For now, the tussle for presidential powers which played out last February is officially over following the pronouncement of the Supreme Court that the Appeal by Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party’s presidential candidate lacks merit. But victory in this sort of case can be unusually complicated beyond the judicial pronouncement. Some pundits would say that if Atiku Abubakar, the president’s challenger went to court essentially to further deconstruct or rupture the Buhari persona, then he can also claim victory with the way his team played up the certificate drama around the president’s candidacy.
The case may thus have been settled in court but the ripples might just be about unfolding. After all, there are those saying that Atiku Abubakar is paying the price for perceived electoral sins in the past. The dynamics could, therefore, work out in a manner that President Buhari could still pay a price at a future date for perceived sins of today. These are all matters of power over the interpretation of facts rather than the facts in themselves. In the unlikely event that Buhari and Atiku reconciling in spite of the gist of Atiku emerging as a candidate of the much written ‘cabal’ in 2023, time and space could be very decisive of how this tussle ends.
Until we see that happening around 2022/23, the president appears to be enjoying his image of Mr. Stern Face oriented to conquering his opponents or enemies. It is pointed out how interesting it is that there are hardly any pictures of President Buhari in a warm, dramatic embrace of any known opponent or enemy of his despite his being in high office when he ought to be reconciling with ‘enemies’. As the politician he is, Atiku Abubakar is unlikely to reject an overture although no one can be sure what his reaction to a Buhari overture might be were it to come to be.
The big question in all these is when Nigeria might have outgrown this legacy of electoral contest as war. 2023 when the next contest comes up is not promising any less both within the main parties and between them. Preliminary mappings point in that direction.
The All Progressives Congress, (APC)’s share of potential aspirants stretch from Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai to Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State. The People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) will be a big fight featuring Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State; his Rivers State counterpart, Nyeson Wike, ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Dr. Bukola Saraki. This is more or less the list hinted by Walid Jubrin, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party. The surprise in that list is that it did not include Atiku Abubakar. Coming as it did barely two weeks after Jubrin returned from a Dubai trip where he met Atiku, it could be taken as a hint that Atiku is not running again. But Atiku running or not running may not be what Atiku himself wants. Too many factors could compel Atiku to run again, including being anointed by people fighting him today.
Outside of internal APC and PDP choice list are two other providers: the Igbo Presidency momentum and the Dark Horse phenomenon.
In the absence of the kind of deliberate elite decision on who becomes the next president, there is just no knowing who or where the next president is coming from.
The Kaduna governor is busy putting Nigeria on notice everyday through carefully organised drama after organised drama – taking son into a public school, a choreographed infrastructural renewal, allowing his deputy to enjoy a highly publicized share of power, organised employment exercise and his insensitive statement calling for shoving aside of zoning principle. The question about him is whether he can generate the momentum. It is, for example, most unlikely he can remake his relationship with the much talked about cabal for whom 2023 is currently one of ‘Anything But el-Rufai’.
There is Dr Kayode Fayemi who has the advantage of being educated, being good in networking and having no baggage of having annoyed any part of the country through careless statements or actions. But who will market him in the regions as to ensure his victory at a time the party would most likely be contending with internal convulsions and when incumbency might be so weak to assert itself and make things work for him. Equally important is where are the exceptions that will signify the quality of newness that could be his unique selling point in a crowded market?
If the current speculations on Tinubu presidential aspirations turn out to be correct, that may be the guy to watch. His attackers will raise questions of his legacy of over-lordship of Lagos State and the Bullion Van saga. But his promoters will equally come up with certain features peculiar to his politics. One of such will be his ability to produce legates. Another would be his media empire which may have been built to serve his political interest but are also serving the objective of telling the ‘Nigerian story’ and providing jobs. The last and certainly the more significant one would be the reference to what he said at one of the anniversaries of the late Dr. Bala Usman. Although he has not returned to that theme again since 2015, there are those who will prefer a crook with such consciousness to an ideologically flat Mr. Clean.
Taking three out of the potential lot in the PDP also, one can see Governor Nyeson Wike striving hard to come up. In 2019, his Sokoto State counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal, was his preference for the PDP presidential ticket. It is likely he calculated on being picked as the Vice-Presidential candidate if it clicked. It didn’t work out. In 2023, he is likely to want the job himself. Why not? After all, he has the pedigree of overwhelming the pressure he said was unleashed on him from Abuja during the February/March 2019 election. Nigerian politics being a space of ‘strong men’ makes Wike a man to watch in the power game, given especially the strategy of rupturous generosity he is good at. But he has yet to write himself in terms of a narrative of him that will sell vis-à-vis national power politics.
It is interesting that Dr Goodluck was mentioned by Dr Walid Jubrin. Time must have tilted the scales in a manner that he can be mentioned so soon after a not so great outing the first time. It is most likely that the action of conceding power in the manner and context he did in 2015 has written off much of the items on his national debit side. He never advocated for dismemberment of Nigeria at any time in his political career. He never used state power against selected elements and his score on inclusivity in the composition of government remained national. His two main problems were/are presiding over the level of corruption that has come to be associated with his regime and his poor handling of Boko Haram. It would be interesting to see Nigerians vote in a free and fair election in which Dr. Jonathan is a candidate barely a decade after his ouster. Only the verdict of such an election can establish his rating on a historical scale. There would be nothing surprising if the rating is good. It could be better if Dr Goodluck Jonathan borrows a leaf from Dr. General Yakubu Gowon by dashing to school quickly before 2023.
The last would be Atiku Abubakar. He presents the most complicated case study of a great but unrealized desire for presidential authority. The question is whether he could be Buhari – getting it after three attempts. He came very close to it in 1993; 2003 and 2019. His notions of development strategy remain problematic but his ability to unite the nation is never questioned. For Atiku Abubakar, 2023 could be pregnant.