It is beginning to look impossible to argue that power is not lying on the ground to be picked in 2019 by any brave warrior whom fortune might favour. With three poisonous arrows delivered at the president almost in one day, many are rethinking their perception that the status quo would prevail eventually, bloodied and dishevelled as it may from the 2019 electoral battlefield.
On the same day that President Buhari came under a powerful blast from former President Olusegun Obasanjo who deconstructed him mercilessly, the House of Representatives also contested the Order of Elections by which the Independent Electoral Commission, (INEC) planned to conduct elections in 2019. By the time the House finishes with the 2019 Electoral Act, the sequence will reverse INEC’s order in favour of (1) National Assembly; (2) Governorship and State Houses of Assembly and (3) The Presidential Election.
It would be recalled that this was the sequence in 1979 General Elections before the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) which controlled the Federal Government from 1979 to the December 1983 coup adjusted it by reversing the sequence in the June/July 1983 General Elections. Opposition at that time kicked against reversing the Order of Elections, arguing how impossible it is to talk about free and fair election once the president has been elected. All subsequent elections would be influenced by a bandwagon effect as voters would not like to vote against the winning party or the party of the president-elect would be unable to resist temptation to browbeat voters to vote for such party. A major reality regarding election across much of Africa is how the ruling party always win an election whether it is popular or not. Its lack of popularity is compensated by its control of security agencies and the election management body. The exception might be Nigeria in 2015 where the incumbent (Goodluck Jonathan) did not use incumbency advantages or the electoral management body was too innovative to be controlled.
Preceding this development in the House of Representatives where the amendments to the 2019 Electoral Act kicked off and which is likely to be endorsed in the Senate is a volcanic love-letter with which the writer, Chief Obasanjo, sent out all other successors of his in Nigerian history. In 1983, he criticised President Shehu Shagari and shortly after, the military struck. In 1985, he hit at General Buhari as Head of State in an address he delivered at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan. By August that year, Buhari was sent packing by the Babangida coup. In 1991, he descended on the Babangida regime, saying that General Babangida’s credibility rating as a leader was such that if he said ‘Good Morning’ to anyone, the person would have to look out to confirm if it was actually morning. Subsequently, Babangida, in his own words, lost his constituency and had to step aside. In 1994 at the Arewa House Workshop on ‘The State of the Nation’ in Kaduna, he took on General Abacha while delivering the Keynote Address. It was in that speech he sowed the seeds of his subsequent imprisonment because Abacha was said to be livid with rage about the speech, warning Col Lawan Gwadebe who made sure Obasanjo saw Abacha on his way to Kaduna never to impose Obasanjo on him again.
Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar from whom he took over in 1999 has been spared but not Umaru Yar’Adua who succeeded him, (Obasanjo) in May 2007. Obasanjo told Yar’Adua the honest thing to do was to resign once he found he had a medical challenge. In 2013, he literally sacked the president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, with an explosive letter that profiled the regime in a way no one would buy Jonathan for a kobo. Now, he has administered a same dosage on President Buhari. Unfortunately, both Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, (APC) celebrated Obasanjo when he shot at Goodluck Jonathan as the model marksman. It would not be surprising if APC maintains permanent silence because it cannot turn round so soon to say that Obasanjo is no longer a marksman. Still, silence would be an agreement with Obasanjo’s rating of them and the grounds for the very dismal rating.
The letter deepens the Obasanjo mystique in Nigerian politics: is it the way of a self-interested operator taking advantage of popular disenchantment to secure himself against unknowns or might he be God’s own instrument for a higher societal purpose? Some analysts of his politics argue that there is something in him that Nigeria hasn’t clarified. Here is someone who, by his own admission, has successfully managed diabetes for 30 years, suggesting he must have some discipline or a unique contingency. At over 80, he still struggled for and got a PhD, whatever it is that fired his enthusiasm in that direction. He is about the only one who writes an account of his stewardship as soon as he is done with it. Whatever the contestations around his accounts, his books are important raw materials for higher level abstraction, particularly on the broad structure – agent dynamics, the African agency in global politics, the dynamics of power, governance and even the Nigerian State.
There are, however, those who are curious about what might have immunised him against the risks that goes with someone living in a glass house but who, ceaselessly, throw stones. Responding somehow to this puzzle about Obasanjo in 2006, the now late Dr Ibrahim Tahir argued that Obasanjo’s problem is the problem of a “gentleman soldier who held very high ideals, who thought of trying to present a very high concept of public office…not the slimy, greasy politician or political operator but a real, noble, high minded, serious conception of his position and role and, therefore, held the mistaken view that everybody he dealt with was like minded”. In the interview where Tahir made this claim, he was probed fully and he maintained his position, even adding that he wished he still had the energy to have handled Obasanjo’s biography. A biography of Obasanjo by a Cambridge PhD holder in Sociology is waiting to be written. Only then would a more conclusive inference can be drawn on the cocktail of views on him, especially by the Allison Ayidas, T Y Danjumas, the late Shehu Yar’Adua, Atiku Abubakar and so on, put together and scrutinised all over.
