The Road to 2019: Flashpoints to Watch (XXI)

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The February 16 presidential election fever has peaked with telling signs, writes Olawale Olaleye

One by one, the 2019 equation is beginning to assume more definitive shape. And the one beautiful element in this month’s presidential election is the choice of the candidates by the two leading parties – the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

The fact that they are both northerners of the Fulani extraction and devout Muslims is one combined factors that would temper tension and moderate passion, when finally a winner and a loser emerge.

It is no wonder, therefore, that at each of the rallies of the respective parties, they had matched each other crowd for crowd, albeit with differing issues on what should define the choice of the electorate. Also, for this same reasons, reports of violence especially, in the core north at any of the rallies of either parties have been practically non-existent.

This, of course, to a very large extent has informed the views in many quarters that regardless of whoever wins between the two candidates – Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar – the likely resort to violence is very slim or nil. The assumption that it is still the turn of the north is not only active and prevalent, it has also made other candidates from other parts of the country appear like pretenders.

In fact, it was one reason Professor Jerry Ghana of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) allegedly challenged the emergence of Mr. Donald Duke as the candidate of the party, because according to him, the presidency had been zoned to the north and so, Duke, being a Southerner from Cross River State, could not be the candidate.

This was without recourse to the constitution of the land and forgetting that zoning is purely an arrangement within the political parties. Although an Abuja Appeal Court has reversed the situation and pronounced Duke the authentic SDP candidate, it does not appear yet that Gana would give in so easily.

With the campaigns in both parties peaking in the coming week, more so that the election is just a matter of days, the signs of who might get what votes and where are beginning to manifest themselves, in addition to the familiar antics that have dotted the turf. Indeed, it is going to be a very tight and tough contest like never seen before.

One of the interesting developments of last week, amid the campaigns, was the request by the PDP and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), asking for President Muhammadu Buhari to be disqualified on the account that he was no longer fit, mentally and physically to be president.

This also came at a time former President Olusegun Obasanjo vowed to use everything within his reach to save the country from the collapse the APC is about to plunge her into, adding that for reasons of capacity and effectiveness, his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar is by far a better candidate, although a choice between two evils.

What’s more, Atiku’s chances in the race received some boost in the week following his performance at The Candidates, a citizen’s debate platform put together by the Nigerian Television Authority. Buhari had earlier appeared on the same programme a couple of weeks ago and posted a performance that many thought was below expectations from an incumbent president. But Atiku did it in and left with high shoulders alongside his running mate, Peter Obi.

This is not to say that Atiku’s candidacy did not court a bit of controversy, when members of a prominent pan-Igbo group, Ohanaeze, disagreed over the endorsement allegedly extended to him. This is crucial, because the development claimed the body’s secretary-general, Uche Okwukwu, who was suspended for alleged anti-party and aligning with the APC.

Generally, the battle front is getting really hot and interesting ahead of the February 16 presidential poll and definitely dictating the likely direction in some of the states. To say that a majority of the states are at the mercy of the outcome of the presidential election, which comes first, is stating the obvious.

While it is true that some states have their future clearly cut out, the fact that what would obtain in many others would be dictated by the outcome of the first election is a no-brainer.

This is why a look at some of the key states with peculiar tendency is instructive. But then, these analyses are still subject to further changes in the days ahead, particularly in the week of the election.  So, which are the states in the news last week and for what excuses?

Kwara: Contextualising the Saraki Joker

There is no doubting the fact that the governorship poll in Kwara State is purely between the PDP and the APC. While the APC has been seen lately flaunting its federal might and the likelihood that the advantage of a government at the centre would come to its aid, the PDP under the watch of Senate President Bukola Saraki has not relented in deploying political intelligence and wisdom to play, a disposition which has continued to put the PDP much ahead.

For this election, therefore, it was to the rude shock of the opposition APC to learn of the deal that the party had with the people of Kwara North, who have yet to produce a governor. The PDP deal is to ensure that its current candidate, Abdulrasak Atunwa, who is from Central, would serve for just a term, at the end of which power would move to the North. In addition, the PDP also promises the North the position of speaker and secretary to the state government if they won this election.

With the caliber of persons, who witnessed the signing of the understanding, including the traditional rulers like the Emir of Ilorin, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, the people of the North accepted the offer and immediately deployed their all for the PDP. Although the APC has dismissed the understanding as fraudulent, the party is yet to provide an alternative. By this stroke, the PDP has consolidated its hold in the state.

Imo: Flashing Its True Colour

The drama that played out at the recent APC rally in Imo State is indicative of what would be when the election eventually comes. First, Governor Rochas Okorocha and the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, turned the rally ground to a personal battlefield, where they subtly but openly traded tackles.

This was however not made any easy when the president, during his speech, urged the people to vote for any candidate of their choice, without making any efforts to canvass for votes for the party’s candidate, Senator Hope Uzodinnma.

