The Road to 2019:  Flashpoints to Watch (XVI)

Given some of the political activities in the last week of 2018, it is evident that a few of the key indicators of the 2019 elections are fast assuming shape, writes Olawale Olaleye

Both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had a good time last week sparring on sundry issues. Although what appeared like some issue-based disagreements were largely politicised, both parties also tried as much as possible to desist from being disagreeable.

Thus, with President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign kick-off in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital last Friday and the setting up of a star-studded presidential campaign council, last week was undeniably a good one for the ruling party.

But the opposition PDP refused for the ruling party to have a smooth sail as it constantly took it up on issues and passing snide comments, chiefly demystifying the integrity selling point of the government and President Buhari.

There is no debating the fact that the APC rally in Uyo was a huge success, considering that the South-south is not a naturally friendly zone for the APC and the president.

This was however amid a lingering integrity debate, championed by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who claimed Buhari had abused his office and also soiled his image by letting his relatives acquire huge shares in Airtel and Keystone bank, a development that is fast changing the campaign narrative of both parties even though Buhari’s diehard supporters didn’t seem bothered.

There was also the subsisting debate on the characters of the 2019 budget, which both Atiku and his Campaign Director-General, Senate President Bukola Saraki had described as hopeless and unable to achieve results.

Indeed, Atiku told off the president, when he asked him to stop blaming others for his woes but learn to take responsibility for once. Of course, the presidency had equally put Atiku in his place, because according to them, he was not qualified to speak to the president or on corruption to say the least.

Meanwhile, Buhari’s presidential campaign council ran into a slight hitch, when the name of Alhaji Aliko Dangote and a few other businessmen featured prominently. This naturally sent a wrong signal to the observing public.

But the presidency had immediately come out to say he was not a member of the campaign team since he was not an APC card-carrying member. However, his advisory spot in the council remains the same. Whatever logic that is there in their differing positions is yet to be seen.

In other news, the police, again, went bonkers in the week, when they allegedly invaded the home of Senator Dino Melaye. The senator and the police have had a running battle, such that the senator recently accused the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris of planning to kill him by injecting him with a lethargic substance.

Certainly and without any iota of doubts, the last week of 2018 was politically eventful and expectedly so, being the prelude to a full blown political engagement in the coming year.  That nonetheless, the battle in the states was also a delight to keep tabs with as certain key states took their spots in the scheme of things before embracing their deserving end of the year break.



Living True to Type

The one thing that Rivers State is noted for is intense violence – election or not – and this has never been mistaken. Although there had been respite in the land for a while, unfortunately, that fragile or better still, fleeting peace was damaged last week, when some unidentified gunmen reportedly killed the Ward 4 Chairman of the APC in Onne, Eleme Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Jonah Chu. He was shot dead last Sunday night while returning to his residence in Onne along with four others, who were in the car with him.

The deceased, according to some reports, was ambushed by the gunmen and shot him at close range, killing him on the spot. This is the real Rivers and as it appears, its peculiar electoral character might have begun to manifest.8

Also, recall that Governor Nyesom Wike had penultimate week cancelled the state-owned power plant sold to some of the companies owned by the APC governorship candidate in the state, Tonye Cole. Although Cole had come out to immediately condemn the action of the governor and described it as purely political, Wike too had responded saying there was no going back on the decision.

Rivers has never betrayed emotions about its tendency when it comes to election. It always goes all out and does its things in the way that could only produce its desired results, regardless of whose ox is gored. Everyone is of course concerned about how election in the state would turn out.


A Different Kind of Game

Unlike the typical Ogun State, political events dotting the state lately have shown a different kind of game preparatory to 2019. First, Governor Ibikunle Amosun assisted the Allied People’s Movement (APM), the party of his loyalists to secure appointment with President Muhamamdu Buhari, where they formally presented him with a letter of their adoption of him as their presidential candidate.

The visit, which pictures went viral had naturally stoked envy in the other camp of the APC, which quickly rushed to the villa to present Dapo Abiodun as the authentic candidate of the APC to the president and announcing that the president had endorsed him.

