the presidency, riding on the crest of Obasanjo’s third force. Although prior to the emergence of Coalition for Nigeria, he had begun some subtle campaigns through proxies, who were using online platforms, the Obasanjo intervention provided a good start for him.

It is safe to assume, therefore, that he is not joking, only if time and chance permit. Many also see a fitting representation of the younger generation in a Duke. But whether his aspiration is in sync with the geo-political extrapolations is another factor that would be impossible to ignore. Meanwhile Donald Duke remains on the cards as a CONTENDER.

Aliko Dangote / The Disruptor

Coming from the United States of America, where billionaire businessman Donald Trump is the president and South Africa, where their new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is a successful business mogul, the idea of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Nigeria and Africa’s richest man, becoming president is beginning to generate sleepless nights for some persons.

Needless to say that Dangote has never said he was interested in the presidency and indeed tells everyone who approaches him that he is not. But the ruling elite class of Nigerians actually see the need for a man like him at this time in Nigeria’s history. They say he has grown a business from nothing to an intimidating global conglomerate and that he is de-tribalised with friends and associated from the six corners of Nigeria. They say what Nigeria needs now is a man who can combine business acumen with governance, a man who is tough and ruthless with corruption and indiscipline. They say he is rich, super rich indeed, but humble, open and assessable.

But this may as well remain the imagination of those conceiving the ideas as Dangote is not about to give their wish a thought let alone test the waters with it. But with a wrong choice as President in 2019, Dangote business empire and indeed the rest of the economy, would face headwinds if not peril. Should Dangote run, he will be not just a serious contender, but a formidable disruptor who will alter Nigeria’s political landscape for good.

Kingsley Moghalu / The idealist

Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, a political economist, lawyer and former United Nations official, is a Professor of Practice in International Business and Public Policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. In 2016, Moghalu founded the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation (IGET), a think tank focused on the achievement of inclusive economic growth and effective public policy in developing countries

Former President Umaru Yar’Adua appointed him Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria in November 2009, following his confirmation by the Nigerian Senate. As Deputy Governor of CBN from 2009 to 2014, he led the execution of extensive reforms in the Nigerian banking system after the global financial crisis. He was a member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee that brought inflation down into single digits.

He has remained a leading light in the private sector. There is, however, a feeling that brilliant and sound mind like Moghalu, who has created a lasting impression in the academia and private sector with shining example, can chart a truly developmental path for Nigeria and change the course of building the nation for good. He has taken up the challenge by walking his talk and has stated his intentions to be President. Some believe that he is neither a pretender nor a contender but has what it takes to do the job if handed the assignment.

But such assignments are not handed to idealists.

Ibrahim Dankwambo / The dark horse

The unassuming Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo does not hidden the fact that he nurses a presidential aspiration and to drive this, he has adopted an interesting approach. He seems to believe in the idea of endorsements and has been getting them in droves, a development now seen to be enhancing his visibility. Importantly, Dankwambo believes there is the need to ride on his performance record and has deployed more resources to selling his administration’s achievements in recent time. Dankwambo desires to be a contender; but it does not seem the odds might favour him, but he may be a compromise candidate of the opposition PDP as many of the party’s governors consider him as number two choice.