By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, here we go again. Let me say right away that the ways of our politicians are not the ways of ordinary mortals. At a time our leaders at all levels should be visibly worried and vociferously concerned about our myriad of problems and humongous challenges, they are busy gallivanting and getting ready for the next elections. Never since the last civil war has Nigeria been this divided and dangerously close to another civil war. At the same time, the whole world is in the grip of a rampaging pandemic, called the COVID-19 virus, which is ravaging and savaging everything that lies in its wake. Nigeria is not excluded from the deadly force of this awesome plague. Nevertheless, it is as if our politicians are hell bent on fiddling while Rome burns and going about doing their usual business of horse trading. Since it appears all that seems to matter to our politicians, and indeed the rest of us, is politics, let’s sit back and read my permutations and musings on the leadership contest in Nigeria, as I often do from time to time on this topical and typical Nigerian issue.
Let’s quickly establish some facts based on questions I have been asked by many Nigerians on various social media platforms including Clubhouse, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in recent times. It is generally believed that the next President must come from the South of Nigeria, on the assumption that it would be inconceivable, unfair and immoral that another Northerner should come back so soon after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s hocus pocus and magical stunts. However, let me hasten to confirm that nothing in our Constitution forbids or disallows any Nigerian from any part of Nigeria to contest the Presidential election at any time. Zoning is not part of the Nigerian Constitution, no matter how much people wish it to be. For my part, I believe that this is as it should be. We should never sacrifice merit on the altar of parochialism. The allure and attraction of the centre in Nigeria stems from the humongous power and might that the Presidency and the Federal Government wield coupled with the fantastic and incredible largesse that both dispense. If we have a decentralised and proper Federal Constitution where each State can command and influence the direction of its fortunes and progress, as it existed during the preeminent days of the old Regional Governments, then the appeal and fascination of the Presidency and the Federal Government would soon lose its lure and lustre. This is part of the restructuring that everybody seems to be clamouring about these days.
We are certainly a long way of achieving what would be an Eldorado in these parts. Waking up from what is a dream or a mirage right now, the only way forward is to play the game as it currently exists in Nigeria, with the usual suspects as the gladiators. For now, we cannot change the sport, the rules and the participants. The only uncertain aspect of the 2023 contest is how the parties will split and metamorphose into new fledgling or super Parties as the elections draw nearer, and alignments and realignments take place.
Assuming that the current crop of politicians is too chicken to rock the boat, and this is true of a large majority of them, the present political parties, particularly the two main ones, will continue to hold sway. In those circumstances, the scenario I therefore foresee and predict is that if the ruling party APC picks its candidate from the South, the PDP would most probably pick its own from the North. Having said that, I will not even rule out some people descending on us very soon to demand that Buhari should remain in perpetuity, as our Messiah. While it may appear impossible, I won’t be surprised if a bill to this effect is rushed and rubber-stamped at the National Assembly. For me that’s Act one, scene one.
If that doesn’t happen, we may have a situation where some hawks within APC may insist on having a Northern candidate combine with a Yoruba as Vice Presidential candidate. Their excuse would be that the only zone APC is very strong in the South is the South West. And many prospective South Westerner candidates would be too happy to play that role gladly and gleefully. For this group of South Westerners, they realise that their Presidential aspirations are probably dead on arrival, but they must be seen to be making the necessary noises so they can achieve their real aim of being the Vice-Presidential pick. For them, it would be a case of arguing that we did our best and did not let the side down but had to be pragmatic and settle for second best because our chances as Yorubas are greatly diminished.
There are three to four Northerners in APC who might benefit from such arrangements with this wimpish, inferior Yoruba prospects. They include Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku Bagudu. What may work for all these prospective Northern candidates is that they are all relatively young men although quite experienced in governance at the highest levels. In case that kite does not fly due to overwhelming resistance from Southern Party members, these Northern members of the Nigerian ruling elite are also among those to be considered for the Vice-Presidential slots.
On the other hand, there are very serious Yoruba candidates contending to be President for whom nothing short of the Presidency will do. They are by and large not interested in the Vice Presidency either by choice or by law. We can group them into two categories on the ground of religion. If the Yoruba Presidential candidate is a Muslim like Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, or Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), or Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Dogara may stand a good chance as running mate to any of them being a Christian from Bauchi State. It may be difficult for a Muslim/Muslim ticket to fly again this time, unlike what happened in 1993 when two Muslims, Chief MKO Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe paired up and won the monumental election. It was the anathema and abhorrence of a Muslim/Muslim ticket that led to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s bid to join the Buhari ticket in 2015, and which led to the emergence of the current Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. I do not believe that the situation has markedly changed since 2015. However, If the South West candidate is a Christian like Prof Yemi Osinbajo or Dr John Kayode Fayemi, it would be easier for either of them to have a wider variety of choices from the large Muslim APC Presidential contingent in the North. Dr Kayode Fayemi is of course a strong Vice-Presidential prospect and there are a lot of people who believe that this may yet be his real play whilst galvanising support for his Presidential bid might only just be his opening gambit. It is safe to say that of the South Western contenders one can be sure that only Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and President Yemi Osinbajo are dead certainties for the APC Presidential nomination alone. We can be assured that neither of them will, nor can, settle for anything less. Both hold formidable credentials and are the strongest of the lot of South Western contenders.
