From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Emboldened and motivated by the return of President Muhammadu Buhari to the seat of power after 103 days’ medical vacation in London, his loyalists within and outside his cabinet as well as the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, have begun to push for a second term in office for him.
As the move to get a second term for Buhari gathers momentum among his supporters, the division within APC is explicitly widening ahead of the 2019 general elections. Members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) are enmeshed in battle over the desirability of issuing the incumbent President automatic ticket for the presidential election.
There was no debate over the acceptability of the choice of President Buhari as the candidate for the 2019 presidential race before his health challenges, but his two medical trips to the UK this year alone may have invoked the debate over his fitness for the job.
President Buhari, has remained the only personality stopping the governing APC presidential hopefuls like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto respectively as well as Senate President Bukola Saraki among others from declaring and embarking on aggressive campaigns for the 2019 battle as they decided to bury their ambitions for him or move to another political platform to pursue their ambition.
There has been palpable fear that an outright decision to give automatic ticket to the President who is in and out of the sick bed, in a democratic setting without regard to performance and other considerations may prove grossly counterproductive as it did when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), took similar decision in 2015 and led to the defeat of the party’s candidate, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
A combination of several factors, including Buhari’s capability, fitness and competence to deliver on his campaign promises have raised the controversy on whether he can still enjoy that wide acceptability that propelled APC to wrest power from the then ruling PDP.
As political activities towards the 2019 general elections gather momentum, who becomes the APC’s standard-bearer for the presidential election has become a poisoned chalice and a source of division among the national leadership and the party chieftains.
While some members of the NWC are not favorably disposed to giving automatic ticket to President Buhari for the 2019 presidential election, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun has launched vigorous campaign for right of first refusal for the incumbent, insisting that he remains the presidential candidate to beat.
Downplaying the effects of President Buhari’s ill-health which many believed slowed down governance and affected the delivery of the party’s manifestoes and campaign promises, Odigie-Oyegun had equally dismissed the insinuations that such decision will have adverse affect on the APC’s bid to retain power in 2019.
“The thinking that ‘will he be President in 2019’ is really not doing any good. His need today is good health. When we get to 2019, it is for him to decide if he wants to run or if he doesn’t want to run and to consult the party on his decision,” Oyegun said, adding: “If he wants to run good and if he doesn’t want to run, the country isn’t bereft, the party isn’t bereft of capable hands,” he said.
Oyegun however, noted that the issue of the candidacy of the party in the 2019 presidential election ought not be a priority now but for God to fully restore Mr President to robust and good health.
In his words: “Why build bridges if there is no river to cross? Why don’t you wait until you come across a river, then you build a bridge. With all due respect, for what it stands for, what is critical today is for our good Lord to restore Mr President to robust, good health.
“I am sure that the prime thing he will be considering isn’t 2019, but to have his health fully restored and I am sure he will give anything just to have his health restored. Let’s terminate it at that point; when 2019 comes we will deal with the issues that arise,” he insisted.
Similarly, like many other proponents of President Buhari’s second term project, a chieftain of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, supporting Chief Odigie-Oyegun’s pledge of automatic ticket for President Buhari, argued that the move would assist the president to consolidate on his achievements.
According to him, “I support Mr Chairman 100 per cent. Continuation means that Mr President will be in a position to consolidate on the silent social revolution he is embarking on – silent revolution to plug all leakages to fight corruption, to motivate and re-modernise security agencies so that there will be security in the land.
“And some other issues like the development of critical infrastructure such as standard rail-line across the country, rehabilitation of dilapidated federal road networks, and the ease of doing business in Nigeria,” he noted.
Another National Officer of the party who pleaded anonymity told Saturday Sun categorically that the party had no option but to give its presidential ticket to Buhari unconditionally next year.
To justify this, he said “don’t forget Buhari is the reason the party is still together today. Buhari won the 2015 election and not APC, just as Jonathan lost that election and not PDP. It will surprise you to know that even if Buhari dies today, God forbid, the North will still vote for him in 2019. The vote will even be twice of what he got in 2015 because the masses and the middle class in the region have been empowered by this government. It is only the elite who have no access to free money unlike before that are now complaining.”
