Buhari’s bumpy road to 2019
By Ismail Onipidan
“A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeves, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.”
The above quote from Charles de Gaulle, appears apt in describing what transpired at the Monday’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), where President Muhammadu Buhari declared his intention to seek a second term.
The declaration no doubt left many chieftains of the party bewildered. In the weeks leading to the date of the meeting, all they were concerned with was how to deal with the tenure elongation issue that had almost polarised the party, set a date for its congresses and national convention and then move on.
But Buhari thought otherwise as he was said to have announced to the bewildered NEC members: “I came because of two things- to finally nail this tenure elongation,” and to declare his ambition for 2019.
“I hereby announce to you that I am seeking re-election as permitted by the 1999 Constitution… I am responding to the clamour by Nigerians to re-contest in 2019; I want to give members of the NEC of our party the honour of notifying them first,” Buhari was quoted to have said.
But his declaration did not come to many as a surprise. Although some party chieftains may have been shocked that he chose the party’s NEC meeting of Monday, April 9, 2018, to make the declaration, Daily Sun can authoritatively reveal that Buhari began nursing a second term ambition immediately after he won the 2015 election.
Sources said that it all started just before he was sworn in. The Benue state delegation had visited him at the Defence House, Abuja, to congratulate him and to request him to among other things support Senator George Akume’s quest to be senate president.
Buhari who was full of praise for the Benue people for voting en mass for the APC, told the delegation, which included Samuel Ortom, who at the time governor-elect, Senator Barnabas Gemade, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd) and incumbent agriculture minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh: “Akume and the governor-elect have put me in a tight corner with their shopping list. If it were inside, I would have known what to say. But the witnesses here are too many.
“I know that if Akume loses, it is Buhari. If Akume wins, it is Akume. I beg Akume and the governor-elect not to make my 2019 attempt too difficult,” one of the sources quoted Buhari to have said.
However, when the Buhari’s presidency eventually took off on May 29, 2015, some of the missteps of the administration, coupled with the president’s ill-health perhaps, prevented him from personally building on that attempt. This may also explain why from then until November 2016, each time the issue of a second term was raised he did nothing to show he was interested.
But Buhari, in November 2016, while in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where he attended the fifth European Union-African Union (EU-AU) Summit, for the first time since some of his party faithful and supporters began the move towards drafting him to run for a second term, gave hint that he would be seeking re-election in 2019.
Interestingly, he was accompanied on the trip by the party national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a man who was central to his emergence, first as the party’s presidential candidate in 2014, and later as the president; Governors Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, who is of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi State, who is of the APC were the only two governors on the entourage.
On the sideline of the visit, Buhari was billed to address a Nigerian delegation. He was said to have arrived late for the engagement. But on arrival, these were his opening remarks: “First, I want to apologise for keeping you for too long sitting, this is because I insisted on the governors attending this meeting.
“This is why I came along with them so that when we are going to meet you, when you are going to meet the rest of Nigerians, if you tell them that their governors were in the company of the president, I think that will be another vote for me in the future. I am very pleased that they were able to turn up.”
And that was the closest Buhari ever came, albeit publicly, as far his re-election bid was concerned, until Monday, when he declared without any form of ambiguity that he was going to run.
But was the timing of the president’s declaration of intention right?
Expectedly, members of the opposition would line up a thousand and one reasons why they felt the timing was wrong; ironically, even members of the ruling APC feel same way. But no one of them (APC members) will lift his/her finger in the public to say so. They would rather prefer to speak in hush tones.
But the chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) and Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima thinks otherwise. He said Buhari’s declaration would not only calm the polity, “but will indeed, give the APC a better sense of direction. Insha’Allah, as governors, we will give the president and our party, all that is in us to once again win the election in 2019.
“It is a traditional practice all over the world, that a popular sitting president gets his political party’s right of first refusal in seeking re-election. As Nigerians can testify, silence on the part of the President creates uncertainty in the polity with all sorts of assumptions.”
When Buhari declared in 2014
Before Buhari declared at the Eagle’s Square, Abuja, in 2014, there was no guess about where Tinubu stood with him. Tinubu and Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, who began the Buhari project as far back as 2012, were on the same page. Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi and El-Rufai were on the same page in Kaduna. Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and all the five Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors, senators, and members of the House of Representatives, had defected to the APC.