If the South East is considered by APC, which I seriously doubt, since APC is not strong in that region, the Party ticket may fall into the laps Chief Rochas Okorocha or Chief Orji Uzor Kalu or even the recent decampee, Governor David Umahi. This seems far-fetched for various reasons.
The lone possibility from the South South is most likely to be the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, two term Speaker, two term Governor of Rivers State and now two term Minister of Transport. He is a kingmaker who may definitely wish to be king. Twice, he’s been the National Campaign Coordinator for Major General Muhammadu Buhari and he readily has the full template used to bring Buhari to power. He controls a formidable war chest which combined with his stupendous courage makes him one of those to watch in any Presidential nomination race! He would be one of the youngest and yet most experienced leaders in the country. From the Middle Belt which may be seen as a minority Region where no civilian Nigerian President has yet emerged comes the young Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahya Bello, who is also being strongly touted. He has his youthfulness on his side, although some reckon it is his youthful exuberance that may yet prove to be his Achilles heel. He also has the fact that he is fiercely loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari as a plus for him in case the President is keen on being the determinant of who will succeed him, which I doubt.
PDP on the other hand seems to be tilting Northwards. Three of their past combatants are returning to the boxing ring, with a vengeance. They include Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Governor Waziri Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State. If Atiku gets the ticket, he may retain the very brilliant and extremely popular Mr Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, as he did in 2019. It is difficult to see Atiku Abubakar getting the PDP nomination though. He was very much bloodied in the nose in 2019 and has lost some of his glory as a result. Furthermore, age is definitely not on his side. However, Abubakar is a die-hard politician who seems to have the remarkable attributes of the Phoenix and springs to life at the right and most opportune moment. Like Buhari it may be fourth time lucky for him. He may also consider the new sensation, Professor Kingsley Moghalu as his running mate, although Moghalu prefers to be President in his own right rather than playing second fiddle to anyone.
The other returning Presidential warrior is Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. He will be a hard nut to crack as he plans to go all out to clinch the ticket this time around. He believes that he has had enough of being pushed aside for others in PDP because the Party believed they were less controversial and better able to rally the party faithful and attract Nigerians to the PDP philosophy. Having all spectacularly failed, Kwankwaso wants to fully step into the fray and carry the battle to APC. The last time I interviewed him before the 2019 elections, Kwankwaso told me it would be difficult for a candidate who’s not from one of the 3K States in the North (namely Kaduna, Kano and Katsina, in no particular order) to win the Presidential elections in Nigeria. He attributes the failure of the hugely popular Atiku Abubakar to this factor. If he bags the ticket, it isn’t clear who he may consider as running mate.
Aminu Tambuwal is the young Turk that people believe can revest and revert the Presidential crown back to the PDP if PDP decides on a Northern candidate. He is from Sokoto and not a 3K State according to the Kwankwaso principle, but his State has a large population and he himself has a significant personal following in Northern and Southern Nigeria. One powerful PDP combination that everyone is considering and wonderingly looking at and talking about is the Aminu Tambuwal/Nyesom Wike. Governor Wike is known to be very fearless and controls one of Nigeria’s richest States. He’s been working feverishly to turn Rivers into a land of super infrastructures and technologies. To this end, he has engaged the services of the construction giant, Julius Berger in order to be able to beat his chest that he has what it takes to lead at the National level. Remember that he’s also been a Federal Minister.
If the PDP nod goes to the South South, then the strongest contender might be former President Goodluck Jonathan, if he can be persuaded to come out of his semi-retirement. Lately he has become like the beautiful, widowed bride as he is being courted by both the APC and the PDP. President Buhari’s eight years have been so controversial that many are claiming that had they known, Jonathan would not have been sent packing.
From the Southern PDP also comes the Governor of Cross River State, Professor Benedict Ayade who has invested heavily in the industrialisation of his State in order to create employment for the teeming youths. Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom is certainly not someone to ignore in the political equation of the country because of the incredible resources available in abundance to him and the interesting and eye-catching deployment of those resources by him.
The battle for the 2023 race will be a battle Royale in both APC and PDP as all the big players fight hard and jostle for the highly coveted ticket and the Vice-Presidential sidekicks. The possibility of a dark horse emerging from a third force is presently in the real of a miracle or a revolution.
This is my simple Arithmetic for now…