The Road to 2019: Flashpoints to Watch (XXII)


With just a week to the presidential and national assembly elections, the equations are no longer fluid, writes Olawale Olaleye

For the most of last week, the moist had begun to significantly clear off the hazy coast for the general election as the countdown to February 16 inches closer. The two leading parties and their candidates, APC’s Muhammadu Buhari and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar also closed the week with message rallies almost all-week.

But before rounding off the week with their message rallies, the week had also witnessed both candidates visit crucial swings states, where they keenly competed with crowd and also showed strengths in terms of popularity. In fact, the turnout at each of the rallies had also confirmed speculations that truly, the presidential election is going to be tight and tough.

Amid all these, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also extended the dates for the collection of PVCs to tomorrow and at the same time, vowed never to postpone the elections. In other words, INEC is more than ready to do Nigeria and the world proud by delivering credible elections at all levels.

Whilst both candidates continued to enjoy staggering endorsements from different quarters, including the one from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which had caused serious disaffection within the party as a result of the indiscretion of a few to abandon their own candidate, Donald Duke, the United States, on the other hand had dismissed insinuations that it had preference for any of the candidates.

Related to this is the allegation by the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) that the ruling party had planned to frame up Atiku and other leaders of the party as part of their strategy to emasculate the opposition.

It is also interesting to note that the First Lady, Aisha Buhari has since been back from her medical treatment abroad but it appears she had been prevented from being a part of the campaign as she has maintained a genuinely low profile.

The news of the burning of the INEC office in Abia was another obnoxious development that set the rival parties in the state against each other. No fewer than 15000 PVCs were reportedly lost to the fire, which many reckoned was not unconnected to sabotage.

Above all, the week was largely marked by some interesting polls, mostly by renowned international pollster, which clearly stated that the election was Atiku’s to lose.

Although THISDAY had set the ball rolling with its state-by-state analyses, which suggested an Atiku advantage, the follow-ups by Williams and Associates as well as Teneo, two international pollsters was an icing on the cake for the opposition, a development that has naturally changed the tenor of campaigns ahead of the polls this weekend.

It was also not unexpected that some of the extrapolations at the state level focused more on their participation in the presidential and national assembly elections, since as the first round of elections they would largely define the way for others.

That notwithstanding, some of the crucial states are still battling with many internal but peculiar contradictions.



Is it Over Yet?

Last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, which upheld a High Court judgment and by extension, affirmed that the APC would not field any candidate for the election is fast changing the direction of things in the state. This is because the interpretation adduced to the judgment is that the end might have come to the APC in the state as far as the matter between Ibrahim Umar & 22 Ors vs Rivers APC is concerned.

But the party leadership has dismissed the interpretation as inconsistent with the actual meaning of the judgment, saying the apex court ruled that in line with provisions of the Constitution of the APC, the chapter legal adviser at the time the matter commenced, Mr. Chieme Chinweikpe, rightly represented the party directly or through legal appointees of his instead of Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN who was seconded by the legal department of the national headquarters of APC.

This, the party said meant that the judgment given by Justice Chiwendu Nworgu was a consent judgment following thereto. But while accepting the decision, having come from the highest court of the land, APC stated that the decision on legal representation was the only matter the Supreme Court made pronouncement on last Friday and that it was expecting the apex court to rule on the all-important issue of jurisdiction of whether Justice Nworgu was right to delve into what it believed was an internal affairs of the APC with regards to primaries.

To that extent, the APC said the chances of his candidates were not imperiled as a result of that ruling. Therefore, tomorrow, all eyes would on the apex court to rule on jurisdiction, which would finally lay the matter to rest.


The Storm Subsides

With the intervention of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the disagreement between Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and members of the state House of Assembly, it is the view of an average observer and stakeholders alike that the muscle-flexing in the state has been laid to rest, finally. Although what had started like a child’s play was almost going to consume the governor with the idea of an impeachment that had been set rolling.

While the party struggled to shrug that off especially when it was obvious even to the undiscerning that the timing was poorly conceived, the presidential rally held by the APC in the state yesterday came with mixed bag of opinions.

While some thought it was a bit successful, others felt it was below par given the attention that Lagos currently enjoys in the scheme of things. And coming at a time that political analysts have identified Lagos as a crucial battleground state, the outcome of yesterday’s rally might as well suggest Atiku’s soaring popularity in the state.

