President Muhammadu Buhari’s ambition for a second term in office is seriously threatened, not only by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s special press statement but also by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, who actually campaign against his re-election
By Olu Ojewale*
FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo practically stole the political scene during the week with his special press statement pleading with President Muhammadu Buhari not to re-contest the presidential election next year. Obasanjo who is known for his letters to sitting governments on the state of the nation, especially when things are not going on in tandem with his ideas, stylishly substituted his typical letter writing with the press statement. Characteristically, his 13-page long statement released to the press on Tuesday, January 23, detailed areas where he felt Buhari had failed the nation in various areas.
In rebuking the Buhari government, Obasanjo said: “The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condoning of misdeed – If not outright encouragement of it; lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today.”
Hence, the former president urged Buhari not to run for a second term in office, saying the president would need to rest because of his state of health and age, arguing: “Whatever may be the state of President Buhari’s health today, he should neither over-push his luck nor over-tax the patience and tolerance of Nigerians for him, no matter what his self-serving, so-called advisers, who would claim that they love him more than God loves him and that without him, there would be no Nigeria say.
“President Buhari needs a dignified and honourable dismount from the horse. He needs to have time to reflect, refurbish physically and recoup and after appropriate rest, once again, join the stock of Nigerian leaders whose experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the side line for the good of the country.”
But the Buhari administration on Wednesday, January 24, said Obasanjo’s call that Buhari should not seek for a re-election was a distraction.
In a statement signed by Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture, the government said: “On whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari should run for another term, it is true that many Nigerians have been calling on the president to run again, while others are opposed to his return. However, we believe this issue is a distraction for the president at this time.
“’This is because the President spends every waking hour tackling the enormous challenges facing the nation, most of which were bequeathed to his administration by successive governments.
“He is committed to fulfilling the mandate given to him by Nigerians in 2015. And that’s where we are right now! Finally, we have no reason to believe that former President Obasanjo has any motive beyond the well-being of the nation in issuing his special press statement. We have also taken his admonition in good faith, and we thank him most sincerely for taking time off his busy schedule to pen such a long statement.’’
Besides, the Presidency argued that the former president was probably too busy to be aware of the Buhari administration’s achievements, which were listed in the minister’s press statement.
Notwithstanding Obasanjo’s clarion call, the controversy on whether Buhari should seek for a second term in office did not start from the former president, a former chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It actually started from members of the ruling All Progress Congress, APC, late last year.
But since the election year is about 11 months away, Nigerian politicians now seem to have the urgent need to realign their positions in order to reap bountiful harvest from the political field.
Hence, no one should be surprise to start seeing traffic on Aso Rock highway as politicians of different colours and shapes make their way to endorse ‘Baba’ as the president is fondly called in some quarters asking him to re-contest.
On Friday, January 12, a group of seven governors from the APC set the tone for the endorsement controversy when they visited the president at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, a day after the burial of the 73 Nigerians killed by Fulani herdsmen and urged him to run without taking time to mourn with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, who is also a member of the APC. In the convoy were namely Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna; Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano; Yahaya Bello of Kogi; Abubakar Bello of Niger; Simon Lalong, Plateau; Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe; and Jibrilla Bindow of Adamawa.
El-Rufa’i, who spoke to state house correspondents after the meeting, said governors would want Buhari to continue running the country beyond 2019.
He said: “We are politicians and those of us you see here want the president to contest the 2019 election, we have no apologies for that. We believe in Mr President, we want him to continue running the country in the right direction. People can speculate about 2019, we have no apologies.”
Apparently that did not please some APC members and chieftains.
Reacting to the endorsement, Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna State and APC member, took to his official Twitter handle on Saturday, January 13, to condemn the governors’ action, describing it as unfortunate. He said: “Seven governors in the Villa asking President Buhari to run at this material time when all hands should be on deck to advise or support him to end the mindless bloodletting and carnage in the country is most unfortunate. Human reasoning and human conscience where art thou?” he said.
It is common knowledge in Kaduna State that both Governor el-Rufai and Sani work as opposition even though they belong to the same APC. Their supporters are likely to go with the principals in the event of supporting a presidential candidate.
