By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
LESS than two years to the 2019 presidential poll, the polity is astir as stakeholders and politicians have commenced intense posturing.
The ill-health of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is currently in London on medical vacation, has only deepened and widened the jostling for the nation’s top office.
But for Buhari’s health challenges, there would have been no question over who will fly the ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Now, there are moves to ensure that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, does not run for the post, if Buhari is not in a position to do so.
Proponents of this move, who are mainly from the North, said that part of the country must be allowed to complete its eight-year tenure and that what happened in 2011 when the zone lost out to the South, after the late President Umar Musa Yar’ Adua’s demise, must not be allowed to recur.
Apart from becoming acting president after Yar’Adua’s death in 2009, Dr Goodluck Jonathan contested and won the 2011 election. Thereafter, Jonathan sought for a second term in 2015, which led to a bitter contest that was won by Buhari.
Since assuming power, Buhari has been battling health issues for which he has gone abroad thrice for medication. On each occasion, he transmitted a letter to the National Assembly to enable Osinbajo function as acting president.
In spite of Buhari’s constitutional actions, some officials loyal to him appear to have constituted themselves into a cabal in a bid to whittle down the powers of the acting president.
Indeed, the simmering face-off between Osinbajo and the Senate over the confirmation of nominees and threats to impeach him are perceived as part of the build-up to 2019.
On Wednesday, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, openly disagreed with the acting president, saying the Federal Executive Council, FEC, did not take a decision before Osinbajo claimed the executive arm of government could re-present a nominee to the Senate for confirmation after rejection.
The senators want the executive to stop Alhaji Ibrahim Magu, who they have rejected twice, from Acting as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Until that is done, the lawmakers have resolved to stop screening nominees for appointments.
Osinbajo, on Thursday, said that as long as he remains the acting president and Buhari’s mandate as president subsists, Magu will continue in office as the Chairman of the EFCC. He made the declaration in Kaduna at the commissioning of the Zonal Office of the EFCC. According to Osinbajo, “he (Magu) will remain the EFCC Chairman as long as I remain the acting president and as well as Muhammadu Buhari remains the president.”
With this stand, the stand-off between the executive arm and the legislature festered and may take a dangerous dimension, if not resolved.
If the problem deteriorates to the point of impeachment of Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki will become the acting president, which also has deep implications for the 2019 election.
Currently, a host of aspirants from across the country are on the prowl for the 2019 contest. They include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido; Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayo Fayose; former Cross River State governor, Mr Donald Duke; Alhaji Tanimu Turaki, and a chieftain of the APC, Chief Charles Udeogaranya.
Many governors, former governors, ministers and senators are currently working underground to emerge as presidential or vice presidential candidates of the leading parties.
ADP cedes 2019 presidential ticket to the North
To gain advantage at the poll, the newly registered Action Democratic Party, ADP, has started wooing the North and the South-East by zoning its presidential and vice presidential tickets to the two zones.
South-South zonal coordinator of the party and former Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie, said the party had concluded plans to cede its 2019 presidential ticket to the North and vice-presidential ticket to the South-East.
Owie, who spoke in an interview with Vanguard, said: ‘’For 2019, we have zoned our presidential candidate to the North and our vice presidential slot to the South-East because where there is no justice, there can be no peace. In 1987, it was to be the turn of the South-East to produce the president after Shehu Shagari, but it was aborted. The south-easterners have been the bedrock of development of this country, so their rights must be given to them. After the North has finished its slot and presidency returned to the South, it will go to the South-East.
‘’You cannot continue to deceive the Igbo. So, the truth is that we now know those who destroyed PDP, we now know those who destroyed ACN that is now APC. Certainly, even though the nation’s Constitution says that nobody can stop anybody from entering a political party, we know those to stop; so the issue of hijacking will not come up.”
Northern elements screen 12 contenders, short-list Bala Mohammed
To forestall a repeat of the 2011 scenario when the North lost the presidency to the South on account of Yar Adua’s death after about two years in power, the Northern Youth Leaders’ Forum, NYLF, last month, declared its readiness to ensure that the North produces the president in 2019.
Frowning at what it described as the ‘scheming’ and ‘manoeuvres’ in the country suggesting southern interest in the 2019 presidency, the forum, through its Leader, Comrade Elliot Afiyo, said: “We want to reiterate and clearly warn that the North will not the presidency to move to the South in 2019.’’
Noting that they had made their position known on June 6, 2017 in Abeokuta during a meeting with South-West political leaders, the forum said: ‘’The experiences of 2011 and 2015 still remain fresh in our minds. To show our commitment towards this goal, the Northern Youth Leaders Forum has short-listed and screened candidates for the 2019 presidency.
‘’Those short-listed and screened during our NEC meeting in Kano on April 16, 2017 are:
Senator Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Governor Nasir El-rufai,
Senator Bala Mohammed, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki, Senator Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, Senator Ali Modu- Sheriff, Governor Ibrahim Shettina, Governor Abdul’Aziz Abubakar Yari and Governor Aminu Tambuwal.
‘’Out of these 12 persons screened by our Political Committee, the following were short-listed and endorsed by the NEC during our meeting in Kaduna on May 17, 2017: Senator Bala Mohammed, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki (SAN), Gov. Ibrahim Dankwambo.
We sent the endorsed persons to our patrons and the leadership of the 42 affiliated organizations who screened and endorsed only two candidates who were considered during our meeting in June 2017 in Kano.
‘’Out of the two that were endorsed, that is, Senator Bala Mohammed and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bala Mohammed was finally endorsed and was also accepted by our patrons. We believe, and strongly too, that Senator Bala Mohammed is a detribalized Nigerian who does not attach sentiments of religion and ethnicity in his dealings with any citizen. He also has goodwill and acceptability both nationally and internationally. His credibility is unquestionable and his loyalty and interest of the North within the national interest is surely not in doubt…
‘’We want to send a message to all political parties that may field southern presidential candidates in 2019, that their actions are as good as committing political suicide.
