The Road to 2019: Flashpoints to Watch (XII)

With the governorship campaigns officially kicking off at the weekend and the presidential candidates now taking their campaigns to the field, the battle for 2019 has been further fired up, writes Olawale Olaleye

Last week witnessed elevated interest in the coming elections as individuals and groups had started to speak out on the need to have, not just a credible, free and fair election, but one that is devoid of violence. What made this particularly instructive is the fact that the elections have continued to generate deserving international interest.

But not many were shocked when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the primaries conducted by the various political parties ahead of the 2019 elections, were the most rancorous in the history of Nigeria. It just might be another note for file as everyone journeys towards next year.

Similarly, the European Union (EU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had agreed in principle to pursue and sustain a common political engagement that would produce free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in Nigeria and other West African countries.

The two regional blocks however identified the current security situation in Nigeria as a threat to the success of the 2019 elections if not nipped in the bud, adding that the challenging general security environment called for increased effort in dealing with the threats.

On a different scale, national chairmen of 91 political parties on the platform of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) resolved recently to pull out of the 2019 general election, if the amendment to the Electoral Act was not signed by President Buhari. The issue raised is germane, their threat is insipid.

But the Civil Society Joint Action Committee, a coalition of civil society organisations, has warned against likely election and post elections violence in about 20 states.
The Senior Team Manager for the Africa Programme of the Open Society Justice Initiative, Chidi Odinkalu, while briefing journalists in Abuja, said the rise in violent killings across Nigeria in 2018 is a cause for worry as the country is yet to record a single week in which multiple violent killings were not reported.

While alerting all stakeholders in Nigeria to its fears, it listed the states to include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Plateau, Bayelsa, Borno, Zamfara, Kaduna, Cross River, Bauchi, Oyo, Yobe, Benue, Kogi, Nassarawa, Imo, Osun, Ondo and Kano.

But the National Peace Committee headed by a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) has listed conditions for peaceful elections in 2019 and urged political parties to adhere to issue-based campaigns. The committee and the political parties therefore agreed to adopt the 2015 code of conduct model to ensure peaceful and credible conduct of the general election.

Thus, to consolidate the peace efforts, the committee said political parties would meet on December 11 to formally sign a peace agreement for the conduct of the elections.
However, disturbed by the possibilities of the unintended, National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, recently called on the Chairman of INEC, Yakubu, to resign over his alleged inability to conduct free, fair and credible election. He also called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Idris Ibrahim, to resign, because police officers were being used to undermine the democratic process. He spoke during the 83rd PDP National Executive Committee meeting in Abuja.

Generally, events are fast building up and with ban lifted across the board on political campaigns, it is expected that the polity would heat up in the coming weeks and campaigns fired up. Having said that, how are the campaigns coming up across the states?

The Changing Equation
With the window for substitution effectively closed, Ogun State politics has assumed its true picture in almost all the parties, at least, the major ones. With the APC parading Dapo Abiodun, PDP fielding Senator Buruji Kashamu, APM throwing in Adekunle Akinlade and ADC excited about Gboyega Isiaka as its candidate, the floor is open for all to prove their mettle.

In the APC, for instance, whilst Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s choice candidate, Adekunle has left the party for APM, the governor stayed back in APC, holding down his structure. That would present some tricky game, which places the APC at risk particularly at the governorship run.
Clearly, the ruling party is approaching the election as a divided house and how much of discomfort that would bring its way is yet to be seen. In the same line of thought, it is also yet to be seen how such a situation would pay off for Akinlade in his APM.

The PDP is not having a good time either. The national leadership of the party is not happy with the choice that INEC was forced to accept and it is still in court on that account. But can Kashamu pull this off, ultimately? That would be seen in due time. Besides, the influence of the other candidate preferred by the PDP leadership in the state, Ladi Adebutu cannot be undermined, given the weight of his father. Will he play the spoiler or run along? Time will tell.
However, it might as well be that Isiaka is waiting on the wings to reap from all the contradictions in virtually all the parties. Indeed, many believe that apart from being financially handicapped, he could be the underdog to reap from all that is happening in all the parties.

Hitting the Reset Button
The outcome of a federal bye-election in Kwara State some two weeks ago might have forced the ruling party in the state, the PDP to return to the drawing board and review its current standing. Although a very tight race, which exposed the use of might by the federal government, with key state institutions believed to have been compromised at the time, the PDP claimed it saw the result coming and was not disturbed by it.
Thus, with the latest development which saw the state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed relinquishing his senate ticket as part of moves to accommodate and appease other aggrieved tendencies in the state, the PDP is believed to have embraced a very smart option, which many believe could tweak the equation.
It does not appear like the state would be a battleground as many are insinuating especially, after the bye-election, the signs are still clear that the PDP and the Saraki family still hold the ace in Kwara. However, the election won’t be a walkover.

A Fresh Start
Next year’s election in Abia State is not going to be easy especially for the APC. With a recent court judgment, which reportedly disqualified Uche Ogah as the party’s candidate, moving on from this phase appears a tough option for the party.
This is particularly so in a state known to be home to the opposition, especially an opposition that seems to be enjoying an enviable degree of popularity – the type based on performance and leadership disposition.
As it is, the APC might have to rejig a whole lot of things in readiness for the battle that stares it in the face. But its chances might have been greatly affected, at least, following the court ruling.

