The Road to 2019: Flashpoints to Watch (IX)


The  state of play and build-up to next year’s general election remains fluid, writes Olawale Olaleye

Last week came with its own surprises in the build-ups to next year’s elections, but there was no  significant  game changer. The post primaries bounce for The PDP – People Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar presidential run seem to have ebbed as the campaign organisation go into planning committees expecting to return with a big bang effect once the campaigns get underway; the lingering internal malcontents in the All Progressives Congress (APC) took a rather intriguing twist in the week that just ended. National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole had a rather special, but curious, invitation from an improbable quarter – the Department of State Security (DSS).

His invitation was predicated on some still unproven bribe-for-ticket allegations by some members of the party and from about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, when he arrived at the office of the security agency, he did not leave for some eight hours. Indeed, there have been different accounts of what transpired with the DSS, and who leaked the information, the summary of his visit is that it is not yet uhuru for the hard hitting chairman and his traducers.

After the ordeal, Oshiomhole traveled abroad immediately to cater for his dear wife who was hospitalised in the USA. He returned Friday night to a chat with journalists in Lagos.  Emerging details indicate that Oshiomhole may not have been  the only APC National Working Committee member chatting with the spy agency raising concerns about the role of the security agency in the internal affairs of political parties. The concerns increased amongst diplomats covering Nigeria when the opposition PDP praised the action of the DSS and even asked Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the INTERPOL to apprehend the ruling party Chairman. One diplomat told THISDAY in Abuja last week  that PDP should rather be careful what they wish for. “should the tables turn and the DSS go after PDP, they should not cry foul!”.

That notwithstanding, there were other positive developments in the week. Apart from the list of some of the successful candidates of different parties that was released by INEC, the electoral body has also begun to clean up its register ahead of 2019, a move that was responsible for the delisting of about 300,000 non-eligible voters.

Besides, INEC also received an endorsement from the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, who expressed optimism that INEC would conduct a credible election in 2019. The US ambassador also used the opportunity to dismiss speculations that the US had a preferred candidate in next year’s election.

But INEC received some spanking from a prominent rights lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, who advised that the commission should have rejected all the names of candidates submitted to it by the APC, because he could prove that there was nowhere the party held primaries. He described the APC appeal panel as a huge embarrassment and contradiction to political sanity as everyone knows it.


All Cleared But One

The list of candidates released in the week by INEC must have left the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha hugely distraught as the name of his candidate and son-in-law, Uche Nwosu was conspicuously missing.

While INEC recognised Hope Uzodinma as the APC candidate in Imo, it recognised Senator Ifeanyi Ararume and Emeka Ihedioha as candidates of APGA and the PDP respectively. But Nwosu was not on INEC’s radar.

What is however certain is that Okorocha is not giving up yet. Aside from going to court, what he does next from here is the thing no one knows. But that he would take it in his stride is likely not characteristic of his huge ego, which therefore makes Imo a constant place to watch.


A Chance Campaign

This is one state that has made good use of a rare opportunity to sell his re-election ticket. The deeply unpopular Governor Mohammed Abubakar of Bauch State, while addressing a delegation of Islamic scholars from the Kingdom of Morocco, Algeria, United States of America, Malaysia and Senegal under the leadership of the Grand Khalifa of Tijjaniya, Sheikh Muhammadu Kabir, who paid him a courtesy visit at the Government House, reiterated his resolve to be fair to all, irrespective of religion, creed or status.

Needless to say that the governor’s emergence as the candidate of the APC was by the whiskers, let alone not factoring into consideration the recent position of some stakeholders, who insisted the party as at today does not have a governorship candidate because there was no primaries to start with which connotes a mix bag of confusion, however,  while there are those who hold the view that if the governor deploys political diplomacy and sustains his current outreach, what stands before him might not be too difficult to surmount. At the end, will Governor Abubakar be punished by the Bauchi electorate and they had done with former Governors like Ahmadu Muazu and Isa Yuguda? Time will tell.


Holding Down the Dynasty

On the surface, it appears the leader of the PDP in Kwara State and the strongman of the state, Dr. Bukola Saraki is not ruffled by whatever is going on around him. That may not be correct. Those close to him say he has only grown to develop such thick skin that even if his house was on fire, he would be smiling while putting out the fire.

