Enhanced by working closely with Liman Ciroma in a research programme to which his seniors in academia dragged him and where he listened to the old man’s rich repertoire of the dynamism of the north; possessing the unusual capacity to synthesise such empirical details into stimulating, radical conclusions, Reuben Ziri, the late Historian, was such a dependable Rapporteur on the crisis in northern Nigeria. At a two-man reflection session in Dutse in December 2011 at which one was mainly the listener while he was the lecturer, he wondered how the north that ran the defunct Interim Common Services Agency, (ICSA) could be in so much disarray that the region could not even approach any single item jointly and do it well, including agriculture. Those, like this reporter, who had no experience of ICSA had to listen because, in any case, he was too informed and too concerned about the direction of the north of Nigeria. He would say that Nigeria cannot escape the consequences of crisis in the north. It was shocking his name was missing from an initiative of the late Professor Nur Alkali in mid 2011 to see how something could be done about reconciling the north. Ziri was far, far more advanced in theory and practice than some of us who found ourselves there. It makes his death in late 2012 such a big loss to the society.
It is instructive that six years after Ziri not only expressed his fears for the north but wanted to convey a proposal through a northern governor on how the region might get out of crisis, the Sultan of Sokoto provided a very similar portrait of the crisis. At the July 27th, 2017 meeting of northern governors and traditional rulers, the Sultan complained openly how decisions taken at previous meetings were not implemented, asking rhetorically if things hadn’t gotten worse on account of that? Let the Sultan speak in his own words: “During our last meeting six months ago, we spent a lot of time to discuss many things, but from the earlier discussion, is the north much better now than we were six months ago? If yes, it means we are making progress, if no, why? All that has been the problem is to implement decisions taken at such a meeting by everybody. I think we are not short of solutions to all our problems, what we are short of, all of us, is sincerity and commitment to really do what we say publicly. If we don’t change, our situation will continue to get worse. At this meeting, we need to discuss what came out of the January meeting, how far we have gone in trying to implement some of the decisions we have taken and chart the way forward”
This is not the first time such a report card is written for northern governors in the past few years. In 2011 or so, General TY Danjuma’s verdict was similar – disarray. Yet, the governors form the closest to the most inclusive central authority in terms of power and governance at the regional level. The Sultan’s intervention is, therefore, not so much about indictment as much as an insight into a major problem that has been there. It is there in what TY and the Sultan have said just as it is there in how the region that has provided ten of Nigeria’s presidents/prime minister/Heads of state is also the least developed part of the country with a level of poverty that worries the entire country because it is a source of instability. This must be a tragedy for an unmistakeable actor in Nigerian politics such as the north arising from the territorial size as well as cultural complexity of the region.
Few people would dispute the analysis that peace and security anywhere are derivates of the quality of governance and, by implication, leadership. And then proceed to the position that it is, therefore, not ethnicity or religious differences but disastrous leadership that explains embarrassingly frequent violence in the region as well as the failure of even peace enforcement, not to talk of peacemaking, post conflict peacebuilding and transitional justice. Against this background, what is the possibility of reinventing leadership in Nigeria in 2019 at a time all the two political parties have zoned the presidential ticket to the north, thereby turning the region into a battleground in terms of a nationally accepted leader as the most important foundation for moving forward, very similar to 1998/9.
That is the leader with ideological clarity, right or left, but aware of the primacy of moving a society from agrarian to industrial economy in the current global context and staying industrialised; whose pedigree can provide for the gulf in institutional decay and virtual anomie; the leader whose exercise of power would make democracy create prosperity for all rather than for one percent of the population; someone whose exercise of power would make the institutions strong rather than weaken them as in the case of the Murtala/Obasanjo duet with the civil service; that is the leader who is good for the north and for Nigeria at the same time and in equal breadth. Who does the cap fit at a time when business as usual could be Nigeria’s funeral?
Putting its ears on the ground and decoding the musings of interested parties, of those who have made categorical declaration of intention, of those who have made observable moves and those being head hunted by shadowy parties, Intervention provides an idea of the contenders from which the next president of Nigeria might emerge. The listing has been arranged in alphabetical order.
Atiku Abubakar: This is the veteran’s veteran, highly ready to hit the ground running, whether in terms of experience in party formation or in actual governance. Atiku enjoys a rating as far as capacity for running a technically well organised government is concerned. He is articulate and not scared of utilising platforms to speak up. Nobody associates him with chauvinism of any type and he has a foothold in philanthropy which he sometimes promote as a substitute for the state. Of recent, he added an important quality – standing for something or crusading for a conviction – the restructuring campaign. Favoured by northeast agitation for power shift in the north, he, however, has three hurdles awaiting him. First is the quantum of forces, all within the elite, perceived to be determined to block him. Two is the openly expressed fear that he would be too powerful if he combines financial muscle with presidential power. Such fears have no cure in evidence or facts because they are based on perceptions. Three is the fact that he would be well above the age of 70 by 2019. Of course, there is no law on age limit but it would take a hard battle combating the current discourse on age in terms of Nigeria’s president in 2019.