In a similar way, Timi Frank, deputy publicity secretary of the APC, said that asking the president to seek for a second term at a time when the nation was supposed to be mourning the mass killing of Nigerians across the country was insensitive to the plight of Nigerians.
Frank in a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja on Saturday, January 13, said that instead of the governors to pay a condolence visit to their colleague in Benue and tell the president to institute a programme that would take care of the families of the victims, “they chose to visit the Aso Rock Villa and made such demand for their selfish reasons,” adding that some of the governors visited the president because their political future depend solely on his continuity.
The clamour for continuity is what has been dominating the debate as the APC National Working Committee, NWC, started its three-day meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, January 24.
Prominent on the agenda has been Buhari’s second term and tenure extension for members of the NWC. The NWC, it was learnt, would be scheming for tenure extension with the belief that if they are in place, it would be easier for Buhari to get a second term bid endorsed without much hassle.
Besides, it would also help the party to avoid holding a convention and party primaries weeks apart in order to eliminate the attendant risk of a backlash as the party goes into election year.
The APC leaders are hoping that with John Odigie-Oyegun in the saddle as the party’s national chairman, the party would be able to reconcile opposition within the party to support Buhari for a second term. “The argument is simple, if Oyegun and his team continue, it would be much easier for us to sail through President Buhari’s re-election bid,” a credible source told the Daily Trust newspaper, adding: “Some APC governors are also in support of this because if we are to hold convention now for new party leaders to emerge, it would be difficult to galvanise forces.”
Rotimi Ameachi, the minister of Transportation, who has been rumoured to have been re-appointed as director-general of President Buhari’s Campaign Organisation, was said to be working seriously and closely with el-Rufai to urgently resolve all the contentious issues within the party.
That notwithstanding, some political pundits belief that the crisis in many states under the APC would be a big cog in the wheel of the NWC ambitious programme of reconciliation to rally support for the president.
For instance, in Kano where the party got the highest votes in 2015, Governor Ganduje and Rabiu Kwankwaso, a senator and former state governor, are locked in an intense fight over the control of the state. All efforts to resolve their differences have so far failed.
Besides, Kwankwaso has an ambition to rule the country. In fact, he came second to Buhari during the APC presidential primaries held in 2015. Since then, he seems to have alienated himself from the president. There was also rumour that he might return to the PDP to seek his political fortune there.
But the senator seems to be interested in fighting for the party’s presidential ticket once again. With such a scenario, the president’s support base in Kano State is not likely to be as the previous election where the party united to campaign for him.
As if that is not serious enough, it is on record that Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State and former interim national chairman of the APC, was the first APC chieftain to tell the world that there would be no automatic presidential ticket for Buhari. Akande said this in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, after the APC meeting in the ancient city on October 12, 2017. He said the president would have to contest against other members that may be interested in the plum job.
Akande’s statement has since brought many reactions in various ways for Nigerians electorate to know that the party is divided over the president’s second term ambition, if there is any because he has yet to declare that he would run again.
Lending his voice to the controversy, on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, said there was no better man for the Presidency than Buhari.
While addressing leaders of the “Democratic Youths Congress for Buhari 2019,” who were on a courtesy visit to him at the Government House, Owerri, Imo State capital, Okorocha thus, urged Nigerians to support Buhari for a second term. Besides, he claimed that all but two governors in the country, regardless of party affiliation, were in support of a second term for the president.
“President Buhari is the best for the country at the moment and that there could not have been a better option now,” he said, adding: “Supporting Buhari for a second tenure will bring about the new Nigeria we are talking about. This will put Nigeria first and the unity we are looking for will be guaranteed under this administration.”
In apparent reaction to Okorocha’s claim, Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and a national leader of the APC, on November 22, last year, said governors had no right to endorse Buhari for 2019.
Tinubu said this to newsmen after he, in company with Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State, met with Reuben Fasoranti, leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, behind closed doors.
Tinubu told newsmen at the end of the closed door meeting that “No governors can appropriate the power of endorsement to themselves. Buhari is a believer in due process.”
