President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has filled and submitted his application form for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress, (APC). Under normal circumstances, that very routine but symbolic act would have communicated to Nigerians who their next president from 2019 to 2023 would be. For one, most traditions of succession oblige incumbents a re-election. Two, incumbents are still difficult to route easily, particularly on the African continent. The times are, however, not normal. The president has been contested and even devastated by his critics. The wreckage of the pact that brought him to power in 2015 is now lying on the street for everyone to see, marked by multiple defections and counter-defections. But the president is determined to soldier on, the most decisive indicator of which must be the purchase of the form at last, showing how no one or anything could persuade him against a test of strength, fate and fortune with his opponents. But Nigeria has a rich history of blocking even more determined incumbents they don’t want, from General Gowon to General Babangida, General Abacha, General Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Would Buhari prevail over opposition or would the opposition prevail over him? Could it be that he has seen through the opposition or he is just bluffing? In this kind of circumstance, the question of who and what would decide the outcome of the 2019 becomes a journalistically tempting one. Intervention looks into the seeds of time and draws a list of the who and the what factors that it thinks will be at work.
Competing Frames of What 2019 Means for Nigeria
There are those for whom it is about taking the war against corruption to the next and last level. There are others for whom it is all about Nigeria doing away with the strong leader syndrome in favour of the competent leader. Lastly, there are those for whom it means never electing any retired Genera again because, according to Attahiru Bafarawa, former governor of Sokoto State and the leading voice so far on this, they are not trained to provide democratic leadership. Which of these frames takes a stronger hold on national conscience would be a factor.
The National Cohort
It is not their name but Intervention’s own phrase for the extraordinarily powerful caucus of five or so retired Generals and former Heads of the State or its equivalents who exercise an interested gaze and oversight on power politics in Nigeria since they were in their thirties. Having openly broken rank with the incumbent, it stands to reason that they will deploy their tremendous powers to block him. Not only did General T.Y Danjuma indict the president by declaring that the Nigerian military collude with killers perpetrating atrocities in central Nigeria in particular, General Obasanjo also said that the re-election of President Buhari would mean the break-up of the country. These are weighty statements coming from such quarters. General Babangida equally made a statement but in his neither here nor there style. Neither General Abdulsalami Abubakar nor General Aliyu Gusau has said anything as explosive even as they are broadly believed to be part and parcel of the caucus. Being all so knowledgeable about The Presidency, the incumbent president, bout the country, its leading actors and the trajectories of Nigerian politics, the assumption is that they won’t sit back after making such involving comments. Although power is a very fluid thing, there is a prevailing thinking that this caucus will be such a very decisive player in terms of who wins and who loses out in 2019. There is no hint that members of the caucus have reconsidered their standpoint on the president’s second term ambition.
This is a reference to the power resource that flows from a candidate being financially strong, especially if that strength is creatively deployed. For candidates without the ideological flavour that can move mountings, this is the make or mar power resource. It is not just about financial inducement to the happening individuals in the system, it is just that everything about organising for power in contemporary Nigeria has to do with solid cash backing from the individual out there seeking power. It is nothing new in Nigerian politics but the amount involved seems to grow higher by every election, measuring the vacuity index of same.
Has anything happened in Nigerian politics that would checkmate incumbency and the perceived advantage from power over the key institutions that manage elections vis-a-vis outcome of 2019 elections? Many would say no, suggesting that influence or control over state institutions such The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), The Nigeria Police, the secret police and the party machinery would be decisive. This is the perception and such perceptions provide a great entry point into plausible directions of a major exercise as the election under reference.
In one of his open letters on the June 12 crisis, former president, Obasanjo listed the Western world as one of the six actors and factors that would be decisive. The Western alliance is not as intact or coherent today as it was then but if recent statements and footwork are anything to go by, the Western world still have strategic calculations from which to read a major election in Nigeria. They are Western strategic interests to the extent that they require power resources peculiar to the West to bring about, not that such strategic interests are inherently or necessarily exclusionary of local narratives and the actors that push them. China is still not keen on imposition and it may thus not be such a decisive factor.
It is trite to say that who controls the media will penetrate and convince a substantial percentage of voters, particularly voting communities that take much of their bearing from the hyper realism the media promotes. Many campaign organisations would, however, be throwing away money in the name of media strategies that will not work for them because of the bullet conception of media effect within such circles even to this moment. Quantitative messaging, which is what many of the campaign organisations do, could thus be counter-productive. For both quantitative and qualitative warriors, the media will be a theatre and a decisive factor. While it would be some people’s burial ground, it could be where it would happen for some candidates.
The remaining nine other actors and factors will follow shortly.