WITH the All Progressives Congress (APC) governors declaring that the only option for President Muhammadu Buhari is to seek re-election in 2019, KUNLE ODEREMI and MOSES ALAO write on why those governors have formed the arrow-head of the campaign even when public opinion seems to be rising against the president seeking another term.
ONLY the politically uninitiated and naïve would claim that he is yet to read the lips of President Muhammadu Buhari on his ultimate plan on the 2019 elections. His body language, proclamations and actions point to one direction: that his eye is set on securing a fresh mandate. After all, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) qualifies him for the maximum second term of four years in office.
His recent trips to some states in the South-East geopolitical zone to showcase his government, coupled with his visits to Kano and Kaduna states on horse-trading under the guise of inaugurating projects, unequivocally confirm his desire to secure another four-year term as president. Those official visits, particularly to the enemies’ territory like the South-East, a strong hold of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), came amidst the encouragement and powerful message given by the president to a coterie of his supporters to step up their campaign to rally support for him as their mission was noble. “I am grateful for your sacrifices. Your work requires a lot of sacrifices both physical and material. I do not think anybody will join this organisation for material reasons. What you are doing is for the nation and not for me as an individual. Therefore, there is no way you can lose because what you are doing is for posterity,” he told a delegation of the 189 Support Groups that visited him in Aso Rock.
Before then, Buhari had, in far-away Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, also given an indication about his imminent bid to renew his mandate, when he met with members of the Nigerian community resident in Cote d’Ivoire. The president’s delegation to the West African country comprised APC national leader, Chief Bola Tinubu, and some state governors. Buhari had said: “First, I want to apologise for keeping you for too long, sitting. This is because I insisted on the governors attending this meeting. This is why I came along with them so that when we’re going to meet you, when you’re going to meet the rest of Nigerians, if you tell them that their governors were in the company of the president, I think that will be another vote for me in the future. I’m very pleased that they were able to turn up.”
Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, who was one of as the arrowhead of the president’s campaign in 2015, is back as the Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, insisting that the enviable record of achievements of the president amply qualifies him to retain the seat in 2019. Some state governors have also picked up the gaunflet by pushing harder in their bid to sell the candidature of president Buhari, despite the schism in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Even Governor Rochas Okoroch of Imo State and the APC national leader, Senator Tinubu have disagreed on the move by the governors to jump the gun by undermining the outlined process in the APC constitution and the Electoral Act 2010 on the emergence of presidential candidates. The insistence of Tinubu for strict adherence to due process contrary to the stance of Okorocha, who incidentally is the chairman, of the Progressives Governors Forum, has polarised the APC. While the governor and Tinubu appear to have temporarily ceased fire over the deliberate attempt to subvert extant laws, seven other governors have raised the ante, with a declaration that he should seek a second term so as ‘to keep running the country in the right direction.” The governors are: Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State; Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano); Simon Lalong (Plateau); Yahaya Bello (Kogi); Abubakar Bello (Niger); Jibrilla Bindow (Adamawa) and Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State. El-Rufai spoke forcefully on the Buhari re-election project: “We are politicians and those of us that you see here want the president to contest for a second term of office. So, everything is about 2019; there is no hiding that. We have no apologies for that.” He added: “We believe in the President; we want him to keep running the country in the right direction. So, people can speculate about 2019. We have no apologies.”
Like other sympathisers of the president, the governors argue that the president was as fit as a fiddle after his prolonged medical trip to London. They also believe his achievements in the area of national security, notwithstanding the intensified virulent activities of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, massacre of innocent souls by armed herdsmen, as well as the uneasy calm in the volatile Niger Delta region and the rising incidence of banditry, kidnapping and abduction in parts of the country, make his deserving of another mandate. The governors and others behind the campaign for the re-election of the president also enumerate the fight against corruption, ongoing efforts to revamp the agricultural and the transportation sectors of the economy as among the major strides of the administration that recommend the president for another term.
