By Mumini Abdulkareem
With the release of the time-table for the 2019 election by INEC, the race for the nation’s highest political office has begun. For President Muhammadu Buhari, the 2019 presidential election may not be a walkover if he chooses to run. About a dozen politicians are already showing signs that they are interested in the presidential seat.
One thing President Muhammadu Buhari’s health challenges has done to the polity is to stir up speculations that he might not seek re-election in 2019. Although before now, a few individuals had begun to consult in pursuit of their aspirations, the fact that many believe the president’s health issues should not be compounded by a re-election campaign has further raised the hope of many politicians, who feel their chances are bright if they do their homework right.
Closely connected to this is the recent release of Time Table for the 2019 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As good as the initiative is to enable the commission prepare sufficiently for the national polls, it is also being interpreted to mean some kind of green light for the gladiators as a majority of them might have been emboldened by the development to start making obvious moves.
Therefore, whilst the president is yet to give any hint in any form of what his plans are, a majority of his allies believe strongly that he would be pushing his health too hard by wanting to stay beyond 2019.
Yet, the assumption that he might not seek re-election is already beginning to heighten tension in the polity as underground negotiations, consultations, alignments and re-alignments of forces are gradually defining what shape 2019 would ultimately take. However important in this emerging equation is the category of persons gunning to succeed the president.
Across the parties, even though the nation appears to be heading in the direction of an overwhelming ruling party, due to the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party, the main opposition party and politicians of note are now meeting and consulting regardless of their different affiliations. It is also worthy of mention that none of those identified in this analysis has come out to publicly declare their intentions to run, but it has become a matter of street knowledge that the very moment the whistle is blown, these are some of those that would show interest in the presidency.
His name has continued to feature in almost every journal that torches on the succession battle. The Sokoto State governor made a whistle stop at the presidential bout in 2015 and his dramatic entry really created a stir before he was prevailed upon to drop the idea, especially that he newly joined the APC then. It is the belief of political analysts that he might have been compensated with the Sokoto governorship as a result, more so as a late entrant into the race to get him off the turf, which was already saturated, albeit within the APC.
Certainly still busy with his present mandate as a sitting governor of Sokoto State, Tambuwal is believed to be interested in the presidency and might have been consulting too on the possibility of contesting. What is not sure yet is whether or not he would forfeit his near-certain re-election as governor for an uncertain presidency. He is a personality to watch out for.
The Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-rufai, has managed to feign not to be interested in the nation’s number one job for reasons a lot of people can relate with. Even those that are politically naive know it has always been his dream to rule the country. This ambition dates back to many years.
He completely hid this dream for the aspiration of President Buhari in 2015. He is also not oblivious of the possibility of the president not running in 2019. He therefore counts himself as one of the most eligible candidates for the job. El-rufai, it is believed, would do everything to go for the prize the moment the space is declared opened for the presidential poll.
There is a growing belief too that he has begun to consult and might have been networking with people of like-minds on his dream. But like Tambuwal, he is also a first time governor and would be strange to see him sacrifice that for the presidency, where he might be standing a very slim chance. What more, his recent letter to the president is definitely going to stir some related debates in the days ahead.
Passionate and ambitious, former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, sees the presidency as a lifetime dream that must be reified and unlike many others, he is not pretentious about this. That he pulled off as the first runner up in the 2015 presidential convention of the APC that produced Buhari is an indication that Kwankwasiyya (as his political movement is called) cannot be taken for granted.
The fuss caused by the news of his alleged defection to the PDP recently further attested to the fact that he is one person not to be rated low in the presidential poll. Although there have been conflicting reports about his alleged defection, the truth is that Kwankwaso, who is presently in the senate, stands a good chance in the election.
But the no-love-lost between him and his successor, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, could be a major problem for him. The amount of votes Kano usually posts in every election is too much to be thrown away by any candidate and unfortunately, the feud between him and Ganduje is such that may not end in 2019. Thus, for the Kwankwasiyya movement, the battle for the presidency starts from home.
Perhaps, in the history of presidential poll in the country, there has never been anyone more qualified and prepared for the presidency than former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. This much Atiku proved to the country through the kind of team he puts together and his policy documents which often capture the problems of the country and their possible solutions.
Having been deputy to former President Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years, more so that he played a key role in the management of the economy of the country during their first term, it is understandable why Atiku has a grasp of a lot of the issues in the country as well as their solutions. Besides, as a successful businessman, it is deducible that he might be handling the business of state like he does his personal enterprise.
Two things however stand in his way, clearly. First is the recurring corruption tag that has consistently featured at every election even though no corruption indictment hangs on his neck. But he is still battling with the stigma, believed to have been created by his opponents to de-market him and make that dream of his unrealisable.
The other factor is his age. The failing health of President Buhari might have sensitised the voting population about the age of their choice candidate for the office of the president. At over 70 years too, Atiku might be a hard sell in 2019. Whilst no particular health challenge has been traced to him (especially that he looks good at his age), the assumption is that at that age, there is always one health issue or the other. These notwithstanding, he cannot be ruled out as a force in 2019.
Recently at the inauguration of the new Ondo State Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), former governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State said on record that if the opportunity beckons to serve at a higher level like the presidency, he would go for it. And when reports thereafter suggested that he had his eyes on the presidency, he dismissed the reports and clarified his remarks that he would not vie against Buhari, apparently recognising the implications of challenging the incumbent.
There is no doubting the fact that Tinubu has always had his eyes on the presidency long before now, perhaps, the reason he had done nothing else since leaving office as governor in 2007. His desire to run with Buhari as his running mate in 2015 also confirmed this possibility.
