That the whistle for 2019 has long been blown is not in doubt. While many of the people in the (now rejuvenated?) PDP with rumoured presidential ambitions seem too scared to throw their hats into the ring, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose took the bull by the horns despite knowing that his party has zoned that office to the Northern part of the country.
In this piece I will try to build scenarios of Fayose’s possible presidential candidacy. In doing this, I am assuming that Fayose’s declaration of interest in the presidency is for real and not just another of his exhibitionisms and theatrics. I am equally assuming that he will be contesting against Buhari:
One, the first step is for the PDP to determine if it wants to contest to win or if it merely wants to ‘fulfil all righteousness’. If it is running to win, its starting point must be creating realistic ‘paths to victory’ and going for the path with the greatest chance of delivering victory.
In my article in this column entitled, ‘2019: On Your Marks…’ (Daily Trust, September 14, 2017), I made the following broad proposition, which could be a pointer to how I feel the party should try to determine credible paths to victory:
“If Buhari chooses to run, there will be the question of whether he can still command the sort of loyalty and support he did in the North in his four runs for the presidency from 2003 to 2015 when he consistently polled some 12 million votes.
“If that level of support is still there, then it will be an uphill task for his challengers – unless they can come up with a new coalition system that will literally deny him of substantial support in the South and the Middle Belt or ensure that the bloc votes from his strong bases in the North-east and North-west are significantly split.”
Following from the above, the PDP may want to concede the Northeast and Northwest to Buhari where he still seems to have strong appeal. This may logically mean looking in the direction of other zones in the North such as fielding a Christian candidate from the Middle Belt and looking for a Muslim from the South-west to balance the ticket. The Northern candidate so chosen in this scenario must have the gravitas (and yes, also the rough edges) to run to win, and not one who will be running scared of the mind-guards of Buhari’s groupthink. If the PDP is unable to find such a candidate in the North, it must be flexible with its zoning formula.
Two, I can understand the logic behind the PDP zoning the presidency to the North. In the 16 years that the party was in power (1999-2015), the South produced the president for 13 years while the North ruled for only three years. Equity and fairness will therefore demand that the party makes up for its ‘sin’ of not insisting that Jonathan should not contest in 2015. If the PDP is unable to find a winnable Northern candidate, it has to focus on Buhari’s weak Southern flank. Until the 2015 elections, Buhari never won up to 25 per cent of the votes in any of the Southern states – largely because of the perceptions that he is sectional and provincial. Today perceptions of Buhari in the South as sectional and provincial are probably more reinforced now than before. In addition, it is doubtful if Buhari can assemble the sort of coalition in the South that helped to manage his image problems during the 2015 elections. This is where the Fayose presidential bid could be useful to the PDP. Even if Buhari wins the entire 19 Northern states comprehensively, he will still lack the required spread needed to win – 25 per cent of the votes in 24 states of the Federation. Since the Southwest will likely be a battle ground, the PDP has to offer the region something better than the Vice Presidency it currently has in this government. Offering the region the national chairmanship of the party is not nearly as good as what the region currently has.
Three, love him or hate him, Fayose is a political street brawler who will be more than capable of energizing his base. Just like Buhari will kick off his campaign with a substantial part of the Northeast and Northwest in his kitty, Fayose will also kick off his campaign with a substantial part of the Southwest, the Southeast and the South-south in his pockets. Fayose will also have at his corner his fellow political street grapplers – Femi Fani Kayode and Nyesom Wike – in addition to the Igbo Internet warriors sympathetic to IPOB. I do not think there is any candidate in the PDP now who will be better than Fayose in mobilizing all the anti-Buhari forces across the country (both open and hidden) and the restructuring advocates of various hues. Fayose will also be able to energize the base by telling them what they will like to hear – including of course embellished truths and ‘alternative facts’. Fayose will run as Donald Trump of Nigeria – and he will not be a pushover. Anti Buhari forces, restructuring advocates and members of the APC who feel used and dumped will willingly fund his campaign.
Fayose versus Buhari will be a political ‘rumble in the jungle’, a bulldozer versus a giant-killer contest and a tension-soaked slugfest between the ‘wailing wailers’ and the ‘Buhariamanics’ with free flow of wild political punches. It will be simplistic to underrate Fayose or to regard him as just a political comedian. It takes more than comic skills to defeat two incumbent governors. Fayose combines comic skills with political cunning, street smartness and some rough edges.
Four, any strategy for victory by PDP must also reckon with any possible surprise by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who played no small role in the defeat of Jonathan in 2015, and who has repeatedly declared that the PDP is in an intensive care unit. The Ota farmer, (who, in this dispensation, seems to have abandoned his professional job of being a critic of any government he is not heading), may want to spring one or two surprises to finally nail the PDP’s coffin. Fayose remains one of the few politicians in the PDP who can take the battle to Obasanjo’s corner, toe-to-toe, bully-for-bully, insult-for-insult and theatrics-for-theatrics. Fayose respects you, only if you also respect him.
Who wins between Fayose and Buhari will depend on whether Fayose is able to prevent Buhari from getting the required 25 per cent of the votes in five states in the South while winning at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least 11 Northern states. Buhari is almost sure of 25 per cent of the votes in the 19 states in the North. If neither candidate is able to get the required spread, a run-off will be organized. Fayose has a realistic chance of making it to the run-off.
Five, as a running mate to a northern candidate, Fayose will be a liability to the PDP, rather than an asset. This is because the bottom-half of a presidential ticket rarely has much influence in determining the outcome of the election. Besides, many Northerners may not forgive Fayose’s perceived insult of Buhari and the North in the 2015 election with his biopsies and mockeries. Additionally, as the bottom-half of the ticket, Fayose will not be able to energize his base who will believe that he will be marginalized once the election is won.
Six, it will be much easier for Fayose to run and win than to govern effectively. Unless Buhari concedes defeat as Jonathan did, President Fayose, (who has not been tested on a national stage), will spend early years of his government dealing with protracted post-election violence in parts of the North (where Buhari’s supporters seem to fervently believe that anything short of victory for their hero means that he has been rigged out). Also, an IPOB-like separatist agitation may flare up in the ‘core North’ as people feel angered that the South is beginning to monopolize the presidency under the civilian dispensation. Boko Haram may also become more emboldened because of the conspiracy theories that are likely to attend any effort to fight the terrorists (under Jonathan several people in the North believed Boko Haram was being sponsored by the Jonathan government to reduce the population of the North or to make Islam look bad).
Fayose is also likely to disappoint his core supporters who will be looking up to him to immediately implement the sort of seismic restructuring that will tilt the rules governing access to power and privileges at the centre to the South. As I argued elsewhere, restructuring is just an empty buzzword and it is unlikely that any party in power will embrace seismic structural changes in the polity that will destabilize the system.