•The Atiku, Kwankwaso, Dankwambo, Sule Lamido, Alhassan challenge
By WILLY EYA
Nearly two years to the next general elections, a major political battle over who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari after the expiration of his first tenure in 2019 has begun in earnest.
The development comes even as feelers from top presidency and the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) sources confirmed that Buhari would likely seek re-election as he has never told anybody that he would not seek a second term at the expiration of his first term in 2019.
Saturday Sun learnt that the battle for the president’s hot seat would be on three major political fronts. The first and predictably most ferocious would be fought by aspirants from the president’s party, the APC while another would be by aspirants from the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). The third group in the battle line is mainly those seeking relevance and patronage over who to support in the ensuing power struggle.
Among leading aspirants battling to succeed Buhari in the APC include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido and former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso.
Saturday Sun also learnt that others subtly eyeing the plum seat include the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Nasir el-Rufai of Sokoto and Kaduna states respectively.
In the main opposition party, apart from the Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose who has openly declared his 2019 presidential ambition, others are former Senate President, David Mark and former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke. But Saturday Sun learnt from a top APC leader that President Buhari would likely throw his hat in the ring again for another four years in 2019.
The source said that it remains his constitutional right to do so and that at no time did Buhari tell anybody that he would do only one term as claimed by the Women Affairs minister, Aisha Alhassan.
The source explained that in 2010 ahead of the 2011 presidential election, Buhari had made a commitment that if voted into power, he would do only one term but never said so in his campaign ahead of the 2015 general elections.
The battle within
Even though the next presidential election is still faraway, there is an increasing indication that the most fierce political war of succession would be fought among aspirants in the ruling party, the APC.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan literally blew the whistle for the race when she openly expressed her support for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar even while still serving under Buhari. Our source revealed that apart from Alhassan, Buhari’s political strategists would soon move against all those whose loyalty are in doubt ahead of the next presidential election.
Saturday Sun learnt that Alhassan who was sighted at the presidential villa where she restated her support for Atiku would likely be the first casualty of Buhari’s re-election ambition as she may be forced to resign after her audacious support for Atiku, her benefactor.
The Women Affairs minister’s offence was the open endorsement of the former vice president for the 2019 presidential election when she led a private visit to Mr. Abubakar.
Popularly called Mama Taraba, Mrs. Alhassan was the APC governorship candidate in Taraba in 2015, an election she narrowly lost to the current PDP governor in the state, Darius Dickson Ishaku.
Her support for Mr. Abubakar will not be surprising for political observers, as the former vice president is believed to be a major financier of the APC in the North-east including Taraba.
Although Mr. Abubakar has not publicly declared his intention to run in 2019, he is believed to be mobilising and getting ready for the election. He came third in the APC presidential primaries in the build up to the 2015 elections, losing to President Buhari and ex-Kano governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso.
The former vice president has never hidden his presidential ambition having contested the 2007 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) after realizing that he could not get the PDP ticket because of his frosty relationship with former President Obasanjo. Also, the APC chieftain had contested the presidential ticket with former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, and in 2015, he lost the APC primaries to Buhari again.
Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso
Former governor of Kano State, Kwankwaso is one man whose ambition to lead the country has been in the public domain for some time now. He is currently a serving senator representing Kano Central at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly and was a presidential aspirant in the 2015 general election. Ahead of 2019, there are feelers that his Kwankwasiyya political structure has already started underground work to project him to the plum position.
Battle from outside
As the clock ticks toward 2019, Saturday Sun findings also show that many aspirants are already working behind the scene to succeed Buhari in 2019. A top member of the PDP hierarchy confirmed that the aspirants believe that no time would be better than 2019 to upstage the APC-led government.
He said the ruling party has lost the magic wand it used in winning the 2015 presidential election and would be an easy prey in the next general election.
Some of those eyeing the seat in the PDP family include former Senate President, David Mark, Governors of Ekiti and Gombe states, Ayo Fayose and Ibrahim Dankwambo respectively, as well as former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido. However, a source told Saturday Sun that the PDP would not like to make the mistake of the 2015 general elections by going to 2019 as a divided house.
He said that even though some aspirants of the PDP are already positioning for the presidential seat, the party hierarchy is being cautious to ensure that it presents an “unbeatable” candidate in 2019.
Positioning for patronage
For this group, the battle is among those seeking political relevance as they position for the right candidate to support ahead of the next general election. Saturday Sun learnt that even though they are not in the race, there is so much bickering among them for relevance.
Among the teeming population of people in this group, while some are in support of Buhari’s re-election, others are positioning for a possible successor to Buhari in 2019.
In the Niger-Delta region for instance, the jostling for 2019 has created a sharp divide between the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) led by Chief Edwin Clark and some other power brokers in the region anchored by the immediate past Pro-Chancellor of the University of Uyo, and former President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Kimse Okoko.
