It came amid other concerns and considerations. Indications emerged earlier that President Muhammadu Buhari was pushing forward his proposed travel to the United Kingdom to ensure that things do not go awry at the rescheduled National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
A close Presidency source had mused to The Guardian on enquiries as to why the President was staying back to attend the NEC meeting, saying, “What the President would say on Monday (date of NEC meeting) would change the course of party politics in the country.”
Although a clever hunch indicated the possibility of President Buhari throwing his hat in the ring, it was risky to go to town with such a speculation, apart from a veiled allusion to that possibility to Editor of The Guardian on Sunday.
True to the ellipsis of the Presidency source, what Buhari said during the last APC NEC meeting actually changed the course of party politics in the country. It increased the tempo of political discourse and enhanced agitations for reforms within the ruling and opposition parties.
President Buhari’s declaration of interest in a second term was like a thunder from the blues at the NEC meeting, except that some notable Buharists like Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, were expectant of such cheery news.
The second term pronouncement helped to set the tone for deliberations on the Simon Lalong’s Technical Committee on the tenure elongation matter. Apart from in throwing up mix reactions in the ruling party, Buhari’s declaration had much impact in the political north, especially among potential aspirants for the presidency.
However, as if it was pre-planned an event that took place in Katsina, the home state of the President, threw up a rich backcloth and insight into what could likely play out in 2019 during the main election: The Northwest zonal chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), held a rally to receive defectors from APC and others.
PDP’s Katsina Metaphor
The opposition PDP held a rally, which it said was to receive defectors from Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and splinter group of the APC in the northwest zone.
Coming from what was considered as the President’s home constituency, the rally as well as the massive crowd that showed up passed weighty political messages of far reaching imputations.
Although the rally happened two days before the President declared his intention to be on the ballot once again for the Presidential poll, the massive and enthusiastic gathering that graced the occasion must have made some impressions on the minds of many Nigerians.
That the occasion presented the immediate past governor of the state opportunity to break his long silence on what his supporters calls ‘political persecution’ over an alleged misappropriation of N11b, it also gave inkling to the nature of electioneering that would define 2019 poll.
From Dr. Shema’s discussion with journalists, it becomes easy to conclude that political jobbers must have done their best to pit two political allies against each other, based on the ongoing trial. It would be recalled that Shema was part of the bulwark of support and legal defence for Mallam Aminu Masari in 2003, when the incumbent was on his way to becoming the Speaker of House of Representatives.
The political animosity between the two started when the former Speaker moved over to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011 to contest against Shema, who was by then seeking a second term in office. Losing that election to Shema, who was enjoying a successful legal practice in Kaduna State before the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua appointed him Attorney General and commissioner for Justice, must have had a telling effect on the former.
After mounting the saddle as governor in 2015, Masari set up a commission of inquiry to investigate Shema’s tenure. Feeling that the inquest was a calculated attempt to tarnish his image and cut down his political influence in the state, Shema challenged the commission, especially the appointment of the interim chairman, Justice Muhammad Sirajo.
Determined to plod on with the inquest, immediately the Court of Appeal prohibited Justice Sirajo from continued headship of the commission, Governor Masari appointed Malam Ado Maaji in his place. The commission went ahead to report that the sum of N11b could not be accounted for by the past administration, where upon the state government dragged Shema and three of his former aides to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Ever since the case begun, nothing was heard from Shema, who shunned pressures to speak on the matter. But, perhaps buoyed by the massive turn out at the northwest rally despite the fact that it was an APC state, Shema spoke.
The former governor declared that contrary to claims by the ruling party, he left N14.5b in the coffers of the state, stressing that public record shows that his administration did not borrow or left any debt for the succeeding Masari administration.
Spurred by the cheers of the crowd Dr. Shema criticized the anti-corruption battle, saying that while it was proper to fight corruption, employing media trials and other underhand tricks to achieve political ends vitiates the sincerity of the Buhari administration.
“To fight corruption is necessary in Nigeria, but must be fought with clear objective, fairness and equity,” Shema added, saying that there was no way his administration could have funded free education, paid for WAEC and NECO fees for school children, left N11.5b and misappropriated N14b.
Shema’s response to his political persecution seemed to have given the event out as a metaphor in the expected second showdown between APC and PDP in 2019, especially against the background of public perception and estimation of the ruling party and the President’s performance in office.
The Katsina metaphor points to the reality that President Buhari’s second term chase would be a referendum on his anti-corruption battle, economic empowerment and fight against insurgency, or his three-pronged promises in 2015.
The attempt by APC to push back on PDP’s aggressive comeback moves with the narrative of corruption and looting may flounder. It is becoming clearer everyday that what became APC in 2015 were fringe opposition parties powered by a strong faction of PDP.
That point was made poignantly by the immediate past national chairman of the party, Ahmed Makarfi, when he explained, “all the bad eggs that gave the party a bad name have left for other parties.”
Moved by the crowd, incumbent national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, declared that PDP was still strong enough to win in Katsina State.
