By ISMAIL OMIPIDAN and TUNDE THOMAS
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is yet to announce plans for the 2019 presidential elections. But Nigerian politicians are already getting set for the epic battle.
Interestingly, the north, the region, where the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari hails from, is also getting agitated by the day. The Professor Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders Forum, NEF, was the first to stir the hornet’s nest, when in October last year it declared that it would be ready to back Buhari, should he present himself again in 2019.
Specifically, former INEC Secretary, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who spoke on behalf of NEF, at the group’s summit, said: “So, those who are disposed to listen, please listen. Northern votes were not wasted in electing President Buhari. In 2019, we will also use our votes in a manner consistent with our interests as northerners. We did not make a mistake in putting up a solid, united front as northerners in spite of our ethno-religious differences.”
But barely a week after the summit, Dr. Junaid Mohammad, who though attended, declared in an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun that in 2019, Buhari, was no longer going to be an option, adding that “I think those who are bothered about 2019, should please start getting alliances across, and start planning how to bring down the APC government, through constitutional means, and to also make sure they deny the PDP, a second chance of ruling the country again. APC is not doing well; I don’t think Buhari is going to do any better. The crowd around Buhari has nothing to offer.” He declared that even if Buhari was to present himself for election in 2019, he would neither campaign nor vote for him.
Since then, however, the names of two northerners, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, have dominated the media space, as possible challengers to Buhari, should he decide to run again. In fact, Adamawa State governor, Senator Jubrilla Bindow, who is of the APC, has since declared ahead of APC primary that it was either Atiku or nobody else.
But prominent northern leaders have described those angling to run against Buhari, in 2019, as enemies of Nigeria who should be stopped in the overall interest of the nation.
Those who spoke in this direction are: former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, a chieftain of Arewa Consultative Forum, Senator Joseph Waku and Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, former Commissioner of Police, Lagos state.
Describing Atiku and Lamido as enemies of Nigeria, Tsav said: “What are these two men looking for again? What do they want? Surely they are pursuing personal interests and not national interests. Atiku and Lamido should realize that Nigerians can’t be deceived. These two men are pursuing personal and not national interests.”
Frowning at the timing, Tsav added that it was too early and premature to talk about 2019 now, adding that: “Politicians are very funny people. To me, 2019 is still far away, so why must they be talking about 2019 now? Although both of them have constitutional right to talk, aspire and even plan, they should remember that only God knows what will happen tomorrow. They should tread softly, softly. Anyway I don’t see any of them stopping Buhari.”
The former Lagos State Police Commissioner, further said: “These men are distracting the nation. They should go and sit down for now and allow Buhari to continue the good work that he is doing. They should not distract the President. They can’t do what Buhari is doing; they should allow the man to work”.
On his own part, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said: “I’m not saying Atiku and Lamido are not good materials, but when you talk of experience, Buhari has an edge over them. You must remember that Buhari has been there before as a military Head of State, as such, I believe that he has an edge over them’’.
The former Kaduna State governor, who sees nothing wrong about politicians talking about 2019, in 2017, also said: “The issue is not about whether it is too early or not to talk or discuss about 2019, it is the constitutional rights of every Nigerian to freely discuss and talk. But, I believe that Buhari’s experience will be a major hurdle for Atiku and Lamido to cross’’.
For Waku, he said: “Buhari is doing a fantastic job. What I expect all Nigerians, including Atiku and Lamido to do, is to have the same vision with the President. However, both are entitled to their views and plans. But left to me, I don’t see Atiku and Lamido going anywhere. They can’t stop Buhari.”
Advising Nigerian politicians to learn a lesson from what happened to the late Kogi State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Audu, Waku, again said: “Only God knows tomorrow. Why this talk about 2019 when we are still in 2017? Nigerian politicians should learn a lesson from what happened to Audu. The man was leading in the election, and was poised to win. Both he and his supporters were looking forward to collecting a Certificate of Return, but what did Audu get from God? He got a Certificate of Death. This should be a lesson for all of us. Although Atiku has not formally come out to say that he wants to contest, his supporters and his own body language seem to suggest that he wants to contest. My advice to him and Lamido is that they should take it easy. Buhari is doing well; we should all join hands with him to build a virile nation”.