By ISMAIL OMIPIDAN and OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
The year 2016 was no less eventful as the previous ones both on economic and political fronts. While the citizenry had to grapple with the hardship of the economic recession, the only virile opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which could provide an alternative solution to the much criticised policy of the government, tottered from one crisis to another.
For this New Year 2017, expectations are high that things would get better, going by the assurance from President Muhammadu Buhari and his economic team. But time is of the essence for the administration that would be in its mid-term by May 29, 2017. If the conventional pattern of politics in the country is anything to go by, governance may likely take a flight any time from the second quarter of this year, as politicking for the 2019 general elections takes the front row.
Those to watch out for, among array of key players, as the new power game begins to unfold are President Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, Rivers State Governor, Nyesome Wike, detained leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu and former Delta State governor, James Ibori. Apart from these individuals, other prominent state actors that would shape the politics in the coming dispensation include: Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima, former Jigawa Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State as well as his counterpart in Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai.
President Buhari has not told anyone that he wants to run again. But there are strong indications that he may seek re-election in 2019. Already, those around him have begun plans to secure his second term. His party Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, has said he would do everything within his powers to ensure the president recontests in 2019. Even Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, who had initially shown interest in the presidency, has technically dropped the ambition.
But whether Buhari would run or not, the APC must necessarily double its efforts in the face of the opposition. Sunday Sun gathered that two leading northerners have openly indicated interest to slug it out with Buhari in 2019. These are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido. While Abubakar belongs to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Lamido is of the PDP. In this regard, it is not unlikely that Abubakar would want to seek an alternative platform other than APC to actualise his ambition.
Although North-west is still considered a stronghold of the APC, Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and Jigawa states are somehow vulnerable. Thus, if the PDP adequately manages affairs in this zone, it could spring surprise in these states.
Notwithstanding all these permutations, what is certain is that a northerner will again emerge as Nigeria’s president at the end of 2019 polls. Only time will tell whether or not the APC will retain power at the centre.
Though Atiku has not made a formal declaration of his intention to take another shot at the presidency in 2019, his body language leaves no one in doubt that he is still much interested in the contest. Since he joined the fray in 2007 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC), he has not rested on his oars to clinch the number one seat. In the face of all challenges, he remains committed to his overarching ambition to lead the country.
In his new subtle approach to win the sympathy of the South, he has been in the fore front of the campaign for restructuring of the present federal structure, especially in the recent time.
For obvious reasons, Atiku needs the support of the South to actualise his dream. Hitherto, Tinubu had been his close political ally. But the relationship went sour when in the 2007 election he dumped Tinubu and picked Senator Ben Obi as his presidential running mate.
Political observers are quick to connect Atiku’s strident campaign for restructuring with his desire to regain the lost confidence in the Southwest, which has been a leading voice in the sustained agitation for a review of the existing federal structure. Gradually and steadily, the Turaki Adamawa is pushing on with his ambition. And it is expected to gather more momentum in this year.
Former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, is the national leader of APC. The role he played in the merger arrangement that culminated in the formation of the party in the run up to the 2015 general elections is a familiar story. In recognition of his contribution to the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election, nearly all top functionaries in the present government from the South-west are the so-called Tinubu Boys. These include: Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Minister for Solid Mineral, Dr Kayode Fayemi, FIRS’s Babatunde Fowler, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to mention a few.
But feelers in the polity are that the same set of people he helped to build is the one being used by the presidency to checkmate his rising political profile. This insinuation was further fueled by the crisis arising from the gubernatorial primary of the APC in Ondo State where Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) emerged as candidate against his anointed candidate, Olusegun Abraham.
With this development, whether real or imaginary, Tinubu is, no doubt, one of the key players Nigerians would watch out for in 2017 in the overall scheming for 2019. One thing is clear from his political antecedents: Tinubu, a shrewd political strategist, does not embark on a battle he cannot win. In 2003, when the then leaders of Afenifere notably the late Abraham Adesanya and Ayo Adebanjo felt the need to curtail his power by trying to deny him the ticket of the AD for a second term, he dared their leadership and took a bold initiative of forming the Action Congress (AC). Within a few months, he transformed the new party as a credible opposition to the PDP in the country. He sought re-election on the platform of the party and won. Since then, Afenifere has never remained the same. In this New Year, Nigerians would like to see Tinubu’s new game plan.