But, coming few days after the rally, the decision of President Buhari to seek a second term, throws up new possibilities. The declaration would not only affect decisions and activities in the ruling party, but also impact on northern politics and politicians, particularly presidential aspirants from the north.
Effect On Northern Politics, Politicians
PRIOR to his successful fifth attempt at the Presidency, Buhari has always garnered lofty votes from the north, such that it became a given that he would score not less than 12 million votes in any presidential poll.
But his interest to try his luck once more in 2019 would show the reality of that presumption for a number of reasons. In the first place, it would be recalled that in the previous polls, which Buhari participated, notably 2003 and 2011, the contest was with southern presidential incumbents.
Then in 2011 when the incumbent President wept over his third loss of the Presidential poll and literally swore not to be on the ballot again, it was against President Goodluck Jonathan, whom the north believed ruptured the power rotation arrangement in the PDP, which would have ordinarily left Presidential control in the region for eight years.
Also, in 2007 President Buhari ran against his kinsman, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In that election, two things played out: it was generally believed in the north that Yar’Adua was imposed by the outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo at the expense of Vice President Atiku Abubakar to spite the region.
Moreover, Yar’Adua’s failing health was a subject of popular perception and a lot of northern politicians had expected that Obasanjo would have settled for younger and more vigorous alternatives.
The same concerns are currently being raised and built around Buhari. Quite unlike his first term when the north was united in the desire for presidential power to return to the zone, the perception right from 2015, when he mounted the saddle was that the President was an imposition by the Southwest caucus of APC to usurp the powers and recreate another Yar’Adua setting to its advantage.
Intriguingly unknown to the President the same north, where the vote bank of 12m is stashed, is thinking that a more vigorous alternative succeeds him. Over and above the fear of political ambush from outside the north, most active politicians from the area believe that Buhari’s past three years did not bring enviable net dividends to the north.
The effect of Buhari’s desire to go to the poll once again would push active politicians in the region to mobilise voters against him.
Former Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa said the President has made the costliest mistake of his life, stressing that he has offered himself to be used as sacrificial lamb by opportunistic politicians that want to climb to power on his back.
Perhaps, it was a measure of reflection of the truism of Bafarawa’s position that the Katsina PDP rally attracted a huge crowd. Immediate past Education Minister and former Governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who is being pressured to return to APC told the Katsina crowd: “No matter who you want to vote as a candidate, if you don’t have voter card, you cannot be allowed to do so.’’
With the campaign for the people to obtain Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), it is hard to figure out how Buhari’s 12m votes would remain intact, more so when more than one northern candidate would be on the presidential ballot.
President Buhari’s declared interest for a second term would suffer from monumental deficit of former influencers. No matter how much effort the President’s handlers might put into the attempt to discount their contributions, such politicians like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, helped to propel Buhari to victory in 2015.
In 2019 therefore, the President would most likely learn that those pressuring him to succumb to the temptation for a second term poll do not represent the majority. To a large extent the decision of Atiku Abubakar to join the APC train in 2014 helped to swing the votes away from PDP.
Already the former Vice President has declared his intention to feature on the 2019 Presidential onslaught. With his empowerment programmes, job creation and provision of educational opportunities, the President would be forced to name those he had favoured with personal scholarship award or economic empowerment.
Northern elders have made it clear that any northerner that desires their votes must show evidence of what s/he had done to reduce poverty, empower the people or advance northern interest in the past.
Like Atiku, Kwankwaso is not relenting in his aspiration to contest the Presidential election and those close to him say 2019 is a must for the leader of Kwankwasiyya political movement to be on the Presidential ballot.
For Saraki and Tambuwal, pressures have been mounting on them to throw their hats in the ring for the 2019 Presidential poll.
What all these point to, is that Buhari’s second temptation would suffer from a deficit of powerful influencers. And against the background of his health challenges and unfolding national politics, it would be interesting to see how the President would overcome the defects in the political arrangement that thrust him on the Presidency in 2015.
Implications, imperatives for APC
IT was quite politically revealing that the President used the NEC meeting to announce his interest to re-contest the Presidential election. Without doubt, Buhari’s declaration came out as a cleverly scripted play to douse the fire of tenure elongation brouhaha in the APC.
What Buhari’s declaration means therefore, is that a fresh ground for supremacy battles have been opened to eliminate or circumvent the future political interest of some highly placed members. For instance, from the passionate way the President solicited for waivers for any member of the NWC to seek re-election, it could be deduced that a clever attempt is being made to return Oyegun and other NWC members that might not be opposed to automatic ticket for President Buhari.
The camp of the former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has real cause to worry, because developments in the party point to the likelihood that the President’s about face was merely intended to make it look as if he (Buhari) was on the same page with him (Tinubu) and to attend his colloquium without reservations or misgivings.
A lot is actually on the table of Mr. President and his party. And how they manage it towards 2019 would signpost their readiness to nurture this democracy.