In championing the cause that the president retains his seat in Aso Rock in 2019, the state chief executives, especially the seven wise APC governors must be envisaging the accruing benefits. As first term governors, the ripple effect of their support for the president cannot be separated from their individual ambitions to seek another term in office. Their gains of allying with the president could come in many ways, given the level of bitterness and acrimony in the state chapters of the ruling party in their respective domains. Through their foot soldiers, the governors have been engaging those categorized as Abuja politicians over the control of the APC machinery the leadership styles of the governors, which the latter claimed borders on dictatorship. Another underlying issue in the battle between the governors and other critical stakeholders in the APC is the failure of governance. There are accusations and counter-accusations over how the governors have been managing scarce resources accruing to the states, especially billions of federal allocations, with the dire consequences of collapsed infrastructure, rising youth unemployment, unpaid workers’ salaries and forlorn hopes among the generality of the population. There is another point of feud between the governors and other key APC faithful in the states, which is the deliberate policy to sideline other stakeholders that contributed to the success of the party at the poll. The governors are being accused of limiting the patronage of office to only their stooges, most of who did not play any role that resulted in the APC forming government.
Apart from these identified politicians, the president’s camp is abuzz with activities from other men and women who have formed themselves into informal campaigners for the man who is yet to officially declare his intention to run. Indeed, the camp is believed to have appointed the former Rivers State governor and Minister of Transport, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, as the Director-General of the campaign, while several APC arrow-heads such as Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; former Lagos State governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola; former Anambra State governor, Senator Chris Ngige and countless others, are generals in the president’s army of supporters.
Jibrilla: The many battles of Adamawa gov
For the governor of Adamawa State, Governor Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow, supporting Buhari’s re-election in 2019 appeared to be the only option left to survive the war of attrition, which has been ongoing between him and key leaders of the APC such as former Governor Murtala Nyako and most of the members of the National Assembly in the state.
The governor has been facing a fierce battle from the three senators from the state, Senators Binta Masi Garba, Abdulaziz Nyako and Ahmad Abubakar, who are believed to have the support of former Governor Nyako, with the battle claiming different casualties in the party and even becoming so open that there has been palpable fears that the party might lose the state to anti-party moves in 2019.
Jibrilla, who was the PDP senator representing Adamawa North between 2011 and 2013 when he and several members of the National Assembly as well as other top shots of the PDP including Atiku and Nyako, became the governor of the state in 2015 on the strength of President Buhari’s popularity in the North-East and the strong machinery of the new mega party in the state, as it had in its fold an array of Adamawa’s strong politicians.
Though he shot to the scene through a surprise victory in the September 7, 2014 governorship primary of the APC, following INEC’s decision to conduct a bye-election to fill the vacant governorship seat left by the removal of Nyako two months earlier, Jibrilla soon proved to be the man for surprises when he defeated other aspirants in a fresh governorship primary of the party held in December 2014 after the court declared the planned bye-election null and void. Jibrilla, supported by Nyako, had in that primary, defeated the candidate of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Yahaya Mijinyawa and many others, including the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha.
Jibrilla, however, sprang another surprise shortly after the primary by dumping the Nyako camp for Atiku’s, a political move which observers of political events in the state described as deft but dangerous. The governor was to later confirm that he dumped Nyako because Atiku gave him N500 million for the governorship campaign and had, since then, become a latter day saint in Atiku’s strong political machinery until recently when the former vice-president dumped the APC.
With the defection of Atiku to PDP, the rumour mill went overboard that Jibrilla had reached the end of the road in the APC and would follow his ‘master,’ only for the governor to pull another rabbit out of his political hat by denying Atiku and pledging his support for President Buhari. The allegiance had been immediately followed up with several public solidarity and reassurance from the governor, who political analysts maintained was beginning to lose the trust of the Buhari camp, which had begun a mobilisation for 2019.
A strong politician of Adawama extraction, who spoke with Sunday Tribune on a condition of anonymity, described Jibrilla’s political situation as “peculiar due to his problems with forces within and outside the party,” adding that he, of all those running the 2019 errands of Buhari, needed divine intervention to survive the troubles in his state, hence the need to run under the Presidency’s cover.
“You know that our governor dumped Nyako after he got the APC ticket and followed Atiku. The Nyako camp has never forgiven him and the crisis occasioned by that betrayal has been festering since then. He now appears to have dumped Atiku too. So, he will have an enemy within and without. Therefore, in order to survive the heated ongoing battle and the ones ahead, he is taking cover from the Presidency.”
El-Rufai: X-raying the president’s self-made 2019 forerunner
Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, is the biggest forerunner of Buhari’s rumoured 2019 project. The diminutive but influential governor has told whoever cared to listen of his belief in Buhari and how the country needed Buhari to be run in the right direction.
