It is an archetypal kite flying praxis but, from whichever angle one looks at it, this is one kite flying that cannot altogether be dismissed. Too many reasons can be adduced to sustain the argument that this is the type of kite flying that could turn real, coming in the light of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s wrecking of the moral authority of President Buhari and his substantial loss of goodwill across the land. Whether the ambitious fractions within the All Progressives Congress, (APC), would accept Babagana Kingibe is a different matter but the massively reported appearance of his posters against 2019 cannot be an exercise about which President Buhari might be ignorant. The obvious re-entry of the grandmaster is sure to force considerable re-alignment in both the APC and the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP).
The emergence of the campaign posters of Babagana Kingibe is the handwork of someone, somewhere but could it be the handwork of the notorious cabal ditching the president at last? This speculation is dismissed out rightly in favour of the one that says it is the cabal, working with the president towards an orderly transition rather than a disorderly handover to an unknown hawk in the APC or in the PDP who would certainly go for own pound of flesh after being disgraced in the anti-corruption War. If the cabal allows the PDP to take over, it is not Buhari that would regret because they would not go after him but the cabal members. “So, they are working mutually to install somebody trusted and this is like testing the waters on behalf of the president”.
The analysis is that it is going for someone they think can be sold more easily rather than the Young Turks who would stand no chance against the PDP. Kingibe is a high value material: a journalist, a linguist, (speaks French and Germany okay), an academic, a technocrat, a diplomat, a security manager and a politician. The logic appears to be someone who enjoys the same level of personality standing and visibility as Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice-President of Nigeria who alone, until now, had such stature and visibility as far as 2019 presidential contest is concerned. And someone who is also from the North east to checkmate Atiku and whose crowning would amount to being sensitive to the cry for power shift from the Northwest. Atiku is otherwise a very strong politician who could go up to the Supreme Court challenging a rough rider of an incumbent such as then President Obasanjo between 2006 and 2007.
If these assumptions capture the working of the minds of President Buhari’s inner caucus members, then there would be a clash between Atiku and Kingibe later this year, twenty four years after their first clash in the struggle for the same position – the Office of the President. That was the 1993 Convention of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) in Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria where the late MKO Abiola, Atiku Abubakar and Babagana Kingibe slugged it out. It was a tight fight. It took the late General Shehu Yar’Adua to prevail on Atiku to step down in favour of Abiola so that Kingibe could be defeated while Atiku would become Abiola’s Vice-Presidential material. Atiku stepped down, Abiola emerged the winner but was compelled to choose Kingibe as Vice-President instead of Atiku. That happened because the elected governors of the party revolted, telling Abiola that unless he chose Kingibe, they were not going to mobilise voters for him. Abiola did exactly that after a stalemate that lasted four days.
In the end, Abiola did not taste power as the subsequent presidential polls on June 12th, 1993 ended in an organised junta confusion in which neither Kingibe nor Atiku and certainly neither Abiola tasted power. Although the military pushed out Babangida, the architect of endless transition, it did not stay too far, taking back the power shortly in the November 1993 coup which installed the late General Sani Abacha.
This time, however, Kingibe would be running as a securely escorted aspirant, enjoying the kindness of incumbency and the benefits of a vast network and many spaces of circulation previously. Whether all these would give him the edge over an absolutely determined aspirant as Atiku Abubakar is a different matter altogether. What electoral luck awaits each of them in each of the wealthier and surer Southwest, mercantile success but politically wounded Southeast and the angry but politically disheveled Middle Belt would be interesting. It might turn out a tough battle or a walk over for one or the other except if a dark horse with a stature that can disorganise both camps were to emerge. In Nigerian politics, that is not impossible although it is less than ten months to party primaries by now.
If that were to happen, it would certainly be from the North. The North is suffering its worst incoherence ever. The religious, political and business elite in the North are in total disarray. Compared to Afenifere in the Southwest, for instance, the Arewa Consultative Forum, (ACF) is a non-starter. So, at times like this, the region becomes helpless, worsened by being a non starter of a region in terms of building capacity, empowering people and bringing up institutions. Thus no northern actor in the power game can talk of having built up any set of billionaires as Obasanjo, for example, can. Not only did Obasanjo attempt to, he distributed them across the North, Southeast and Southwest, using the state in contrast to the famed individualised generosity of the IBBs. In this situation, there could always arise someone outside the mainstream. Kano is now a battleground, for instance.
Should Kingibe outperform all regular and irregular challengers in 2019, that would be the realisation of an ambition that has not been in disguise since 1993. After the June 12, 1993 fiasco, he tried again in 2006 but before he knew what was going on, Obasanjo surprisingly opted for the late Umaru Yar’Adua for his own reasons. The speculation is that, at the onset of Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health, Kingibe started revving up the engine but only for Yar’Adua to strike. Now, Obasanjo’s letter and the lack of clear and more experienced northerners with the material resources, visibility and adroitness in the ways of power in the Nigerian context might help clear the way for him again. There might be nothing like being the president of Nigeria but exercising powers would be nothing new to Kingibe. He has been a crooner in the orbit of power. Page 122 of Dan Agbese’s Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria gives an idea of that.
Assuming that Babagana Kingibe gets the job, what would change? There are no signs that he would be a revolutionary in power. There are only signs that he is exposed, speaks at least two European languages, a vital asset in a post-positivist world and would, therefore, manifest a sharper understanding of the issues unlike President Buhari who is not a mixer or socialiser. How far might his mastery of the security and diplomatic leverage take him is the question. There is a strong feeling that he could improve things substantially with the benefit of hindsight in terms of the mistakes the IBBs, the Obasanjos, the Goodluck Jonathans and the Buharis made. But age is not very much on his side. Four years could be such a long time in politics but, given the enormity of problems on the ground, can he be anything more than a stabilizer?