By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
ABOUT 14 months to the 2019 presidential election, the political firmament is astir. Calculations and permutations are changing at a dizzying pace. Leading contenders and pretenders are on their feet criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, aligning, re-aligning and oiling their political machines in readiness for the election.
Events that occurred in the last fortnight have only added to the frenzy and upped the ongoing interesting game. Two of the high-wire events that upped the ante were President Muhammadu Buhari’s indication, recently, that he would seek re-election and win given the huge crowd that trooped out to welcome him to the ancient city of Kano; and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, declaration of his presidential ambition and promise to take Nigeria out of the woods, if elected.
Other events include conclusion of the PDP national convention and the emergence of Prince Uche Secondus (from South-South) instead of somebody from South-West geo-political zone as national chairman; emergence of another faction of PDP known as Fresh PDP; and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s reaffirmation of its readiness for the 2019 general polls.
At a retreat for Resident Electoral Commissioners in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, penultimate Friday, INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the Presidential and National Assembly Elections will be held on February 16, 2019 while the Governorship, State Assembly, and Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory will take place on March 2, 2019.
Putting the electoral officers on their toes towards ensuring free, fair and credible elections, the chief electoral umpire stressed that the countdown had started.
Indeed, at the time of producing this story on Friday evening, it was exactly 420 days, 12 hours, 30 minutes and 15 seconds to the February 16, 2019, presidential election, according to the INEC’s stopwatch on its website: www.inecng.org.
If up-welling events are anything to go by, factors that will shape the 2019 election that may be one of the tightest presidential polls in the history of the country include the battle for the PDP and APC tickets; restructuring campaign, role of geo-political zones especially South-West and North-Central; ripples from the PDP national convention; and emergence of a third force or party as an alternative to the APC and PDP.
Battle for PDP, APC tickets
The outcomes of the PDP and APC presidential primaries will go a long way in determining the result of the election.
In the APC, those considered to be eyeing the presidential seat include Senate President Bukola Saraki; Governors Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) and Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna); and immediate past governor of Kano State and serving Senator, Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
Dr. Kwankwaso, who came second to Buhari in the December 2014 presidential primaries of the APC, is said to be serious about realising his presidential quest in 2019. There are talks in political circles that he may soon head back to the PDP, like Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to pursue his ambition, if President Buhari insists on seeking re-election and gets the APC ticket. He is said to enjoy the backing of some northern leaders and is currently having issues with his former deputy and successor, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje over the issue.
A host of APC leaders and governors have thrown their weight behind Buhari. Senate President Saraki, recently, said he would not run for the 2019 election if Buhari was running. However, he said he would speak on his political aspiration in February 2018. The Chairman of the APC Progressives Governors Forum, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who also contested for the APC ticket in 2014, has said that he would not run against Buhari in 2019. He would rather wait till 2023 when Buhari’s second term will end, if he won.
Indeed, APC governors and some stakeholders recently canvassed automatic re-election ticket for Buhari. However, National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu ruled out an automatic ticket for Buhari, insisting that due process must be followed to produce the party’s presidential standard-bearer.
Will due process be followed in producing APC candidate or will those angling for an automatic return ticket for President Buhari have their way? How this question is answered will go a long way in shaping the 2019 election as a faulty primary is expected to generate ripples.
In the PDP, the return of Atiku Abubakar has altered the calculations. Now, there are no fewer than seven persons angling for the PDP ticket. They are Atiku Abubakar; former governor of Kano State, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau; former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, former chairman the PDP National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State; former Senate President, David Mark; and Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State.
The aspiration of Fayose, one of the first politicians to declare his ambition, will be hurt by the decision of the PDP to zone the presidency to the North.
For other aspirants, it is to be seen whether or not the PDP will those, who had remained with it and hand the ticket to Atiku, who is returning to the party for the second time in 10 years. He first left in 2006 to the Action Congress, AC, returned and left again in 2014.
Choice of VP candidates
Apart from the presidential tickets, APC and PDP’s choices of vice presidential candidates are key. The issue generated heat in the APC, last week, with rumour of dropping Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for Tinubu but the APC national leader deflated the rumour, saying he was not after Osinbajo’s seat.
The choice of VP, which has been zoned to the South, will be a thorny issue in the PDP. Will the seat go to the South-East or South-West? The South-West lost the national chairmanship to the South-South at the December 9 convention after expectations that it would clinch the seat. The South-West is still agitated over the loss with complaints that the main opposition party is marginalising the zone in the sharing of positions, a development some stakeholders said hurt the party at the 2015 election, which it lost to APC that fielded a south-westerner as the vice presidential candidate. Leaders of the PDP are still on post-convention fence-mending rapprochement to South-West. It is to be seen whether or not the move will yield dividends.
Currently, the South-South and South-East are regarded as strongholds of the PDP. Will the party woo and appease the South-West with the VP slot or give it to the South-East?
With a northern presidential candidate, if the PDP gave the VP slot to the South-West and retained the sympathy of the South-East, the country may witness the keenest presidential election ever between PDP and the APC’s Buhari/Osinbanjo team.
Reason: The PDP, all things being equal, may bank on the support of the North-East (if Atiku got the ticket), South-South, South-East and a section of the South-West.
However, if PDP’s VP ticket went to the South-East, the party may lose a lot of mileage in the South-West but get majority support in the North-East, South-South, and South-East. And expectedly, the APC may enjoy majority support in the North-West and South-West while the North-Central may become a battleground of sorts for both parties.
