It appeared somewhat pedestrian politics when President Muhammadu Buhari spoke openly that, under no circumstances would he mentor, in effect, impose, anybody as his successor in 2023. What he did not add was that whatever legacy he might be leaving would have to survive on (its) merit. Trust Nigerians. Ever cynical, if not mischievous. Even as Buhari spoke so unambiguously, some still went to town that, for speaking at all, that was a sign that he (Buhari) was plotting a third term.
We must remind ourselves that, in refusing to pamper any supposed successor, Buhari was merely refusing to be prompted into what has become a notorious phenomenon. If anything, the rumblings in Edo State between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his mentor/predecesor who triples as national chairman of ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, should be a stern warning against any idea favouring a particular candidate against other rivals in the same party in any future elections at governorship or presidential level. Behind the mentorship by an outgoing public office holder to, by all means, install a successor is the fear of the one leaving being rubbished into history by the in-coming guy. Hence, the cover-up for the continued dictatorship under the guise of the need to preserve legacy of the outgoing self-designated mentor. But the truth is that a worthy legacy self-preserves.
The politically dangerous and irritating policy was started in 2007 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he practically blocked all willing presidential aspirants and imposed (one after the other) unwilling and accordingly unprepared candidates as his successor(s). More disastrous was what emerged that Obasanjo’s idea of preserving his legacy never tallied with the opportunities he gave his beneficiaries: late President Umar Yar’Adua and later President Goodluck Jonathan. Obasanjo’s purpose in imposing his successor(s) was a subtle and indirect continued rule of Nigeria through those he miscalculated were his minions. But even minions, as human beings, reach a stage of standing their ground. That is, against Obasanjo or any manipulator. Accordingly, within a year, Obasanjo became the harshest critic of Yar’Adua at home and abroad, especially on BBC current affairs programme Hard Talk on which he conceded Yar’Adua as a nice but not necessarily a competent man. There was a limit to how Yar’Adua could be whipped into line or nose-led on how he should run his administration.
Tragically, Yar’Adua took ill and died in office within two years. That was another opportunity for Obasanjo to install another crony, as he thought, even though Goodluck Jonathan on personal merit as Vice-President needed no mentor to be confirmed as substantive President. There he (Obasanjo) was, taking the opportunity. If only because of that support, President Jonathan conceded so much to Obasanjo in running his administration. But even Jonathan had more than enough of the insatiable desire of his mentor to run the entire administration for Jonathan, a poor chap who, accordingly, was forced to wake up to the reality that he was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There was no way he could so assert himself without incurring the enmity of the man who believed Jonathan owed him the right to run government for him.
Suddenly, Nigerians were entertained and irritated with series of open critical letters from Obasanjo containing nothing to commend in Jonathan’s administration. In response, Jonathan had to put down those he described as exhibiting motor park hooliganism.
Three factors were responsible for Buhari’s victory in 2015. First was Jonathan himself, who was alleged to have reneged on agreement within PDP that the presidency would return to the North in 2015, after Jonathan would have served six years as President. Jonathan, in breaching the agreement, not only denied its existence but also demanded documentary proof, if any. That was too low and expectedly lost him the support of the North, including PDP politicians who installed him in office in the first place. Such politicians from the North quit the PDP to participate in the formation of the APC. The second factor was Buhari on his personal reputation of integrity. The third factor was ex-Lagos governor Bola Tinubu who succeeded in fusing Action Congress of Nigeria with Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change. Yet, after Buhari’s victory in 2015, Obasanjo attempted to assune the role of his political mentor in sending him policy directive for the new administration of which he was never part. Buhari rightly snubbed the move. That was the beginning of no love lost between the two, and reached fever pitch with Obasanjo’s normal open letter with invectives calling on Buhari to forget second term.
It is, therefore, obvious there is nothing altruistic in the dubious idea of an outgoing public office holder mentoring and indeed imposing a successor purportedly to preserve a short-term, self-assessed legacy. Such is ever potentially acrimonious, except as laid down in our Constitution and each party’s constitution. The Obasanjo doctrine (so far unsuccessful) of handpicking a successor or trying to run the government for an incumbent can never work with the ever-present danger of generating tension.
We may even, for now, ignore the fact that, on assumption of office in 1999, former President Obasanjo publicly warned all those who assisted him into office politically, financially, materially and electorally to keep off, and everybody complied. It is, therefore, an irony that the man believes he must run government for his successors, especially those he handpicked.
Nigeria must be the only country where an outgoing public office holder arrogantly believes he must not only choose but also install his successor. Why? As the ridiculous reason goes, he must preserve his legacy. A legacy, strictly on its own, will survive all the time and, in any case, cannot be forced on the country unless the legacy in question is in the national interest.
That is the bitter lesson exposed by state governors who followed Obasanjo’s example and imposed ther choices as governorship candidates to succeed them, all in supposed bid to preserve their legacy. Almost in every case, hardly had their benefactor governors left office than civil war commenced between the two. The latest is Edo State with mutual criticisms of a governor and predecessor. Other states never fared better.
Attempted mentorships by ex-governors lost APC elections in Zamfara, Oyo, Akwa Ibom. There is the never-ending showdown between a serving and former governor in Kano. Successive governors in Enugu never got on with mentors or those mentored. Imo? Abia? Anambra? Governorship succession policy in Lagos State never necessarily ensured smooth tenure or exit for Raji Fashola or Akinwunmi Ambode. Ogun State? Amosun and APC walked away in different directions.
With such widespread disharmony, it was best that Buhari adopted the policy of allowing everybody seeking public office on APC platform in 2023 to individually answer their respective father’s names so as not to compromise merit among his party’s aspirants. The most Buhari owes his party and their supporters is a transparent nomination exercise to pick the party’s presidential candidate. Buhari can, thereafter, campaign for the nominee, where and when necessary anywhere in Nigeria, especially on the candidate’s request. Otherwise, he or she should be allowed to do it his/her way.
If elected, the new President should be allowed by the party’s hierarchy, to excercise the freedom to run his administration such as Buhari has been enjoying since 2015. That is democracy in action.