And when the president’s spin doctors were going to finish this off, they said the reason the president gave such a speech was because there were many parties and candidates present at the rally, that were rooting for the president to come back. Thus, the statement was meant to serve as a soothing balm to all. As dumb and unintelligent as that was deemed to be, it clearly exposed the undercurrents in the state as well as putting the people on notice of what might likely happen during the elections.

Ogun: The Name of the Game is Anti-party

When Governor Ibikunle Amosun came out to openly endorse his choice candidate for the governorship election, Adekunle Akinlade, the sing-song in town was that APC governor and senatorial candidate endorsing an APM candidate was pure anti-party and the APC leadership sought to punish Amosun for this, although the threats against him came to naught.

Interestingly, speculation in town now is that some of the APC leaders in the state have begun to ask their supporters to also vote for the senatorial candidate of another party, Titi Oseni, from Ogun Central, as a way to pay Amosun back.  Much as that sounds like some jokes taken too far, it appears what it is, even though Amosun is sufficiently strong in his central.

That said, the growing violence in the state during campaigns is a serious cause for concern and this cuts across all parties. Perhaps, the security agencies are taking note and are working out the best way to manage this when the election proper berths.

Anambra: A Pending Power Contest

Governor Willie Obiano has never hidden his resolve to vote for APC’s Buhari as against Obi’s PDP, not minding that he became governor through the instrumentality of Obi’s magnanimity. On his part, Obi too considers this one opportunity for them to settle their scores once and for all.

Although the Obiano sentiment cannot be taken with levity as a sitting governor, there is also no doubting the fact that Obi too is still very popular regardless and this one election would put everyone in their place. Besides, an average Igbo person desires Obi in that office.

Lagos: Dealing with the Fear Factor

Last week was particularly uneasy for Lagos as the move to impeach Governor Akinwunmi Ambode by the state House of Assembly became more surreal than real. Suffice it to say, however, that the plan had always been in the offing with both sides dismissing the possibility. They can no longer conceal it.

While the lawmakers are alluding to poor budget handling amidst other gross misconducts, words on the street showed that it was all about money to fund the campaigns of the party’s candidates, particularly its governorship hopeful, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. This was further compounded by the fear of what Ambode was up to since they could not read his mind and knowing too that he had been badly treated as a governor.

Ambode is expected at the state assembly tomorrow to come and defend the allegations against him and where the state goes from there shall be seen in the days ahead. But clearly, the ruling party has set up an open fire that could consume it.

Zamfara: It Is Finished!

Finally, it has dawned on everyone now that the APC in Zamfara State is not going to field candidates for the election at all levels. There is not even any structure to campaign for the president’s re-election. And despite taking this to court back and forth, INEC has insisted it was purely an administrative matter, governed by time and to which the APC failed.

Interestingly, a member of the party, Senator Kabiru Marafa has continued to rejoice over the fact that his party is not fielding candidates for the election. Whatever excitement that brings his way is weird but has much deeper meaning than anyone can currently decipher. In Zamfara, it is finished!

Rivers: Still on Tenterhooks

The situation in Rivers State is simple and straightforward. The APC is waiting on the Supreme Court to decide the fate of his candidates after many weeks of being through other categories of court, fighting for their mandate to be upheld.

This predicament was largely orchestrated and escalated by the rivalry between the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe, while Governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP assisted in complicating it.

It is interesting to note that the PDP has continued to take advantage of the open space to consolidate and expand its coast. But how that will ultimately shape the election of Wike is yet to be seen since the APC too is expected to have its fall back options outside of the court choice. The Rivers equation is still complicated.

Oyo: Before the Upset

The contest in Oyo is though between the APC and the PDP, whoever wins at the end of the day must have struck some deal with a former governor of the state, Adebayo Alao-Akala, who left the APC in annoyance that the party leadership and governor, Abiola Ajimobi could not keep mere understanding or be honest, at least.

Unfortunately, the governor’s popularity has dipped in the last few months, automatically becoming a burden for its candidate, Adebayo Adelabu, an otherwise excellent material for the office of the governor. Thus, Adelabu carries with him, the burden of the governor, from which he cannot run away and which stands stoutly against his aspiration. There is a pending upset in Oyo during next month’s election.

Ekiti: Hope Rises at the Finishing Line

Last week’s ruling by the Ekiti State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which affirmed the election of Governor Kayode Fayemi could not have come at a better time. Not only has it elevated the standing of the governor, it has further shored up the chances of the ruling party.

This thinking was further given fillip to when some members of the PDP in the state defected to the APC, thus swelling the ranks of the ruling party and increasing its chances of a sound victory at the end of the day. Fayemi is now an authority in the state and zone.