In spite of that, the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state set a new standard for his electioneering when he said half of his budget as governor would go into education. Now, that is a development and issue-based debate that many would like to see come up between contestants. But then, nothing is cast in stone more so when Atiku has yet to hold his Lagos rally.



Waiting for Mr. President

Apart from reports of violence, which appear to be colouring many of the campaigns in the state, everything still appears to be working in favour of Governor Ibikunle Amosun and his candidate in APM, Adekunle Akinlade.

Apart from the possibility that Ladi Adebutu, an aggrieved governorship hopeful on the platform of the PDP, might work with Amosun and his candidates, the fact that the national leadership of the PDP has distanced itself from the INEC recognised candidate, Senator Buruji Kashamu, also plays in favour of Amosun, who stands prominent to annex the openings.

More than anything else, tomorrow’s APC rally in Ogun State is a test case for the contending interests within and outside the party particularly, how they are able to hold their own without the resort to violence or needless and avoidable bickering. But certainly, the rally would signal what direction events would assume next weekend.


Still Gasping for Breath

The battle in Benue State is mono-dimensional. The APC is determined to take over the state on the grounds of poor performance, while the PDP is clinging to power on the grounds that the continuous killing in the state is as a result of poor leadership offered by the APC federal government. For this reason, the APC and the PDP have consistently been at loggerheads, bickering over issues that are sometimes extraneous to the development of the state.

It was no surprise therefore that Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, last week, described as shameful, the statements made by Senator George Akume, Governor Simon Lalong and other All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders at the recent party’s presidential rally in Makurdi, the state capital, that the state government was raising an army of its by arming livestock guards.

He went on to accuse Akume of arming people and playing on the sensibility of President Muhammadu Buhari to allow him use security agencies to rig the election. The politics here is already sensitive and such developments have further heightened the stakes for survival, which is the basis for their bickering in the first place.


Emerging Signs of Intolerance

Perhaps, for unintended reasons, Taraba has played somewhat quiet since the journey for the 2019 elections began. Although it has its own peculiar challenges – social, political and governance – it has managed them well within the challenges presented ahead of the February 16 and March 2 elections.

Interestingly, it was forced out of its shell last week, when the convoy of Governor Darius Ishaku of the state and his deputy, Alhaji Haruna Manu, was attacked by hoodlums believed to be sympathetic to the APC.

To think that about five persons lost their lives at the APC presidential campaign rally held at the Jolly Nyame Stadium in Jalingo and then, the convoy of the governor was attacked, it signaled nothing but a wakeup call for the governor that election had finally berthed in the state.

Much as Ishaku didn’t find it funny and refused to hide his feelings by firing at the opposition party in the state, accusing them of being responsible for the situation, the development set the state on fire, curiously at the eve of a crucial election and so, the reality is clearly staring everyone in the face.


In Relevance Fisticuff

Since the contentious APC primaries, the party in Ondo has been weakened as a result. Suffice it to say that the situation was not by accident, it was a conscious move by some agents opposed to the consolidation of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to have that play out. And since the governor’s traducers seemed to have prevailed, things have really not remained the same.

Thus, when the PDP and the state government were at loggerheads last week over the forthcoming elections in the state, it was not quite shocking to many to see how the opposition rose stoutly against a government in power.

The PDP had accused the state Deputy Governor, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, of plotting to use ex-militants to rig the forthcoming general election in Ondo South senatorial district in favour of the APC. PDP Publicity Secretary, Mr. Banji Okunomo, made the allegation, saying investigations and tip-off by the party revealed that the deputy governor held series of meetings with the ex-militants in the state particularly, from the riverine areas, seeking their support to realise his plan.

But Ajayi, in a statement by his Deputy Chief Press Secretary, Leke Akeredolu, described the allegation as disrespectful and distasteful, saying, “It is also a shame that a national party like the PDP would throw caution to the wind and deliberately embark on peddling complete falsehood in a desperate attempt to discredit an election that is yet to hold.”

Like it or not, these and more are the cases the APC would continue to deal with till after the elections and indeed, Ondo appears very vulnerable from all indications.


Knocked Down by No Fault of Its

Reduced to a shadow of itself as a result of the unceasing insurgency in the region, Borno is not looking good for next week’s general election. The killings have not abated and the people seek to be part of a process that provides them choice for leadership.