Nevertheless, a delegation of the APC leaders from the South-East on Monday, January 22, met with Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, and endorsed him for a second term in office, while also asking him to support zoning of the presidency to the region in 2023.
They also reaffirmed the unanimous decision of the party in the zone on December 31, 2017, endorsing Buhari for a second term in office.
The delegation, led by Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and Technology minister, included Ken Nnamani, a former Senate president, Martins Elechi, a former Ebonyi State governor; Andy Ubah, senator; Ben Uwajimogu, senator; Jim Nwobodo, former governor of old Anambra State; Nkechi Nworgu, senator; Ifeanyi Ararume, senator; Emeka Wogu, a former Labour Minister; Uche Ekwunife, senator, Tony Nwoye, a member of the House of Representatives, among others.
On behalf of the delegation, Emma Eneukwu, national vice chairman, South East APC, said: ‘‘It is our conviction that four years is not enough for you to complete this worthy journey hence the need for another four years to enable you make Nigeria truly great.”
Perhaps, seeing the need to curry their support and mobilise the South West for the second term project, both Akande and Tinubu were in Aso Rock on Tuesday, January 23, to see the president. Details of their meeting were not disclosed. But political observers reasoned that it could be in connection with the anti-Buhari second term going on within the party.
Another APC chieftain that the president would need his support is Umar Gali Na’Abba, a former speaker of the House of Representatives. Na’Abba in a newspaper interview berated Buhari, saying he lacked the physical and intellectual capacity to govern Nigeria.
Hence, he said the president would not get his support should he seek a second term in office in 2019.
Na’Abba, who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the APC, first made the statement on a television programme called the Osasu Show anchored by Osasu Igbinedion.
Asked whether he would be supporting Buhari for a second term, he said: “There is no way I can support him.”
He said when he met with Buhari to advise him, the president said he should not worry, that everything was going as planned. The former speaker said: “I had the opportunity of sitting with the president and tell him that this is what is wrong but he told me that things were wrong before but with his election, everything is right now. That was what he told me and I was very disappointed.”
Besides, Na’Abba accused Buhari of refusing to carry the APC leaders along because he believed that all politicians were evil.
The ex-lawmaker said: “I decided to move back to the APC from the PDP to support him because from his utterances, I believed he wanted to add value to democracy and this is three years into his administration and he doesn’t work with the party, he regards party members as evil, he doesn’t work with anybody, he doesn’t consult with anybody in the party…
“In a nutshell, the president has not added value to democracy by an inch.”
He added that: ”there is no democracy in the country and no democracy in the party as well,” and that, ”Nigerians are in serious trouble.”
Be that as it may, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has warned that Buhari should be allowed to decide for himself if he would want a re-election or not. Specifically, the ACF warned Obasanjo not to decide for the president or campaign against him. The statement signed by Muhammad Biu, national publicity secretary of the ACF, said in part: “The statement credited to former President Obasanjo that President Buhari should not run in the 2019 electionis his democratic right to express his view like any other Nigerian on all issues, including democracy. However, it is President Buhari’s prerogative and that of his party to decide on whether to re-contest or not.”
Notwithstanding the hoopla that the call for president to seek re-election has caused, the Presidency said that Buhari would consider his state of health before taking the decision on whether to seek re-election in 2019 or not.
Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, who stated this in an interview on Sunday, January 21, said that it would be recalled that Buhari had a serious health challenge in 2017 that made him to seek medical attention outside the country twice.
Hence, Adesina reasoned: “The President is not a frivolous person. If he thinks that his health cannot carry anything, he will not do it.
“Every day you see the president, you see a glow about him and you see freshness about him. I think he is even in a better state than when he came in 2015. It’s all to the glory of God.
“Once he assesses that his health can carry it, there’s nothing wrong if he steps into the fray. But he has the final decision.”
Indeed, it appears, Nigerians would have to wait for the final decision of the president to decide whether to vote for or vote him out. But from the look of things, the ruling party appears to be on a journey to lose some of its members and supporters to the opposition based on a decision to seek a re-election.
*Source Real News Magazine