Buhari Undecided as Opponents Falter: Where Goes Nigeria in 2019?


Abimbola Akosile

Less than a year, precisely 313 days, to the 2019 general elections, the nation’s political landscape is still hazy, as President Muhammadu Buhari remains undecided on whether he would make a second bid for his office even as potential presidential aspirants in his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and other parties, including the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are hesitant to step forward.

Notwithstanding the controversy over the reordering of the sequence of election contained in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, which has been vetoed by the president, it would have been expected that the country would be in an electioneering frenzy by now, particularly after the release of the electoral calendar by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) earlier in the year.

The electoral commission had fixed the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 while the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections are to hold two weeks later on March 2, 2019. But intra parties preparations for the elections, including primaries for the nomination of candidates, are to begin on August 18 and end on October 7, 2018.

Nothing demonstrates the lethargy in the polity more than the fact that four months to the scheduled nomination primaries of the political parties, no serious bid is being made by any of the 11 presumed aspirants THISDAY listed in its February 25, 2018 edition.

They included the incumbent, Buhari; former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu; former Governors Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano State) and Donald Duke (Cross River State); Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna) and Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe); former CBN Deputy Governor, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu; and multi-billionaire business mogul, Aliko Dangote.

Although political analysts have adduced several probable reasons for the lull, a substantial number of them apprehend Buhari’s indecision on his presidential future as the main reason responsible for the hesitation by presumed contestants. They contend that while many of the possible aspirants in the ruling APC might be holding back because Buhari is most likely to have first right of refusal, opposition parties, particularly, the PDP’s contenders might be taking their time largely because of the intense covert power game in their parties.

Buhari had told some APC governors of Northern extraction that visited him at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in February, to persuade him to run again in 2019 that he was taking his time to contemplate the possibility and that he would make his decision known as soon as he makes up his mind.

A few weeks ago, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, broached the issue in a media interview and said the president was keeping his decision to his close to his chest, particularly because he would not want his government to be saboutage.

The immediate implication of the president’s mum on the rerun is that he has left several others in his party, including Tinubu, el-Rufai, Tambuwal and Kwankwaso, who are believed to have a burning desire to take his seat, undecided too.

In the main opposition party, the PDP, where the defection of Atiku had been expected to increase the tempo of activities, all is also quiet as the party struggles to recover from its post-December 9, 2017 National Convention crisis, which has seen some of its founding members leaving for the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The general lull, in the face of growing disenchantment with the Buhari administration has left many political observers confounded, asking: “Where goes Nigeria in 2019?” Will the country be stuck with Buhari or will a new aspirant spring a surprise out of the blues? The answer blows in the wind even as the 11 presumed aspirants earlier listed by THISDAY remain in contention albeit in deep silence.

Muhammadu Buhari / Still the man to beat

The incumbent, Buhari still maintains a stoic silence over his re-election in 2019 even though he is constitutionally entitled to a second term of office. Since his pronouncement at the State House during the visit of APC governors in February, 2019, and his hint at a possible presidential run, first at a summit on terrorism in Abidjan, C’ote d’Voire and second, when he visited Kano State in February, he has avoided the issue.

But the closest to further hint of a presidential contest was a press interview granted by his media adviser, Adesina, last month that he was still keeping a decision close to his chest to avoid political saboutage of his government.

Atiku Abubakar

Seen as the most prepared and experienced of the other contenders outside of the ‘incumbency weight’ of the present occupier, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who has never hidden his desire to rule Nigeria, made a deft political move recently when he moved from the APC to the PDP apparently to realise his ambition.

However, since he joined the PDP, apart from a few visits to some governors and attendance at high profile public functions where he seized the opportunity to make statements critical of the Buhari government, he has been very active even within the PDP.

Rabiu Kwankwaso

Unlike Atiku, Kwankwaso has been quite active, particularly in his Kano home base where he is having a running battle with his erstwhile deputy, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, who is solidly behind Buhari.

In spite of the hostility at home, Kwankwaso has continued to move around the political circles, canvassing for support. But he too, has been somewhat circumspect in apparent effort not to be seen to be confronting Buhari.

Bukola Saraki

Though he has till date not declared any presidential ambition in a Buhari era, Saraki’s desire for the job is well-known. A magnificent political strategist with a national network, the incumbent President of the Senate has continued to bid his time even as he holds the National Assembly firmly in spite of his travails at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, where he undergoing trial for alleged concealment of assets.

Saraki has made it clear that he would not step forward against Buhari. But he is believed to be working towards retaining his senatorial seat as a prelude to second term as Senate president.

Bola Tinubu

Sometime ago, THISDAY published an exclusive story suggesting that the APC National Leader was organising to contest the presidency. While not denying his interest, he nonetheless put out a rebuttal, saying he would entertain the ideal unless Buhari is disinterested.

Thought to have been side-lined in the last two and half years of the Buhari administration, Tinubu appears to have made a massive come-back in last few months with the president saddling him with the task of settling the quarrels among disenchanted members and reuniting the party.

He has also been very visible around the president and this year’s colloquium held to mark his birthday that was attended by Buhari was seen as a relaunch of the president’s South-west presidential campaign for 2019. So clearly Tinubu for now is not in the race.

Aminu Tambuwal

The man THISDAY called the fox in its February 25, 2019 edition review, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal has remained foxy. Largely quiet at the seat of the Caliphate, the shy faced governor is speculated to be making some underground moves to team up with some elements in the opposition PDP to make a presidential bid.

Although he has denied this severally, watchers of the political scene still think he has something cooking. For now, however, his presumed presidential ambition remains speculative.

Nasir el-Rufai

Recent activities of the Kaduna State Governor el-Rufai, who is also known to be interested in the presidential job, suggest that he might have put the idea on hold, pending the end of Buhari’s tenure. He was one of the Northern governors that approached Buhari in February to persuade him to declare his intention to rerun. He is also known to, along with the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to coordinating a group preparing the ground for Buhari’s second term campaign.

Donald Duke

Described as an idealist by THISDAY in its first review, Duke has increased his public visibility, a move believed to demonstrate his seriousness for the contest.

Beyond his lead role in the formation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo inspired Coalition for Nigeria, it is not clear on what platform the former governor of Cross River State would run. Even the coalition he has helped to raise has not put forward any coordinated plan that could lethally injure Buhari’s possible run.

Aliko Dangote

Though seen as a good material for the job given his wealth of experience and runaway success in the business world, multi-billionaire Dangote remains apolitical and uninterested in taking the prefix president of Nigeria. He obviously prefer to retain his influential position as big businessman and industrialist with huge access to the corridors of power.

Kingsley Moghalu

Another eloquent idealist in the mix, Moghalu, a political economist, lawyer and former United Nations official, has since publicly declared his ambition and he known to be organising for a major push for the presidency.

The major challenge to his candidacy, however, is the weight of his platform, which might be able to withstand the rigour of a fight with the heavyweights like APC and PDP. Moghalu 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.