2018:Those who will shape politics
While most Nigerians look forward to a consolidation of Nigeria’s gradual climb out of recession in 2018, the year is also a precursor to 2019 when the nation will determine its next set of leaders.
In this piece, Yusuf Alli, The Nation Managing Editor, Northern Operation, examines the emerging shape of politics, intrigues and the persons who might play key roles in this pre-election year.
In less than 24 hours Nigeria, along with the rest of the world, would usher in 2018 – a year that is expected to be a critical in shaping the nation’s political evolution.
The new year is significant because it is a pre-election period with its attendant intrigues and political drama; technically by our budget cycle, it is the last functional year in the life of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In it he has another 365 days of pressure to deliver on campaign promises – especially turning around the battered economy. It is a year when the Buhari administration along with other political office holders at national and state levels would start preparing to account to the electorate.
All political figures in the country know that 2018 is a make-or-mar year; they have seized the moment with nocturnal meetings at home and abroad. All the toing and froing is geared towards rapprochement; high stake horse-trading; realignment of forces; weighing of options; and defections.
While in 2017 some of these consultations were muted and low key, they can be expected to be more overt as the months of 2018 unfold and the nation inches to balloting in February 2019.
The sign that the pace of political activities has quickened is evident from the rise in defections at national and state levels – especially the high-profile one involving ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar from ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the main opposition party.
The successful conduct of the National Convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was a signpost that the opposition was doing its housekeeping ahead of a tough election fight with the ruling party.
We are already witnessing the emergence of some of the issues that could become campaign ammunition. For instance, the lingering fuel crisis which the opposition has milked for all it is worth.
There is the controversy over the release of $1billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight Boko Haram insurgency and other security problems nationwide.
On the plus side for the administration is the increase of external reserves to over $37billion by the Buhari administration; the unemployment rate now at all-high rate of 18%; and the belated release of the list of appointees into the board of parastatals and agencies by the government on Friday.
Even some foreign missions have cottoned on to the fact that elections are around the corner. Their Political Desks had been buzzing with projections in the past few months on where Nigeria is headed this year and ultimately by February 2019.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has heightened the pressure on the political class with the early release of the timetable for the 2019 general election in line with what it termed international best practices.
While the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on 16th February 2019, the Governorship/State Assembly/Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections will hold on Saturday, 2nd March 2019.
Buhari: When will he declare?
The political spotlight in 2018 will be firmly focused on President Muhammadu Buhari. Everyone wants to now whether he will seek re-election or not. Judging from his body language and that of his closest political associates, the real question should be when he is likely to formally make his intentions known.
When he unveils his cards, age and health rating; fulfillment of campaign promises; performance in office; his national outlook and leadership qualities would become issues for political debate.
From whatever prism one views it, he is the man of the moment this year. The parables and the indices are apparent that he is not in a hurry to pack out of the Presidential Villa. It is suspected that a recent documentary on the human side of Buhari, as innocuous as it appeared, was to test the waters for the 2019 poll and begin a process of repackaging the President.
Buhari will be the cynosure of all eyes in 2018 for five reasons: will he allow free and fair transition process/ primaries across board; will he accept defeat at even APC primaries? Will he be ready to tolerate the opposition and intense campaign like his immediate predecessor? What would be his attitude in the event of defeat by the opposition; and commitment /adherence to the rule of law? His political disposition and temperament might put Nigeria’s democracy on a steadier course.
But Buhari’s age, health and performance (most especially) will dominate discussions in 2018 and he needs more than the eagle’s eyes to put his achievements in a correct perspective. He is already the butt of criticism in social media.
The Buhari administration has credited itself with more than 75 achievements including securing freedom for 106 Chibok girls and taking captives over 16,000 Boko Haram members.
Other achievements are decimation of Boko Haram in the North East, recovering of 14 local governments and territories previously under Boko Haram’s control in the North East, rebuilding lives of citizens there, with about one million displaced persons in the region returning to their communities in two years of this administration; addressing the incidence of kidnap across the country, including the arrest of kidnap kingpins and dismantling of kidnap cells across the country.
