By ISMAIL OMIPIDAN
The year, 2019, is about 364 days from today. But the race to 2019 begins today. There are, however, others who claim that the race began from the day President Muhammad Buhari was sworn in, in 2015. Regardless, whatever happens this year will go a long way to determine the outcome of the 2019 presidential contest, which is likely to hold in February next year.
Already , the battleline appears drawn between Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) supporters on the one hand, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on the other hand, over who governs Nigeria in 2019.
Interestingly, the APC is also facing stiff opposition from within its fold, in its traditional strongholds of the North West and South West states, thus making it vulnerable to the opposition by the day.
Among the prominent Nigerian politicians to watch out for in 2018, and who are likely to shape the events of 2019 are Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremdu, APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, NSGF and Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima.
Others are Governor Nyesome Wike of Rivers State, former Jigawa governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
Of the crowd from the north, only Shettima has never showed interest in the country’s number one position. But as North’s number one governor, by virtue of his position, he will be playing a prominent role in the build up to 2019 contest this year.
He is the country’s incumbent president and a likely presidential candidate for 2019 contest. His admirers and party faithful believe he has done well and so deserves a second term. But other Nigerians and the leading opposition party, PDP, thinks otherwise. He is yet to tell anyone he wants to run. But his body language shows he is interested.
In November, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire where he attended the fifth European Union-African Union (EU-AU) Summit, Buhari for the first time since some of his party faithful and supporters began the move towards drafting him to run for a second term, gave a hint that he would be seeking re-election in 2019.
Interestingly, he was accompanied on the trip by Tinubu, a man who was central to his emergence, first as the party’s presidential candidate in 2014, and later as the president in 2105. Governors Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, who is of the PDP and Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi State, who is of the APC were the only two governors on the entourage.
On the sideline of the visit, Buhari was bid to address a Nigerian delegation in the country. But he was said to have arrived late for the engagement. But on arrival, these were his opening remarks: “First, I want to apologise for keeping you for too long sitting, this is because I insisted on the governors attending this meeting. This is why I came along with them so that when we are going to meet you, when you are going to meet the rest of Nigerians, if you tell them that their governors were in the company of the president, I think that will be another vote for me in the future. I’m very pleased that they were able to turn up.”
And that was the closest Buhari has ever come, albeit publicly, as far his reelection bid is concerned. Only recently too, while in Kano for a two day visit, overwhelmed by the crowd of supporters, the president was said to have sounded confident that with the crowd, should he decide to run, he would will win again.
But if Buhari indeed wants to run and win, he must within the next remaining 364 days, change his nonchalant attitude towards his party, and must seek for better, credible and transparent funding strategies for the party, since he is opposed to using government funds to fund party activities.
Buhari’s sudden open interest in 2019, barely five days after former vice president Atiku Abubakar formally resigned from the party, and barely two weeks after Tinubu traced his root back to the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, is very instructive.
Before now, both Tinubu and Atiku felt sidelined from the core activities of the party. But while Tinubu most times attend very important and critical gatherings of the party, both within and outside the villa, Atiku is hardly seen near such functions. Instead, Atiku never fail to seize any opportunity to lampoon the party, its leadership and government whenever opportunities present themselves. Political watchers see the new rapprochement towards Tinubu by Buhari as truly indicative of the new evolving political strategies from Buhari, ahead of the 2019 battle.
This year is therefore a decision year for the APC, irrespective of whether Buhari will run next year or not.
He is the current vice president. But there is no guarantee that he would run with Buhari, should the president decides to run. Although he has given a good account of himself as a loyal lieutenant, the hawks around Buhari have however succeeded in cowing him. These days, he struggles to convince Nigerians on certain policy direction of the government. The most recent being his lame explanation over the $1 billion meant to fight Boko Haram. Regardless, APC would run into trouble water with his constituents if it decides to drop him for anyone. There are also some northerners who are already mooting the idea of fielding him as a presidential candidate, should Buhari decides not to run.
He is the current president of the senate. But he is one of those the PDP is expecting back in its fold. Saraki had his eyes on the presidency of the country. But today, nothing suggests that he will run for the plum office. However, if Buhari decides not to run, he may be one of those that will join the race. However, if he eventually leaves for the PDP, it will boost the party’s chances of regaining power next year. He is unlikely to run for the presidency in the PDP. Instead, he is expected to negotiate his way back to the Senate presidency, a thing that may not be guaranteed should he decide to remain in the APC. If he keeps to his initial plan, by next month, ahead of the party’s national convention that is likely to hold in April, Saraki will unveil his next political move.