This is why, in spite of mounting opposition against him, he has carried on as if all is well. His recent donation of N10 million to flood victims in the state and in his capacity as the political leader of the state could not have come at a more auspicious time. While his opponents would talk their way to nothing, including slinging mud, he activates action plan and remains practical. He is still the man to beat in Kwara.

Akwa Ibom

A Smart Investment Plan

It could not have been anything but a well-timed campaign move by the Akwa Ibom State Government, which recently disclosed a plan to float a State Security Trust Fund that would assist security personnel in the state, who might be injured or die in the course of fighting crimes in the state. The executive bill is being packaged already for legislative backing.

Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Onofiok Luke, who disclosed this development, said the executive and the legislature were interfacing to be able to come up with the Trust Fund. He however stated that for the record, the Executive Bill was the brain-child of Governor Udom Emmanuel.

For a governor whose re-election challenge appears very difficult, given all that had happened in the state in the last few months, such moves could not have come at a better time. But how well such initiatives are received and interpreted by the people is a big deal in thinking good strategy at such a time.


Courting a Crucial Constituency in the face of unaccountability

Another smart move came from the stable of the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, who last week gave an ultimatum of two weeks for the bottleneck affecting payment of pensions to be resolved. The governor reportedly held an emergency meeting with the State Chairman of the NLC, executives of Nigerian Union of Pensioners and some representatives of pensioners facing problems with payment over bottlenecks arising from ongoing data capturing and standardisation of pensioners’ payments in Borno State.

He was said to have immediately set up a committee made up of representatives of all stakeholders ‎including some journalists and gave the committee two weeks ultimatum to ensure all concerns regarding the biometrics are cleared in order to ensure that pensioners, whose data and other documentation are yet to be captured, begin to receive their pensions like a majority of others already collecting theirs after passing through the biometric.

For a governor, who is determined to put a chosen  successor in office despite mounting opposition, courting a very crucial constituency in the state was not just smart but intelligent. The pensioners can conveniently compete with the youth in terms of population and locking down this demography may be strategic thinking. But the questions facing the Borno Governor remain: what he has done with the billions of federal allocations and  funding from international donor agencies in a state stymied by Book Haram – when most citizens have relocated to the state capital? Is there a nexus between this unaccountable funding situation and the continuing Boko Haram insurgency?


Some More Big Wins

One of the few governors that have savoured good standing from a vantage position is the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who has continued to count both on his record of performance and relationship with his people.

He scored some more big wins in the week when some foreign envoys – the European Union and Netherlands – acknowledged his efforts and development initiatives. It didn’t end there. Nkanu East, a critical population in the state also endorsed him in the week, thus swelling the list of endorsements in the state.

But this would have suffered a bit had the moves by the opposition in the state gone unaddressed. The opposition had accused the governor of abandoning an iconic high-life musician from the state, Chief Mike Ejeagha, a development the camp of the government didn’t find funny.

But Ugwuanyi didn’t just take it in his strides. He immediately put a lie to the speculation by paying an unscheduled visit to the man, who out of excitement endorsed him for a second term in office. That was another political knockout believed to have sent the opposition to Siberia.


Moving on to the Next Phase

Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai was under attack for the whole of last week for picking another Muslim, Hadiza Abubakar Balarabe as his running mate since the current deputy governor, Barnabas Bala has secured a ticket to go to the senate.

But the hullabaloo generated by this didn’t move el-Rufai a bit. On the contrary, he has moved on to the next phase of his journey to 2019 by appointing his new running mate as the ‘Senior Adviser-Counsellor’ with immediate effect.

A statement signed by Samuel Aruwan, governor’s spokesperson disclosed this. She is currently the Executive Secretary of the State Primary Health Care Development Agency. Governor el-Rufai thinks this move would enable her understand the workings of the government as well as prepare her for the task ahead.

Like or revile him, el-Rufai is one governor, who appears to know his way around the corridor of power and is proving this by waltzing his way through all that he desires.


Misplacing the Priorities

Unlike other governors, who were reported to be making some smart choices as efforts that would ease their journey to 2019, reports from Kogi revealed something else, in addition to the fact that the state hardly churns out positive news.

This time, it was said that rather than pay civil servants and pensioners, who are owed many months salaries and pensions, the governor has been paying his political appointees. This move is being described by a majority of observers in the state as clearly misplaced. Indeed, many of them see next election as a major test case for the governor’s election in 2020 since his office would not be up for grab next year.