But this may be a hard one too. Except something beyond human comprehension happens, how a South-westerner would find his way to that office so soon after Obasanjo’s eight years remains to be seen. Such political calculation is not supported by the current mood of the nation and that dream may also not be reified as Tinubu too inches towards 70. That does not however mean that he would not play a very critical role as he had always done in the choice of who emerges the president.
The Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, is also believed to be eyeing the presidency. His recent hobnobbing with certain key forces from the South is seen as a prelude to the launch of his aspiration. A second time governor, Shettima can afford to briefly leave the home-front to some trusted allies and proceed to other parts of the country in furtherance of his ambition. But his chances are rather slim as some have concluded, except he turns out an underdog in this all-important battle.
Perhaps, the only thing he would bring to the race is his scorecard in Borno, the hotbed of Boko Haram for eight years. How that would translate to eligibility in terms of capacity to manage a complex Nigeria is a task for his media team to deal with. But he is cerebral, deep and hardworking.
Apart from Atiku Abubakar, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki is another eminently qualified candidate for the job of the president. A former governor of Kwara State for eight years and a two-term chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) (in the days when the group was still an issue in national politics before former President Goodluck Jonathan killed it), Saraki will be coming to the field with loads of experience and with his handling of the senate so far, coupled with his age as a young man, capacity is certainly not an issue.
For a man, who knows how to network and build consensus, it is certain that he is leveraging his current office and would without doubt, do well as president if the opportunity avails itself. With contacts across the country and ability to keep up with global trend, a Saraki presidency surely embodies the aptitude to change the Nigerian story.
Although he too has not indicated interest by any stroke of error or deliberate signal, he is however suffering serious perception crisis, bolstered by the corruption charges against him. In addition to this is his geopolitical zone of origin, North Central, which is perceived as periphery of the North as against the core North where the incumbent president hails from. However, if the race becomes open and Saraki throws his hat in the ring, he poses serious threat to any of the other candidates, when it comes to who stands a very good chance in the race.
Alhaji Sule Lamido, the immediate past governor of Jigawa State, is a man of immense influence and political sagacity. With some good political offices to his credit, Lamido has paid his dues, no doubt. Although he is of the opposition PDP, he was the first across the parties to indicate interest in Buhari’s job. Besides, his interest in the nation’s top job also dates back to many years, long before he left office as governor of Jigawa State.
Often referred to as one of the PDP founding fathers, Lamido will be running on a troubled platform. The PDP has been having it rough since it lost power in 2015 and is yet to get its leadership challenge right. This is where Lamido’s challenge is going to start from – coming from a divided house.
The other thing likely to count against him is the corruption charges he is still facing with the anti-corruption agency, the EFCC. It is bad enough that he is facing corruption charges about the same time two of his sons, Aminu and Mustapha are in a similar fix.
But in terms of status, experience, network and capacity, Lamido surely makes the top list. The fact that he also takes this ambition as a major assignment means he cannot be dismissed on whatever grounds. He is a factor.
Ali Modu Sheriff
The onetime strong man of Borno State politics and embattled National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, is also being rumoured to be interested in the presidency and he is coming with a lot of baggage and war chest. His leadership of the PDP has been more of a curse than blessing with more damages done to the fabric of the party than the days of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, PDP’s erstwhile controversial chairman.
A President Buhari’s in-law, Sheriff is seen more by a majority of party men as an APC pawn than one genuinely in the PDP to help restructure the party which is still trying to find its feet since 2015. His presidential ambition is not hidden, much as he has not come clean about it.
But like others who may fly their aspiration on that platform, they have this seemingly intractable crisis to deal with and Sheriff being at the centre of it all may not reap from such a misfortune since it appears the whole of the PDP establishment is against him and across the regions. That said, however, he cannot be wished away. He has enough money and influence to keep the PDP distracted for the period of the election. He is one to keep all eyes on.
He was Kaduna State governor between 1999 and 2007, after which he moved to the Senate from 2007 to 2015. With 16 years both as governor and senator, he comes to the race with a handful of experience and tested capacity enough to cause change to happen in any capacity.
A member of the PDP, Makarfi, like others who are likely to be in the race, has not come out to indicate interest in the presidency, but speculation is rife in the political circle that it is where he ultimately has his eyes. This is why his controversial leadership of the PDP is seen as his opportunity to leverage his ambition.
Unfortunately for him too, he is at the centre of the PDP crisis as the chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the party. He has been on collision course with Sheriff for the soul of the PDP, even though he seems to have the support of all except for those in the camp of Sheriff.
With his hope still hanging in the balance following a recent Court of Appeal judgment, which recognised the Sheriff leadership, Makarfi would have to work twice harder to reposition the party as a strong platform if the Supreme Court rules in their favour.
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi
The Emir of Kano and former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Alhaji Sanusi Lamiao Sanusi, is another personality being touted in the political circle as seeing the presidency as an open race if the political extrapolations are tight and the seat is conceded to the most qualified.
Sanusi is without doubt brilliant, intelligent and evidently understands what the Nigerian issues are. He used his office as CBN governor to canvass some of these issues as well as support those things that should enhance the socio-economic challenges of the country. His controversial letter to former President Jonathan, in which he raised the alarm about some missing $20 billion, remains a matter of public discourse, almost two years after.
And now as the Emir of Kano, he has been using his office to address some of the socio-cultural inadequacies of the North, where he hails from and some of the challenges of the Buhari administration. It is however unclear if he would be gunning for the topmost political job or would not mind to be paired as running mate to someone else, depending on what equation the polity throws up at the time. While the speculation about his interest in the presidency is rife, it remains unclear whether he has abandoned his lifetime dream – the Kano Emirship (which is one of the most revered traditional stools in the North) – for a tenured political office.
Culled from ThisDay