Osun: Not Looking Any Good

Reports from the proceedings in the Osun State governorship election petitions tribunal are not looking good for the ruling APC in the zone and this by extension is rubbing off on the standing of the two parties in the February 16 presidential and National Assembly elections. Even from the results posted in the September 22, governorship election, it was clear the APC was no longer a party of choice in the state let alone the manner victory was procured in the election.

From local to foreign observers, everyone has continued to make the election a bad example of what an election should be. This is why the state is not looking good in the coming elections.

Ondo: It’s Still Dicey!

The outcome of the APC primary elections has since left Ondo in a very bad shape, such that the party has so become weak and unable to muster the kind of strength that brought it into power. Although Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is still fighting hard to retain his relevance in the scheme of things, the game appears dicey for him.

While it is true that his office is not up for contest, he does not have the assurances of delivering the state to the APC as it is, a development that could make him vulnerable ahead of his own election.

Enugu: Boasting the Strength of Performance

Often categorised as the safest PDP state in the South-east, Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi gave a dose of his influence in the state during the PDP’s recent presidential rally. The state was essentially on lockdown. Even more desirable was his approach to showing off strength: it comes with ease especially, when there is a well-off scorecard to flash.

While this is not foreclosing the APC and its candidate, Ayogu Eze from trying their luck, what is no longer in contest is that Enugu is impregnable for the opposition. The PDP still holds the ace and solidly.

Borno: Battling the Boko Haram Distraction

Thirteen more days to the presidential and National Assembly elections, Borno is still left in a confuzzling state as to what to do. Indeed, the fate of the state on what is likely to happen, cannot be ascertained yet since INEC has not decided what to do to states with security challenges.

The Boko Haram menace has therefore continued to constitute huge threat to the election of the state. Although the state is still somewhat loyal to Buhari with un-bankable margin, anything can still happen as the state counts down to February 16.

Kaduna: Stoking Avoidable Crisis

Whatever happens in Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai would be blamed for stepping out of line to court needless crisis. El-Rufai, while defending his Muslim-Muslim ticket for the governorship election, said even if he had nominated the Pope as his running mate, 67 per cent of the Christians in Southern Kaduna would still not vote for him.

This statement, however, caught the attention of the newly elected Chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. John Joseph Hayab, who berated el-Rufai, over such unguarded statement.

Truth is that the dynamics in Kaduna are not cast in stone but still rather fluid. This is why if anything goes wrong for the party, el-Rufai should be held responsible.

Kano: Buhari as Ganduje’s ‘Defence Minister’

Whether or not Governor Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano State likes it, his bribery scandal will continue to haunt him except it is addressed conclusively with plausible narrative that can let him off the hook. Unfortunately, the matter has not been made any easy with the way and manner Buhari has continued to defend him.

For example, Buhari, despite his integrity selling point, said last week that Ganduje, enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a sitting governor and that under the Nigerian laws, an accused person remained innocent until proven guilty by the courts.

He also noted that the dollar bribe he was seen stuffing in his pockets in the videos that went viral was already in court and no longer up for discussion. Well, it is unlikely that Buhari’s intervention would yield positively for Ganduje. No!

Kogi: Playing the Governor’s Game

In forms peculiar to it, Kogi State would certainly live its true colours in the coming election, including the reign of violence. Recently, when some former governors of the state in the persons of Idris Wada, Ibrahim Idris, Clarence Olufemi and other leaders like Senator Dino Melaye raised the alarm that the state government was stockpiling weapons and training 3,000 private army in the guise of vigilantes, it sounded quite familiar. It is all part of the game.

But with the recent upsurge in killings and alleged harassment of political opponents, the opposition might be coming together to confront a common enemy, the result of which could rub off on the elections. Kogi may not throw up any upset, but clearly, it would offer interesting spectacle to the elections.

Benue: Politicising the Issues

If there was any state that has maximised its misfortune and scored big political points from it, Benue would come first. First, it derived huge political capital from the killings in the state, such that the federal government became really embarrassed as the situation in his state painted a rather inefficient government.

Then, a time came it started to trade tackles with the presidency over the kind of campaign the state was churning out. And now, he has claimed there was an attempt on his life by the presidency.

For a government believed to have performed below average, the resort to politicising every issue is not unexpected except that it is not sustainable. There is the likelihood he would throw up yet another matter in the coming week, even when elections are days away.

Situating the Presidential Run

With the two parties moving from state to state in the bid to cover the zonal campaigns, the presidential campaigns are not just peaking drastically, they have begun to also near their end and at the same time giving a much clearer picture of what equation to expect.

But the highpoint of last week was the report by The Economist that the election was Atiku’s to lose. This is the second time that The Economist is coming strong with its position, such that has gained intense grounds in the country.

Although the ruling party does not like the sound of it, they are not likely to dismiss it outright this time for reasons they are unable to contest. Besides, the report is also expected to shape the turn of events this new week, while the campaigns continue.