Others are leading the country out in 29 years, despite fall in oil prices; spending N1.2trn on capital/infrastructure projects ; and entrenching transparency, accountability ; effective implementation of the Treasury Single Account and increasing government revenue by over N3trn. In a document in July 2017 titled “Buharimeter Mid-Term Report”, which was compiled by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance was rated as 57 per cent in the last two years.
The administration has also broken five promises and achieved seven key ones. But the “number of achieved and ongoing election pledges has increased from 1 to 7, and 45 to 114 respectively in year one and year two” respectively.
The compilation of the report was sponsored by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Open Society Initiative for Western Africa (OSIWA).
In its New Year Message, the PDP has, however, wasted no time in showing that it will put Buhari to task on his achievements in office.
The party said: “This is the same APC that promised to deliver Naira exchange at N1 to USD$1 but ended up wrecking the currency from N160 -N170 to a scandalous N350-N400.
“The same party and its government promised to reduce the price of fuel only for it to rise from where the PDP let it at N86.50 to N300-N400 per litre. The APC misrule literally turned 2017 into a harvest of woes; hunger, disease, violence and deaths while the nation is now being pummeled by ethnic and religious agitations and attendant violence in all parts of the country.
“Measured against all key performance indicators, the APC controlled Federal Government has fallen below the expectations of all Nigerians.”
The PDP needs to do more homework beyond every minute scathing criticism of Buhari and APC. The reality is that Buhari still attracts near cult-like following among voters in the North-West, the North-East and some parts of North-Central like Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger, and the FCT.
Atiku: Will he regret defection to PDP?
In spite of the fact that ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar has received – at best – a lukewarm response to his return to the PDP, he has tried in the past few weeks to consolidate and warm himself into the hearts of the party’s new power brokers.
But whatever challenges he may presently be facing, he remains an issue in 2018 whether or not he gets the presidential ticket of the opposition party.
Typical of his proactive political style as an early bird, Atiku caused a political jolt on November 24 when he resigned his membership of APC and by December 3, he announced his return to PDP.
He said: “Some of you may know that I was elected Vice President under the banner of the PDP, which is the political party I had helped to found some ten years before. And some of you may also know that I left the PDP four years ago when I believed it was no longer aligned to the principles of equity, democracy and social justice upon which we had founded it. I joined the APC as I had hoped it would be the new force that would help improve life for our people and I was excited about the party’s manifesto to create 3 million new jobs a year.
The result has not been the change people had been promised or voted for, as in the last two years almost 3 million Nigerians have lost their jobs. So today I want to let you know that I am returning home to the PDP as the issues that led me to leave it have now been resolved and it is clear that the APC has let the Nigerian people, and especially our young people, down.”
Notwithstanding APC’s hasty dismissal of Atiku as a political harlot and an ambitious person, it is difficult to dismiss his influence as a politician with national outlook, a bridge builder, a leader with a well-articulated blueprint to lead Nigeria, a man who is prepared for leadership position; a politician with a huge war-chest; and a strategist capable of mischief and propaganda against his opponents.
A PDP leader said: “Some of us are happy that Atiku is back to PDP. He is not only a good fighter, he can be likened to a leper who cannot milk a cow but can spill the milk from a cow. I think APC will be given a run for their money if PDP concedes its ticket to Atiku.”
As a former insider, Atiku might be APC Achilles Heel having once fought his former boss, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo with all the paraphernalia of office of the latter. He can also be the albatross of PDP if he does not get the party’s presidential mandate.
Either on the field or at the periphery, Atiku will serve as a political beacon for the electorate this year and in 2019. He is an apostle of issues-driven politics and a master of facts and figures.
Investigation revealed that he enjoys the confidence of some foreign countries and top-rated members of the business community.
There are speculations that other defectors from APC might join Atiku in PDP. This development is yet to manifest and remains in the realm of conjectures.
He, however, faces an uphill task to be able to clinch the party’s ticket despite the support of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
A top party source said: “Atiku has many hurdles to cross before he can get the party’s presidential ticket. He has to go back to the drawing board to convince the PDP governors to support him. He will also face tough primaries with many presidential aspirants who are not ready to step down for him,
“The emergence of Secondus has altered Atiku’s permutations of an automatic presidential ticket which he had banked on from ex-Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Jonathan.
“Atiku’s case is more complicated by the fact that some of the governors are disposed to the former Chairman of the Interim National Caretaker Committee, Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, given the resilient way in which he tackled PDP’s seemingly intractable crisis.
