For Whom Will Buhari Vote?

ENGAGEMENTS: With Chidi Amuta

Chidi  Amuta

The race for Nigeria’s next president is progressing down to the wire. The two major political parties have held their conventions and chosen their end term executives. Most of the minor parties are yet to make their presence known let alone felt. Talks and speculations about mergers, fusions and electoral alliances remain just that: speculations.

As matters stand, our largely unadventurous electorate will still look mostly up to the APC and PDP to provide us with President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. The other parties may have collections of good men and women but have not worked hard enough to deserve credible attention.

Both the APC and PDP have forged ahead, defying their internal dysfunctions to abide by INEC’s rule books. They are now at that decisive point of bracing the finishing tape to confront the nation with a binary choice. In a two party dominated democracy, the choice of president comes down to an ‘either or’ choice. Each of the two parties now has to joggle its internal factors to present the electorate with its best contender for the ultimate binary choice.

Since after 1999, our presidential succession has been an affair of the big parties. The others also show up. 2023 is not likely to be different. Similarly, since the Obasanjo succession, the most significant power bloc in contention for presidential succession has been our all-powerful state governors. The faceoff between President Obasanjo and his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, was over control of the ambitious governors all scrambling either to support Atiku to oust Obasanjo half term or succeed him at full term.

Under the inevitable political shadow of the conclave of governors, Mr. Obasanjo was compelled to choose the more pliant pair of Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as against more belligerent and hawkish combinations that included the imperial minded Peter Odili.

In the run up to the 2023 race, the PDP is using the familiar to do the obvious. A new oligarchy of governors is staging a decisive stake for the presidential nomination. A slew of moneyed governors seem hell bent on apportioning the jobs of President and Vice President among themselves to the tacit exclusion of long standing party people. Initially, it was Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Bala Mohammed of Bauchi and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto. It now includes Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta who is being touted as potential Vice President to a possible pre-conceived northern Muslim president. The party’s belated thrashing  of the zoning formula may likely throw the race ‘open’ to a northern presidential candidate and cost the party most votes  in the South-south, South-west and South-east.

The PDP’s lazy strategy and recourse seems to be the familiar north -south balancing dance. It is almost a thoughtless reflex: let’s go in direction opposite to the APC!

But in terms of the internal dynamics of the opposition party, it is a race between incumbent governors and old party members. It is either two governors emerge as President and Vice President or an old party man runs with an incumbent governor. The presumption that a demographic dominance of northern voters will produce another northern president to rule immediately after Buhari’s eight years sounds a bit foolish and  may be stretching political optimism too far. One of the primary moving factors in the 2023 presidential race seems to be the imperative of a power shift to the south. If the PDP ignores this, it may be in for a shocker as majority of PDP supporters in the South-south, South-east and South-west may prefer to move their votes to the APC which has wisely zoned its 2023 presidential slot to the broad south. An opposition party should present the electorate with an option that runs counter to the proposition of the ruling party. Is the PDP presenting Nigeria with the option of another eight years of northern Muslim hegemony immediately after Buhari?

Worse still, the PDP is taking this gamble at a time when it is neither the incumbent party nor in possession of the resource power to swing a national election.

On the contrary, the incumbent APC has neutralized the stake of the governors as a political bloc. It has zoned the presidency to the broad south. There is no APC governor in the southern zones that has the name recognition or political gravitas to win a national election. There is even none in the horizon. My friend Kayode Fayemi probably recognises his limits, hence he has desisted from sounding serious about a presidential bid. Mr. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State is terminally embattled over his decampment from PDP to APC.  Even on a normal day, he does not possess the political weight or intellect to vie for the presidency of anything beyond a town union. Similarly, Mr. Ayade of Cross River State is simply unelectable on account of his own superficiality and total lack of political consequence even in his state.

That leaves the field open to mostly a trio of non-governor APC party men: Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi and incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. All three gentlemen as individuals come with considerable weight on their own merit and relative political gravity. 

Mr. Bola Tinubu wears the empty and somewhat foolish title of ‘National Leader’ of the APC. Beyond this, he has tremendous national reach, an outstanding record of performance as governor of Lagos and a natural knack for assembling capable teams. Tinubu has easily the most robust and long standing political structure of the APC trio. He deployed that structure and influence to Buhari’s advantage in 2015, leading to a convincing win that could not have happened if Tinubu did not bring the South-west Yoruba votes along.

He is however hampered by numerous debilitating controversies which could become political liabilities. These are issues over his real age, state of health, excessive wealth of unclear origins as well as troubles over his faith which might necessitate his floating a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a nation already weakened by matters of faith. Tinubu is a rich powerful man with equally powerful foes. More recently, his untidy association with the Lekki Toll Gate palaver and the #EndSARS tragedy would seem to have fatally damaged his image with the youth majority and the general public. How he navigates this complexity to become electable as president is now Tinubu’s political albatross. Yet if the APC were to place a price tag on its presidential ticket in June, I doubt that any of the other aspirants in the party will find the courage to remotely rival Tinubu’s bid.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is helped by his sterling elocution and impeccable academic and professional credentials. Though a Christian clergy man, he has never worn his cassock to work. Above all, he has an unmistakable modernist inclination, a yearning for enlightened governance and a carriage of decency and detribalisation. Buhari owes him the political debt of his being a reliable level headed deputy for over seven years. His loyalty and fidelity could perhaps compensate for his slim political sagacity especially in the context of the formation and prevalence of the APC as a party. 

Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi comes to table with a trove of positives and assets. His relative youth, a track record of blistering performance both as state governor and as federal minister and a forthright political stance. In addition, he has maintained a close trusty personal relationship with Buhari as a reliable ally. From about 2013, he has remained Buhari’s most dependable political facilitator with tremendous capacities and unfailing efficiency and results. Some members of the elite are a bit uncomfortable with Amaechi’s straight shooting, fearless approach and his brute courage that often grates the nerves of conventional wisdom and offends the niceties of the establishment. But these are precisely the attributes that endear Amaechi to the youth majority who have come to see him as embodying the spirit of their age. But by far his most unexplored political asset is the fact that he straddles the two strategic zones of the South-east and South-south. Amaechi is a pure Igbo conveniently located in the strategic oil and gas Niger Delta. In the 2023 presidential race, this is an identity that has come to the political centre stage and can hardly be ignored.

In spite of their relative individual strengths, however, no one of the major APC gladiators can go too far without Mr. Buhari’s tacit endorsement and implicit support. The president may now be unpopular. But he retains a cultic followership in most population centers in the north. Up until mid-day on 29th May 2023, he remains an incumbent African president. He doesn’t hand over the levers of power until he does so.

Most importantly, his administration is ending on a most controversial negative note and adverse popularity rating. He is not likely to allow his legacy to be managed by a hostile successor. He is and will remain interested in who succeeds him. Therefore, Buhari is the most consequential single factor in matters of his succession. As a citizen he of course has only one vote. But his political ‘vote’ is multiple. The gravity of his political vote can be a counter weight to the entire popular vote if his party scores an undeniable electoral advantage at the polls.

While Buhari is entitled to a legitimate interest in who succeeds him, he can only exhibit that interest within the bounds of democratic norms and license.  Antics like ‘consensus’ candidate will only drive political dissent underground and may subvert the party and unsettle the nation. For once, let this lame duck president ‘play’ politics.

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