Although apart from the picture showing a former governor of the state, Chief Olusegun Osoba and the president raising Abiodun’s hands, there was no statement from the president either directly or through his aides, indicating that the president truly endorsed Abiodun.

But whilst the dust raised by that competitive muscle-flexing was yet to settle, another picture of Governor Amosun riding on the same plane with President Buhari on their return from a presidential campaign kick-off in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, went viral, with a clear message that emphasised his relationship with the president.

Interestingly, the camp of the PDP had been a bit quiet even though the Appeal Court sided with it. But Senator Buruju Kashamu has appealed the Appeal Court ruling, which nullified his candidacy.

Thus, from APC to the PDP, it is a different kind of game they are daily throwing up, although there is ADC’s Gboyega Nasiru Isika, who is quietly moving around, and waiting to reap from the misadventures of the two parties.



The ‘Next Level’ Plot

With the recent killings of innocent people by those identified as bandits, Zamfara has not had a good time in the last few days, coupled with the internal political squabbles the ruling party in the state has had to deal with.

But a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, raised the alarm recently, when he claimed that, because the APC did not have constitutionally recognised candidates for various elective positions in Zamfara State ahead of the 2019 elections, President Buhari was plotting to hide under the killings in the state to impose emergency rule, having failed to secure the lives of Nigerians to achieve his selfish partisan agenda.

Fayose, who is the South-west Coordinator of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, alleged that the plot was a response to the insistence of INEC not to allow the APC field candidates for the 2019 general election in the state as a result of its failure to comply with the Electoral Act.

Curiously, Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari of the state has also acceded to the call for an emergency rule if that would help tame the insecurity in the state. On the contrary, it does not appear like a Yari would not want his candidate to partake in the governorship election and so, that next level plot may be dead on arrival.

Whatever it is, Zamfara has never shied away from revealing itself as a flashpoint in 2019. The indications are clear and the elements are more than willing to outplay one another.



Introducing the Shaming Politics

A mild but embarrassing drama happened in Ilorin, Kwara State in the week, when during the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU) community event, members of the APC in the state were booed and chased out of the venue, calling them names including thieves.

What happened at that event, inside sources said, was a ploy that boomeranged. According to the sources, it had been designed that the crowd would boo the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to make him appear as losing grounds in the politics of the state especially, after a recent bye-election in which the APC won. But the alleged plan failed and instead, turned against the planners.

Since the development, which exposed APC’s weak existence in the state, prominent figures in the party, including the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the governorship candidate of the party in the state, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, had practically gone on the offensive, seeking ways to punish those who blew up their alleged plans.

Whilst many concur that the perpetrators should be brought to book, the lesson must not be lost on the masterminds that they do not have a monopoly to such madness and that indeed, two can play that game. There is no doubting the fact that Kwara would be interesting in the 2019 elections.



Enter the ADC

The Niger State APC is certainly not going to have a field day in next year’s election. Since the contentious party primaries, the party in the state has not had a good time, as aggrieved members have remained angry and constituted themselves as opposition within.

To say the governor, Abubakar Bello has tried to play this down in different ways, including playing humanitarian politics, all seemed to have failed to yield desired result. But certainly, he is not giving up and has continued to devise many means to that effect, including appeasing the aggrieved members.

But the inauguration of a 50-man governorship campaign committee by the African Democratic Congress (ADC), last week, where the party promised to focus its attention on the reform of the entire education sector in the state has thrown a different challenge altogether to the governorship race especially in the state.

Governorship candidate of the ADC, Dr. Ibrahim Mani, also pledged to ensure regular payment of salaries and allowances of workers, obviously cashing in on the shortcomings of the Bello administration.

Again, that is another commendable and yet interesting dimension to the race in Niger State. Perhaps, Niger is one of the states eagerly waiting on the ringside to pull off surprises in 2019.



Setting the Record Straight

For some time now, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State has been preoccupied, dealing with the opposition led by a former governor of the state, Danjuma Goje, who has vowed to take over the state from him and reset the development chart of the state. That would have been the start and end of Dankwambo’s headache. Not at all – there’s more!