Immediate past governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, now a senator, is one of the dissident Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors who dumped the party in the run up to the 2015 general elections and joined forces with the emerging APC. With his strong political machinery in the state, he led the party to victory in the governorship election, which saw the emergence of Abdullahi Ganduje as his successor. However, the two have been having a running battle over the control of the machinery of the party in the state. In spite of the intervention of the National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, the prolonged crisis in the state chapter of the party has remained unabated, giving rise to the speculation in some quarters that the presidency might be using Ganduje to checkmate his former boss.
This may not be totally unfounded as Kwankwaso was first runner-up in the APC presidential primaries held at Onikan Stadium in Lagos in December 2014. It took the intervention of Tinubu, the former Rivers State governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and others to secure the ticket for Buhari. Since then, Kwankwaso has not been in Buhari’s good book. The recent move by the EFCC to probe the sources of the N20 billion he allegedly used to fund his presidential campaign fueled this suspicion. The operatives had quizzed the chairmen of the 44 local governments of the state who were said to have allegedly generated N70 million each to fund his presidential campaign.
Already, the Kwankwasiyya group has been significantly decimated by deliberate efforts of Governor Ganduje. But there is still a strong indication that Kwankwaso might be having his eyes on the presidential seat in 2019. To that extent, he remains a strong force to watch out for in the scheming for power for the next dispensation.
Senator Bukola Saraki has been in the eye of the storm since his precipitate emergence as the president of the Senate in June 2015 against the wish of his party. His celebrated trial by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for alleged false assets declaration while in power as governor of Kwara State has been lingering. This is in addition to the alleged case of forgery instituted against him and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for allegedly forging the Senate’s standing rules, which was recently dropped.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has suspended the trial of the Senate president at the CCT. The ruling to stay the proceedings of the trial was made on November 12. This was to enable the apex court entertain and determine the substantive appeal Saraki lodged before it.
Until now, Buhari had always expressed his loss of confidence in Saraki’s leadership as president of the Senate. However, with the recent fence mending between the legislature and the executive, there is now some kind of closeness between the two of them.
Some political pundits have predicted that Saraki would be a force to reckon with in 2019, if he is able to weather the storm.
Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has remained a conspicuous figure in the news for always being critical of the anti-corruption policy of President Muhammadu Buhari. This came to a head when the EFCC ordered his account with the Zenith Bank, Ado-Ekiti, to be frozen to enable it to carry out investigation into the governor’s alleged involvement in the sharing of arms money. Diverse reactions had trailed the action of the operatives until the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti, recently ruled that the account be defreezed.
Before the latest development, Fayose had also been the arrow head of the opposition PDP, especially in the South-west. He was said to be instrumental to the emergence of Ali Modu Sheriff as the interim national chairman of the PDP. But at the party’s national convention held in Port Harcourt, they turned the table against Sheriff. And since then, the party has known no peace.
In view of the lingering crisis, he has already indicated the possibility of dumping the PDP ahead of 2019. Fayose, whose main aspiration is to be the godfather of Ekiti State politics, would definitely play a critical role in the possible realignment of forces that may begin to unfold this year.
The struggle between Governor Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, for control of Rivers State is still the talking point in the polity. Both camps have been trading accusations and counter accusations over the violence that characterised the recent rerun election in the state.
While Wike claimed that the insecurity, killing and kidnapping, in the state started during the administration of Amaechi, the Publicity Secretary of the APC, Chris Finebone, described the allegation as preposterous and ridiculous.
Intrigues and suspicion crept into the saga when the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, recently set up a team of detectives to probe into the incidents of electoral malpractices during the rerun election. The team was further mandated to conduct forensic analysis of the audio report released by Sahara Reporters purported to be the voice of Wike pertaining to the concluded election.
Wike in his own pre-emptive move equally set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to probe the killings and violence during the election with a view to unraveling those responsible. All these would surely shape the politics of Rivers State in the New Year, as Amaechi and Governor Wike continue their struggle for the soul of the oil rich state. For now, there is no end in sight to the power rivalry.