The NWC member added that though Buhari has not told the party executives about his plans, but “if he says he is coming back, he will be adopted as the sole candidate by the party because he has the right of first refusal.”
However, the view may not have received unanimous approval from the national leadership of the party as another member of the National Working Committee (NWC), who spoke to Saturday Sun in confidence said that the major concern of the party should be to see how Mr President can serve out his first tenure and more importantly deliver the unfulfilled campaign promises that convinced Nigerians to massively vote for him and the party.
Asked about the decision of the party on President Buhari’s second term automatic ticket, the party chieftain said: “How can you even be talking about second term for Mr President when he has not finished the current term. As far as we are concerned, automatic second term ticket for Mr President is not a consideration for the national leadership for now and we don’t want to respond to mere speculation because he has not even formally informed us of such an ambition.”
“Our major concern and prayers now should be to see how he finishes his current term and deliver the campaign promises he gave to Nigerians. So, the issue of automatic ticket or offer of first refusal does not arise,” the party chieftain added.
2019: Buhari’s performance would determine APC’s chances –Izuogu
With the return of President Muhammadu Buhari from his medical vacation in London, Dr Ezekiel Izuogu, a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that the chances of the ruling party in 2019 would depend on his performance from now. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he spoke on a wide range of issues.
President Muhammadu Buhari came back to the country after 103 days of medical vacation in the United Kingdom. With his return, how do you feel?
I feel very relieved that he has returned. The type of feelings that I had at the time he was not around was very worrying. I am happy that he is back; that he is alive and can continue his work. We supported him and threw in everything for him to be president, so if he does well, we will be happy. Naturally, I feel relieved that he is back. I hope that he would use the opportunity to do things better than he had done in the past.
Specifically, what areas do you think the President should concentrate on.
He has done well in the aspect of anti-corruption war. I applaud his performance and he is not a corrupt person himself. He has demonstrated that he is not corrupt. However, in other areas like security, people have complaints that the security agencies are manned by those from one particular tribe or nearly so. Now, for a country that loves herself; a country that is united, you would expect to see every major tribe represented in the security of Nigeria. If you have an Hausa/Fulani as Chief of Staff, the Igbo and Yoruba should be the commanders of the Navy and Air force. The minorities should be involved. So, we want to see that in the life of the president. The president is one for all Nigerians no matter their tribe and religion. The government should not give the impression that people of a particular religion are more superior than others as has been suspected and rumoured over time. I would like to see the president who is not anti-Christian and who is not anti any particular religion. As a Christian leader, I came out to support President Buhari and I explained to my Bishops and church leaders why I decided to support him. It was because I wanted him to fight corruption. I was not going to support somebody who was going to fight Chtistianity. I cannot do that. So, let him take steps that would embolden us against the future.
What is your take on the effort to criminalise hate speeches in the country? Do you think that would curtail the excesses of some people who try to demonise others?
I love the effort to criminalise hate speeches in the country. It is very important because it is hate speeches that lead to wars. I can tell you that wars result from hate speeches. The declaration of war is the ultimate hate speech that anybody can make. When people are making hate speeches, they are actually declaring war. And we should take steps to avoid such things by all means.
Nigerians especially the elite have literally become slaves to medical tourism. When do you think that is going to stop? When are we going to have a dependable health system? Don’t we have the wherewithal to stop that anomaly?
I am sorry I do not agree with you that we do not have a dependable health system. We have hospitals that can take care of President Buhari very well. We have them in Nigeria and we have competent doctors and facilities that can take care of him but the problem with Nigeria is trust. Most Nigerians do not trust one another. If you are going into a hospital, you are going to leave yourself at the mercy of doctors, nurses and every staff of the place. Lack of trust is the major problem and why they go abroad for medical treatment. You would continue to wonder, can I trust this man. If you are going into operation for an example and you are no longer in your senses, are you sure of what would happen when you wake up. I had a prostate cancer and I did the surgery in Abuja. The surgery cost me over N2million but I trusted the doctor, nurses and everybody that came around. This is because the amount of drugs you take are enormous and you do not even know when you take some of them. They must be administered by people you trust. I am talking about people who cannot inject something over and above what they should inject. This is because the life of man is very fragile at that level and any little mistake, the man is gone and they would just say he died in the hospital. They are not going to give details and say what made him to die. So, we must grow confidence in Nigeria. I’m not talking with respect to the President now but with everybody. We must build confidence. I am an Igbo man but I trust a Yoruba man; I trust an Hausa man; I trust Middle Belters; I trust South South and so on. The man who did operation on me was not an Igbo man.