“It is an open secret in PDP that there was “an unwritten agreement” between the governors and Makarfi on the election of the new national chairman and 2019 presidential poll. Secondus’ victory showed some signs of a deal by the two camps.
“There are also fears in the party that Wike might woo Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal back to PDP and allow him to try his luck for the presidential ticket. With the huge resources displayed at the convention, Tambuwal may alter equations in the party.
“Atiku is certainly in a tight corner. As an experienced politician, he could see the signs. He has been ingenious politically and he can find his way through the landmines.”
Above all, at a time young leaders are leading different nations, Atiku, who will be 72 on November 25, 2018, still aspires to be Nigerian President might just find himself fighting against the changing tide.
Makarfi: Has the former Kaduna’s governor’s time come?
He is a quiet, unassuming and an astute political operator. He is arguably the best governor of Kaduna State since 1999 going by the dexterity with which he managed the heterogeneous state.
The same ingenuity was what he applied in managing and resolving PDP crisis. His fragile nature belies his resourcefulness and bridge-building capacity across all parts of the country.
A financial expert, his forte is his ability to handle economic matters. The brilliance he exhibited on PDP crisis has endeared him to many leaders, governors and members of the party.
He has moved forward from the local actor perception of 2007 which made him to lose the presidential ticket to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to a national figure.
If the PDP governors keep to the “unwritten agreement” they had with Makarfi, he can be the winning underdog at the presidential primaries this year.
The only complaint about Makarfi is his true state of health which is unknown to many. A PDP governor said: “We are already trying to verify his medical history independently to guide our decision. We don’t want to take a bet on any candidate again like the case with the late President Yar’Adua.”
Lamido: How far can the Talakawa champion go?
A self-educated politician, former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, has been in politics since he became a member of the left-of-centre People’s Redemption Party (PRP) in 1978 which was led by the late founder of the party, the late Mallam Aminu Kano.
Although he has no formal record of schooling, Lamido is rated as “street wise” with a great vision to liberate the poor otherwise called Talakawa.
His greatest strength is his ability to develop himself to the extent of becoming National Secretary of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) whose candidate, Chief M.K.O Abiola won the acclaimed but annulled June 12, 19993 general election and serving as the nation’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2003.
A leader addicted to party politics, discipline and supremacy, Lamido’s performance as the governor of Jigawa State between 2007 and 2011 has remained a reference point.
Apart from being a Minister, he was almost emerging as a Vice-Presidential candidate to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan having been recommended by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
His political setbacks are the controversy surrounding his position on the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential poll; the age factor as he will attain 70 on August 30 and his trial alongside two of his sons (Aminu and Mustapha) for allegedly receiving N1.35 billion kickback from a government contractor.
The unresolved corruption trial is a stigma which Lamido needs to remove. Unfortunately for him, the wheel of justice is slow in Nigeria. But the tension over his case will be part of the controversy dotting PDP’s screening exercise, clearance and presidential primaries in 2018.
Shekarau: The underdog tries again
A foremost school principal and a good debater during the 2011 campaign, ex-Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau is one of the few presidential aspirants who is well-educated. Armed with a degree in Mathematics/Education, what he has going for him is simplicity, honesty and perseverance.
His problems include an alleged extreme religious outlook. A well-known Sharia advocate, he acquired international perception as a bigot because of his opposition to polio vaccination campaigns and disagreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) until the Federal Government intervened.
He may also lack the kind of funds required to prosecute his ambition. But since he won the governorship poll in Kano state in 2003 as a modestly financially-endowed politician, he is banking on his integrity and luck to see him through.
But he has another presidential aspirant from his state, ex-Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, to contend with.
Tambuwal: Will he challenge Buhari in APC or defect to PDP
Save for horse-trading at the last minute, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, was almost becoming the presidential candidate of the APC in 2015.
But he has not given up on his presidential aspiration. Dubbed a tactician, Tambuwal is a serial defector who knows how to press the right button and at the right time.
In the last 14 years, he had been a member of four political parties namely All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP), the Democratic People’s Party(DPP), the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In 2003, he won election into the House of Representatives on the platform of the defunct ANPP but barely some months to the 2007 general election, he shifted to DPP. When he was unsure of a return ticket to the House, he rejoined ANPP and eventually landed in PDP the same year where he won re-election.
