Now That Buhari Has Declared

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Monday Discourse

President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that he would seek a renewal of his mandate in 2019 has thrown up new issues‎. Tobi Soniyi, Segun James and Shola Oyeyipo explore the implications of the declaration for the polity

Few topics get politicians hot under their Agbada and Babariga as who becomes the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the event that President Muhammadu Buhari decides not to re-contest the position he now holds. But today, all that agitations have ended following the president’s declaration that he will be contesting again in 2019.
The president made his plan known to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of his party last Monday.
The president said he was responding to the clamour by Nigerians to re-contest in 2019 and added that he wanted to give NEC the honour of notifying it first.

No Surprise
No one should really be surprised by the decision of the president. The signs have also been there. Before the president made his intention known, THISDAY had reported that the president has appointed the Minister of Aviation, Rotimi Amaechi as director of campaign. If the president is not running, why would he appoint a director of campaign?

Some of his trusted lieutenants have also been travelling across the country to persuade people to support the president for a second term. Among other reasons, they claimed that the easiest way for the south to get power back is to support Buhari’s for a second term. They argued that whoever the opposition Peoples Democratic Party presents would seek a second term thereby denying the south the opportunity to produce the president in 2023.
In recent time, the president’s body language has shown that he was interested in a second time. Before the declaration, the president was already making peace with some of his estranged allies. He even went as far as constituting the National Leader of the party, Bola Tinubu into a one-man reconciliation committee.

Does Integrity Still Matter?

World over, politicians are known to be a bunch of liars and people who can not be trusted. When politicians want people’s votes, they make all sorts of promises. Many of them, they fail to keep. But Muhammadu Buhari promised to change that. So far, he has fallen short of that promise. For instance, the president promised that he would do only a singe term of four years. However, without even acknowledging the fact that he made this promise, the president announced his plans to seek another term.
In an interview he granted Sunday Trust four years before his victory, Buhari said he would contest for only one term due to his old age.
Also, 20 days after his swearing-in, Buhari made reference to the old age again, saying he would have loved being a president when he was at a younger age
The president made the one-term announcement in an interview conducted by Theophilus Abbah of Sunday Trust newspaper where he stated that he won’t seek re-election. It was published on February 6, 2011.

Excerpts from the interview read:
Q:You have been quoted as saying if you don’t win the election in 2011 you wouldn’t go to court?
A: Yes, I said that!
Q: Even if you have evidence that you are rigged out?
A: Having been in court for 50 months between 2003 and 2008, if I’m rigged out again, I will not go to court. I will leave the party to deal with the case. The CPC can, but I, as the presidential candidate, I’ve made up my mind never to go to court again on that issue.
Q: Is it because of the expenses involved?
A: There is the expenses, but look at what happened in 2007. The decision of the case split the Supreme Court in the middle. But look at what they came up with.
Q: Why did you say you will do just one term, if elected?

A: I’m not getting younger. If I succeed and do one term, I will be 73 years old.
Q: If you’re doing just one term, you may want to urgently do some things? What are they?
A: There are two issues and I have said it in one sentence. Security and power. This country has to be secured and managed. People in Nigeria must not go about fearing that they would be abducted. You must not be afraid to the point that you can’t drive from Kaduna to Kano any time of the day. If you are in Lagos, you should have jobs to the point that you can afford to have three shifts in a day. That is eight hours each. But people are now very scared wherever they are. People have built houses worth over a billion naira, but they are afraid to live in them. What is the use? So, security is number one.
Number two is structure. We have to revive the electricity sector so that people will have access to power to carry out their businesses. Others include the roads, the railways, the shipping lines. We used to have all these things. In spite of what we earned in the last eleven years, the whole infrastructure has already collapsed.
The president has just done what other Nigerians politicians will do. No qualms about that. But the president should be bold enough to admit that he is not fundamentally different from other politicians. He won in 2015 because people thought he was a different kind of politician. But in so many ways, he has proven not to be different.
Not long ago, former president Dr Goodluck Jonathan made a similar promised. When he reneged, his explanation was baffling. He had said then: “You can make a political promise and change your mind, so long as it is within the law.”
President Buhari will find that justification helpful. He can adopt it.
But, whether the president admits it or not, age is a factor. By the time of the election, the president would be getting close to 77. The president was being truthful when on 17 June 2015, he told Nigerians resident in South Africa, after taking part in the 25th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Johannesburg, that his performance would be limited by old age.
He said: “I wish I became Head of State when I was a governor, just a few years as a young man. Now at 72, there is a limit to what I can do.”