How do you feel about the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra especially with reference to the threat by the group that there would be no governorship election in Anambra State?
The threat was done in bad taste and we all condemned it. Anambra election must hold because we are in a democracy. In a democracy, we must hold elections. If you do not hold elections, there would be imposition. The Anambra people have a right to choose who their governor would be. Nobody can tell them not to do that. So, I think it was a wrong statement to make.
But generally, how do you see the agitation of IPOB.
Basically, the group wants to defend the Igbo interest. That is the picture they are painting. What they are saying is that they do not like the marginalization of Ndigbo. They do not like the fact that the Igbo are not given the proper position even though we are one out of three major tribes in Nigeria and so on. For me, I think that some of the methods should be changed. I think that Nigerians should remain one and if there is genuine restructuring, the interest of the Igbo can be taken into account, ditto for Yoruba, South South and everybody would be protected. I want to urge the IPOB to lower the tempo. We do not want violence in Nigeria. It would not help anybody.
With the return of Buhari, do you think the quit notice by the Arewa youths for the Igbo to leave the North should be ignored?
The quit notice was badly motivated. You do not give anybody quit notice. The Igbo own property in Cameroun, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, the United States, United Kingdom etc. Nigerians have properties everywhere and nobody is giving them quit notice. So, we can only say things that are civilized and not the things that are uncivilized. I do not know whether they have not withdrawn it up till now but I felt embarrassed when those things were said. The youth are older than Gen Gowon when they became the Head of State of Nigeria. The people that they call Northern youths are older than Gen Gowon who was 32 when he became the Head of State. Most of them are in their 40s. I hope the language can be modified. You should say things that would encourage us to remain together; we should build Nigeria and not destroy it. When you say quit, you are saying I do not want you and you should go away. I can do without you. That is not the language of civilization and it is not the language of unity.
Do you recommend the reshuffling of the cabinet? Many think that Buhari’s administration needs some amount of tweaking to turn the fortunes of Nigerians around.
The president knows those he appointed. He should do the arithmetic and find out if they are doing what he asked them to do and if they are working in the best interest of Nigeria. Actually, it is a convention in Nigeria that most governments reshuffle their cabinet after two years. The expectation is that after two years, he would be able to see better whether this person is actually doing it or not. So, it is more of a personal decision.
What should the president do particularly to the economy? So far, under Buhari, it does appear that the economy is not doing well.
The problem is that we are doing nothing about science and technology. We are doing nothing about industrialization. As long as we do not industrialise, we would continue to have problems. We have millions of our youths wasting, we have millions of graduates roaming the streets without any jobs. Industrialisation is the key. We should make sure that the power system is stable. I am happy with former governor of Lagos State and the Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola. Power has improved but the improvement is not enough still. We are still putting on generators everyday. I want a situation where there would be power in Nigeria for six months, one year and nobody puts on the generator. Those who are importing generators into Nigeria would be frustrated. They would stop pumping generators into Nigeria if we have a stable power system.
You are a major stakeholder in the APC. Do you think that based on performance that the party would have another chance in 2019?
It would depend on Buhari’s performance and what he does from now till 2019. Nigerians like a progressive party. Nigerians love the progressive movement. I enjoy the leadership of the progressives. If Buhari can run a progressive government, nobody can challenge the APC. Do not worry about the noise that the PDP is making. If Buhari can sit up and correct his mistakes in the last two years, nobody can challenge the APC.
But after the successful non-elective congress of the PDP, are you not afraid that Nigerians would again change their loyalty to the main opposition party? This is contrary to the fortunes of your party which has not been able to organize a national convention.
I agree with you and I have spoken with the national chairman that he needs to take control of the party. I have been a national chairman several times. The national chairman needs to take complete control of the APC. If the national chairman calls all those factions to order, they would listen and we would have a party that is strong. Buhari cannot lead the party; he is the president of Nigeria. It is the national chairman that leads the party. He should stand up and lead the APC and there would be no problem.