Gen Martin Luther Agwai – Junior Gowon is the name given to him by a member of the BOT of the PDP. Experience is in his favour, having been head of the Nigerian Army and then Chief of Defence Staff before international exposure in UN/African Union peace keeping. He is not all out looking for power. The closest he came to that is his statement that he would not reject it were his people to ask him to serve them in a political capacity. But Agwai is certainly being mentioned although by 2019, he too would have crossed 70 years of age.
Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo: His greatest credit side is being a Second term governor from the Northeast rather than any declaration to contest for the Presidency. As a former Accountant-General of the Federation and a two term governor, he would score high on experience. Age is also on his side, being just 55 years old now. Nobody has associated him with provocative, discriminatory statements and/or practices bordering on religious bigotry. But neither is he known to be a crusader for any values, especially in development strategy. Secondly, without clear projection of what he might have achieved that were transformative in governing Gombe State, he has such a huge gap to fill in terms of how his governorship justifies being added the Presidency. Can he still do that before long?
Nasir el-Rufai: This is the most complicated of the plausible aspirants. He is such a bundle of contradictions. One side of him is this great quality. He has a habit of writing critical advisory for Nigerian leaders he has served. In a continent in which the greatest of leaders have died of hypertension from betrayal by those who pretended to be loyal to them until they came of age, this is a fantastic quality. Forthrightness or independent mindedness can be costly in Nigerian politics as opposed to scheming praise singers and prayer warriors. But, on the other side, is an el-Rufai perpetually contradicting himself, perpetually hooked to demolition of the property of people in the name of blueprints mechanically understood. On the whole, he comes off as an example of what a labour leader once referred to as “people whose socialization has prepared them as intellectual vanguards of the privileged class”. Right now, the social media is awash with stubs of his somersault on restructuring. Before, it was the same thing with Buhari whom he initially described as an analogue player but only to hide under his cover to become governor. Well, it was incumbent on Buhari to take him because the leader is supposed to be a dustbin but the morality of the statement is not between him and Buhari but between him and the public. The question is if he can escape the consequences of all these dramatic come-downs. Above all, he role as DG of BPE, particularly his sale of NITEL to Pentascope, have raised questions about his leadership style. The Senate Committee on the FCT in 2008 categorically declared him unfit for public office, condemning his tenure as reckless and inhuman. The report might have its own context but until it is challenged, it remains there, not when it equally touched on sale of Federal Government houses. His credo of privatisation makes him most problematic as far as development strategy is concerned. So, where might the north and Nigeria be with this governor who is good because he is unconventional but who is, however, not such a systematic player within any known ideological construct?
Prof Jerry Gana: Having contested for the Presidency before in 2006, his name automatically popped up here and there. Secondly, he articulates a restructuring of the north that can only see the light of the day if he climbs power. As a professor of Geography even before he came into politics and government, he scores very high on knowledge just as it would be difficult for anyone else to outscore him in terms of experience. He not only has the unique advantages of being involved or associated with producing important national documents such as the Politburo report, he has been at the heart of party formation in Nigeria, starting from the Nigeria People’s Party, (NPP) to the progressives ensemble, all in the Second Republic and then to the People’s Solidarity Party, (PSP) in the aborted Third Republic and the PDP in the current Republic. He has held the Agriculture, Integration and the Information portfolio across military and civilian administrations. Professor Gana is one of the only two Nigerian politicians to have argued that Nigeria will go nowhere unless it industrialised. He would continue to score an ‘A’ on geniality for the rest of his life. All these are on the credit or very positive sides. On the debit side are two key factors. One is the question of how his ability to combine religion with politics will affect him in a presidential contest – negatively or positively? The second is whether anyone above the age of 70 will be voted into power in 2019.