Closely related to his age is his state of health. He spent considerable numbers of days in hospital bed in the United Kingdom. He went on a six-day vacation in the UK on February 5, 2016.
Four months after, on June 6, 2016, he went on another 10-day vacation to attend to ear infection.
When he embarked on another medical vacation on May 7 2017, the president spent 104 days at the UK hospital.
Even after his return, he worked from home. With the president’s state of health, the nation is billed for a bumpy political ride if he wins re-election. The fear is real that should Buhari win a re-election, Nigerians may again have to live with a president who would spend several months abroad for treatment.

Buhari began his government with an impassioned plea for understanding by Nigerians in view of his age even as he made it clear that he was going to be his own man. (I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody.) Three years into his government, how good are his words? The president even refused to prosecute his friends who have been caught dipping their hands into the treasury.

Words matter. Or as the president has found out, Nigerians are taking him up on his words, especially his promise to do only a term of four years. He rode on the promise that his sole agenda is to rein in the unbridled level of corruption in the country which had practically made the nation to be scorned among the comity of nation.

He rode on this reputation as an anti corruption warrior who was overthrown by his colleagues because of his stance, but three years down the line, this reputation is fizzling away.

Since the declaration, things are suddenly hotting up in the polity as the tempo of the race towards 2019 election has increased tremendously. In the last few days, there have alignment and realignment in the system.
But what is the level of success recorded by the president in the last three years? Has the nation moved forward, both politically and economically? Has the president done enough to deserve a second term? These are some of the questions in the mind of the people as the president is not expected to have any opposition to his contesting from within his party.

Rage can be cathartic and constructive, but the outrage among Nigerians about how the president has managed thorny issues is telling. For instance his handling of the Fulani herdsmen issue and the series of killings by militias is an indication that the president is fast losing the trust of Nigerians.

To many Nigerians, especially in the political world, President Buhari has been an unmitigated disaster. They cried that the country has been stumbling and fumbling from one crisis to the other without any intellectual response to solving the problems.

In fact, some of them insisted that the country has been a laughing stock in the comity of nations as the president doesn’t seem to understand simple and basic things about the country, the people, the economy and the polity. To such Nigerians he was just a disaster that has happened to the country.

With a weak opposition and a very low political rating of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) among Nigerians, you would expect that Buhari will have little to fight about in the coming election, but unfortunately, the reverse is the case. Many Nigerian are determined to stop him from coming back.

Since his coming, Nigerians are not only groaning under economic recession, but the anti corruption mantra which was one of the main policy thrusts with which he got elected in 2015 has not been faithfully implemented. Corruption is now on the rise in the government, and brazenly done openly too.

According to Mr. Uche Obasi, “since his coming, the nation has been enmeshed in one avoidable crisis to another, both on the economy and politics. He is a huge disappointment because the expectations of the people were so high and urgent. They thought he was the expected messiah.”

Like the APC, the PDP may in fact be fielding another septuagenarian. Worst still, the party may field an expired politician. From whichever perspective you look at it, things are not looking good for the country. Hope that the country will be liberated is fading fast. What this means is that the choice for Nigerians is little and feeble.

Worse still for the country, there is a precarious similarity between the APC and the PDP. None of the party is likely to offer Nigerians a better choice. Whichever one of them wins the election, the people will be stranded on the same island without hope.

As the 2019 election date approaches, Nigeria has entered the period of break or win in its political life. Furthermore, the political terrain will become much tensed; and tolerance will be tested to the very limit of endurance.

But will Nigeria survive this period? Only time will tell.

Implications of the Declaration
Some of the rather unpopular governors, especially those from the north are likely to benefit from his declaration for the 2019 presidential election. A number of them will ride on his back to clinch a second term.

For instance, the comeback bid of the Kano State Governor, Abdulhai Ganuje, will benefit in no small measure from a second term contest of President Buhari in the sense that it would not have been easy for him to win a second term with his protracted war against him predecessor and benefactor, Senator Musa Kwankwaso.