The governor has come under attacks lately, albeit from within over allegation of working to betray the candidate of his party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, an allegation weighty enough to undo him and his current standing as the face of the party in the state and zone.

However, with an understanding of the implications, Dankwambo came out last week to dismiss insinuations that he was in league with his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal, to betray Atiku. He reassured the party that he was solidly behind Atiku, and also promised to deliver the entire North-east to the PDP in February 2019.

Aside the internal challenge that the governor appears to be facing lately, he has a bigger task ahead of him in 2019 as he would be faced with another former governor in a serious survival battle. Gombe would not play relegation in 2019, evidently.



Stewing in Their Own Juice

Developments within the APC in Enugu State have confirmed some of THISDAY’s extrapolations that the state might be impregnable for it in next year’s election. The post-primary election crisis besetting the party took a turn for the worse last week when the governorship candidate of APC, Senator Ayogu Eze, accused another claimant to the position, George Ogara of engaging in deceit to attract sympathy.

Ogara had disputed the emergence of Eze as APC’s governorship candidate in the state, having participated in another primary organised by a faction of the state executive. He alleged that his campaign office was attacked by persons linked to Eze for political reasons.

Eze however dismissed the allegations and said Ogara was lying and that he was simply on an impossible mission.

But what seemed like a harmless trade-tackling soon degenerated as factions of the party were alleged to have burnt vehicles of opposing camps, in a manner that was building up violence in the state. This development, observers believed, had exposed the inadequacies of the party to manage a small advantage let alone a major electoral success in the state.

At the same time while the APC was undoing itself, the ruling PDP was consolidating as Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had reportedly put smiles on the faces of the people through his free Christmas buses gesture, while at same time, requesting for more prayers for the state. Ugwuanyi sure knows the right button of his people, the reason he has remained relevant and immovable in the countdown to 2019.



Personalising the 2019 Battle

In the whole of the South-east, one state that has by its own doing attracted huge attention to itself is Imo. Since the outcome of the party primary which outplayed Governor Rochas Okorocha, and his preferred son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, the governor had taken the liberty to personalise his attacks against the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole.

Last week, an unrelenting Okorocha described Oshiomhole, as a noise maker, saying the APC national chair owed civil servants in Edo State seven months arrears of salary by the time he left office as governor, in addition to saying he lacked the moral right to contribute to issues concerning payment of civil servants salaries.

According to him, instead of Oshiomhole to market the ruling party during a rally in Owerri, he was busy abusing him (Okorocha) and therefore challenged Oshiomhole to publish his scorecard as the state governor for eight years while he (Okorocha) publishes his own scorecard as the Imo State governor.

There is no doubting the fact that Okorocha is still very bitter with the party leadership and is not hiding the fact that he would use the opportunity of next year’s election to prove his mettle. How realistic that turns out to be is subject to a debate. But clearly, he would fight and fight harder than anyone can imagine, even though he has also not hidden his desire to run for the presidency in 2023.



Raising the Stakes

With each passing day, the race to the Lagos House gets more interesting as candidates of the two leading parties – APC and PDP – are daily undoing each other. Importantly, what the current tenor of campaigns has done to the polity or the message therein is that it is not going to be a walkover for whoever wins at the end of the day.

Needless to say that the candidate of the APC, Babajide Sanwo-Olu started earlier than his counterparts in other parties, coming late behind him and already side-by-side with him on the pitch now is the PDP standard bearer, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, who had since picking up, gone on the offensive.

Although some have come out to say Agbaje was playing divisive politics and in some cases playing to the gallery, he has however been consistent about his message that a vote for Sanwo-Olu would mean a vote for Bola Tinubu, political leader of the party and a former governor of the state. Indeed, his message appears to be resonating with the people.

Both sides have however continued with their consultations of critical stakeholders in the state. They boast well-off resume. There is age on their side, in addition to commanding impressive following. Therefore, as it is, Lagos in 2019 is take-able by whoever pushes harder and better. Indeed, the stakes are high and Lagos, being the Centre of Excellence, remains the cynosure of all eyes.

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