One year ago, the refrain by cynics and genuinely concerned Nigerians was-wherewithal the viable candidates to potentially challenge President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming 2019 general elections. Then after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) inexplicably shot itself in the foot with the expropriation of the party chairmanship from the South-west zone, thereby undermining its national spread, the refrain grew more cynical and disappointed and became where is the party that is sufficiently viable to give Buhari and APC a run for its money. And subsequently the refrain became-the opposition is disunited and incapable of working together and was thereby deemed, to this extent, a non-starter in a match up with the incumbent president. Further down the road, to the refrain of the projected obstacle race was added the prediction that the PDP cannot hold a successful presidential primary and that the fallout from the attendant crisis will cripple the party. All these were realistic doubts and valid indications of the uphill task inherent in challenging an entrenched and desperate incumbent.
Looking back now, the current viable and stable status of the opposition was nigh unthinkable one year ago. As 2019 drew near, the role fell on me to reassure those overcome with the spirit of doubting Thomas, that in politics one month could amount to eternity; that necessity is the mother of invention, that the pervasively shared public passion to sending Buhari packing is strong enough to impose its own logic, beat the divided opposition into shape and ensure all necessary course corrections along the way. I adverted attention to the instrumentality of down-to-the-wire brinkmanship, that there is a negative utility in a formless opposition not taking shape until the last minute-thereby limiting the latitude of the incumbent party to subvert and sabotage the opposition.
In the event, the hesitant and sporadic motion and movement culminating in the emergence of the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was so fluid and unpredictable that even people supposedly in the know were unable to make the right call until the final hours of the fateful primaries. The most conspicuous false lead was generated by the signal picked from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state, and the imposition of Port Harcourt as the venue of the convention. This was in furtherance and assertion of his Godfather complex over the affairs of the PDP including, especially, the determination of the presidential candidate.
Port Harcourt was supposed to work to the answer of crowning Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State as the presidential candidate of the party. And it does not detract from his rising political profile to express doubt in the ability of the Sokoto State Governor to grapple with the anticipated last ditch barrage from a wounded and cornered opponent. If he had successfully sailed to victory on the wings of Wike as against the widely applauded outcome that produced Atiku Abubakar, the fighting fit capacity of the party would have been poorer for the choice. We can only speculate on the vision of Wike for the PDP but his influence has fostered in the party a penchant for erratic and sometimes self-destructive behaviour.
It was at the initiative of the Rivers State Governor and his soul mate, Governor Ayodele Fayose that the PDP blundered into the disastrous enthronement of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the interim Chairman of the party. All who knew him very well predicted that, in the choice of Sheriff, the PDP had just procured a cure worse than whatever disease ails the party; and would rue the day the rabid sleeping dog was roused from its manic stupor.
Unfortunately, the fulfillment of this prescience had no sobering effect on the harbingers of the sheriff tragedy. At the next critical stage, Wike continued in the tradition of making questionable choices that were at variance with the imperative of growing and stabilising the party. For a party aiming for national political equilibrium and acceptance, the subversion of the prospect of the South-west zone to produce the party chairman, is meaningful only as a contradiction and obstruction of this objective. The full measure of this strategic blunder has, inadvertently, been further clarified by the decision of Abubakar to pick his running mate from the South-west-thus aggravating the PDP vacuum in the South-west.