But more importantly, when President Buhari opted to throw his hat in the ring by declaring for a second term, he has set the stage to slug it out with those who are antagonistic to his second term ambition, including some notable former leaders in the country.

Former military presidents, General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida, and former Nigerian defence minister, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, are considered as some of the prominent leaders Buhari would have to contend with to win a second term in office.

In his letter to Buhari, Obasanjo had categorically advised him to jettison the idea of seeking a second term on the grounds of non-performance. Obasanjo is one enemy too many. Apart from Obasanjo and the other Generals, Buhari will have to contend with formidable opponents in each state. For instance, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki will wait for him in Kwara State. In Taraba, he will have a tough job persuading the voters there to support him. In Benue, the president has not helped the people to make them feel like he deserves their votes for the second term. The president can as well forget the south-east and the south-south. If the PDP plays its cards very well, the south-west can swing.

Will his refusal to heed the clarion call to restructure the country come back to hunt him?

While many well-meaning Nigerians from the southern part of the country are resolute that it is only by restructuring that Nigeria can attain meaningful development, President Buhari and his APC have not been favourably disposed to the idea and that will play a dominant role is deciding the next Nigerian leader. Although, his party made a u-turn and later constituted a committee on restructuring, the president has distanced himself from the report of the committee.
Restructuring is going to be a campaign issue, the president would have to come up with a different narrative to persuade the people to support him even though he is against restructuring.

Already elements from the Southwest, South-south and South-south appear to be on the same page in their resolve to only support a candidate committed to restructuring. Though gradually becoming a disciple of restructuring, Buhari will not get the support from pro restructuring voters where it becomes defining factor in the coming election.
On the economic front, things are not looking good for the president. His developmental policies received a scathing criticism from one of the world richest men, Bill Gates.
Despite the president’s best efforts, unemployment remains very high notwithstanding the claim by the federal government that it has created million of jobs in agriculture. The president will have to make some explanation during the campaign on why he is unable to create jobs for Nigerian youths.

But the question on the lips of many Nigerians is if not Buhari, who? Though, PDP, as stated by its  National Secretary, Senator Umar Ibrahim Tsauri, expressed happiness that Buhari would experience downfall by deciding to contest for second term when he said: “The president’s decision is a welcome development as far as we are concerned in the PDP because that means Buhari will personally witness his defeat and that of his APC,” but the party does not really seem to have any reason to jubilate.

Not only was the PDP worst hit by the APC tsunami in 2015, the crisis that rocked the party and revelations of massive corruption among PDP members have practically paralysed the party till recently.

Even if the Buhari administration would contend with challenges ahead of his second term ambition, the PDP does not appear to pose a major threat.
There also does not appear to be a plan in place to stop the president despite the mounting opposition against him. The third force has not been able to galvanise the enthusiasm shown by the people into a political machine capable of stopping an incumbent.

Odds against Buhari
There is no gainsaying the fact that many factors stand between the president and his second term ambition. Some of such issues his opponents are already throwing up are; his old age – health condition, perceived support for killer herdsmen, state of the economy, widespread poverty, lopsided appointments, particularly among the service chiefs where 17 of the 19 positions were given to his kinsmen.

It is therefore safe to say the 2019 election will the president’s scorecard on how he handled the wanton killings by herdsmen. This is particularly so because of the swelling perception that he is looking the other way while the killers continue to perpetrate heinous crimes against other Nigerians.

Not many Nigerians, especially those who have been victims are happy with the leadership for not declaring killer herdsmen terrorists and ordering security agencies to clamp down on them.

Even if President Buhari would win a second term, he has a lot of work to do to convince a significant proportion of the voting public that he is still the best choice for Nigeria at 76 years, because presently, the growing perspective is that the younger generation should be allowed to lead the country henceforth.

Already, the likes of young and vibrant leadership trainer, Fela Durotoye, are warming up for the presidential race. Fela is relying on Nigerians, his youthfulness and antecedents to take over power from Buhari. He hopes to actualise his ambition on the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) platform.

Anti-Buhari forces attributed the sicknesses the president experienced at the onset of his regime to the demands of the office of the president, which they say is too hard for a 75-old, the more reason some have said he should rather quit.

The die is cast. But the odd still favours the president.