By Rotimi Fasan
THE signs get ever more evident that President Muhammadu Buhari is interested in being re-elected president in 2019. There is nothing wrong with this constitutionally. He is entitled to two terms in office, the Nigerian constitution says. That the question comes up at all owes much to the fact that until very recently very few people would have considered a Buhari presidency post-2019. The president had been ill for many months, taking no less than three so-called medical trips to the United Kingdom to seek medical attention even when Nigerians knew next to nothing about what ailed him.
The last of these trips took about three months during which the president was virtually incommunicado. He would only return home when his medical exile took an embarrassing turn as Nigerians in the UK started congregating outside Nigeria House, official residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner in the Uk, to demand the return of Buhari. At this point the president must have realised that the game was up and since the UK was not Nigeria where security agents could be randomly drafted to disperse the crowd, the president hastened his return home.
But since he returned, he has functioned on a low key. His health has however been on the mend and he has been getting better, it would appear. In his long absence and the immediate aftermath of his return, Nigerians within and outside his own party have been rising to challenge his claim to the presidency making it obvious it would not be a smooth, unhindered ride back to Aso Rock Villa in 2019.
There have been criticisms of Buhari’s government: most states are unable or refuse to pay workers, security and corruption-related issues are legion. The agitations by separatist groups like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, questions about rampaging Fulani herdsmen-cum-terrorists and evidence of nepotism in the Buhari government have got Nigerians exercised and questioning the president’s qualification for office in the next election. Buhari has surely seen the writing on the wall and is doing his bit to fight back. For one, he has succeeded in stemming the tide of IPOB’s rising influence, no thanks to the excesses of Nnamdi Kanu who didn’t know where to draw the line on what was appropriate to do or not.
He began to see himself as another president, or more appropriately emperor, within his Biafra enclave. He played foolishly into the hand of the administration and his group has ever since passed into semi-oblivion. While the president has been largely lost for an appropriate response to herdsmen terrorism, states affected by the herders’ rampage have been taking steps to protect their population.
From Ekiti to Benue and others on the sideline, getting set to enact laws against open grazing of cattle, an increasing number of Nigerians are no longer impressed with Buhari’s pussyfooting. They are taking the initiative to act and protect their people from terrorists masquerading as pastoralists even when Abuja’s input in the final resolution of the situation cannot be denied. Which leaves the president the ailing or healing economy (depending on how you read the country’s response to recession) and the waning anti-corruption fight (embracing nepotism, fiscal and political corruption) to contend with. So far, the last two issues have proven impregnable and the president has been consistently caught flat-footed providing a credible response to them.
Most states are still not paying salaries and Abuja is yet to convincingly acquit itself as to whether it can ease the economy totally out of recession. His latest budgetary proposal, delivered last week before the National Assembly, has been met with mixed reactions. Based optimistically as it is on an exchange rate of N360/$1, apparently a result of increase in the prices of crude oil, many wonder how feasible it would be when for most of 2017 the exchange rate has hovered between N363 and N365 to a dollar.
The Niger-Delta Avengers are already breathing fire fueled by their perception that Abuja has not kept its word by the region that lays the country’s golden egg of crude oil. The anti-corruption fight is still being waged perfunctorily, targeted as it is at opponents of the ruling government, whereas some of the worst offenders are from among the president’s closest associates.
But the presidency puts a bright face on things insisting that it is on the right lane. Nearly three years down the line, the Buhari administration is gradually training its eyes on the 2019 election. Many Nigerians would consider Buhari’s interest in staying on in office premature, especially as he is yet to convince Nigerians that he has done enough to deserve another term. Buhari on his part is making very obvious moves that are pointers to his interest.
Suddenly, a president that has not been keen on visiting the south-east is looking in that direction. No sooner has news gone round that former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, the same man that was thrown into jail when his principal, Shehu Shagari, was kept in house detention during Buhari’s time as military head of state- no sooner was Ekwueme reported ill than Abuja offered to take him abroad for medical attention.
The Ekwueme family it would seem has not been keen to take up the offer. Perhaps, the family is wary of what could turn out a Greek gift or it simply didn’t think its patriarch’s illness was so serious as to justify a government-funded trip abroad? What capital might some make of this later? Two and a half years into power, has the present administration that suddenly woke up to the idea that restructuring has multiple meanings and should be jettisoned seen the wisdom in an inclusive government? Or is its latest rapprochement another game at winning votes? Beyond making overtures to the south-east, Buhari also seems ready to consider criticism of what many Nigerians have called his one-sided appointments. In addressing the matter, the administration claimed recently that most of its appointments have been from Ogun, home state of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
As a follow-up to that, the presidency has again promised to look into issues of ‘lopsided appointments’. This sounds good except that it also sounds like a vote-garnering statement. Why is the government only now saying it would look into criticisms that have been leveled at it right from its first day in office? The president has been studiously, even arrogantly silent, on matters bordering on accusations of nepotism leveled at him. He once justified his stand on grounds that his primary concern is for those who voted for him. It was that crude or blunt, depending on how you view it. What has changed between when the president made that statement and now except that another election is closing in and the president needs votes?