By Ismail Omipidan
It was a Wednesday morning, February 17, 2010, to be precise. There was tension everywhere. The then President, Umaru Yar’Adua, had been out of the country for 72 days, on medical grounds, without handing over to the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.
But there was no one courageous enough among the cabinet members to speak the truth to the power that be, until a certain Professor Dora Akunyili, who herself was a cabinet member, being the Minister of Information and Communications, took the Federal Executive Council (FEC), to task, urging it to insist Jonathan was recognised as the acting President, since the then President was nowhere in sight. That singular action, prepared the grounds for the “Doctrine of Necessity” which saw the National Assembly, formally mandating Jonathan to act, since there was no any formal letter before then, transmitting power to Jonathan. The lawmakers’ action came barely a week after Akunyili’s courageous outing.
Armed with the power of an acting President, Jonathan dissolved the cabinet in March, of the same year, with Akunyili returning to the cabinet.
Like Akunyili, another woman has blazed the trail. She is Hajia Aisha Jummai Alhassan. And like Akunyili, she is also a cabinet member. She is, at the time of filing this report the Minister of Women Affairs. Unlike Akunyili, however, she appears not to have the courage to use the venue of FEC meeting, to bomb her principal, President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, her strong message, to her principal also went viral on a Wednesday, a day set aside for FEC meetings, since 1999. But she delivered a message no member of the cabinet has been able to deliver to Buhari, at least in the open, in recent time.
She told Buhari in an unmistakable term that should he decides to run in 2019, she won’t be supporting him, because of her preference for her political godfather, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who obviously has left no one in doubt that he would be running for the presidency again in 2019.
Alhassan, a former lawmaker and the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the last general election in Taraba State, said: “In 2014/2015, he (Buhari) said he was going to run for only one time to clean up the mess that the (previous) PDP government did in Nigeria. And I took him for his word that he is not contesting in 2019,” an agency report quoted her as saying on Wednesday.
In an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, she reaffirmed her position, saying she would resign if Buhari presents himself for a re-election.
The minister who was seen on camera pledging loyalty to Atiku, should he decides to run, allegedly said she would personally discourage Buhari from re-contesting, insisting that she was ready to sacrifice her position in the federal cabinet, for the purpose.
“If today Mr. President says he is running in 2019, I will go to him respectfully and thank him for giving me an opportunity to serve and then tell him that I have to resign because my political father may be running,” the minister fondly called “Mama Taraba,” said.
“Atiku is my godfather even before I joined politics, and again Baba Buhari did not tell us that he is going to run in 2019. And let me tell you today that if Baba says he is going to contest in 2019, I swear to Allah, I will go before him and kneel and tell him, ‘Baba, I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve your government as a minister. But Baba, just like you know, I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather.’
“That is if Atiku says he is going to contest; as we are talking now, Atiku has not said he is going to contest. Why I said our president in 2019 is because we all hope he (Atiku) is going to contest, but he never told us that he is going to contest.
“But if he says he is going to contest, I will surely do what I told you I will do, because if Atiku says he is going to contest and I remain in the cabinet of Baba while Baba (Atiku) also wants to contest, then I have become a hypocrite, and I am not one. If I says I am not with Atiku, Buhari himself will not trust me at all because he will say I am a hypocrite.”
Asked if it was not too early to start campaigning, she replied: “Yes, I made this statement when we went for a courtesy call during Sallah festivities. I am not going to stand before him and campaign. Besides, this is not the time for campaign. Even when my people asked me to come out and start campaigning, I told them this is not the time for that. This is the time to work for the people.”
She blamed political foes who wanted her fired from the Buhari’s cabinet, for the video that went viral. This is even as she further declared that she was not afraid of being fired from the cabinet.
“…they have been going round saying I should be sacked as minister. I never hoped to be a minister, Allah gave it to me If I get sacked, it will not bother me because I believe in Allah, that my time has elapsed; because I believe only Allah can do and undo. And you think Baba is a mad man like those calling for my sack? They have been sending it and spreading that if Baba sees this I will be sacked.
“He will not sack me from being a minister because of this, only if I commit another offence. I am doing my job as a minister with all my heart and I always protect this government because it is a government of APC; and Baba our President, the President of Nigeria and somebody that I respect even before I joined politics.
“I will continue to respect him as a man of integrity. For those who are saying I will be sacked, they will be shamed. And even if I am sacked, I believe it is my time as minister that has ended. I never asked for it, Allah gave it to me.”
The ruling APC made history in Nigeria by being the first opposition party to defeat an incumbent President, but unless urgent steps are taken to manage the affairs of the party well ahead of 2019, it may as well make another history as a party that could not govern beyond one term.