While Chief Clark’s group appears to have some level of soft spot for the Buhari administration, Okoko who is a prominent member of the Southern Leaders of Thought believes that 2019 general election may just be a pipe dream if Nigeria is not restructured before then.
The situation is not different in the South East as many of the gladiators are positioning themselves for a possible change in the political equation that may offer the zone the chance to produce the Vice Presidential slot.
The situation is tougher in the North where power brokers are literally torn apart as they battle to give allegiance to various aspirants getting set for the next general elections. While some are ready to swim and sink with Buhari, others are positioning to take a chance among other aspirants.
You’re a liar, APC tackles Atiku
From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has described former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as a liar, labeling his recent attack on President Muhammadu Buhari and the party as misleading.
Fielding questions from journalists at the APC national secretariat, Abuja on Friday, a member of the National Working Committee (NWC) and National Vice Chairman, Northwest zone, Inuwa Abdukadir, also urged the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Jumai Alhassan, to honourably resign her position over the derogatory remarks she made against President Buhari.
“People of Atiku’s statue and reckoning in this country, particularly the former Vice President of this greet nation, has attained the position of a statesman and what we expect of him is nothing less than that.
“By virtue of his former office and his age, he is qualified to be a statesman but when you reach that statue and age there are certain things you have to come to terms with which is to exhibit a high sense of decorum in your conduct, you have to guard what you say, how you say it and when you say it because what is expected of you as a statesman is nothing but factual.
“Secondly, majority of the people look up to them to provide leadership in the sense that from what you say people can learn a lot. Of recent, Atiku has made some statements that create an impression of the failure of the party and the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
“At that level, good party members, especially of his status should not be seen to be making public statements even if those criticisms are factual, whereas in this case some of these statements were misleading and incorrect.
“These statements give an impression as if there is a crack in the house and in the party or that the party is not doing all that which it ought to. Secondly, as leaders, we shouldn’t be seen as joining issues in the public domain but since he has made a public statement, the public is entitled to get the other side or be told the truth.
“Yes, Atiku like many others made certain contributions in the 2015 elections and in building the party but the bigger picture which he gave is not correct. The north west zone which I represent had eight Presidential campaign rallies which Atiku did not attend any.
“Yes, he added value by his personality, but there are so many other members of the party, that made financial contributions and added electoral value. North West is the most populous zone in terms of the APC membership and in terms of electoral victory, not only to the President but we have seven state governors and 20 out of the 21 senators in the zone are from the APC.
“I think we are critical and major stakeholders in this party. So, one of the reasons we are making this statement is in order to calm our members in these states and for them not to be distracted and that APC is well on ground. All efforts are made to solidify those gains and we shouldn’t be distracted by such unfortunate statements that the party is neglecting a particular person or group of persons.
“Some involve processes and you don’t expect everything to happen at the time. More importantly, there should be some decorum in what we do. People who have attained those high privileged positions should know that they have attained certain status in the society which they cannot afford to be talking any how,” he warned.
Speaking further, he said: “On the issue of consultation by the Mr. President, though I am not in the Villa, it is an open secret that whoever visited the President is no longer a secret. Whoever is meeting the President of Nigeria more than 20 people will know and the information will be shared.
“As a matter of fact, several times, Atiku Abubakar has visited Mr President and what they discussed, we don’t know but we know that he has visited. I am sure he is not just there to greet him. Those two leaders will meet without discussing one thing or the other,” he said.
Frowning at Aisha Alhassan’s comments on the 2019 Presidential election, he said: “I am sure that people will be eager to hear about our reaction to the conduct of the Minister of Women Affairs. People have right to express their opinion and views but those rights should be suspended if you find yourself as a member of the cabinet or party. There are certain things expected of you because it may send wrong signal of your commitment to the party and the person you are serving.
“As somebody who has accepted to serve, the right thing for her to do if she thinks that something is going wrong is for her to honourably quit. But the situation she created was the impression of blackmailing the President and thus will not be accepted by the party.
“It is too bad for her to make such suggestion in respect of her principal in public. This is something that she can discuss with her principal to let him (President) know her position.
“If she feels like making it public then she is saying that she is no longer comfortable with this situation and that if this situation should continue she is no longer comfortable with it. Whether President Buahri has said that he will recontest or not is immaterial, what is material is that serving Ministers should not be seen to be making public statements that suggest that they are not on the same page with the team because she is a member of a team.
“In order places the right thing is for her to resign, which means that she can no longer continue to be in this thing because her spirit and her thought is not in conformity with this team, so we can no more work together.
“She is entitled to that. So, she cannot eat her cake and have it, that is the situation. As high as that office is, people resign and leave on principle that if not that I’m a member of APC, I would not have accepted to serve but I’m not convinced still, so I think giving an opportunity to somebody else I will support him not you,” he said.