Expectedly, the APC and PDP candidates will get the endorsements of some parties that will not field presidential candidates. The INEC registered 21 parties last week, bringing the number of political parties in the country to 67.
Some of the parties are willing to team up with the PDP to raise the quality of opposition in the country. It is not clear yet if joining of forces will dove-tail to the fielding of joint presidential candidates.
While congratulating the PDP on the success of its national convention, National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, commended the party for staging a successful convention and urged: ‘’We expect the new leadership of the PDP to join hands with other credible opposition parties to raise the quality of opposition in Nigeria and deepen our democracy.’’
In the same token, he advised APC and the President Buhari Administration ‘’to engage the opposition more constructively in the interest of our dear country, Nigeria, and her citizens. Name-calling, acerbic remarks and malicious propaganda with the concomitant counter propaganda can
only heat up the polity with its destabilizing impact on all facts of our national life,’’ vowing that ‘’UPP will engage all registered political parties in a robust encounter that will uplift our democratic process ahead of 2019 general election.’’
Emergence of a third force
To give the electorate an alternative given alleged failure of the APC government and the inability of the PDP to raise its game, some stakeholders are in the process of founding a platform that will serve as a third force to both parties. The stakeholders, who are mainly aggrieved members of the PDP and APC may adopt any of the other 65 parties and use it to fight for political power in 2019.
An emergent group, which is currently working on a third force is the National Intervention Movement, NIM being driven by the likes of Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; former Presidential Candidate and Founder of Lagos Business School, Prof Pat Utomi; Son of first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Dr Jhalil Tafawa Balewa; former Minister and youth mentor, Mr Frank Nweke Jnr; Senator Ghada Abubakar; Dr Mrs Bisola Sodipo Clark; Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Isa Aremu; Dr Kemi Jorge Oyewusi; former President of National Council of Women Society; Hajia Ramatu Dalhatu Musa; former Chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC Mallam Shittu Kabir; Dr Olu Usim Wilson; Dr Bolanle Onagoruwa; and Convener of Nigeria Political Summit Group, NPSG, Comrade Olawale Okunniyi among others.
Last week, Dr. Agbakoba called on Nigerians of all creed and tongue to take advantage of the NIM to put the country where it rightly belongs by demanding good leadership at all time from the political class. He called on Nigerians to wrest power from the political elite for the betterment of the society.
Indeed, the group has vowed to shape the 2019 polls, one of the movers, Comrade Okunniyi said that the new body is not a political party but a pan Nigerian ideological mass movement initiated to resolve the Nigerian national question and reshape the character of Nigerian politics and its leadership, once and for all ahead of the 2019 elections in Nigeria
Decrying what he called “the long-standing corrupt and divisive political system and practice in the country”, Okunniyi said that such exploitative character of politics in the country is no longer acceptable to the emergent political leaders who came together to compare notes on the state of Nigeria, hence, the formation of the Intervention group.
“Frankly, Nigerians are fed up with the corrupt, mercurial and divisive political system in Nigeria, which has gradually dimmed the hopes of our people in our nationhood, rendering the mass of our hard-working citizens impoverished ironically, in the midst of plenty. This is why the leaders of conscience and the leading lights in every sector of our country were compelled to converge at this critical period of our political history to organise and resolve the systemic drift and inert political leadership in our country ahead of the 2019 elections in Nigeria,” he said.
There is need for a third force
Speaking on permutations for 2019, Chief Akin Osuntokun, former managing director of the News Agency of Nigeria and political adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said there is the need for a third force because APC has failed and the PDP has not been able to measure up.
According to him, some leading politicians who are aggrieved in the APC and PDP are already working towards the emergence of a third force that will offer an alternative to Nigerians at the 2019 polls.
Osuntokun lamented that the PDP’s perceived maltreatment of the South-West by denying it the national chairmanship seat may hurt the opposition party at the 2019 polls as was witnessed in 2015.
Clamour for restructuring
Another issue that will play a decisive role in the election is the question of restructuring. Southern Leaders Forum, which is made up of Ohanaeze, Afenifere, and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF leaders as well as Middle-Belt leaders have declared the support for the restructuring of Nigeria. Southern governors and senators have towed the same line as opposed to Northern senators.
Thus any of the major candidates that is pro-restructuring will get the backing of these leaders.
Second Republic politician and a member of the Ime-Obi (inner caucus) of Ohanaeze, Chief Guy Ikokwu, told Vanguard, that the main thing Igbo want in Nigeria now is restructuring and ‘’that is why Igbo believe they are not ready to challenge anybody for the presidency now or in 2019. The Igbo priority is restructuring so that each zone can take care of itself and prioritise what it needs-education, infrastructure, agriculture, healthcare, etc. The Igbo believe that if things are done right in Nigeria there is no reason our growth and development will be stunted.’’
Last month, Atiku Abubakar, articulated the reasons he supports the call for the restructuring of Nigeria.
Abubakar said he supports the call for restructuring because it would help “devolve powers to state governments.”
Speaking at the unveiling of the book; “We Can’t All Be Wrong: Nigeria and the Restructuring Debate,” by Dr. Ethelbert Okere, in Abuja, the Waziri of Adamawa warned that with the world gradually moving away from oil, Nigeria is equally at the risk of extinction if it fails to restructure.