Although today, from the list of the “big fishes” that left the PDP for the APC before the 2015 elections, only Atiku had returned to the PDP ahead of 2019, there is, however, nothing to indicate that those remaining for now, will remain in the party till the end.
And even if their guts fail them, and they decide to remain, it is unlikely if they will commit the same energy and resources they committed to prosecuting the 2015 contest for the APC, for the same party in 2019.
How the zones voted in the 2015 presidential election
In the South East, Buhari scored 198,248 votes, Jonathan polled 2,464,906; in the South South, Buhari had 418,590 votes, Jonathan had 4,714,725 votes; South West, Buhari had 2,433,193 votes, Jonathan scored 1,821,416; in the North Central Buhari polled 2,411,013 votes, Jonathan recorded 1,715,818 votes, in the North East, Buhari polled 2,848,678 votes, Jonathan had 796,580 votes and in the North West, which is Buhari’s base, and where he enjoys a cult-like following, he polled 7,115,199 votes, and Jonathan managed to poll 1,339,709 votes.
North West before and after 2105
At the onset of the current democratic dispensation, which began in 1999, the leading opposition party, which was then known as the All Peoples Party (APP) was in control of the North West zone. Of the seven states in the zone, the defunct APP had four; Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto and Jigawa, leaving the PDP with Kano, Katsina and Kaduna states.
By 2003, however, the tally increased in favour of the opposition, which had then metamorphosed into the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), as it added Kano to its kitty.
At the beginning of 2007, the equation changed, PDP became the leading party in the zone, as Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina and Kaduna were won by the party. Later that year, Zamfara, which had earlier been won by the opposition, fell through the defection of the then governor, to the PDP, thus, leaving Kano as the only state in the zone in the hands of the opposition.
After the 2011 elections, while Kano was returned to the PDP, Zamfara was equally returned to the opposition. In the end, of the seven states in the zone, PDP had six, and the opposition, which later metamorphosed into the All Progressives Congress (APC), had just one. This was the situation until crisis broke out in the PDP in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, which saw Kano and Sokoto states returning to the opposition, through the defection of their governors.
Going into the 2015 elections, while PDP controlled Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina and Kebbi, the APC was in charge of Zamfara, Kano and Sokoto. By the end of the 2015 elections, APC won all the seven states.
Interestingly, Kano alone accounted for about two million votes in favour of Buhari against the PDP’s candidate, Goodluck Jonathan. Ironically, the difference between Buhari and Jonathan’s votes was 2.5 million. Whereas in 2011, when Jonathan defeated Buhari at the time the PDP was very intact, with Buhari running on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), the margin was about 10 million votes.
Although, APC controls all the seven states in the zone today, there is no guarantee that all would be delivered to the party, if the party fails to do the needful, by reconciling all aggrieved members of the party, ahead of the next general elections.
APC has crisis and factions in all the seven states in the zone, with Katsina, Kaduna and Jigawa States for now showing signs of vulnerability to the opposition. To compete favourably with Buhari in this zone, Daily Sun investigations reveal, the opposition must apart from remaining united, produce a presidential candidate that has capacity to divide the votes, especially those of Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa states.
How previous presidential contests were won and lost
In 2003, it was North/South contest. It was Buhari’s first attempt. Former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was running for the second term trounced him, largely because governors on the platform of Buhari’s then party, defunct All Peoples Party (APP), helped to give Obasanjo the spread he needed to win.
But in 2007, which was Buhari’s second attempt, it was an all North affair. The late president, Umar Yar’Adua, contested on the platform of the PDP while the trio of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, former Sokoto governor, Attahiru Bafarawa and Nigeria’s former military Head of State and incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, all ran on different political platforms. While Atiku ran on the platform of the now defunct Action Congress (AC), Bafarawa and Buhari ran on the platform of Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and the ANPP respectively. In the end they all lost.
In 2007, when it became clear that to defeat the PDP, there must be some form of alliances between the AC and ANPP, attempt was made to reach out to Atiku, with the sole aim of talking him into burying his presidential ambition, especially considering that he was only cleared at the eleventh hour to run.