El-Rufai, speaking on behalf of seven other governors recently, had 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.
“Whether they are right or wrong is beside the point.”
Though the governor admitted in the address that most of the seven governors were first term governors who were interested in continuity and stability, calling on the president to continue with that, political observers have maintained that the continuity and stability in discourse might not be about Buhari alone but also extended as a dragnet that will take care of the newbie governors, whose popularity contributed to the governors’ victories in their respective states in 2015.
Watchers of political events in Kaduna, where the governor has been in running battles with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the sack of teachers and fellow politicians, such as the senator representing Kaduna Central, Senator Shehu Sani over the struggle for the control of the party, have maintained that el-Rufai would need the cover of the president to withstand the fiery darts of the opposition in the 2019 elections.
The issue of South-Kaduna
Already, the governor is the first to declare that he had been endorsed by the president to seek re-election in 2019, a statement that was neither faulted nor substantiated by the Presidency. His leading the pack of aye-sayers for the president to contest the 2019 election might, therefore, be a payback for the alleged nod the president gave the governor to seek a fresh term.
But while observers believe that el-Rufai had been forerunning for the president because of his own political fortune, the governor has insisted that he has fulfilled his campaign promises to the people of the state. This is despite the crisis in Southern Kaduna which his clamed many lives.
“In the last two years, we have done as we have promised. We have steadily implemented the Restoration Programme. No segment of our campaign platform has been left untouched,” he said.
Shittu: A minister’s fight for survival
Communications Minister, Adebayo Shittu, is one of the loyalists of President Muhammadu Buhari. He was Congress for Progressives Change’s (CPC’s) governorship candidate in 2011, while Buhari was the presidential standard bearer. While Buhari kept party leaders guessing as to who and who would make the list of his cabinet in 2015, Shittu’s name never featured among the speculated names. But he made the list to the surprise of many.
Shittu, who has served in the legislative and executive arms of government since he joined politics as a young Turk in the Second Republic, has since come across as one of the earliest pro-Buhari calling on Buhari to seek re-election in 2019. He said in an interview, “I want to assure you that, by the grace of God, we would urge him to seek re-election because it is only once in a while that you get a father figure for a nation to move forward and attain greatness. Buhari’s body language is enough to compel people to do things rightly. In the area of finances, electricity and others, a lot of people have had to sit up even before he speaks. So, we need the Buhari father figure for a length of time for the country to get its act right to attain greatness under his leadership.
The Minister acted out his words about two weeks ago when he told State House correspondents, after a closed-door meeting with President Buhari, that although the president was yet to make up his on a second four-year term, campaign for him had started. He also announced his appointment as the Board of Trustees chairman of Buhari/Osinbajo Dynamic Support Group, while assuring that he and other ardent supporters would convince Buhari to run again. Headquarters of the support group was opened in Ibadan yesterday with pomp and circumstance.
While Shittu may be vibrating politically in national play, analysts liken him to a seed choked by political thorns in the APC, Oyo State chapter. He has had a running battle with the leader of the party and governor of the state, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, over the control of the structure of the party. Shittu wants to succeed Ajimobi and he is from a zone that is yet to take a shot at the governorship of the state. But he is not in the good books of Governor Ajimobi who holds the ace and may not be favourably disposed to his emergence as the party’s candidate.
It is within the context of the 2019 governorship battle and the need to continue to show Buhari that he is fiercely loyal to the president that the Minister’s campaign assignment for Buhari is being interpreted by the political class and stakeholders within the state’s political firmament.
Yahaya Bello: Many crosses of a ‘Buhari boy’
As the 2019 general election draws near, all eyes appear to be on Kogi State despite the fact that governorship election will not hold in the state that year. The reason for the state becoming a political cynosure, analysts maintain, might not be unconnected with the drama that surrounded the emergence of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the governor of the state.
The governor, who became the candidate of the APC following the death of the standard-bearer of the party, Alhaji Audu Abubakar, before his declaration as the winner of the governorship election, is one of those said to be quite close to the president in Kogi State. He, however, did not become the candidate of the party without a serious fight from some forces in the party including the running mate to Abubakar, Honourable James Faleke, who has behind him former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu. The fight for the ticket had been fierce and vociferous, with the supposed resolution of it only breaking the APC into two in the state. With that polarisation occasioned by the ticket on which Bello eventually emerged as governor, coupled with the war between the governor and the senator representing Kogi West, Senator Dino Melaye, the ground has, therefore, been set for a landmark political battle that might have led the governor to seek refuge from Abuja, where he is said to still be an insider.
