The politics of 2019 is in the air. It can even be felt, beginning, again, with former President Obasanjo’s denial of the story that he had advised President Buhari against contesting in 2019. The denial is a perfect example of smoke without fire, contrary to the logic of no smoke without fire. No fire is sighted anywhere but there is smoke. Uhm! An agenda setting scheme seems to be unfolding in which Obasanjo’s name is either being used by those behind the statement or a discussion to that effect has been (mis)handled for some purpose. In truth, however, there is nothing disturbing about that. Whether Obasanjo has advised Buhari in favour or against contesting in 2019, Buhari’s candidature is already a hot topic in the chitchat industry now. The belief that it is in the nature of politics for the end of one election to automatically be the beginning of another is not a trite analogy.
Naturally, President Buhari, as every other incumbent, would be at the centre of such chitchat. There is bound to be curiosity regarding how he is going to respond to the tradition which has evolved giving incumbents the automatic right to accept or decline a second term. That is the tradition that has evolved in Nigeria, fortunately and unfortunately. In 1983, that was the argument used to retain Shagari’s candidature by the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN). In 2003, the same applied to Obasanjo’s candidature, with the PDP even taking a vote on record. In 2014, the same argument was handy in Goodluck Jonathan’s candidature.
Most political realists would agree that the right of first refusal and the two more years left to add value to whatever he has done positively makes Buhari the candidate to beat. However, what if he declines recontesting for whatever reasons or what if the APC fractures as it is feared to? None of these can be ruled out as each of them could happen even under very normal, intrigue-free circumstances. In such a scenario, what happens or who would be the happening political toughies in town?
Only Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President, has made visits which the newspapers have interpreted as consultations relating to 2019. Otherwise, it is only shadows of the masquerades that can be figured out yet because everything is still opaque. If the newspapers are correct in their reading of his recent visits, then 2019 would be Atiku’s fifth attempt at gaining presidential power since he tasted the apple in 1992. The second was 2007, third was 2011 and the fourth was 2015. He must be debating with himself by now whether it would be doggedness or political
foolishness to go into the contest again in 2019 which would be his last. He would be 73 years by then, having been born in 1946. Atiku would provide the most sensational source for psychologists and political scientists working on acquisition of political power in Africa should he win the presidential polls in 2019. But, would he win it? Only God can answer such question at His own time.
The truth is that it can be heard being said and surprisingly by people such was never expected that Atiku should be given the power this time. There is a kind of belief that the stateness of the state has so shrunk that an Atiku is needed. This is obviously a reference to his perceived ability in himself to symbolically take the state to all the nooks and crannies. In a funny way of saying something serious, analysts infer that with somebody married to almost each of the major ethnic groups, inclusiveness would be a non-issue under his presidency. In summarising the views too, one finds the argument that, of the emerging lot, Atiku is the one who could be confidently said to be capable of running an efficient government. In contemporary Nigeria, government is crawling now. Most government parastatals and departments end up getting nothing of their budget unless they parted way with a substantial chunk of the allocation. In other words, the culture of padding is worse or more entrenched within the executive arm of government just as Ghali Na’Abbah, former Speaker of the House of Representatives said recently. The reaction time of the security agencies to unfolding emergencies can take eternity by accepted modern practices. The degree to which individuals can hold the society to ransom can be unbelievable. The Nigerian State at the moment is not organised to respond to these sorts of developments. In any case, the individuals involved are too powerful. Presidential and gubernatorial powers are not organised in a way to checkmate some of these things. So, the society sits on a keg of gunpowder. Apart from Nasiru el-Rufai, no one else is mentioned again other than Atiku in this respect. The same rating occurs with respect to running government on the basis of well debated models. Only the two were also mentioned. The basis for this conclusion in the case of Atiku is the American University in Yola when compared to the organisation, content and running of majority of universities in Nigeria. Atiku is, in other words, singled out or tightly associated with running an organised, modern bureaucracy in Nigeria.