But the AC and ANPP men mismanaged the process, thus allowing it to degenerate into verbal attacks between Atiku and Buhari, with the duo using unprintable adjectives to describe each other in the media.
Investigations further revealed that Atiku’s last minute decision then to dump Tinubu for Senator Ben Obi as running mate, did not also go down well with Tinubu, a factor that may have contributed largely to whatever cold relationship that may have existed between Atiku and Tinubu till date. At the end of the day, a northerner emerged as president after Obasanjo’s two terms of eight years.
But mid-way into Yar’Adua’s tenure, he died. As such, the 2011 race became a fierce contest, following the insistence by some northerners that the then president Jonathan must run, in spite of the fact that the slot was supposed to be for the North. It was this sentiment, the opposition parties cashed in on to field northerners, following the defeat of Atiku at the PDP’s primary by Jonathan, after initially emerging as the North’s consensus candidate within the party. He defeated the likes of IBB, Gusau and Saraki to pick the ticket.
However, the opposition did not behave as if it learnt any lesson from the 2007 experience. Like it happened preparatory to the 2007 polls, the trio of Atiku, Buhari and Tinubu again began their meetings early enough for the 2011 contest. But they again went their separate ways shortly before the polls. Atiku returned to the PDP, Buhari and others formed the CPC, while Tinubu stuck to his ACN.
Like in 2007, again in 2011, when it became obvious that to dislodge Jonathan and the PDP from the centre, CPC and ACN must work together, Buhari’s CPC and Tinubu’s ACN, tried a last minute merger, but they again blew the opportunity. Rather than work together, both parties worked at cross purposes to the extent that PDP’s presidential candidate, Jonathan, floored ACN’s presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, in most South-West states, including Lagos, with the exception of Osun State, where the governor, who had just been sworn in then, needed to prove a point. And like in 2007, CPC leaders and ACN leaders called each other unprintable names, pointing fingers at each other over the turn of event.
How Buhari made it in 2015
Less than a year after Jonathan’s emergence, politicians began re-aligning ahead of the 2015 polls. The major opposition parties in the country then all came together, two clear years before the polls to form the APC, with a view to forming a formidable front to do battle with the PDP.
With the emergence of the APC then, cumulatively, the opposition party’s states rose to 11; one each in the South-East and South-South respectively; five in the South-West, one each in the North-West and North-Central respectively, and two in the North-East. But shortly before the elections, the tally increased to 16, as five other PDP governors joined the opposition.
APC went into the polls with South West and North West as its strongholds, thus making the presidency a done deal for it, even before the contest. And in the end, it ended PDP’s 16 years hold on Nigeria. It also became the first win for the opposition in the country’s entire political history.
To make it possible, Tinubu ensured all the South West states, but one, were delivered to the APC. The party also won in all the seven states in the North West, with Kano posting the highest figure of about two million. APC also made a surprise inroad into the Christian dominated states of Benue and Plateau in the North Central.
Will Buhari make it in 2019?
He has declared his intention to run. But if Buhari indeed wants to run and win, he must within the next remaining months, change his nonchalant attitude towards his party, and must seek for better, credible and transparent funding strategies for the party, since he is opposed to using government funds to fund party activities and campaigns. The party is in crisis in most parts of the North and even in the South West. He must therefore take personal interest in resolving them, including the ones that will follow after the congresses and convention.
In the run up to the 2015 elections, one of Buhari’s major backers was Obasanjo. He single-handedly de-marketed Jonathan in the international community. Today, like he did to Jonathan before the contest, he has asked Buhari not to run.
So far, since 1999 to date, the only political battle Obasanjo has ever lost was his attempt to seek a third term; otherwise he has successfully prosecuted and won convincingly all political battles, especially presidential contest since 2007 after leaving office. Will 2019 be different? It seems only time will tell.
For now, however, Buhari and his team would have to return to the drawing board. And the team’s handling of Obasanjo and other leading northern leaders who had canvassed support for Buhari ahead of 2015, but who have today turned against him, would go a long way to make or mar the president’s chances.