We are now fully in the political season. With INEC releasing the time-table for the 2019 elections, hush-hush political discussions and permutations are likely to become more brazen. .
One of the issues that have dominated the media recently is on whether Buhari should seek re-election or not. While some Buharists like Nasir El Rufai, have made it clear that there is no alternative to Buhari in 2019, and Buhari himself had used innuendos to drop hints that he would run, some have advised him to forget 2019. Fiery Catholic priest Fr Ejike Mbaka of the Adoration Ministry Enugu for instance, claimed he got a revelation from God that Buhari would be humiliated if he ever sought re-election. Fr. Mbaka famously predicted that Buhari would win the 2015 election and supported his candidacy despite Buhari’s unpopularity in his south-east home base.
In addition to Fr. Mbaka, there are a number of Northern coalition groups urging or threatening him not to contest. These include the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, (AYCF) and a group said to be made up of “no fewer than 36 Northern Coalition of Concerned Northern Youths and Women Groups”. These groups warn that any attempt by Buhari to contest in 2015 “will be resisted” because there is nothing from Buhari’s nearly three years in office to give hope he would do better if given another chance.
In the battle-ground South-west, some of Buhari’s most ardent supporters are beginning to sing a new tune. Dele Momodu, publisher of Ovation for instance, recently wrote a public letter to Buhari urging him take the ‘Mandela option’ so he can rest and look after his health. In a similar vein, Professor Wole Soyinka, who was courted aggressively and won over by the Buhari government, a few days ago took an unusual swipe at the President after his New Year’s message in which he sought to blame marketers and everyone else but his government for the re-appearance of queues in petrol stations during the Christmas period. In a widely circulated press release Soyinka asked Buhari to fix the problems of the country and stop his perennial blame game. Again in a major speech on leadership in far away Oxford University, United Kingdom, on January 8, 2018, the oracle at Ota, Olusegun Obasanjo, who has uncharacteristically refrained from criticising the Buhari government, left out Buhari in his list of African leaders he believed are offering transformational leadership. Obasanjo, a grand master of timing and expert in making and unmaking of Nigerian leaders, is being closely watched for hints of where his political inclinations may lie. Was his omission of Buhari deliberate? If so, was it indicative that the “glory has departed from Israel”?. To add to this mystery, when asked by This Day whether he would support Buhari’s re-election bid shortly after the Oxford lecture, he reportedly retorted: “It is not yet ripe to say if I’ll support Buhari for second term [or not]” (This Day, January 9 2019).
Do the above indicate that Buhari is headed for a meltdown in 2019? Not necessarily so but there are a couple of observations:
One, there is no doubt that there are several groups very dissatisfied with the performance of Buhari since assuming office. We should however be wary of reading too much into groups that may well be surrogates of political interests – calling on Buhari to contest or not to contest. It may be part of the politicking to blackmail him with threats of imminent humiliation or lure him to contest to help some people achieve their selfish agenda. This is especially true for the several northern groups that are either endorsing him or warning him not to contest. It also applies to prophecies from ‘men of God’ like Mbaka because in our clime, God, contrary to his divine and omniscient character, is made to speak in discordant voices. This means that for every Mbaka that claimed that God told him that Buhari must not run (“unless…”), there will be hordes that will also claim God told them that without Buhari contesting the sun will not rise from the east on election day in Nigeria. I strongly believe that for as long as Buhari is alive and breathing he will run. This is partly because in our type of society, once a person becomes the President or Governor, he is appropriated by some constituencies which feel the person is merely holding an office allocated as the constituencies’ turn. This means in essence that the office becomes bigger than the person.
Two, there are factors that will work in favour of Buhari if he runs. These include the power of incumbency. As President, Buhari will not lack the resources to prosecute his campaign. He may also choose to use the institutions of the state, including the army and the police, to prosecute the election in a way that will bring the desired outcome.
Additionally he may also refuse to concede if he loses – especially given that he challenged all his three unsuccessful runs for the office up to the Supreme Court – even when he hardly had structures or campaigned outside the North. Another point that will work in his favour is his cult followership in the North. Buhari has consistently scored some 12 million votes, most of them secured from the northern parts of the country, especially the Northeast and North-west. If Buhari is able to retain a substantial part of that support, (meaning he will be sure of 25 per cent of the votes in the 19 Northern states), he will only have to scout for 25 per of the votes in five southern states to meet the constitutionally required geographic spread. He has a good chance of getting these from the six-states in the south-west, Professor Osinbajo’s home region. Not only is the Vice President a Redeem pastor and married into the family of the region’s icon, Chief Awolowo, the alliance that produced him as the V-P has also brought choice political appointments and infrastructures to the region.
Three, just as there are forces that will work in Buhari’s favour, several will contend with him. These include the people who worked hard to bring him to power in 2015 but who felt that Buhari dealt harshly with them after ‘using them’. Many of such people may find his re-election bid an opportunity to even the score. Also Buhari’s continuous opposition to agitations for the restructuring of the country may become a unifying theme among the Southern faction of the political elite. Remarkably while Buhari is wooing the south-west and needs them if he ever hopes to win a second term, he is opposed to restructuring which is the region’s battle cry which they have championed from the time of its previous incarnates of ‘Sovereign National Conference’ and ‘National Conference’. Also with many of the literati from the South-west (Dele Momodu, Sam Omatseye, Soyinka and others) beginning to retreat from him, the region may be up for grabs depending on what happens at the PDP or if a new national coalition emerges). Another albatross on Buhari’s neck is the rampaging herdsmen, which his regime has treated with kid gloves. The menace of the herdsmen may end up uniting several states in the south and the Middle Belt against his candidacy. In addition to these are a group of highly educated and articulate Northern intellectuals (the Kperogis and Moses Ochonus) who appear genuinely letdown by Buhari’s performance and want a new set of leaders for both the country and the North. These intellectuals, – young, articulate and exposed – shoot from the hips. Add to these the increasing misery in the land, the closing down of businesses and galloping rate of unemployment, and the picture one gets is that it will not be an easy ride for Buhari in 2019.
Four, will Buhari win or lose if he contests in 2019? Two key elements will interact with the factors listed above – and of course with our identity politics – to determine the outcome. These are the ‘fear factor’ and the ‘unknowable intervening variables’. In these, Buhari and his opponents hold equal ends of the stick. Take the fear factor. While Buhari can play this card by telling the North-east and North-west that no other leader can fight Boko Haram as effectively as he has done, those opposed to him can equally warn those working to get him elected that in his second term Buhari will be beholden to no one, and will end up using and dumping them – if not jailing them. Similarly, Buhari’s opponents can narrativize the problems with the murderous herdsmen as part of Buhari’s Fulanization and Islamization agendas which will only get worse if he is given a second term. This will certainly strike a chord in many parts of the South and the Middle Belt. As for the ‘unknowable intervening variable’, since no one can predict the form it will come, no one can decipher who will benefit or be hurt by it – until it happens.