January 1, 2019

2019: Facts, fiction, myths…and what matters


President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

By Azu Ishiekwene
GET this straight: Atiku Abubakar will lose the presidential election on February 16. I’m not Rev. Father EjikeMbaka or one of the tongue-in-cheek seers whose predictions you’ll be struggling to figure out after dropping your offering in the bag at midnight December 31. I’ll say it the way it is, walking where angels fear to tread.

President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

You’re free to believe who you want or what you choose, but here’s why Atiku will lose. The two main candidates will split the north, the country’s largest vote bank, with 38.9 million or over 50 percent of the 72.8 million registered voters as at January. But President Muhammadu Buhari’s fanatical hold over the north west, which has over 18.5 million registered voters – the highest in the country – will still give him an edge over Atiku.

The deciding vote is not in the hands of the northern elite, who loathe Buhari and have loathed him for over 30 years. It’s in the hands of the mass of the rural and urban poor who will die for Buhari before they know why. His fabled 12 million votes may have become distant memory, but his name remains a talisman unmatched by Atiku.

Wouldn’t the farmer-herdsman crisis in the Middle Belt in the last three or four years and Buhari’s sluggish response favour Atiku in that area, and possibly redeem some of the votes he would lose in the core north?

I doubt it. There’s a significant and growing Hausa-Muslim population in the north central today who identify more with Buhari than they do with Atiku. If there was still any doubt about their loyalty, Miyetti Allah, an important segment of this group, settled the doubt by endorsing Buhari on Thursday. Indigenes who are indifferent or those who belong to a different faith still believe they have to be in the good books of the well-connected Hausa-Fulani to climb up the social ladder. With the south west, the second largest voting bloc, still firmly in APC’s control; one flank of the south south riven by the epic fight between Governor Udom Emmanuel and his estranged godfather, Godswill Akpabio; and the other flank stranded over Governor Nyesom Wike’s reluctance to lead the Atiku campaign, the picture for PDP in the south south is grim.

Add that to the situation in three south east states – Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi – whose governors are working almost flat out for Buhari’s second term, and you will be hard pressed to find the advantage that Peter Obi is supposed to bring to the Atiku ticket.

Will the record of the last four years not count? It will count for next to nothing. The mixed bag of the fight against corruption, the yo-yoing war on Boko Haram, the fragile economy and unflattering unemployment figures ought to put Buhari in a tight spot; but the indescribable fear of who the real Atiku in power could be – that unknowable quantity – makes it a bit easier to forgive Buhari’s shortcomings.

Yet, Atiku will not simply roll over. He’s a fighter, and the coalition of angry generals in his corner – from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to former military President Ibrahim Babangida, and General Aliyu Gusau – have a dog in the fight. Expect to hear more from these generals – and even a few highly placed anti-Buhari traditional rulers shortly before the election. The home stretch promises to be nasty.



But that won’t change much. The die is cast, and the race is won and lost.

The calls for restructuring will ring ever so resonantly in 2019. Rogues and authentic politicians will lend their voices and the government may be forced to exhume past reports on the matter in what may turn out to be motion without movement.

Yet, the demand, stoked by the acrimonious fallout of the 2019 election, will not abate as more separatist groups and their enablers will return to the trenches. It would be a busy year for lawyers as they flit, in their numbers, from one election tribunal to another carrying clients’ brief in one hand, and CVs to fill vacancies in the new government in the other.

Qatar’s decision to quit OPEC today isn’t news any longer, and it’s not news also that Nigeria will not smell the coffee in spite of the writing on the wall that OPEC has become irrelevant and oil has lost its grip.

The US will continue to hold Saudi Arabia over the barrel, either for the kingdom to maintain or ramp up its production quota – whatever President Donald Trump thinks will depress oil prices and keep US markets steady.  All the talk about euro-denominating oil price will come to naught, just as the hype about the yuan becoming the new or alternate petrol-currency, has remained a mirage.

There will be good news in the local banking sector. Events in Skye Bank and the Central Bank’s public admission during the spat with MTN that commercial banks just love cutting corners, gave customers plenty of nightmare. But towards year-end, as Access Bank reached out to have Diamond Bank for supper, it looked like inbreeding may well be a vital sign of good health in a few of the banks, after all.

But don’t expect a race for size among the banks in 2019. Why? It’s about dividends, stupid! GT Bank is one of the most profitable banks, yet it is number four in terms of asset size. Shareholders earn dividends from profit, not size! Forget liquidity also. Banks will, on the whole, be fine. The government will issue bonds, not cash, to pay the billions of naira owed oil marketers for two reasons: a) to keep election spending tight, and b) to help the banks manage pressure.

Charges on  transaction texts

So, what are the signs to look out for in banking? Fintech. The banks have far less margin to play around with after the introduction of TSA showed they had been killing cheap government funds with their greed. To stay afloat, they have been behaving more like telecoms operators, selling recharge cards and squeezing customers with charges on transaction texts.

The main telcos, on the other hand, are making less and less from texts and voice calls and are looking more to data – and, wait for this, financial services! The battleground between bereft banks and roaming telcos is called Fintech. That is where the battle will be in 2019.

The telcos– Glo, Airtel, MTN and 9mobile – may finally get their licences to provide full financial services this year. Glo and MTN already have Super Agent Licence status, but they still piggyback on commercial banks for core financial transactions. This year may take the telcos to the status of Payment Service Banks, significantly expanding the borders of financial inclusion, and bringing services close to whatSafaricom, a latter-day entrant, offers in Kenya.

Whether the 32nd edition of the African Cup of Nations holds in Egypt, Morocco or South Africa, the Super Eagles will reach the semi-finals – and yes, Gernot Rohr will still have his job by the end of the year.

As for the English premier league, Manchester City’s current setback is not an answer to Liverpool’s prayers. City will rebound and claim the title back-to-back in May.And Anfield, despite the enchantment of its passionate fans, will walk home alone, echoing Theresa May’s Brexit odyssey.