Born January 10, 1966, Tambuwal has age on his side. He aptly fits into “Not-to-Young to Run” bill. He is full of wisdom, patient and visionary. He is, however, suspected to have a leg in APC and another hanging elsewhere – but mostly in PDP.
Findings confirmed that Tambuwal has been under pressure from his close friend, Governor Nyesom Wike, to cross over to PDP where he will get a waiver to vie for the party’s presidential ticket. There are rumours that Wike and others might have hijacked the PDP to support a joint ticket with Tambuwal.
It is indisputable that Wike and Tambuwal had been close political pals. Even when ex-President Jonathan was fighting Tambuwal, he used to have rendezvous refuge in Wike’s posh house in Asokoro District, Abuja where they were dissecting Nigerian politics daily over well-prepared Suya.
Jonathan never knew his Minister of State for Education then (Wike) was an ally of the ex-Speaker in the heat of the crisis which led to the withdrawal of Tambuwal’s security details. Whatever it is, this son of the Caliphate may be up to something in 2018.
Kwankwaso: Quiet and calculating, but for how long?
A game master who is battling to control his political future, Kwankwaso’s graveyard silence has created unease in the All Progressives Congress (APC).
It is difficult to know his mindset but he was said to be “politically calculative” last night by one of his associates. He has a usual refrain of “wait for the right time.”
He, however, seems to be interested in three things – namely the presidency, or alternatively getting his senatorial ticket back and regaining control of Kano State, which is his political base.
Coming second behind Buhari in 2015 presidential primaries of APC indicated that Kwankwaso is no push over. His dilemma is the choice of platform. He has the alternative of swallowing his vomit and returning to PDP to reunite with his traducers or pitch tent with the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) to win Kano back and retain his Senatorial seat. From there he can make a move for the Senate Presidency.
Born on October 21, 1956, Kwankwaso was a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and two-term governor of Kano State. He was one of the five governors who defected to APC in 2014. He has something up his sleeves because he is never shy of any political fight or manipulation.
There is no hiding place for Kwankwaso in 2018 having been in political exile for more than two years due to the “cold war” with his successor, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.
Is Kwankwaso forming Accord Concordiale with politicians of like minds? The nation awaits the joker of this ex-Minister of Defence, who is a political favourite of ex-President Obasanjo.
Dankwambo: The dark horse lurks in Gombe
A former Accountant-General of the Federation, the Gombe State Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, was already an accountant at the age of 23. He was born April 4, 1962. Since he joined Coopers and Lybrand in 1985, his career had been on the rise because of his exceptional gift till he became the Governor of Gombe on April 26, 2011.
Except for his gregariousness, little is known of Dankwambo unlike his mentor, ex-Governor Danjuma Goje who brought him into political limelight. His achievements in office have been described as fantastic. But he believes he has honed his skill in politics to have a shot at the presidency. He is seen as something of a dark horse and the year 2018 will determine whether or not he can go far.
APC and PDP Governors
Armed with huge cash at their disposal, APC and PDP governors will play important roles in remodeling the nation’s political landscape in this year in order to set the template for 2019 general elections.
Among the APC governors, some 14 supposed or conscripted loyalists of President Buhari have emerged and they have holding nocturnal meetings in Abuja to the dismay of others who are fighting back.
Those governors completing two terms in office will want to install their successors, who might not be their deputies. Others will resist successors being imposed on them by the parties at the national level.
Like the case during the National Convention of PDP, the governors might determine who will be the presidential flagbearer of the party. Certainly, this syndicate of governors cannot be underestimated in 2018.
Tinubu: Will he be Buhari’s trump card as in 2014/2015?
An adroit politician whose life has been defined by a struggle for just causes, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s determination to see the merger of like-minded progressive parties work accounted for the success of the APC in 2015.
Shuttling from pillar to post, Asiwaju staked all he had to make the merger workable. There were meetings at home and abroad. It was the first successful coalition of the opposition in the history of Nigeria, a feat that has earned him accolades and awards. His role as a rapporteur fetched tremendous goodwill for APC from all the geopolitical zones.
