By Rotimi Fasan
SO much dust, which all amounts to a huge storm in a tea cup, has been raised about the statement made by Aisha Alhassan, the Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, that she would support former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, against her current boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, in the 2019 presidential race. This woman’s honest admission as to where her allegiance lies for 2019 is being read as a statement of betrayal to Buhari. Yet, it is more likely that those calling for the head of the one widely known among her circle of supporters as Mama Taraba are the real traitors hiding in the shadows but waiting for the right time to show their hands. Otherwise, how could a private discussion become the subject of public debate?
During a private visit of Sallah homage to her mentor and benefactor, Atiku Abubakar, Mrs. Alhassan had addressed the 2019 presidential hopeful as “our president by the grace of God come 2019”. How or why should this statement made in private be a problem? And nobody has said that Abubakar has ever hidden his ambition to be the next occupant of Aso Rock Villa. Indeed, it would appear like an obsession of his since he lost the chance of standing as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2007, no thanks to President Olusegun Obasanjo. If therefore Alhassan entered Buhari’s government as a nominee of Abubakar, do people expect her to automatically transfer all allegiance to Buhari? That is not an impossible expectation. Many have done worse. But it should also not be surprising if she chooses to do otherwise. If she almost became governor without Buhari’s support what would a sack letter from Buhari do to her?
In the situation in which she has found herself, it is a no brainer that Aisha Alhassan would end up “betraying” somebody. Only the more astute individual between her two bosses is likely to win her support. The onus for that rests more on the Buhari camp than the Abubakar camp where she is already an insider. It’s those who want her to change side that should work for it. But that has not happened. Buhari’s supporters would rather want to browbeat her, counting on Buhari’s power of “incumbency” as president. They have transformed what could have been a harmless statement of respect from a mentee to her mentor- a statement that could have elicited a quick denial from Alhassan, had the tale bearers been more careful- has now been blown out of proportion by an excitable lot that sees every streak of independent thinking as a potential sign of betrayal against their self-made god.
Now their do-gooder effort has forced a member of the presidential cabinet to take a stand in public against the president, we wait to see what either they or the president will do. Called to respond to a statement she might have been content to leave as a private conversation, Aisha Alhassan had a choice to either speak up or be made to appear like a coward. Especially as the hawks in the Buhari camp were apparently breathing down her neck already. She took on the gauntlet and doubled down on her earlier statement, this time to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. She boldly repeated and indeed elaborated on her private statement and came across as frank and bold. It’s like calling the bluff of the president and those who have been waiting in the wings to see what would happen when her private comment is made public. Now the “come has come to become”, would the heavens fall? Certainly not! If anything at all, Aisha Alhassan may have emboldened the cowards torn between retaining allegiance to a president that has failed to live up to the expectation of many or follow their inner dictate and shop for a hopefully better replacement. This is if their greed would allow them to.
What’s all this ruckus about a simple statement for? Was it for nothing that Aisha Buhari, the wife of the president, said she would not support her husband in 2019 if things remained the way they were with the “cabal” in full control? How long ago was this? Have things changed since then? This is the case of another Aisha “come to judgment”. What then makes it acceptable for one to say what the other is being called names and made the target of vile attacks for? It would seem only the women are honest and bold to speak their mind in matters concerning President Muhammadu Buhari. The men are too far consumed with what they would eat to see the difference between personal and national interest.
Let nobody make any mistake about it, there is a lot to be worried about the possibility of a Buhari presidency post 2019. So far, his performance, though far tolerable than anything his immediate predecessor had to offer, has been less than average. He has failed to deliver on his electoral promises in any convincing manner. His best efforts have been middling. Both his anti-corruption and counter insurgency measures, two major pillars of his presidency, have suffered huge reverses from the questionable conduct of members of his inner and outer circles, not least of all the so-called cabal of close and extended family members around him. His fragile health has put a huge question mark on his ability to hold fort for long even if Nigerians want him to continue as president. These are not issues to be swept under the carpet. While the Buhari presidency may still be afloat, his credibility to remain at the helm is fast sinking at the personal level. Given his health issues and practical challenges of governance, it is astounding that there could be any talk of “second term” around him.
Buhari should be more concerned about salvaging what is left of his presidency rather than thinking of continuing in office. By 2019 he would be 76. What more can he expect to be or do if he is already being stymied by his health now? He has been given the opportunity to serve and he should be grateful to Nigerians for that. He has no business listening to those who want to make another Robert Mugabe out of him for their own interest. There is a lot to worry about the Buhari government now. While it may not be impossible that Alhassan may be doing Abubakar Atiku’s bidding, the truth also is that the very modest performance of the president has made his presidency very vulnerable. He is much exposed right now. He still has the time and opportunity to protect his reputation. He should not wait until everything unravels and he is in the end demystified.