Former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, recently released from prison after 13 years imprisonment in the UK was one of the key power players in Nigeria before his travails. His role in the emergence of the late Umar Yar’Adua as president in 2007 in particular is already a familiar story. He was alleged to have bankrolled the campaign of Yar’Adua. And thus, when Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, attempted to probe into his alleged embezzlement of funds and money laundering related offences, he got his finger burnt and was consequently dismissed. The plea bargain option introduced thereafter by the administration was believed to be part of the ploy to shield the former governor from prosecution.
In the end, Ibori scaled through the 100-count charge preferred against him, as the Court of Appeal threw out the case for lack of merit. But he was not that lucky in UK where he was jailed for fraud. Reports say he wants to appeal his conviction before he returns to Nigeria. If he succeeds in securing his acquittal, he would be a force to reckon with in the politics of Delta State. The jubilation that greeted the news of his release by the British court bears an eloquent testimony to his popularity in the state, especially his Oghara country home.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi
Makarfi is the Chairman, Caretaker Committee of the PDP. His emergence followed the ‘coup’ that ousted the embattled former national chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff, at the Port Harcourt convention. Since then, the two leaders have been at loggerheads both laying claim to the chairmanship position of the party. All efforts to amicably resolve the lingering crisis and reposition the party as a virile opposition to the ruling APC have proved abortive.
The seeming irreconcilable differences between the two factional leaders may not be unconnected with the scheming for 2019 presidential race. While Sheriff is accused of being a mole in the party working for the APC, there are speculations that Makarfi may be nursing ambition to pick the party’s ticket for the presidency.
In a bid to get out of the quagmire, Makarfi had recently set up an ad hoc committee known as Strategy Review and Inter-party affairs to reach out to ex-party members as well as aggrieved APC members with a view to forming new political alliance ahead of the 2019 general elections. The 85-man committee is headed by former minister of information, Prof Jerry Gana.
This has given rise to speculation about the possible emergence of a new mega party. Events ahead will prove how far they can go about this.
Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima has never showed interest in the country’s number one position. But as North’s number one governor and by virtue of his position, he will be playing a prominent role in the race to the 2019 general election.
Detained Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafara (IPOB), is a political activist based in the United Kingdom. He was arrested in Lagos on October 14, 2015 by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government and has been held in prison since then in spite of various court orders that ruled for his release. He is being tried for alleged treason.
Notwithstanding Kanu’s detention, pro-Biafra agitators have never relented in their agitation for the actualisation of their own nation. Because they have refused to give up on the agitation, some notable Igbo leaders have already begun to openly indentify with their agitation. May be with time, the government may be forced to listen to them.
The centrality of Kanu to the discourse about the place of Igbo in Nigeria was clearly demonstrated by the disdain shown by women, youths, students and traders and a good number of the elite in the eastern part of the country, when they rejected the two factions, the Re-branded Indigenous People of Biafra (TRIPOB) and Reformed Indigenous People of Biafra (RE-IPOB), which claimed to have broken out from IPOB. Groups like the Igbo Women Assembly (IWA), led by Mrs Mariah Okwor; Igbo Youth Movement (IYM); Igbo Students Union (ISU); Igbo Traders Association (ITA) and South East Christians Network (SECN), in various press statements dismissed the sole-called factions as hired hands of the Department of State Services to destabilize Kanu and IPOB, and declared support for Kanu, who they described as a hero. The outcome of the failed attempt saw him gaining more grounds in the eastern part of Nigeria.
“There is clearly no crisis or factions among these gallant boys, they united under Nnamdi Kanu and they are committed to their struggle. I personally thought that Kanu will go the way of Uwazurike, but he has surprised everybody by his righteous, sincere and total commitment to the struggle. The IWA will honour Kanu for his honesty and transparent leadership, that boy is a hero,” Okwor said.
Comrade Chimezie Ubani, who is the president of Igbo Students, said: “We will honour Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in all the campuses in eastern Nigerian soon, he is our eternal hero, a prophet and a legend. He destroyed our oppressors with the power of truth. IPOB is intact and we are all proud of them. I can tell you that they have only succeeded in making Kanu and IPOB more popular and respected by all. It means he is giving them sleepless nights, if he were a sell-out, they would not create fake splinter groups to counter him.”
A further pointer to the significant influence Kanu wields is the ongoing Operation Python Dance by the military to prevent marches in the Southeast. When IPOB responded with Operation David’s Dance, it quickly caught on throughout the South-east.