Much like his nearly four-year presidency has divided Nigerians sharply along ethno-geographic and religious fault lines, President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid has proved no less divisive. From a legacy of a fractured country, arising from Buhari’s divisive leadership style, which has turned farmers against herders, Christians against Muslims, North against South and the masses against the elite, the next frontier of conflict appears to be between the South East and South West geopolitical zones over 2023 presidency.
Having failed to deliver on any of his core campaign promises of tackling corruption, insecurity and growing the economy with very little or nothing in terms of life-changing infrastructural development on the eve of election, the Buhari campaign has been reduced to the use of ethno-geographic sentiments for power to bait votes. However, like his failed leadership style, this latest opportunistic attempt to sway votes in the South East and South West geopolitical zones appears to be not only flawed but dead on arrival.
By way of subtle electoral blackmail, Buhari’s APC has thrown up the long-agitated-for Nigerian President of South East extraction trump card as a potent weapon of negotiation for securing the gepolitical zone’s support for the President’s re-election. Having inflicted an unprecedented level of marginalisation upon the South East, which has seen the zone completely shut out of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet and entire top echelon of the nation’s security services, with resultant deep resentment for the current administration, efforts are underway to win over the people with the issue of presidency.
Speaking to newsmen after a recent meeting between President Buhari and the South East governors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the visit was remarkable and had corrected the impression that the Federal Government was not doing anything for the people of the zone. According to him, “we received a very high-powered delegation today and I think it is a remarkable visit because they came essentially to thank Mr. President over the major activities that have taken place in the South East.”
On whether President Buhari solicited the votes of the South East at the meeting, the SGF said: “This obviously might not be the most appropriate time. You remember there was a programme in the South East where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I threw the kite by telling the southeastern states that their quickest and easiest means to the presidency is to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term. Meaning that they can short circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years and whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter, because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.”
Having repeatedly justified the marginalisation of the South East on the basis of the paltry 198,000 votes obtained in the zone by Buhari in the 2015 election, his handlers are now trying to misrepresent this political punishment as a useful lesson to learn to become wiser by voting the APC presidential ticket in 2019.
In a now familiar pattern of double speaking by the Buhari administration, in another part of Nigeria, this time in the South West, a different kind of song is being sung by another set of regime agents. Having failed to better the socioeconomic lot of the majority of Nigerians of the South West, in addition to a near absence of federal presence in most areas, as the perennial repair works on Lagos-Ibadan express way amounts to nothing but a servants reward, minister of power, works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, had to push the prospects of a return of power to the region if only they support the second term aspiration of President Buhari. Speaking in his native Yoruba language for maximum effect at a town hall meeting in Oyo State, Fashola said, “Do you know that power is rotating to the South West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure, if you vote for him in 2019? A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.”
This statement that was initially dismissed as inconsequential would soon provoke a national discourse when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was reported to have expressed similar views in consultation with Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo, when he said, “Yoruba have a lot to contribute to Nigeria for the 2019 elections. It is for us Yoruba, if you understand, it is for us. We are not looking at 2019, but 2023. If we don’t get it now, it may take some time again.”
The reducing of national discourse in an election year to issues of ethno-geographic sentiments of presidential power aspiration is actually a reflection of Buhari’s elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy. Buhari’s sectionalism has not only left Nigeria divided but has entrenched the Hobbesian state of a polity primarily
driven by primordial sentiments of ethnicity, geography and religion. If the doublespeak from the Presidency is designed to plunge the South West and South East geopolitical zones into fierce competition on who delivers more votes to APC’s Buhari in order to qualify for 2023 presidency, the ensuing struggle that may likely emerge between these two zones in the event that the scheme scales through will most likely achieve the unexpected or maybe the originally intended.
It would amount to sheer naivety for any Nigerian of South East origin to contemplate a pact with Buhari in exchange for the presidency in 2023. It is unlikely that a Buhari who in 2015 doesn’t consider any Nigerian of South East origin trustworthy enough to head any branch of the security agencies, including the unarmed Federal Road Safety Corps, will consider making one the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in 2023. The ensuing struggle between the South East and South West will provide the perfect setting to withhold this unintended gesture. Similarly, the South West zone, which has been the most visible champion of Buhari’s re-election and in the process has denounced the opposition PDP as the destroyers of Nigeria while designating him as the only trustworthy man in Nigeria without an alternative, would have unintentionally provided the perfect setting for a continuation of the Buhari presidency beyond 2023, through democratic means. If PDP destroyed Nigeria in 16 years, it is impossible for Buhari to fix it in just eight years, especially where there is no alternative among the 200 million Nigerians alive. If there is no alternative to Buhari in 2019, it is unlikely for such a desired alternative to emerge in 2019 as he or she is probably not born yet. With Buhari not making verbal commitment to either South East or South West, therefore, in 2023, it is neither East nor West.