Contrary to the assumption of Governor Nasir el-Rufai that the South-West might have exaggerated its role in supporting Buhari to power, the facts cannot be erased. According to a research by the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives, it was only in the South-West (out of the six geopolitical zones) that the voter turnout increased from about 32% in 2011 to 40.26% in 2015. There was decline in voter turnout in other five zones.
In a statement to mark Asiwaju’s 64th birthday, Buhari said: “As one of the pillars of the APC, President Buhari commends the visionary leadership style of the Asiwaju of Lagos, who is also the Jagaban of the Borgu Kingdom in Niger State, for creating a formidable opposition party in Nigeria that worked vigorously within a short period to oust a party that had been in power for 16 years.”
As 2018 beckons, Tinubu will no doubt play a significant role this year in preparation for 2019 poll. He is expected to wave the olive branch to reunite all the fragmented power blocs in the party; reunite Buhari and the aggrieved South-West and work harder to convince the zone to vote afresh for the President.
The Jagaban of Borgu has started the consolidation of the South-West for Buhari with many heavy weights leaving PDP for APC. Blessed with a perceptive spirit, Buhari needs a canny salesman like Tinubu to be able to weather the looming storm. Out of the six geopolitical zones, the South-South and the South-East are tough nuts for Buhari, he needs a mileage in the South-West to complement his strongholds in the North-West and in the North-East.
The recent meetings between Buhari and Tinubu are seen by political pundits as new steps towards realigning political goals with realities.
The fears by Tinubu’s associates border on the fact that he might suffer a relapse of fate after Buhari’s election. They have been expressing concerns that the cabal might “use and dump” him again. But Tinubu’s body language has clearly shown that despite suppositions, he has no issues with the president.
Saraki, Dogara, others
For Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his political future is in suspense. There were initial signs that he might attempt to vie for the presidency but it was learnt that a former President advised him against it because age is still on his side.
As at press time, his loyalists have tried to decode his body language. It is not unusual for his ardent supporters and loyalists to say “we have our boarding pass but we don’t know the flight to board.”
Following his humiliation and trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, it is natural for a politician of his caliber to take stock of whether or not it is worth it to remain in APC.
He has three choices: sticking to APC, crossing to PDP and joining a new party with like minds to contest in 2019. But findings confirmed that some forces in APC prefer Saraki remaining in the ruling party and negotiating his return as Senate President.
A top source said: “I think retaining Senate Presidency’s portfolio is a good bargain for Saraki.” Being a product of an astute political family, Saraki will unveil his political package in 2018. He needs at least a secured future.
For the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the home front has been a war front following political differences with the Governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, who has hijacked the APC structure in the state.
Rated as the link between the Executive and the Legislature by President Buhari, the amiable Dogara needs the supporter of the centre to resolve local political burdens which may impede his fantastic career as a peacemaker, a humble politician and a leader who has no lust for power. Other influential players to watch for are Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai and Minister for Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi who are known close political associates of Buhari.
Amaechi was the president’s campaign director in 2015. He and El-Rufai are also said to be among loyalists trying to coral APC governors to line up behind Buhari’s second term bid. They are a political tag-team to watch.
Osun and Ekiti Governorship elections
By INEC’s timetable, the Ekiti State governorship election will hold on July 14, 2018, while Osun State Governorship election will hold on September 22, 2018. The commencement date of campaign for Ekiti poll is on April 15, 2018, and that of Osun State will be as from June 24, 2018.
Having lost Anambra governorship poll to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the two polls in the South-West will serve as a barometer for the chances of the ruling party in 2019 general election. They will also show the state of the PDP for the bigger contest in 2019.
Leaders in the South-West have tried to close ranks and worked harder to woo more defectors in the past few months but the success of APC in the two states will depend on its preparedness to allow free and fair primaries, shun imposition and avoid use of federal might.
A little slip by APC may lead to a bandwagon effect and the South-West may slump to a repeat of PDP wave in 2003 when PDP swept the zone clean except Lagos where ex-Governor Tinubu was resilient.
Above all, there will be no dull moment in 2018 for political gladiators. The battle promises to be bitter as the PDP struggles to escapes from the wilderness of opposition. But the ruling APC cannot afford to be complacent because the elections of 2015 have shown that there are now limits to the advantages of incumbency.