Prof Jibrin Ibrahim: French educated Professor of Political Science, Jibrin Ibrahim would add value to the culture of high intellect at the presidential level that Osinbajo has inaugurated. As a Christian from Kano, he would additionally be such an enigma to deal with for a country in which his identity doesn’t fit into that of any previous presidents. With a rich, cross cutting background ranging from academia to civil society, the media and agitation, no one would deny that he is well prepared for presidential power in early 21st century Nigeria. Age is on his side as well as French language, a strategic asset for a Nigerian president whose country is surrounded by French speaking nieghbours. Being head hunted rather than a product of his personal ambition adds more credibility to his prospects. Ibrahim has no case of chauvinism against him from any quarters and he has the advantage of knowing Africa very well. Four hurdles await him should he cross the Rubicon. Some people would say that the Ibrahim of today is not the Ibrahim of the early 1980s in both intellectual clarity and Ideological coherence. That is a charge that decline has been setting in since he quit Marxism. Is he returning there or hoping to salvage his hesitant (neo) liberalism? Two, not being one, how does manage the politicians should he win the election? Three, which credible and strong party platform is he anchoring or is it the case that the forces keen on his emergence would organise this?
Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso: It is understood that Dr. Kwankwaso has set up office in a number of states. A former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, former governor of Kano State, former Minister of Defence and a serving Senator is certainly qualified to be president of any country. In fact, Dr Kwankwaso brings something to the table – a governor who was re-elected after losing the office. It says something about his electoral value within the context of Kano politics and whatever can be generalised therefrom. Schooling outside the country also adds the cosmopolitan value to his make-up. Having contested the Presidency before in 2015, there is advantage of inside knowledge of ‘how these things are done’ as opposed to how a green horn might cope. He is certainly confirmed as a progressive in the broadest sense of the concept. However, has Dr Kwankwaso got the field commanders in each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria to undo an opponent in a hotly contested presidential position in 2019? Two, would he say that his approach to development in Kano was qualitative rather than quantitative? In other words, what is his development strategy?
Alhaji Sule Lamido: Lamido has said he would seek to be president in 2019 if his party gives him the chance. He presents a combination of features of the old breed with those of the new breed in Nigerian politics in the sense of one of the few politicians on the field now who sat before an Aminu Kano or an Awo and possibly Ibrahim Waziri. He has two distinguishing features to his credit. One is building up Jigawa from basically nothing to something in many, many respects. Two, he has exposure as a 4 year long Minister of Foreign Affairs, a training ground for leadership. Many of his contemporaries went on from there to become president of their countries. Similarly, he has two hurdles ahead of him. He is in court on corruption charges. That in itself might not be that problematic since courts work on principles whose interpretation could make him regain his honour. The hurdle may lie more in his analysis of the trial as persecution by those who fear his presidential ambition. The unintended consequence of that analysis is serving as a call to action on those perceived traducers to even widen their canvass of blocking him. Two, what is Lamido’s narrative of Nigeria today by way of remaking the nation, developmentally speaking? Lastly, by 2019, Lamido would have also joined those above 70 years of age.
Dr.Obadiah Mailafia: This would be the first Oxford educated president of Nigeria. As a permanent member of the global top ten, Oxford adds its own mystique to any candidate. Obed as he is more known is the technocrat’s technocrat – from being Deputy Governor of the Central Bank to being the Chief of Cabinet at the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To that would be added his grasp of international development and involvement in it as a resource person. His comfortable location in the world of international bureaucracy, development, civil service and finance is enhanced domestically by being called junior Sardauna to this reporter’s hearing when he delivered Radio Nigeria’s annual lecture in 2016. Could that be the voice of one of those pushing his entry into the fray? Whether the answer is yes or no, it seems positive in the sense that here would be another Shagari – becoming the president without being ambitious for it. Did I hear someone allege naivety? But his problem is not naiveté but niceness, both a positive and negative quality for the job. If he is so nice, how would he manage his cabinet, some of whom might be rough, bad guys? The point is that Dr Obed has no stigma. What is at issue is whether he has been approached and what has been his response. But like Prof Jibrin, he too would have to find a credible and strong political platform.
Senator David Alechenu Mark: He has not said anything about contesting the Presidency in 2019. If he does, he cannot be dismissed, particularly now that social media message to the effect that Obasanjo has endorsed him has been circulating.
Assessed as generally intelligent, his unparalleled record of presiding over the Senate for two unbroken terms suggest a wise, hard working team player who could carry people along. Add that to his longevity in the Senate itself. By 2019, he would have spent 20 years in that chambers, nearly the length of time in the military where he was not only a military governor but rose to be a member of the Supreme Military Council. A veteran of military politics, his presidency would mean that Nigerians could sleep with all eyes closed as far as a military coup is concerned. However, the age factor would stand against him. By 2019, he would have crossed the 70 year old bar and, unless Nigerians decide on a waiver for him, that could be a major de-campaigning issue. Second, he would have problems pointing at achievements in a society where achievements are measured in the tangibles. Thirdly, if he has had difficulty in winning his Senatorial District in the last two elections, how would winning on a national scale be accomplished?