‘’Our elders are also advised to steer clear of supporting any presidential candidate from the South in 2019 as we cannot afford to gamble with the presidency as we did in 2011. This is our stand point and there is no going back.’’
Ex-PDP ministers vow to present candidate
Meanwhile, former ministers, who served when the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was in power between 1999 and 2015, on Monday, resolved to produce a presidential candidate from their ranks in the 2019 election.
Rising from a meeting held at the Asokoro, Abuja home of a former Minister of Special Duties in the Jonathan administration, Tanimu Turaki, the politicians, who gathered on the banner of Former PDP Ministers Forum, said they will field one of their members as the PDP candidate.
Turaki, who read the communiqué of the meeting, said the forum had resolved to work in tandem with other organs of the PDP and had decided that whatever happened with regard to the outcome of the Supreme Court judgement on the leadership of the party, it would join hands to revitalise and reunite the PDP into a virile and more constructive opposition.
Rather than call for the impeachment of Buhari on account of poor performance, he said they want to get the president out of power through the ballot box.
“People behave differently to different situations. We are not unaware of the point President Buhari made when Yar’Adua was sick. For us as former ministers forum, we wish him speedy recovery. We want him to come back and continue the job for which he persistently fought to be elected and for which he was elected. We want him to come and continue because we want to defeat him in the 2019 election and not anybody else,” he said.
The forum called for an urgent meeting of all organs of the PDP to harmonise strategies to consolidate the party and unite all efforts in the build-up to the 2019 general elections which it hopes will lead to a resounding victory.
Currently, two of the PDP leaders from the North are interested in the 2019 presidential race.
They are Lamido, who is three weeks away from his 69th birthday; and Turaki, 60, who is from Nasarawa State.
Indeed, a northern based political group, Siyasa Akida Network Nigeria, recently threw its weight behind Lamido.
Spokesman for the group, Alhaji Ali Tukur Gantsa, said in Kano that the circumstances the country found itself now required the experience of a man with political sagacity of the former governor. “Things are nothing going on the way it should be and we have increasingly witnessed things going from bad to worse in recent times. Nigeria and indeed Nigerians have never at any point of her chequered political history been so exposed, and we earnestly call on Sule Lamido to step out and offer hope,”Gantsa said.
Duke to join race
In May, Duke, 55, said he would still take a shot at the presidency, if the opportunity presented itself. The former governor of Cross River State spoke at a programme, “The Nigerian Symposium for Emerging Leaders’’, held in Lagos.
He noted that he once aspired to the position but did not emerge the candidate of the PDP, saying he would still contest for the highest office in the country at the appropriate time. Duke explained that it was because of his preference for the presidential seat that he did not vie for any federal legislative seat after serving out his terms as governor.
“I do not have the flair for the legislature; standing up and sitting down at the chambers to raise a point. That is why I did not contest for the Senate but the presidency, after serving out my terms as governor. I have contested the presidency before; I will still give it a shot when the opportunity presents itself . I believe I still have the energy in me,”he said.
Last month, a group of youths under the aegis of Nigeria Professional Youth Vanguard, NPYV, pledged to support Duke’s presidential ambition in 2019.
The group’s National Coordinator, Princess Ayi Umoh, said in Calabar, Cross River State capital, that NPYV would work using the slogan: Donald Duke for Unity, Stability, Peace and Progress (DD4USPP), to enlighten and mobilise the masses for Duke’s presidential ambition.
She said: “The real change the nation and its citizens want is when they come out enmasse to vote for the former governor of Cross River State in the 2019 presidential election.”
The coordinator said the antecedents of Duke showed his capacity to lead the nation successfully. “Going by his pedigree, he is the credible, capable and he is right person to lead the country.”
South-East deserves presidency in 2019 – Udeogaranya
In a related development, the Chairman of Zik Foundation, Dr Charles Udeogaranya, 46, said the South-East deserves to produce the president in 2019 to ensure balance of power among the regions, equity and fairness.
Udeogaranya, a former Chairman, Lagos League of Political Parties, who declared his ambition to run for the presidency in 2019 on the platform of the APC, said Buhari had does his best for the country and Nigeria needed a visionary, youthful person to carry on after his tenure.
The politician faulted repeated calls for the restructuring of the country, saying they were not necessary. “I do not see any wrong with the system we are operating that is making people to call for restructuring. I think the problem is with the operators of the system. And so long as the operators are not committed to the system, we will keep having system failure,” he said.
At 46, Udeogaranya said he had an agenda that will guarantee even development of all parts of Nigeria, having successfully managed many political and non-political organisations.
Fayose widens scope for race
From the South-West, Fayose, who is court to extend his tenure beyond 2018 on account of his controversial impeachment in 2006, last month, said he would contest the 2019 presidential election and defeat Buhari.
The Ekiti governor, who spoke at a meeting with political office holders at the Government House, Ado Ekiti, claimed he had the attributes to unseat Buhari in two years time and become Nigeria’s next president in 2019.
He said: “I have penchant for taking power; that one in Buhari’s hand,. I would take it. I’m going straight to the Villa. I’m the next president. I want to be the next president of Nigeria. My own won’t be this change that has brought nothing. We are going to represent the people well and tell them the truth.”
He continued: “I have defeated two incumbent governors in two different attempts. So, defeating the All Progressives Congress in the coming presidential election would be a walkover. Many did not believe I could come back as governor of Ekiti State after eight years; I don’t know how God did it. This time, I am going to the presidency – God is taking me there but I don’t know how.”