This is so because, two years ahead of 2019, Daily Sun’s investigations reveal, nothing within the ruling party show that it was prepared to retain power. And with the latest outburst from a serving cabinet member, it would no doubt further compound the party’s headaches for a number of reasons.
Chief among which is, putting the winning symbol of the party, Buhari, under unnecessary pressure. However, even before Alhassan’s outburst, it was gathered that plans were already on to stop Buhari from returning in 2019. And Kano-based fiery politician, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said he sees nothing wrong with the plot. In fact, he said if Buhari tries to force himself to run, he would get “the shock of his life,” adding that how someone gets to power and removed from power was not a function of morality.
He added: “Nigeria deserves something better than what it is getting from the present arrangement, where those, Nigerians never voted for, are the ones exercising power. Is that the type of arrangement you want us to continue with? Common!”
He further argued that if indeed there was a plot to get rid of Buhari, come 2019, he would not bother himself about asking whether it was right or wrong.
Rather, he said the questions to ask are: “Is it proper for Buhari to cling to office when clearly he hasn’t got the capacity to do the job? Is it right to allow the country to remain in limbo simply because some persons have decided to hold on to power, regardless of whether it is in the national interest or not?
“By saying this, I hope you don’t expect me of being naïve, I know that Nigeria is a terribly divided and divisive society, always arguing along tribal and religious lines. It is not in the national interest for Buhari to remain in power, when in fact he is not exercising any power.
“We are in a bloody mess. The high time we come together and define the parameters of electing Nigeria’s President, the better for us. This journey has ended. This joke is over. Rotational presidency has taken us nowhere. It cannot work. I said so 30 years ago, that it won’t work and now I have been proven right. I wished I don’t have to be proven right.”
Asked if Buhari should be denied the opportunity to run, should he decides to, the Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, said: “Absolutely! Why did we fight Obasanjo over third term? Why did we fight Jonathan?
“The claim by some northerners of Buhari being after northern interest is equally a fallacy. Since he became President, show me one major project he has sited in the North, or he influenced to be sited in the North? If you know one, please show me. But I know what he has been doing on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, second Niger Bridge and all that.
“The Vice President is from the South, the most powerful Vice President in Nigeria’s history. Talk of key ministers, they are from the South. None of them is a northerner. In this country of rampant tribalism, where even if you are not tribal, you are seen to be one, how can anyone still claim that Buhari is holding brief for the North?
“I have never told you I speak for the North. But I believe that in spite of our tribal nature, it is still possible to have a meaningful discourse about how best to run this country, so that everybody get its own fair share. And in doing so, we must be particular about competence and capacity and not tribal and religious sentiments. If northerners want to be in power in 2019, they should put their best foot forward, same goes for the South-West and South-East,” the Russian-trained medical doctor turned politician, added.
But even before Buhari took ill, some of those very close to him had confided in Daily Sun that there was nothing around him to suggest that he wanted a re-election. These people are quick to point at his nonchalant attitude towards the party, lack of funding strategies for the party and his dismissal of the issue of second term each time it was raised with him, by refusing to make any comment on it, as reasons for their position.
However, Buhari’s supporters across the country, especially in the North, want him to take a shot at a second term, so as to deepen some of the reforms his administration has been able to put in place. In fact, the party’s national chairman, John Oyegun, told Nigerians recently that he would lead the team to persuade Buhari to run for a second term.
But while most of the APC leaders are evasive and unwilling to speak on the eligibility or otherwise of Buhari seeking a second term, the North-West party leader, Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir, had in an interview with our sister publication, Sunday Sun, issued what looked like a yellow card to Buhari and his supporters, ahead of 2019, when he declared that the party would not give the President an automatic ticket.
Speaking at the time, the former Minister of Youths and Sports, said: “Are we in 2019 now? In 2017 that we are in now there is no vacancy. There could be vacancy any moment, anytime either in 2019, 2020. In 2019, the vacancy that exists is that whether you like Buhari or not, whether he wants to run or not, there will be a contest. What I mean is that the APC as a party is not a draconian party.
“We will allow the due process to take its course in terms of whoever wants to contest for the presidency. That is what you are trying to say, that whether Buhari will be running or not. I am not a soothsayer, but I know that the rules and laws of the APC are that every member would be given a chance. If you want to run for the presidency, you are welcome.
“When you say there is a vacancy it means there is nobody there. But for now in 2017, Buhari is the president of this country and by the present circumstances that we are, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is the Acting President. APC does not have inhibitions, so there is no issue of giving automatic ticket to anybody. It is a party that allows democratic principles and norms to take its full course.”