Though Melaye is the only APC senator from the state and was one of those behind the governor at the inception of the government, a wide chasm has surfaced between the two leaders, leading to serious confrontations, with the governor even throwing his weight behind the recall of the senator by the people of Kogi West senatorial district. Melaye, on the other hand, has been the mouthpiece of the opposition to the governor’s policies that he felt was anti-people.
The governor has not hidden his preference for Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC, having been said to be one of those said to have formed themselves into the inner caucus of the president and favoured by the national chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. But the question observers have begun to ask is could the governor be supporting Buhari, his benefactor in the past, for altruistic purpose or with the mindset in continuity for Buhari might resulted into continuity for him. According to observers, while Bello might be supporting Buhari because he “belongs to the camp ab initio,” there are enough for him to grapple with at the home front politically, with the majority of the members of the state executive and the state governor being at loggerheads without any sign of reconciliation. The state chairman of the party, Alhaji Hadi Ametuo, and many of the members of the executive that supported the Audu/Faleke group had not been part of the government for almost two years.
Another issue that the governor may have to contend with as the 2019 elections approach is that of the workers across the state. Despite his reportedly genuine intention on the staff verification exercise, many of the affected workers, it was gathered, had been standing by and waiting for the opportunity to “repay” the governor. Many of the people that did not receive salary for months, those that were screened out and many others have not hidden their intention to “vote against whatever Bello stands for.”
Lalong: Tagging along with Buhari for survival?
Another governor on the endorsement ship is the Plateau State governor, Mr Simon Lalong. For someone who has demonstrated loyalty to the Buhari government since day one, declaring support for the president should not have led to the raising of eyebrows.
However, those close to the politics on the Plateau have maintained that the fact that Lalong has been at the forefront of those endorsing Buhari’s actions and policies as well as calling on him to run in 2019 transcended his loyalty to the president. For those who claim to know, the governor, though has not been challenged to the APC governorship ticket for now, might be facing a fierce battle to survive beyond 2019, as the factors that brought him to power in 2015 seemed to be changing.
According to an insider in the politics of the state, the victory of the APC in the governorship election was occasioned by the imposition of a governorship candidate on the PDP by the former governor of the state, Senator Jonah Jang. It was noted that the former governor had flouted the PDP’s zoning agreement and fought against entrenched forces in the party, a development that led to protest votes in favour of the APC candidate. But with the PDP said to be in a serious rebuilding process and the fact that most members of the party who voted against it in 2015 did not leave the party, coupled with the recent stance of the governor, which is allegedly perceived to be against the interest of a major ethnic group in the state, the governor has been said to have entered a panic overdrive over his intention to seek reelection. He was, therefore, said to be putting all his cards on the table for the president to see that he remained a loyal follower and in return get the Presidency’s support to be reelected.
Another factor said to have been pushing Lalong to go along with Buhari is the fact that the Minister of Sports, who is believed to be the president’s main man in Plateau State, might be convinced to throw his hat in the ring for the governorship seat, a development likely to upset the apple’s cart for the governor. Thus, he is said to have taken the route of absolute loyalty to the president so that any conundrum coming up in that regard can be resolved by the president.
Ganduje: Guardian of Buhari’s voting stronghold?
In Kano State, where President Buhari got the highest number of votes in the 2015 presidential election and in the one before it in 2011, there might be a raging fire ahead of the 2019 election. This impending danger, if not checked, might whittle down the influence of the president in the state and lead to a downturn in the fortune of the president in his biggest stronghold. In order to checkmate that likely danger, the president needed a go-to man in the state, that is where the incumbent governor of the state, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, comes in.
It did not come as a surprise to many to see Ganduje among the seven governors that endorsed the president two weeks ago. It would be recalled that he had organised a tactical statement-making rally for the president in Kano in December 2017 when the president paid a state visit to the state. For those conversant with the politics of the state, the ongoing war between Ganduje and his former boss, former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, is so potent that it might threaten the chances of the APC in the 2019 elections, a development that Ganduje might be trying to avoid by courting the president, who has a major following in the state.