An Option Foretold
It was not surprising to many that the choice candidate of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Uche Nwosu, who incidentally is his son-in-law, has eventually left the APC for another party, DPP. Suffice it to say that he fought a good fight whilst in the APC but the forces against him were more than those angling for him.

However, the electoral battle in Imo is not going to be an easy one. Okorocha would fight really hard to stay relevant and would give his all for this election. Although he, like the Ogun scenario, did not go with his son-in-law, he certainly would be with him all through in this adventure. The Imo electoral battle is definitely going to be a survival of the fittest, the consequence of which none of the actors is oblivious of.

Shape of Things to Come
It has come to the open that the reason candidate of the PDP, Jimi Agbaje has been somewhat quiet was because he did not want to, like his APC counterpart, violate any electoral law, a decision many observers have now come to appreciate lately.
In fact, given the force with which Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the APC had been going about, Agbaje had been written off by many people as too unserious for a state like Lagos. But he however had his reason which was considered legit and sensible.

But the level that some alleged thugs of the APC were beginning to take things in Lagos is unlike Lagos’ cosmopolitan approach to election. There were allegations that most of Agbaje’s campaign posters on the third mainland bridge and other places were destroyed a night or two ago. That shows gross intolerance and political commentators are worried that it could signal a descent to violent campaigns if not tamed.
It is therefore imperative that stakeholders in the state come together to stem the tide, because Lagos is not violence-friendly and any attempt to take it through that route would be counterproductive.

It’s Still Fight to the Finish
For over three weeks now, the political actors in Zamfara State especially those of the APC stock had been unusually quiet as the aftermath of the controversial primaries has been devastating. But a few days ago, a video clip of the state governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari went viral, where he threatened the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole and his panel not to get any close to the state.
The video is of course old, because it happened almost immediately after the botched primary, observers were however of the view that it was released at the weekend, knowing that campaigns for the governorship election would start and as an instructive message to the chairman, going forward.
Talk about violence and all the unimaginable, Zamfara will play a lead role, because it is being pushed to that point. It remains one of the states to provide action-packed activities for the 2019 elections.

Taking the Battle to God
One governor, who has enjoyed uncommon support across the length and breadth of his state, is the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. He is of the PDP and has proven, time and time again that he is popular and on the ground especially, given the amount of support and endorsements he has so far received in his re-election journey.

This time, however, he has taken his re-election battle spiritual. Thus, ahead of the commencement of campaigns for the governorship and House of Assembly elections in the country, the PDP Campaign Organisation in the state has called for one week of prayers and fasting, “for peaceful, transparent and violence-free elections in 2019…”

Director-General of the campaign, Dr. Charles Egumgbe, in company with the Secretary of the Campaign Organisation, Chief Ikeje Asogwa, said the decision was “in keeping with our tradition of entrusting the affairs of the state to the hands of God”.
To think that the state is generally considered safe for the PDP means not much surprises could be pulled off here. The APC won’t give in easily though.

A Third Force Walks the Stage
The supremacy battle between the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe took yet another dimension last week, when Oji Nyimenuate Ngofa, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Netherlands, who is the APC Senatorial candidate for Rivers South-East senatorial district, stepped into the fray and showed open support and loyalty to Amaechi.
Abe had last week come out to say the reason he was angry with Amaechi was because he embarrassed him before his wife over his charge to be governor of the state. But Ngofa has dismissed all of Abe’s claims, saying it was his unbridled ambition that was going to destroy the party.

“I will not be part of any aspiration that will create disunity within the leadership of Amaechi. And I did tell Abe that I did not think that we should divide the family, because of his aspiration, because the way I see it is that he has a right to aspire, nobody is challenging that, but I have issues with the fact that you want to upturn and destroy a system because of your own aspiration; a system that he has been part of, a system that Abe is one of its biggest beneficiaries.”
The crisis in Rivers State is far from being over and with the joining of a third force; it can only last a life time.

Akwa Ibom
A Post-failed Coup Trauma
It is allowed if the PDP in Akwa Ibom State is paranoid. For many days, the party kept raising the alarm that there was a grand plot to cause crisis in the state and forcefully take over the state by the APC. Therefore, when the failed coup at the state legislature became public knowledge especially, the account which seemed to point fingers at the police, not many people dismissed the cry of the PDP anymore.
But as it is, the party has not fully recovered from that experience. This is evident in a recent statement by the PDP Chairman in the state, Mr. Paul Ekpo, wherein he described an alleged call by the state Chairman of the APC, Mr. Ini Okopido, demanding of the President to declare a state of emergency in the state as a testimony to their earlier claim about the plan to instigate violence in the state.
From what happened last week, the state may not quite enjoy respite till after the elections since the APC and its ‘military wing’ has not hidden their desire to annex the oil rich state. That, certainly, will come at a cost. At what cost is what many do not know yet!