Gen. Buba Marwa: It is all quiet from General Marwa’s laboratory yet which might be tactical. Age is on his side as much as experience, particularly serving as military governor of Borno State and administrator of Lagos State which gives him advantage in Nigeria’s national security politics. Similarly, serving as Defence Attaché and then as High Commissioner to South Africa gives him the foreign and security policy advantage. Coming from the Northeast enhances his case within the regional configuration. He has attended well regarded universities such as the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard. Typical of Nigerian politicians, Marwa has no clear ideological leaning by which anyone could project that is how he would handle this or that. Remaking Nigeria under him, therefore, rests in speculation.
Nuhu Ribadu: Having travelled the route before, it would be surprising if Nuhu Ribadu is not featuring in the race. His Facebook page is full of stiff indicators in that direction. His major strength would be the anti-corruption pedigree even as that is also the major baggage he would contend with along. The Nigerian elite has not got the spirit of capitalism that, to keep the system mystified, all those who get caught must accept their punishment with equanimity. So, they would keep a Ribadu at arm’s length. The second problem is how Ribadu might respond to what Clinton told Nigerians during his 2001 visit to Nigeria. He said that even if there were no problem of corruption in Nigeria, the country would still be in trouble if it has not invested in production. Till today, that’s the snag. So, what is Ribadu’s strategy for remaking Nigeria? Other than that, he is well educated as a lawyer and an experienced police officer. Unfortunately, he has not written the sort of book that enjoys a canonical status on containing corruption in a petro-dollar African state in the post Cold War. Or is there such a book?
Dr.Bukola Saraki: After surviving the Senate Presidency for two years against the will of the party, the executive arm of the government and the Presidency, he has successfully established himself as a fighter who can take fire. It means he cannot be discounted in 2019, what with his experience across the executive and legislative arms of government. He is not constrained by age and emerge one of the strongest contenders in time. A lot would though depend on the outcome of his many battles, some of which are not dead yet. Dr Saraki is totally missing on ideological position on Nigeria, whether of the right or left or even centre variety. By what magic then might he remake Nigeria if he becomes president?
Aminu Tambuwal: The Sokoto State governor has not spoken yet but his is the sort of silence that speaks very loudly. He has previously tried to be president before being asked to pipe down. One thing in his favour is the mystique that made fellow legislators disobey their parties to vote for him for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011. His victory was so overwhelming that it began to look like it was not happening in the same Nigeria where religion and ethno-regional cleavages are said to be so deep. In 2019, he could switch on this mystique again. Through the network of former colleagues, a national spread could be said to exist for him. Three, his range of experience now encompass the legislative and executive arms of government. If he were to get the Presidency in 2019, he would have been the youngest elected Nigerian leader, leaving General Gowon as the all time youngest in becoming military leader at 32. Fifth advantage is having an Igboman in his cabinet. Sixth, he appears to belong to former President Obasanjo’s political grooming clinic. This is, among others, what gist merchants read off from a recent picture although the same Obasanjo has been reported as endorsing Senator David Mark also for 2019. Perhaps, there might be two presidents in 2019 – one for the youths and another for the oldies. Lastly, Tambuwal has no controversies around him which is, however, where his problems might start from. 2019 is not for consensus builders but crusaders for some cause. What does Tambuwal stand for? At his inauguration in 2011, he articulated a manufacturing strategy for remaking Nigeria while being sworn-in. Since then, nobody has heard about industrialisation from his mouth again. He might then be an Obasanjo brew but very much unlike the old man. Obasanjo is absolutely aware that there is no alternative to rapid industrialisation. He could only not do it partly for regime survival.
The Dark Horse: The dark horse is usually unknown until he or she is unveiled. So, putting this is merely making room for that possibility. Some of these horses are not too dark anymore but the process of their becoming hasn’t got that status yet.
Reading the assessment, many contested issues are observable. One of it is the age question. There is an emerging discourse of the age matter that suggests it would be a big issue in 2019 but there is no law on maximum age limit. Moreover, the social dynamics on the ground which determines who gets which office at any particular time might even make advanced age a requirement. In short, there are those who would say why just as there are others who would ask why not? It is the same thing with the question of whether ex-military officers should contest to be civilian presidents. Why should they? And so on and so forth!
These are issues that would be decided in the fullness of time. Where the caucuses are working fine, these are issues that are decided quietly without acrimony. But not in Nigerian politics where everything must become a crisis. Finally, the president and the Vice-President are not mentioned because they are no new candidates. They have already been screened and are already in power.