Though the governor is not a new-comer in the APC, having served as a former deputy governor to Kwankwaso between 1999 and 2003 and between 2011 and 2015, the gathering storm that has divided the APC into Kwankwasiyya and Gandjiyya movements, analysts noted, would need more than the governor’s experience as a deputy governor, as he would be locking horns with a battle-tested Kwankwanso who took over Kano State from a serving governor. Apart from Kwankwanso, other strong forces such as former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau and many others in the PDP, have been said to be lurking in the state, waiting for a chasm in the ruling party, which they have now got, to unleash the maximum damage on a party that cleared all elective posts in the state in the 2015 elections. With the likelihood of Kwankwanso teaming up with other known opposition figures to do in Ganduje in, running under the shadows of Buhari, analysts noted, appeared the smartest thing to do.
Okorocha: Endorsing Buhari to sustain leadership momentum?
Among the governors in the South-East, Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, like the Biblical John the Baptist, is the lone voice that cries on the political wilderness, seeming to say “prepare ye the way for Buhari,” while also egging the president on, “run, Buhari, run.”
The governor was the first to bell the cat of Buhari’s 2019 ambition when he said that 34 governors had endorsed the president for a second term in office, a claims that seemed to have attracted other chain of reaction from the governors who had begun to host solidarity meetings. The latest of such reactions was the declaration by seven governors of the party penultimate week.
But while Okorocha appears to be in a class of his own, distinct and separate from the seven governors that recently endorsed Buhari, given the fact that he, unlike most of them, does not have the burden of reelection that he expects the Presidency to help him shoulder, his endorsement, political watchers have said, “is not for nothing.”
Said to be underpinning Okorocha’s march for Buhari is his intention to have a free hand in installing a successor as well as his search for continued relevance as the first major politician to join the Buhari camp dating back to the 2015 election.
Okorocha, it will be recalled, was the leader of the third leg of the tripod of legacy parties that coalesced into the APC, having been elected as a governor on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2011. Though he was criticised and lampooned by most of his kinsmen for abandoning the APGA ship captained by the late Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, which gave him victory in a state largely considered a PDP stronghold, Okorocha soon became a shining opposition star when the horizon became clear that the new mega party might become a formidable force in the 2015 elections. By the time the party unseated the ruling PDP, Okorocha’s popularity had soared to Cloud Seven, with the governor not only becoming the unofficial leader of the opposition in the South-East region but also emerging as the leader of the APC governors in the country. With these achievements, all due to Buhari’s ascendancy, it had become clear that the only way for him to sustain the political momentum he gained in the last four years “is to support the continuity of Buhari in office beyond 2019.”
Abubakar Bello: Seeking lifeline from Abuja
As 2019 general election approaches, the heat appears to have been increased on Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State from within his party and the opposition parties PDP and others. The discontent stems mainly from the general view of the not-too-impressive performance of the governor.
Analysts opine that the popularity of the governor has nose-dived consequent on the nation that the governor relies so much on godfathers to return to the Government House in 2019.
Apart from the displeasure from the political actors in APC and the PDP, the general populace is also said to be angry with the turn of events since the election of Bello in 2015. But loyalists are quick to point out that the magnitude of the rot he had to clear had weighed him down.
Pundits reason that the only route left for the governor if he must realise his aspiration for re-election is to latch on to Abuja for a political lifeline that will enable him to cage detractors and coast to victory next year. It was therefore not surprising, pundits reckon, that he joined his colleagues on the trip to Villa to impress it upon Buhari to present himself for another election in 2019.
Geidam: Loyalty to the end?
Of the seven governors that called on President Buhari to run, the only one that could not be immediately accused of doing so to secure reelection in 2019 is the Yobe State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Geidam. Elected as a deputy governor of the state on the platform of Buhari’s All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007, Geidam became the substantive governor of the state in 2009 following the death of his boss, Alhaji Mamman Ali. The governor could, therefore, be said to have a history that dated back to over 10 years with Buhari and is likely to be the only one with the longest years of relationship with the president by virtue of party affiliations.
Though he does not come across as a core insider in the Buhari government, Geidam cuts the picture of a silent mobiliser and loyalist and could have joined the endorsement fray purely for the sake of loyalty. Observers are, however, not ruling out the fact that there might be something in it for everyone.