By Azu Ishiekwene
Governor Yahaya Bello does not need to jump into the fire, yet. The Kogi State governor who had, in fact, sprained an ankle in what might have been a practice match for the big leap, was saved the trouble after President Muhammadu Buhari finally gave the hint that he would run for a second term in office.
The governor had said that if Buhari asked him to jump into the fire, he would. Perhaps the only thing that might have tempted him to jump without Buhari asking is Buhari refusing to run again.
The Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, has also been saved the trouble of incurring expensive legal fees. Days before Buhari gave the hint that he would re-contest, the Kano State governor threatened to sue Buhari if he decided not to run or delayed the announcement any further.
Also before he was pressed to the edge of the cliff, the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, John Odigie-Oyegun, had said like it or not, Buhari must run because Nigeria had no alternative.
The surprise is not the vows of extreme personal sacrifice that the Buharists have made to force his hand or their extravagant it’s-him-or-no-other posture.
We have seen it many times before. In an earlier life, Asari Dokubo threatened that President Goodluck Jonathan was incapable of declining to contest re-election. “E no fit na! Ah…How?” Dokubo mused in a video that was aimed below the former President’s belt, targeting his self-esteem.
Tompolo, the militant, oil pipeline guardian and saboteur-in-chief, joined in the gravy train to warn that any attempt to stop Jonathan from re-contesting might end the country.
A mini version of this familiar drama was staged years earlier when former army and defence chief, T. Y. Danjuma, said he would go on self-exile if then candidate Olusegun Obasanjo was not elected president in 1999.
The politicians are taking a leaf from the old playbook. There’s a sense in which it seems that Buhari owes these fellows something that he is not even entitled to think about before consenting to. Much more than his talismanic effect that they think they need to win in their own corner, they probably think he also owes them the nation’s soul as a burnt offering.
Or what else do they really want from Buhari?
He wants to run again, not because he is convinced it’s best for him or the country; but because “he’s responding to the clamour by Nigerians.” By the way, a free people do not clamour; they request.
But it’s understandable. Bello owes his improbable rise to power to Buhari; and whatever Odigie-Oyegun may be going through now, without Buhari’s backing, he would have been finished long ago.
As for Ganduje, he is in the Buhari bandwagon for what he can get – the same motivation that attracted him to former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, whom he served energetically for eight years, with the famous double-minded loyalty of many PDP politicians.
The surprise is not the overzealousness of Bello and co. It’s the anguished silence of those who supported Buhari not just in 2015 when he won, but each time on the three previous occasions when he lost.
A chunk of his original supporters who lifted him from the deck – those his wife, Aisha, feared might rebel – has been silent, resigned in malicious acquiescence, or stirred up in angry defiance.
When Buhari did not look like it, T. Y. Danjuma was one of the few who not only believed in him, but who also put his money where his mouth was.
In the days when Buhari’s ANPP could barely pay for space for a public rally and a PDP arrowhead said candidate Buhari did not know the difference between a Blackberry phone and the berry fruit, Danjuma was among the very few that Buhari could still depend on.
Old chapter, new friends
As at Tuesday when Buhari announced his intention to run for office again, his government’s poor handling of the deadly herdsmen-farmers clashes had put a wedge between him and Danjuma.
For the first time in the last 15 years, Buhari would take the plunge unsure of the active support of Danjuma, one of his most ardent supporters now bruised and left stranded by government officials for his frank comment on Taraba.
Tunde Bakare may not have had the same long relationship with Buhari like Danjuma but his honesty and total commitment since he ran as the President’s running mate seven years ago has been tested again and again in recent times.
Hours after Buhari signaled his intention to run again, Bakare reportedly told Daily Sun that he would support Buhari, if the president pitched him; but you could almost feel that the hubris of a presidential wedding party train in Kano only hours after the kidnap of the Dapchi girls and the incompetent handling of the herdsmen-farmers’ killings have taken their toll on Bakare.
This was not the Buhari he ran with seven years ago. But why, the bow has left the arrow: he’s welcome to run again.
As for Kwankwaso under whose watch Kano delivered perhaps the most consequential single block of votes in the 2015 presidential election, and Governor Samuel Ortom who was, in fact, one of the earliest to endorse a Buhari second term, both have fallen on the wrong side the power play. There is an irrational fear of Kwankwaso’s clout, while Ortom is out of favour for standing up for the people of Benue.
The fire this time
But neither Danjuma nor Bakare nor Kwankwaso nor Ortom matters as much as the hundreds of thousands of young people who had invested their hope in Buhari, eight million of whom have lost their jobs since he took office three years ago – an average of two million plus every year he has spent in office.
It doesn’t matter what those who are happy to be trampled over for Buhari’s re-election may say, he’ll be walking a more difficult road this time. Not necessarily because most second term presidents are victims of a jaded honeymoon, but because he has done little in three years to straighten his own path.
He has been a ceremonial president enjoying the pleasure and entitlement of office, while part outsourcing and part abdicating the dirty work.
His wife was right. The rebellion she predicted is on and gaining momentum. But it’s not just among his core supporters, as she had said. Millions of Nigerians who may not have voted for him but yet gave him the benefit of the doubt that he would be a president for all have been heartbroken and left behind.
That forlorn hope, the broken promise, will come back to haunt him, and the latter-day interlopers will find it hard to save him.
Yahaya and co would not need to jump into the fire for Buhari. The fire will come to their doorsteps.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.