The tradition of supporters of incumbent presidents insisting that there is no alternative to their candidate, is being challenged in the run up to the 2019 general elections, writes Shola Oyeyipo
It started way back in 1982 at the twilight of the first term of Second Republic President Shehu Shagari. As his tenure drew to a close and challengers began to emerge, positioning to upstage him in ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), his loyalists, particularly, Umaru Dikko, now late, who coordinated his presidential campaign in 1979, told the aspirants not to waste their time as there was no vacancy to jostle for. For now, he told the presidential hopeful, to go find something else to do as there was no alternative candidate to Shagari the incumbent.
The tradition has endured all through the third to the fourth republic. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the no alternative to the incumbent chant has been a clichÃ© that has gathered vigour by the day. In 2003, as challengers rose against President Olusegun Obasanjo, his main enforcer in his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tony Anenih, minced no words in telling everyone eyeing the presidency to forget it as there was â€œno vacancy in Aso Rockâ€ because the there was â€œno alternativeâ€ to the occupier of the office.
By 2014, it was the turn of the cheerleaders of President Goodluck Jonathan to sing the familiar song. In his own case, the drive to fence others within the party, led to a huge crisis that divided the PDP and eventually consumed him. While they prevented an alternative candidate from emerging in the party, they were unable to prevent an alternative president from emerging in the general election as the opposing All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) won the coveted seat.
Interestingly, Buhari, who benefitted bountifully from the â€œno alternativeâ€ debacle of Jonathan is not about to kill the tradition as his supporters have also begun to mouth the chant.
First to sing was Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who as far back as 2016 said the Buhari-led administration was on the right track and that there was no alternative to what it was doing. In 2017, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, re-echoed Mohammedâ€™s position that Nigeria has no alternative to Buhari in the forthcoming presidential election. On the chorus have been Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; APC chieftain, Mr. Preye Aganaba; lawmaker representing Oyo Central, Senator Fatai Buhari; the Chairman, South-west chapter of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Tokunbo Korodo; and a host of others who have at various times chorused the same mantra.
But there are several emerging odds that might make Buhariâ€™s road to 2019 rough and stop this â€œno alternativeâ€ song. They include age, ill-health, restructuring, unaddressed herdsmen killings, the economy, intra party politics and his vanishing goodwill, which is reflected in the opposition against him among some former heads of state and national leaders. Some of these have developed into full blown issues of public discourse.
A couple of weeks ago, the Northern Eldersâ€™ Forum (NEF) rose from a meeting, expressing disappointment with the performance of Northerners in government at all levels. It announced that it had begun the search to replace the present crop of leaders, presumably including Buhari, in 2019.
Without a doubt, Buhari had tried to rise up to the occasion, particularly in the areas of security and the fight against corruption, which his supporters are clinging to but there are many questions hanging, answers to which would determine whether majority of the voting populace would consider retaining him in office.
Among many other issues, the 2019 election might be a referendum on how the president has handled the wanton killings by herdsmen. There is a growing perception though that he is condoning the killers by not declaring them terrorists and taking stiffer measures to stop them.
This view is shared by notable Nigerians like former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd); former Director General, Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and former Director-General, State Security Service (SSS), Chief Albert Horsfall; and Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka.
It would, therefore, take extra efforts to persuade many, who have lost their loved ones and bread winners to the murderous herdsmen to consider Buhari as the only alternative. Truth is, just as the president was able to raise issues against Jonathan in the handling of Boko Haram, candidates from opposition parties will certainly make mountains out of herdsmen matter.
The presidentâ€™s attitude towards the agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria may leave its proponents looking for an alternative to him. Clearly, if he continues to dilly-dally on the matter, he might lose a significant number of the Southern votes to whichever candidate promises to bring about the restructuring of the federation.
Recently, the National Leader, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark; Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson; PDP National Vice Chairman, South-south, Chief Emmanuel Ogidi; and Horsfall, insisted that the federal government must restructure Nigeria before the 2019.
What that means is that leaders in the region and their people want restructuring. They will rather negotiate with anyone, who promises them true federalism and more importantly, leaders from the South-west and South-east are on the same page with their South-south counterparts on the need to restructure Nigeria.
For the umpteen time, it is safe to say if Buhari and the APC refuse to heed the yearnings of Nigerians for restructuring, they only stand to lose a huge support base in the entire South and for some political analysts, the likes of former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has been canvassing restructuring, could benefit significantly.
Age is another factor that will also throws up a different dimension to the debate in the coming election. Already, at no point in Nigeriaâ€™s political history have the Nigerian youths been so challenged to take up leadership and there are already clear indications that some youth candidates will target votes among the youth.
They have been spurred by the â€˜Not Too Young to Run Billâ€™ recently passed by the National Assembly in July 2017, which cuts down the age requirement for anyone aspiring to be president from 40 to 35 years; while a 30-year-old can now run for governor. The bill also stipulates that a 25-year-old can now legislate in the National and State Assemblies.
Last week, while receiving the leadership of a new political movement, New Nigeria (NN), led by Mr. Moses Siloko Siasia at his Hilltop residence in Minna, the Niger State capital, Babangida advised that a new generation of political leaders should take over from the present crop of politicians at the helm of affairs.
The former military president was quoted to have said he and other like-minds proposed as far as back as 1989, the possibility of handing over the countryâ€™s leadership to younger people, who had the passion and zeal to propel it on the path of development and growth but that the older generation was recalcitrant then.
Babangida is not alone in his opinion that Nigeria could progress better in the hands of younger generation, which he said â€œis more adventurous and full of fresh ideas.â€
A lot of youths are already showing more than passing interests in the presidency. One of such is young and vibrant leadership trainer, Fela Durotoye, who recently indicated his presidential ambition. He is banking on Nigerians, his youthfulness and antecedents to unlock and take over from Buhari. He has joined the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).
However, while some Nigerians are sceptical about his ability to run for the office of president, he is looking to capitalise on the lack of feeling of personal responsibility and indifference towards personal obligation to participate in voting by a lot of Nigerians, especially the youth population.
It shouldnâ€™t be surprising that more youths like Fela are already fine-tuning their strategies to join the race. The implication is simply that instead of the usual two horse race between the ruling party and one strong opposition, some of the so-called smaller parties are prepared to feature youths on their platforms, so more votes will be split among the contenders.
Also an issue is the age and health of Buhari. Many say he is too old with fragile health and should not seek re-election. Anti-Buhari forces have attributed his sicknesses to the demands of the office of the president, which they say is too hard for a 75-old.
But the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Shettima Usman Yerima, does not share this sentiment. His take is that the North should present another candidate for the 2019 presidency on the grounds that President Buhari has â€œfailed.â€
He argued that the North needs a â€œvibrantâ€ presidential candidate in the next general election, adding that age would be a vital factor in determining the â€œalternativeâ€ to Buhari in 2019.
Joining the debate, a Bauchi-based politician, Professor Abubakar Malami, thinks it is too early to pass judgment on the chances of Buhari in the 2019 polls.
Saying though many of Buhariâ€™s reforms are yet to bring the desired results, he argues that this has not diminished his stature among his core supporters. â€œOne can therefore safely conclude that Buhari is still the man to beat in 2019,â€ he said. Malamiâ€™s optimism is shared by Mallam Gidado Ibrahim, Chairman of Northern Alternative Forum (NAF), who said the search for an alternative to Buhari would be a â€œwild a goose chase.â€