By Richard Mammah*
With January coming to a close, a frenzied run of contending political activities coming to the surface, the majority of Nigerians continuing to grapple with economic and security challenges, and with labour and civil society activists approaching the barricades, the Buhari administration knew it had to act fast. On January 24th, the Finance Minister announced that the scheduled removal of fuel subsidies had been suspended. This was corroborated by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva and the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan. Hell had been pacified; for the moment.
Nigeria is in a turbo-charged state. And it is one that is being heavily reinforced by the fact that it is election season in a country where elections do attract a quite heavy dose of public interest, and particularly also, when may of the incumbent leaders, who almost always have their way during their second time trying out for the job, have already played that final constitutionally allowed card, and are therefore no longer eligible to contend again.
The resetting of the stage that comes at this point in time therefore generally attracts a heavy dose of political frenzy and permutations. And lots of it are already being witnessed across the length and breadth of the country.
Mr Jonathan, where do you stand?
For some time now, there have also been rumours that former President Goodluck Jonathan would run for office once again, but this time on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC that had defeated him in 2015. While the former President has not come out openly to confirm or repudiate the claim, the broader swings in the polity today may very clearly not be favourable to his re-emergence. In the view of one analyst, any attempt by the former President to run at this point would be akin to ‘shutting the stables after the horses have bolted.’
Bola Tinubu’s early card
One of the first major contenders to formally throw his hat into the ring in the race to succeed Buhari is the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A two-time Governor of Nigeria’s richest state, Lagos, Tinubu had on January 10, paid a visit to President Buhari to formally inform him of his desire to succeed him.
Given his vantage place in the political hierarchy of his party, some had expected that ‘the big elephant’ who had long worn his ambition on his sleeves would have waited until much later to saunter into the arena.
But this indeed is part of the frenzy in the system at the moment given widespread rumours of all kinds of contending permutations taking place under the radar, including one quite noteworthy one that several bigwigs within the ruling party may already be lining up behind Tinubu’s political protege, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for the job.
A Vice-President’s Dilemma
Though Osinbajo has not formally joined the contest, feelers are quite clear that the likelihood of his running is not in doubt. But sources say that the VP is doing everything within his power to avoid running against his immediate political leader. But given how heavily invested Tinubu is in the process already, it is difficult to see how that will pan out.
Even at this, analysts say that even if the Tinubu camp succeeds in putting Osinbajo ‘in his place,’ the former’s aspiration would still have to contend with two other major preliminary points of contention, namely the continued seeming opposition of a number of principal functionaries of the current administration and Tinubu’s religion which places odds on his way in terms of succeeding an outgoing Muslim president, winning votes in parts of the South and Middle Belt as well as choosing an ‘acceptable’ running mate from the North.
Reprieve for the South East
Away from the South West segment of the APC where both Tinubu and Osinbajo are from, three other contenders have also been identified in the South East APC. They are former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha and the incumbent Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi. While these aspirations have not exactly attracted the same or a corresponding degree of frenzy as say that of the APC South West contenders, they however cannot be pushed aside given that one of the cross-cutting front burner political issues in Nigeria at the moment has to do with claims of long-standing marginalisation of the South East and an accompanying clamour to begin to right the wrongs through, very symbolically at this time, the emergence of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023.
It is in the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP where this clamour currently finds its strongest fervour. And one aspirant who presently sits atop the field in this regard is the former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim. Already, a zonal confab convened in Enugu earlier in the month had thrown its weight behind him but one other big fry, former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State is also expected to formally announce his bid for the topmost job in the land soon on the platform of the same PDP.
The albatross of being Northern
Outside of the South of the country, three of the more prominent likely contenders on the platform of the PDP from the North of the country are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Kwara State Governor and Senate President, Bukola Saraki and incumbent Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal. Of the three, only Saraki has presently joined in the fray openly but it is clear as crystal that Atiku and Tambuwal are already neck-deep in ‘consultations’ leading to their anticipated formal declaration of intent.
While any of the three contenders evidently have significant name recognition countrywide, there are however several points of contention that opponents of their bid to clinch power at the highest level are raising, with the most significant being questions of geography and religion. For Atiku, there is one more variable which he shares with aspirant Tinubu of the APC; age.
The Nyesom Wike factor
But still on the PDP field, one other quite significant player in the present dispensation is Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. A stormy petrel of sorts, Wike had served as Chief of Staff to his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi before both men fell out. Finding themselves on rival sides of the APC/PDP political divide, there remains no love lost between them even with Amaechi serving at the moment as a Federal Minister of Transportation and is also being named on the sidelines as one other possible presidential contender. On his part, while Wike has not indicated an interest in running for the Number One position himself, he towers above many others as a leading light and point of influence within the main opposition party at the moment.
What he does or does not do, where he swings or does not swing in the days ahead would be quite interesting to observe. But one point that is almost clear at the moment is that, as things stand now, he could very likely be poised to play a significant spoiler’s role in thwarting any declared aspirations from both Amaechi and Atiku. So would he be spoiler-in-chief of the unfolding process or would he somehow also brave the odds and become a contender to be king himself?
A third force?
Outside of the two more dominant parties, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Kingsley Moghalu has already thrown his hat into the ring at the moment, albeit for the second time running. He had been a candidate in the 2023 polls where he ran on the platform of the Young Democratic Party, YDP. This time, his presently adopted vehicle is the African Democratic Congress, ADC.
He is also at the same time fraternising with the mega opposition party push that the likes of Professor Pat Utomi are spearheading. It however remains to be seen how much real and practical leverage this third party proposition would be bringing to the table in the current dispensation, and whether it would be Moghalu or indeed someone else that would be the dominant champion and most visible flagbearer for this tendency in the days ahead.
A view from history
There is a sense in which the ongoing permutations in the political scene have echoes of the 1978/79 political season in Nigeria’s history.
At that time, there was also a lot of jostling and negotiating which led eventually to the erstwhile dark horse, Alhaji Shehu Shagari emerging as President. Have we been here before?
Whichever way things pan out, it is clear that the 2023 polls process in Nigeria would involve significant doses of drama, surprise and adjusting. It is also one in which the ultimate winner would very likely be one who kept back a few of his strategic details close to his chest unlike the Nigerian National Football Team, the Super Eagles who played their best game at AFCON 2022 in the first round of the tournament only to quite unfortunately run out of new manouvres when the tournament progressed on to the more decisive knock out phases.
As if to corroborate this point, President Muhammadu Buhari in a recent interview on Channels Television declined giving any hints as to who his preferred successor would be because as he put it, he does not want to provoke a backlash that would endanger any such prospect of his. On their part, groups like Miyetti Allah and the Arewa Consultative Front, ACF are also staying far away from being seen to be linked to the aspirations of any of the declaring aspirants. With attitudes like this, it’s clearly a long walk yet for the emergent contenders.