Going forward, the emergence of the former vice president as the winner of the PDP primaries was the best case scenario but it came against the run of play and caught both foes and friends flatfooted. Among fellow aspirants, he was the one to whom the other aspirants may readily defer and concede primacy. His status as former vice president for eight years and the oldest amongst the lot renders him the senior contender to whom the others should have no problem yielding the right of way. Beyond Abubakar and been largely of the same generation and of relative equality of political status, any other outcome would have provoked the negative emotion of losing out in the context of peer rivalry among the other aspirants. Regardless of the transparency of the process, how would Bukola Saraki and Rabiu Kwankwaso have felt if Tambuwal had emerged the winner? Abubakar’s fabled wealth is a double edged sword but the perception of same readily inspires confidence in his ability to muster adequate resources to run the high stakes gamble of presidential campaign in Nigeria. And as his former principal, President Olusegun Obasanjo, accurately noted in his character witness on the viability of Abubakar’s candidacy-
‘For me, relatively and of all the aspirants in the PDP, you have the widest and greatest exposure, experience, outreach and possibly the best machinery and preparation for seeing the tough and likely dirty campaign ahead through. From what I personally know of you, you have capacity to perform better than the incumbent. You surely understand the economy better; you have business experience, which can make your administration business-friendly and boost the economy and provide jobs. You have better outreach nationally and internationally and that can translate to better management of foreign affairs. You are more accessible and less inflexible and more open to all parts of the country in many ways. As Pastor Bakare, one-time running mate of the incumbent President said, “You are a wazobia man.”
The challenge of responding to the South-west vacuum is going to prove the first major political test to confront Abubakar in his latest career as presidential candidate. More than many Nigerians, I have confidence in his capacity to successfully grapple with this challenge. It is a syndrome that is rooted in the decades old animus and suspicion between the South-west and the South-east fostered by a Nigerian historical context that predisposes both groups to be at daggers drawn. And there are enough grievances to go round to prove the bad faith of one another and why the gain of one is the loss of the other. With a Yoruba, Professor Yemi Osinbajo as the running mate to President Buhari, it is a vulnerability begging to be exploited by a presidential ticket that is otherwise bereft of a good record to run its campaign. But it also provides an opportunity to advance Nigerian politics beyond the negative Igbo/Yoruba rivalry stereotype and the attendant ill impulse to cut the nose in order to spite the face.
Given that Osinbajo is the incumbent vice president, the burden is on the Yoruba to make the hard choice. By my reckoning, that choice is made less problematic by three factors. One is the unmitigated failure of the Buhari presidency and its repudiation of the commitment to embark on a wholesome restoration of Nigerian federalism-which was the selling point of the ticket in the 2015 elections. Second, Osinbajo has made it his mission in rostrum after rostrum to trivialise and ridicule the Yoruba led advocacy for restructuring. Third is that, contrariwise, the whole Abubakar campaign pitch for the Nigerian Presidency is predicated on the advocacy of the constitutional restructuring agenda-which remains the main priority of the South-west.
But what is the guarantee that the PDP candidate will not similarly renege on this pledge? The most critical guarantee of his good faith is the political character of Abubakar. Unlike Buhari, he is a liberal Nigerian nationalist, cosmopolitan, self-assured and bridge builder. It is difficult to see how any Nigerian political leader invested with these qualities will not be persuaded of the imperative of the constitutional restructuring of Nigeria. Coming from a geo political constituency, namely the Muslim North, that largely remains unyielding to the advocacy for restructuring, he is the indispensable bridge builder to this crucial geo political bloc. Let me conclude with this prophecy from a Nigerian Patriarch. He said that sometime in January this year, a child was sent to fetch water with a calabash from a nearby stream. On the way back home, the calabash fell and got broken in pieces and with the pieces went the water in the container. He said the fate of this errand is the futility that awaits Buhari at the 2019 polls.
…AND KEYAMO LIED
“Caught the last few minutes of the altercation between the spokesmen of Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign organisations, Segun Sowumi and Festus Keyamo on ChannelsTV. In dismissing the debt cancellation feat of the Obasanjo government, Keyamo said there was “no wizardry” about it as it was a mere decision of G8 countries to grant debt forgiveness to some African countries in 2005 and Nigeria simply benefit ted. He went on to challenge Nigerians watching to Google the info and find out…Taking the cue, I googled for the information and found that the G8 debt cancellation for the 18 countries was a VERY different matter from the Nigeria debt write-off negotiation by the Obasanjo government with the London and Paris Clubs creditor nations. An article from 2005 from Stanford Graduate School of Business said, “Under the G8 proposal 18 nations (Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) as a group will be spared $1 billion to $2 billion per year in debt service for loans from lenders like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” I didn’t see Nigeria there.”