Meanwhile, what might Obasanjo actually want to achieve by disrobing President Buhari? Three opinions are emerging. The first one says it is atonement. Obasanjo, it is argued, cannot sleep because he failed to give democracy the kind of rooting he was thought to be capable of giving it in 1999. Not only did he wilfully decapitate the healthy bouncing baby called the PDP, he militarised democracy through his practice of imposition and pocketing of the party, it is said. For those who share this position, Obasanjo’s strategy is a coalition that can atone for these failures on dealing with youth unemployment, mobilising against hunger, etc. The second opinion is that Obasanjo is fortifying himself against a plausible Atiku victory. His intelligence must have told him that Atiku could win the next election because the mood in the PDP is against blocking any clear winner. As this argument goes, a powerful coalition, well located globally on the strength of the Obasanjo brand is the man’s shield against resumption of his war without armistice with Atiku. The last group say he is experiencing a transition in his politics from plastic conception of democratisation to activism. Only time will demonstrate which one of these might be more applicable.
What is not in dispute is that before formally announcing it, Obasanjo must have finished the homework. According to a commentator, Obasanjo is a strategist. In the words of this Obasanjo watcher in Abuja, he would never have been announcing a Coalition for Nigeria – CN – if he had not test run the idea. There is not much disagreement with an Obasanjo Moment with the coalition. Whether it will strike or be that overwhelmingly popular to place Obasanjo as a definitive man of History is where the question mark is. One point of agreement so far seems to be that, as long as Nigeria is ruled by people who can’t get many things right, any such coalition would fly and be popular with potential beneficiaries.
Has Obasanjo’s letter then buried Buhari politically? The responses here are also still mixed. While quite substantial number of people asked do not see much damage to Buhari by the letter, they see it as a threat to the incumbent in the context of other such attacks such as the ones coming from Buhari’s wife; Father Mbaka’s similar advice to Buhari, heightened anti-Buhari feelings triggered by the Benue and Taraba killings, the internal strife in the APC and the weekly scandal that define the regime. Secondly, it is pointed out that Obasanjo would not have spoken without consultation with other members of that layer of power made up of former presidents and other people in that rank. In the context of a ruling party with neither sophisticated ideologues nor practised managers of power, the idea of the incumbent staging a comeback in 2019 could be farfetched.
The contrary opinion is that President Buhari can win. One claim for this is how the APC is not expected to lose many states in the North where it has 17 governors. Kogi State might be lost because, according to this analyst, the Igalas are likely to field someone on PDP platform. Similarly, Plateau State might be taken back by the PDP for a number of reasons. And Kaduna too except if it is another case of dog and monkey fight, with casualties/blood on both sides. Buhari’s inroads in the remaining regions will not depend on his political skills or lack of it but on the nature of alliances entered into in 2018. So, power may lie on the ground but it is still not just anyone who can pick it. Who then could be those who can pick it?
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar remains number one on this list, especially if he clinches PDP’s presidential ticket. There are many campaigns against him, particularly about his being corrupt but where are they going to get someone who is also not corrupt? His problem is whether ‘they’ would allow him get the ticket at all. That is the several forces and interests disinclined to his becoming president. If they do not succeed in stopping him, it is argued that even the incumbent would know he had an opponent. Atiku is fortified in practical politics.
However, the pair of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Nyeson Wike of Rivers State could undercut Atiku and take the centre stage. At the moment, it is all rumour but that is how it always starts. Tambuwal who ran against party rulebook in 2011 to become Speaker of the House of Representatives could move over to the PDP at the instance of Wike, the party’s new godfather. Such would avail Nigeria of younger elements in power, what with Tambuwal’s reported skill in attracting experts to work with.
Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State is scheduled to formally declare his presidential aspiration shortly. Since he would not be doing so without some credible assessment of his chances, he must be an aspirant to watch. Reported to always be very sensitive to the imperative of balancing acts for fear of systemic collapse, Makarfi could turn out a compromise candidate: a Muslim that Christians might accept even more because of concessions he enacted when he was governor. Whether he has got enough cash or is relying on the ‘good material’ credential remains unclear. Good education, independent mindedness, adequate experience, (Commissioner, Governor, Senator and Interim Chairman of a national party) are all in his favour.
In the second part of this report, we focus on what three centres of power are plotting on 2019 presidential contest.