Bringing the Battle Closer Home
The political situation in Kano is evidently not going to abate till even after the elections. Naturally volatile, what the state has experienced in the last few days are however indications that it would be a defining battleground. The recent allegation of bribery against Governor Abdulahi Ganduje is one issue that won’t go away, no matter how hard they try to swing it under wrap.
Indications that the governor might have slightly risen from this affliction played out in the week when the Kano APC Caucus in the National Assembly moved against the Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso-led opposition in Kano State and described it as inconsequential to the re-election bid of Ganduje.
The lawmakers, including two Senators and 14 House of Representatives went ahead to pledge to deliver five million votes for the re-election bid of President Buhari. Ganduje is the incumbent, Kwankwaso, a no pushover is the immediate predecessor; Kano is certainly not enviable next year.

The Battle This Time
For Aminu Tambuwal’s Sokoto, the storm that arose a fortnight ago was calmed last week. That perhaps, could have been taken to mean Sokoto had gone to bed for some time. Alas, that was erroneous. The dimension of the battle has only changed.
Recall that some persons were tried sometime back alongside former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, over an alleged N15billion fraud. The case, which was then ongoing, eventually attracted the pardon of the governor, perhaps for political reasons, and which many thought had naturally rested the charge.
But a five-man panel of the Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Hannatu Sankey, in two separate appeals, voided the state pardon granted those former officials of the state. The judge held that the accused person, who had not been convicted, was presumed innocent and therefore could not be validly granted state pardon by the governor.
This development is now being interpreted to mean someone is fighting back. Whatever it is, Sokoto too is opening a new phase in the battle for 2019 in the state. This new direction promises to be a good show.

Rising From the Ashes
Only last week, Bauchi State battled strange killings in Yelwa, Lushi, Kagadama and Kusu areas of the state during some night parties. The development forced the state Police Command to place a ban on all forms of social gatherings without approval from the command.
However, in moving on from that ugly phase and in the thick of the election campaigns, the state, Governor Mohammed Abubakar recently offered N1 billion interest-free loan to traders and artisans in the state, following decline in the economic and commercial activities as well as increased dependence on government for employment opportunities in Bauchi
The governor said the loan package would be perfected next week with banks, stressing that it was interest-free so that beneficiaries could repay with ease while also giving them the opportunities to expand the frontiers of their businesses to engage the teeming unemployed youths. Isn’t that a smart humanitarian campaign? He, however, needs to do more. That alone is not sufficient if he must remain an issue in the election.

Dawn of a Different, New Era
There was a change of guard in Osun State last week as Governor Gboyega Oyetola was sworn in and effectively resting the days of Rauf Aregbesola. There is no doubting the fact that Rauf came in with a lot of colour and controversy. He enjoyed being called an unusual man in the Government House, because of his style. But he finally left the state very poor and with a mesmerizing debt profile.
This is why many think that the Oyetola era would heave a sigh of relief on the horizon and perhaps, take the state to an all-new level that would make them forget easily, whatever pains that the Aregbesola era might have left them.
But Oyetola’s first major political assignment would be next year’s election. How he would deliver Buhari amid growing discontent and a bungled deal with Senator Iyiola Omisore will be a delight to watch. In Osun, all eyes are on Oyetola.

Opposition on the Prowl
There is going to be a rat race here in Niger next year, when the election comes. The Governor, Abubakar Bello has been doing serious humanitarian campaign to cushion the effect of the unabated internal malcontents in the party. But he seems to have a good match in the PDP candidate, Umar Nasko.
Nasko recently came out to assure the electorate in the state that he would not take them for granted when voted into office in 2019. “I can assure you that I will run an open government where everyone will have a say and also contribute to the day-to-day administration of the state,” he said.
With the self-inflicted crisis in the APC, the opening left for the PDP is just for the taking and the opposition is evidently not leaving anything to chance. It is fast proving to be determined and reassuring.

Challenge before Uduaghan
Former Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan appears to be challenged to spring some surprises in next year’s election. The governor, who left the PDP for the APC out of frustration, boasted recently that Delta South votes were for the APC. Well, whatever promises he made to the APC must be backed with action.
There is no debating the fact that he lost relevance even before leaving office as governor. How he plans to give effect to what he could not do as governor remains to be seen as campaign thickens in the oil rich state. But he needs not be reminded that Delta is a solid PDP state and not safe for political manipulation by the opposition.

Getting Personal
Just last week, Benue basked in the euphoria of the recognition that the presidency accorded its move to stem the tide of herdsmen attacks and it seemed all was well, by extension, between the state and the APC. But that is not true.
Governor Samuel Ortom of the state has just threatened to report one of his predecessors in office, Senator George Akume before the Supreme Assembly of the Tiv Area Traditional Council over accusations that the state government was behind the incessant killings in the state.

Ortom noted that since the senator had chosen to tell President Muhammadu Buhari that militia herdsmen were not behind the massacre of Benue people, it implies that he has adequate knowledge of the killings and should explain to the traditional council in details. He described as shocking and unfortunate, Akume’s utterances, which were clearly in favour of enemies of the state.
Well, this is clearly taking the battle personal and however this is presented, to say the least in whatever language, it is simply playing politics of body count and that is in itself bestial.

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