After the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the timetable for the 2019 general elections, politicians have been upbeat albeit discretely. INEC is yet to blow the whistle for political campaigns to begin in earnest but, trust politicians, they have not been idle.
While Nigerians can reel out the names of likely presidential candidates come 2019; “traditional” kingmakers have been very busy underground. Revelations about how it is a handful of powerful Nigerians who often decide who become the president have emerged from what journalists would call “usually reliable”, “informed” or “credible” sources.
Taking 1999, the year the country returned to civil rule as the benchmark, there has been no president that was not installed by powerful and well-connected kingmakers – be it Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan or the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhuri. Whereas the democratic ceremonies and processes have made it to appear as if the electorate decide their leaders, in real essence the people’s choice is limited as they are left to pick from a field that has been filtered and sifted by the kingmakers. To the initiated, the process for 2019 has begun in earnest.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently told the Igbo to get ready to have a shot at the presidency in 2019, those who knew how it works concluded immediately that President Buhari could be a one-term president.
That was even before his health issues became public knowledge. Buhari’s performance in office has been abysmal. For a president on whom much hope was invested, his inability to turn the economy around has been a huge disappointment even to his die-hard supporters. His health debacle has only compounded issues. Whether he is healthy and strong enough to complete his first term remains in the realm of speculations and conjectures. Then came what is now referred to as the el-Rufai letters.
These were letters written by Governor Nasir el-Rufai to Buhari complaining, castigating and at the same time advising on how to steer the ship of state. Whereas the letters were written long ago, and when relations between el-Rufai and the president were excellent, they were leaked recently right in the middle of the misgivings about Buhari’s health.
Who leaked the letters and for what purpose? If we are to believe el- Rufai, the letters were leaked not by him but by those already positioning themselves for advantage come 2019. Before his health issue came to the fore, the Buhari-for-second-term train was roaring to go but the turn of events has taken the steam off it. As if the bad news about Buhari’s health was the signal some politicians fixated on the presidency were waiting for, they quickly began to crisscross the country under all manner of guises.
Alliances at their embryonic stages are believed to be developing in many parts of the country. The crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is said to be the restraining factor for now as it is wise to wait to see where the pendulum swings in the end. At the moment, Ali Modu Sheriff has the upper hand after the Court of Appeal authenticated him as PDP chairman but few people think that is the end of the matter. It is either the Supreme Court, where the Ahmed Makarfi faction has lodged an appeal, retains or throws out Sheriff.
If the former, expect many of the Makarfi loyalists to abandon the PDP but if the latter, then, a new journey of rebuilding and strengthening the party will begin in earnest. It has long been on the cards that a new mega party is required to defeat the All Progressives Congress (APC); just as it was a mega party that put an end to PDP’s boast that it would rule for 60 uninterrupted years.
While it is too early to say how the eagerly expected new mega party will emerge, there are few who think APC can go as it is into the 2019 general elections and win. The simmering discontent and deep-seated divide within the party may likely blow open in the not-too-distant future. First, there is the Tinubu factor, whose wings have been clipped by the cabals that hijacked Buhari and his government soon after inauguration. To keen political observers, Tinubu and his group are simply bidding their time; they are sure to strike at the opportune time.
Then there is the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his “New PDP” group. The travails of Saraki in respect of the avalanche of corruption cases against him by the Buhari administration indicate that both leaders are not in the same boat even though they parade the same political party. When realignment of forces begins, it is very much unlikely that PDP and APC will escape the surgeon’s knife. The names being peddled all over the place at the moment may also not be the ones who will emerge in the end as presidential hopeful.
The early starters may fizzle out along the line. There are a dozen or more names, virtually all from the North, being linked with the 2019 presidential contest. But how about the South; will it abandon the field to the North in the name of zoning or what? Are there no presidential materials from the South? National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, denied recently that he had presidential ambition in 2019. Even if he does, he has passed his apogee and his influence, relevance and political stature have begun to wane.
The Buhari/APC he sold to people has turned out a bad commodity and he is not likely to escape being punished for it. The way Buhari and the cabals around him went about demystifying and emasculating Tinubu has also not helped matters. Tinubu was influential from the Obasanjo era because he was vocal and the people saw him as the messiah speaking for them. He has lost that. I see Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike trying to put on the garb of the defender of the masses but he has largely limited himself to his battles with the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, for the control of Rivers.
One man who has, however, become the John the Baptist of our times, “the lone voice” crying in the wilderness and aridity of sane and credible opposition is the Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose. Unlike Wike, he has not limited himself to his home state; and unlike Tinubu, he has not allowed himself to be silenced or cowered by the Presidency.
He is the remaining voice of opposition in the country today. And that cannot escape Nigerians. Watch out for Fayose! Ekiti is not likely to be his last bus stop politically after he steps down as governor next year. If an opinion poll is conducted in this country today, I will be surprised if it does not return Fayose as the most popular and well-loved politician in this country.
From my travels and observations, the man is even more loved in other parts of the country than among his own Yoruba people; the South-East and South-South especially. Fayose’s outstanding developmental strides, his peculiar style of governance which elicits massive support in his home state and beyond also recommend him for higher calling. The “kingmakers” must have taken notice. From experience, they usually ignore those running around and head-hunt for the job. For once, head-hunting and popular choice may merge in one and same person.
•Enegide is a writer, author, publisher and public affairs commentator based in Lagos
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