Entangled by Conflicting Interests

It was not unexpected that the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole expressly pointed to  the still implacable  Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun and his counterpart from Imo State, Rochas Okorocha as those behind his recent ordeal. The trio has had a bad engagement in the last few weeks, following the October 2 primary election of the party. But Amosun has since, expectedly, come out to deny any such thing. He would rather the chairman addressed the allegations against him and stopped pointing fingers.

The Ogun situation remains interesting, because in spite of the alleged intervention by President Muhammadu Buhari,  the primaries conducted by the Oshiomhole – led APC which produced Billionaire Dapo Abiodun as candidate, remains sacrosanct. Aside from moving against the National Chairman, the Governor is also moving against Dapo Abiodun’s support base. Last week he got the presidency to change Bode Mustapha as Chairman Designate of NDIC – replacing him with his commissioner and one time Governorship aspirant, Ronke Sofekun and has refused any deal with Dapo Abiodun. The question here is: who will placate Ibikunle Amosun ? Will he throw Ogun to the opposition?


Still Serving the Silent Treatment

It still beats the imagination of many that suddenly, the Zamfara State Governor, Abdula-Aziz Yari has decided to keep quiet in the midst of all that he is going through. Not a name of one person has been admitted from the state by INEC. Zamfara was one state that was badly caught in the shenanigan that typified the APC primary.

Efforts to resolve this had been made difficult by the position of Oshiomhole, who sacked the panel meant to conduct the primary. And like Imo and Ogun, Zamfara has since been left in the lurch. Certainly, he has his plans but whatever it is, is what is not known. Pray it does not undo the party.


Eyes on the Future

It was not surprising to hear some people lately attempting to rationalise why Governor Akinwunmi Ambode failed to clinch his re-election ticket. Truth is that the state has moved on from that stop. Ambode and the duo of Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Obafemi Hamzat had bridged the gulf between them and focused on winning the next election.

Ironically, despite being the government in power, they have left nothing to chance in going all out for the 2019 elections. Although there are still some eligible Lagos voters, who did not like the way Ambode was treated, some of them have been impressed with the way the APC had gone on with its campaigns.

Perhaps, the PDP would take a cue now that its candidate, Jimi Agbaje has appointed a worthy running mate in the person of Mrs. Haleemat Busari, a law graduate from the University of Lagos, who was on the board of several companies, including being a director in First Bank, Sierra Leone. But things are yet to pick up as expected in the camp of the PDP, short of hiding behind INEC’s embargo on campaign.


No Retreat, No Surrender

The situation in Kano is both troubling and disappointing for many APC members. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has been accused of bribery through many videos that have now saturated the system. The development has prompted the state assembly to commence investigation, which ultimately might culminate in his impeachment and subsequent removal.

But the governor has been consistent too in his denial. He claimed the videos were doctored and that he never collected bribe. This encouraged him to approach a court to stop the assembly from probing him, a request that was granted.

Unfortunately, the assembly has refused to take heed of the court injunction and gone ahead with their investigation. The situation is still not looking good for the governor yet, except something significantly dramatic happens.


Stemming the Tide of Uncertainty

Rivers State APC is going through what someone described as three major phases: legal, judicial politics and politics proper. The legal is the matter as it were in court and awaiting adjudication based on the facts before it. The judicial politics is also the ability of the actors to understand the swing of the judiciary and able to play their game accordingly. The third, however, which is the politics proper, is the issue of who the party fields as its candidate. It is the most important.

The issue of the primary and how it is affected by the court ruling is not seen by a majority of party men as a big deal. Even if the state executive is not coming back or grossly affected, the fact that the primary is conducted by the national leadership of the party excites party men, more so that the NWC has already submitted the name of their choice candidate, Mr. Tonye Cole.

Thus, with the political coast a bit clear, all efforts and attention are being diverted to the legal and judicial politics, which hopefully APC members reckon would yield positive result.

The PDP is however not as relaxed as expected. With growing suspicion that the ruling party in the state has a hand in the APC crisis, Rivers election promises to be one of the most interesting and also violent to be witnessed.

Situating the Presidential Run

The major engagement here last week was when the two camps of President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar stepped up to each other over the fuel price regime. PDP  had promised that Atiku would  reduce the current fuel price, a move that forced Buhari to come out to engage him. That was however considered a worthy development by many voters, who had clamoured for an issue-based debate.