He is the current deputy president of the senate. He is seen as the intellectual power house of the senate. He has been in the senate since 2003, and he is serving his third consecutive term as deputy president of the senate. The APC cannot forget in a hurry the political deft moves employed by him and his colleagues in the PDP that saw them installing a senate president, where the party also floored the majority party to produce the number two man in the senate.
Historically speaking, he is not known to struggle for political office, but providence always has a way of thrusting on him leadership position. And he has always surmounted political landmines placed on his path. Not even Sullivan Chime, as a sitting governor in Enugu, could overcome Ekweremadu when he (Chime) attempted to stop his reelection in 2015.
If PDP keeps to its arrangement of throwing the VP slot to the South East zone, Ekweremadu may be the greatest beneficiary of that gesture. But he is politically stubborn. If the party makes the mistake of giving an unpopular person the presidential ticket, even if Ekweremadu is offered with little or no contest, he will reject the offer. He had done that before.
He is the national leader of the party. He has proved himself to be a political colossus in the country. He is interested in the presidency. But he said he won’t contest against Buhari. So if Buhari is not running, he is likely to join the race. For now, no one makes incursions into the South West politically without his backing, influence and blessing.
In 2007, when it became clear that to defeat the PDP there must be some form of alliance between the defunct Action Congress (AC) and defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), attempt was made to reach out to Atiku, with the sole aim of talking him into burying his presidential ambition, especially considering that he was only cleared at the eleventh hour to run.
But the AC and ANPP men mismanaged the whole process, thus allowing it to degenerate into verbal attacks between Atiku and Buhari, with the duo using unprintable adjectives to describe themselves in the media. Also, Atiku’s last minute decision then to dump Tinubu for Senator Ben Obi as presidential running mate, did not also go down well with Tinubu, a thing that may have contributed largely to whatever cold relationship that may have existed between the duo till date.
Like in 2007, again in 2011, when it became obvious that to dislodge the then president, Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP from the centre, opposition must work together, Buhari’s CPC and Tinubu’s ACN, tried a last minute merger, but they again blew the opportunity. Rather than work together, both parties worked at cross purposes, to the extent that PDP’s presidential candidate, Jonathan, floored ACN’s presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, in most South-West states, including Lagos, with the exception of Osun State, where the governor, who had just been sworn in then, needed to prove a point. And like in 2007, CPC leaders and ACN leaders called each other unprintable names, in 2011, pointing fingers at each other over the turn of event.
But in 2015, the whole story changed, once Tinubu showed greater interest in the centre and that culminated in the defeat of the PDP and Jonathan, thereby ending the PDP’s 16 years hold on Nigeria, making it a first win for the opposition, in the country’s entire political history. To make it possible, Tinubu ensured all the South-West states, but one, were delivered to the APC. The party also won in all the seven states in the North-West, with Kano posting the highest figure of nearly two million votes. APC also made a surprise inroad into the Christian dominated states of Benue and Plateau in the North-Central.
He is serving his second term. But unlike other governors angling to either go to the senate or eyeing a higher office, Shettima has remained focused on delivering on his mandate to the people of Borno. Visitors to Borno are usually amazed at the level of infrastructural development going in the state despite the insurgency, thus making Nigerians to wonder what he would have done if there was no insurgency.
But if Buhari does not run and the party decides to look the way of North-East, an area that has been short-changed in the north politically, he may turn out to be one of the favourites for the ticket, especially because of his age and intellectual disposition. He is 52 years old.
He is serving his first term as the governor of Rivers State. He is entitled to a second term, a thing he would get on a platter. There are speculations that he is interested in the VP slot on the ticket of the PDP. But he has consistently told all those who cared to listen that there was no way he would leave a certainty (second term ticket) for an uncertainty. But whoever is interested in the presidential ticket of the party would have to move very close to him. He is today a strong factor in the PDP.
A former Jigawa State governor, he was the first northerner on the platform of the party to indicate interest in the presidency. And since then, he has never relented. He is from the North-West, the same zone with the Buhari. The Buhari men see him as threat. They don’t spare him. And he appears prepared for them. If he wins the PDP’s ticket and Buhari is on the ticket of the APC, the battle could go either way.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had before his defection to the PDP left no one in doubt that he was going to run for the presidency. But after defecting to the PDP and apparently seeing the likelihood of his not getting the ticket, he appears to have changed his tactics, as he recently said he was undecided yet on 2019. Whether he runs or not, because of his deep pocket, he remains a politician to watch out for this year.