Although INEC has reportedly designated eight camps for over 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to exercise their franchise in the forthcoming elections, representing each of the eight Local Government Areas (LGAs), where elections may not be held due to Boko Haram crisis, the picture presented by this is not a pleasant sight to behold.

Weeks back, the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima had cried to President Buhari, when he lamented the ordeal of his people. The curious thing was that the situation was not this bad in the lead up to the election of 2015 as government had buckled up at this time. Limited by choices and knocked down by no fault of its, Borno definitely cannot run away from the challenge of insurgency as factor in this election.


Effects of the ‘Body Bag’ Gaffe

Known to always court crisis, the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai broke yet another record last week, when he said any foreigner, who interfers with the election would go back in body bags. This statement of his has been condemned variously, including the quarters it was originally directed.

Unfortunately, for el-Rufai, he just opened another avoidable battle front for himself ahead of next weekend. The governor has so courted crisis from all known and unknown quarters that it would take more than grace to deliver the state to the APC.

Besides, his tendency for religious division of the populace is his biggest undoing as he does this with so much reckless abandon. Naturally, the body bag gaffe has its consequences and they are not one to be played down at all.


Who is Afraid of Who?

Undoubtedly one of the states to watch out for during the elections, Kano, like Lagos, is clearly a swing and crucial state. This is not only in terms of population strength but also in terms of location – North West. Again, in Kano, there are just two main gladiators, behind whom every other falls: Governor Abdulahi Ganduje and former governor Rabiu Kwankwaso.

This week, the PDP would be in Kano for its rally and preparation is already in top gear. However, for reasons not more than politics, the government had first denied the PDP the use of the stadium. This attracted a lot of condemnation before the governor intervened and gave it up for use.

Kano is too important for both parties but even more important is its relevance for the two gladiators. These are friends of many years, who had worked together as allies for over 15 years and suddenly, their friendship went awry on the altar of politics. The battle is of superiority and ego and would be resolved once and for all at the polls. It will be laid to rest finally on March 2.


A Contest for Authority

The February 16 and March 2 elections in Kogi do not include the governorship bout. Thus, technically, the governor, Yahaya Bello is safe for now. But he must secure the future of his won election now. Therefore, the scramble for votes in the coming elections must not leave him out of the equation.

It is interesting to know that there have been recriminations between the ruling APC in the state and the opposition PDP, which is alleging that the governor was stylishly raising an army for the election. Whether or not this is true, the allegation is weighty and stakeholders must reckon it would come to play at the appropriate time.

The block of the opposition is even and equal and also increasing and depleting by the day. The final analysis is what puts everyone in his place and that starts this weekend with the presidential election.



On the Throes of Killings  

A week before the first round of the elections and Zamfara State is still in a state of depression. There is killing everyday and both the state and federal government appear helpless. Sadly, these are not killings by insurgents but bandits that could be nabbed with effective policing.

The situation, like the one in Borno, got to a head recently and forced the governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari to ask for a state of emergency. Yet, nothing has been done and nothing appears as being done.

However, when this is combined with the political confusion on the horizon especially, that the ruling party in the state might not be fielding candidates at all levels, Zamfara is without doubt in a state of anomie.  Election here is on the throes of killings.



A Devastating Turn of Events

A major twist to the political fate of Enugu State chapter of the APC was delivered last week, when a Federal High Court, Abuja, sacked the party’s governorship candidate, Ayogu Eze and recognised George Ogara instead.

Although Eze has vowed to reclaim his mandate, saying the judgment could not stay, that this is happening at such a time, when other candidates are putting finishing touches to their campaigns signifies a major setback to the campaigns of the APC in the state.

How Eze and his party are able to turn their fate around a week to the general election is yet to be seen. But what has happened to the party is enough to cost them at the polls.



The Time to Settle Scores is Now!

Akin to what is currently playing out in Kano State, Sokoto too is clearly on the radar and awaiting an epic match between the incumbent Governor, Aminu Tambuwal and his predecessor, Aliyu Wamakko. They were a tact team in 2015, but today, they had fallen out, thus heightening tension in the state.

With both actors gallivanting about who has the biggest crowd and support, the battle to deliver Buhari and Atiku is not going to be an easy ride in the state, because the extrapolation transcends now. Many eyes are on 2023 in the state and so, playing hard and tight in 2019 is not negotiable.