But, four questions dog his track. Has he settled accounts with the portion of the elite disinclined to his gaining presidential powers? What sort of intra-elite conflict exists between him and his traducers that seem to be beyond resolution? Second is how he will convince people that adding political power to financial power would not make him a god. This is surprisingly pervasive even as there is nothing systematic in picking those who have been interviewed. Third is the similar view that Nigeria is not for sale and Atiku has, in the words of a respondent, “a selling goal”. That is a direct critique of his supervision of the selling of the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy between 1999 and 2007. Finally, his recent call for restructuring without a care for the confusion it would create in the north where all the three geopolitical units will be in chaos with restructuring.
Whereas the Yorubas and Igbos have linguistic, cultural and territorial commonality, there is none of that in any of the geopolitical units in the north and the south south. While the enduring conflictual inter-group relations makes a regional government in the middle belt and south south out rightly unsustainable or bound to be conflictual, it would equally create utter misery for those in southern Kaduna, for example, in a northwest regional government. It would not be different in the northeast. His call for restructuring has thus been seen as insensitivity to particular groups in addition to the overall conceptual and practical clumsiness of restructuring generally. So clumsy that Duro Onabule and Femi Falana could easily bury the case for restructuring when they intervened separately in the debate. Atiku has two more years to work hard to make his last outing a case study in tenacity rather than political foolishness. If God gives it to him, he will get it.
Going strictly by grapevine evidence, Aminu Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto State would be the other toughie in town. Tambuwal announced his arrival on the national scene when virtually all members of the House of Representatives united to elect him as their Speaker in 2011 to the chagrin of the political parties, especially the PDP on whose platform he ran. What that meant is a networking of himself into the nook and crannies of Nigeria since each of the legislators came from a certain part of the country. The implication is that, whether he is in power or not, he is one of the diminishing few who have people they can reach behind the scene and bring any situation in any part of the country under control. It is difficult to understand why someone who reached such level quickly would also quickly withdraw from the national level to be governor at a relatively smaller political space. Having said that, being a governor diversifies his experience beyond the legislature.
Tambuwal’s credit too would be a statement he made sometimes back that the country needs a revolution. There is no assessment of him yet as to what sort of revolution he had in mind and how far governorship is a theatre for anything radical or demonstrating a more imaginative canvass than others. Age and education are on his side but northern geopolitics might not be. It is strongly suspected that the north east and the north central would restate their claims to the presidency or the case for northern Christian presidency might surface.
But history might repeat itself in all these. The northwest is used to pulling its mystique on this: keeping quiet as the political bickering goes on until the dynamics work out in such a way that it is eventually to for produce someone. In 1978, Shagari had already decided on going to the Senate before he was told to contest for the presidency. He even had to be persuaded. In 2007, Umaru Yar’Adua had started stockpiling chalks to take up lecturing immediately after his second term as governor of Katsina State before he was hauled into presidential campaign. Even Buhari had told the world in 2011 that he was done with seeking power but was subsequently persuaded to do it again.
There is Engineer Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso who comes with wide experience encompassing the legislature, (he was a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives years back) two term governor in a strategic state such as Kano and in a way that sets the model for the future in the sense that he won the second term after a four year break, showing popularity. And he was a Minister of Defence which is an exclusive club. So, he does have something in him that may parachute him to presidential powers. Missing in him, however, is a framework for systematic leadership that would be felt at all levels of society. What is that discourse or praxis of his that will do that? Kwankwasiya? If only he could kill that quickly before he arrives Abuja for presidential contest because Nigeria has gone beyond where aides of the president must wear the color and style of dress the president is wearing.
Nasir el-Rufai, Kaduna State governor, is there. He has a major advantage in being rated as one of the few politicians who are not intimidated by any office. If you drop Nasir in the president’s office today, he can start working immediately. He is capable of taking governance beyond the marked frontiers based on models. Nasir would retire all the politicians of the old order because they would not fit into how he runs government, said a respondent. That’s an admission that he can run a functional, modern government with experts crawling all over the place. Nobody alleges chauvinism against him. Age and education are also in his favour.
Two things are, however, problematic about him. One is the overarching orientation firing his exertions. He seems to revel in a great ability to get things done but so that what would happen? Such attitude could lead to success for the society but at the risk of the achiever becoming a cult to be worshiped. Even in socialist politics, it has happened. The second is his observable excessive self confidence about things he does not appear to have understood critically. An example is the business model he favours – neoliberal economic framework but which he doesn’t manifest understanding of it to the cultural, discursive roots. Neoliberalism has an economic side but it is beyond that. It is, above all, a theory of the organisation of society peculiar to the Western world. It can be very radical but it can be problematic when taken out of the West without thorough critique. Hence, the Chinese would talk about ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, an apt editing of neoliberalism which they adopted in the late 1970s to their own context.
The danger of his uncritical celebration of deregulation and the likes is such that he is capable of doing things that are contextually meaningless and in the category of state repression. His strategy of making Abuja clean is a good example. He had a presidential open cheque to unmake the past in relation to Abuja Federal Capital. He rates himself as such a success story in that. However, going round some parts of Abuja and the squalor in which some human beings live could be so disgusting an experience although what it would have taken to have sorted that human vegetation out is more of leadership than cash. Yet, Nasir’s sense of brilliance did not encompass such in his exercise of power. And to think that he arrived the Government House, Kaduna with a demolition blueprint makes the suggestion that he is lost in space and time tempting.
An established academic told this newspaper in an interview recently that Nasir is centring development in Kaduna State where he governs. As 2019 draws nearer, it would be interesting to put whatever he has done on the scale. It is hoped it all goes beyond uncoordinated construction of boreholes, classrooms, feeder roads, etc, etc that we call development in Nigeria even when the different exertions have no strategic discourse of leadership, power and change underpinning them.
Nuhu Ribadu, el-Rufai’s (former?) buddy and anti-corruption czar, is popping up here and there. Bola Tinubu and Obasanjo have both made statements that are, incredibly, in his favour in this context. Earlier in March this year, Tinubu told a Nigerian newspaper that “Nuhu Ribadu is a plain gentleman; he was disciplined and had so much respect for Buhari. He wanted to withdraw but he did not want to disappoint our party. It was like holding him hostage. He did not want to damage himself in the North that he blocked the chance of Buhari becoming the president. Each time he wanted to announce his stepping down, we told him you accepted to run, you could not withdraw now”. Similarly, Obasanjo rated Ribadu in the same month as being so effective as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that it was said that the fear of Ribadu was the beginning of wisdom. These are recorded testimonies.
Beyond such positive testaments, he can claim and popularise the narrative of being the czar’s czar, a worthy pedigree in a country such as Nigeria. Age and education are very much in his favour. So also is his considerable integration into the global policy mill. But, unlike el-Rufai, he doesn’t appear obsessed to belong to any exclusive club or claim a particular capability in and of himself. His north eastern origin could favour him in northern geopolitics. But, what is the grand canvass of reality that Nuhu Ribadu subscribes to? Anti-corruption in and of itself is not a strategy for change if it is not underpinned by a clear, holistic framework. In this regard, Ribadu shares the problem common to most of Obasanjo’s ‘disciples’: no such original conception of the fundamental contradiction the society is entangled in and what the options for getting out could be. Everyone parrots liberalisation, globalisation, deregulation as if these are mathematical categories. But these are culturally loaded concepts that have different meaning for different players. What is our own meaning of it? The question of what are its dynamics and how such dynamics could be brought together for an orderly transition from antiquarian existence to modernity do not feature in the language game of Nigerian politicians. Yet, this is the single most important challenge all of Africa face, being the only continent left behind in Precambrian times. Asia and Latin America, the other two continents sharing status of backwardness with Africa before, have moved up.
So far, this is the unfolding scenario within the APC should Buhari decline to contest or should the APC rupture. Whether that happens or not, there is the inter-party dimension of 2019. That could be a tough duel at the level of the ruling APC and the opposition PDP. That is if PDP survives intensive care unit where it is now and should it present a game changer of a candidate. In politics, 2019 is still too far. Nevertheless, it would not be an odd question to ask, who, in the current configuration, might be such a game changer candidate within PDP?
There is no chance that the party would re-invent the wheel in this regard. In other words, it is most unlikely that the PDP would throw a dragnet outside its current stock of notables and partisans. Giving, again, an evolving tendency to look in the direction of governors and ex-governors as recruits for presidential power since 2007, is the arrow not pointing at somewhere? The PDP has only two governors in the entire north – Gombe and Taraba. Of these, only Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe would be completing his two terms by 2019. There are no clear indications of his keenness yet or that he could be invited and invested with presidential powers by any interests in the PDP now. Perhaps, 2019 is still too far or Intervention is too far from where it could put its ears on the ground and hear the rustling of political legs. Governor Dankwambo is, therefore, a subject of further research.
Ali Modu Sheriff is a former governor who is now in the PDP and widely rumoured to be keen to become president. It is difficult to say how far he can still go, having started by being at the centre of a storm whose outcome seems to be an agenda to bury the PDP. Can he still emerge the flag bearer, in spite of his reported muscular financial capability?
Focusing on governors as a layer of power from which to recruit presidential materials would, in the world of politics, bring in such names as the Adamu Muazus, Isa Yugudas, Murtala Nyakos, Bonnie Harunas, Idris Ibrahims, Idris Wadas, Jonah Jangs, Gabriel Suswans, Babangida Aliyus, Ibrahim Shemas, Ibrahim Shekarau, Dakin Garis, Sule Lamidos, Ahmed Makarfis, Namadi Sambos of this world? Of these, only Sule Lamido, two term governor of Jigawa State has mentioned anything about 2019. Lamido should be an interesting aspirant once he gets over his entanglement with the EFCC. The bigger snag is that none of them on this list would support the other to get it. It is not a negative trait peculiar to them as individuals but the general problem of equals supporting the elevation of one of them except where an external force does it the way Obasanjo lifted Yar’Adua from among the governors in 2007.
Is any of Ibrahim Mantu, Professor Jerry Gana, Adamu Bello, Adamu Maina Waziri, Bala Mohammed, Chief Steven Lawani and Bukola Saraki looking for the presidency in 2019? Or, put differently, is the PDP thinking of dragging any of them as such? Is it not interesting that all these names are from the north east and north central? While Mantu is mentioned for being the veteran’s veteran, to use the words of assessors, Jerry Gana is mentioned almost for everything – party building, party intellectual, minister several times and over, a good knowledge of Nigeria, width of experience across the legislature and the executive. His greatest strength would be being the only aspirant who would have previously prioritised industrialisation as the organising principle of power and leadership.
Adamu Maina Waziri is well known for reconciling conflicts within the party. He has never left the party and was a Minister of Police Affairs, meaning some grooming in the security sector. Bukola Saraki, depending on how he moves politically, is feared to be the real game changer in 2019. Counted for him are his roots in the northwest, his locale in the north central and his connection with the Yoruba political establishment in addition to his education, experience in politics and family name. It is said that his multiple connections across Nigeria could make him a stability president.
Lawani is particularly mentioned in terms of an uncommon equability and organisational discipline for accepting party position that he serve as a deputy governor for eight years in his home state of Benue despite high profile in national politics predating that. That is a reference to his being a deputy national chairperson of the defunct National Republican Convention, (NRC) and being successful in finance long before that. He is being compared to Dr Ogbonnaya Onu for not raving and raging when dropped as presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party in 1999.
God, Luck and Contingency
The interesting thing about politics and power is that the next president of Nigeria could come from the lists here just as it may also not. There is luck to consider and a dark horse might be lurking somewhere. There is contingency too to consider. Contingency can be a powerful decider. Contingency is where the dynamics simply work out in such a way that one particular person becomes just the person who fulfils both the tangible and intangible requirements for the office of president at a particular time. For instance, some people who cannot be dismissed are mentioning Abubakar Dangiwa Umar. To Dangiwa is attributed the quality of having made a sacrifice for society by putting his commission on the line in defence of principle or conviction even when he could have had all the privileges if he wanted or kept quiet. And even in retirement, he keeps speaking up mostly on the side of sobriety and decency. Dangiwa is neither in APC nor PDP. Such is what makes politics mightily worth watching.