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Atiku, Ribadu: stirring 2019 politics with deft, sly moves

By Leo Sobechi
07 August 2016   |   5:13 am
First is the seeming contest for balance of power exposure between the Northeast and the Northwest geopolitical zones of the North. Next is what could be the future of Buharipolitik and the quest by ethnic nationalists for self-determination.

Sketching The Next Electoral Showdown.

Whatever political consideration propels the All Progressives Congress (APC), the march towards 2019 presidential election would be defined by two issues.
First is the seeming contest for balance of power exposure between the Northeast and the Northwest geopolitical zones of the North. Next is what could be the future of Buharipolitik and the quest by ethnic nationalists for self-determination. It is obvious that the historic merger that led to the formation of APC and eventual defeat of an incumbent president was built around the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. From that propitious development, flows the debatable belief in the party that a future for APC could only be feasible if it is predicated on PMB.

It is within that broad context of the search for a consolidated future that PMB’s foot soldiers started early in the life of the present administration to work for a secure platform to ensure that PMB’s perch on the presidency was not restricted to a single four-year term.

The plan to dust up the rested Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) as a possible fallback, though not very overt, was intended by PMB’s loyalists to call the apparent bluff of other legacy partners, particularly the haughty claim of being the power behind the PMB presidency.

While the president’s loyalists sought for ways to ensure that he did not enjoy a short shrift presidency, the politics of running a ruling party supervened. Good governance, which was the major thrust for the gang up against the defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), became the source of new challenges.

In their preparations for a safe tomorrow, the political planners forgot that only a fruitful today begets a better tomorrow. Consequently, amidst the jumble of ideas of political forward thinking and purposeful governance, time was lost and expectations of citizenry climaxed, leading to fresh anxieties.

And so, with the first anniversary of the administration posting mixed result, all pretensions about the unpreparedness of the ruling party, and by extension PMB; for the socio-economic uplift and stability of the country, became subject of public apprehension.

It was against that chequered background that the fourth republic vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, reappeared on the scene. Speaking on the occasion of the public presentation of an allegory of a book, We are all Biafrans, the former vice president opened what is fast turning out as the most topical issue that would define the 2019 presidential election: Restructuring.

While the nation and the ruling APC play around with words over the necessity of diversifying the country’s economy, Atiku came up with his clear-headed thought on the near impossible of achieving durable economic diversification without the political equivalent, which is restructuring and devolution of powers to the federating structures.

It was a position that shows the disparities in the governance outlooks of the various tendencies that coalesced to make APC the ruling party in the country. From the debates and discussions on the topic that followed the Turaki’s argument, emerged further fault lines in the APC configuration.

Atiku, who inherited the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua’s political machinery, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), touched on the umbilical cord of Nigeria’s federal system, when he expatiated on that singular issue of restructuring. What he said, the way he said it and the mood of the nation at the very point of making his remarks put life back into the nation’s polity.

“As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation. Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach it has not served my part of the country, the North, well.

“The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.

“Some may say that we are saddled with more urgent challenges, including rebuilding our battered economy, creating jobs, fighting corruption and securing our people from terrorism and other forms of serious crimes. I believe, however, that addressing the flaws in our federation will help us address some of those very economic and security challenges facing this country.

“Nigeria must remain a united country. Our potentials are enormous. But I also believe that a united country, which I think most Nigerians desire, should never be taken for granted or taken as evidence that Nigerians are content with the current structure of the federation. Making that mistake might set us on the path of losing the country we love or, as Chido Onumah puts it, result in our ‘country sleepwalking to disaster’.”

That was the part of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s ninety minutes speech that got the nation thinking and talking.

And coming barely two days after the first anniversary of the APC federal government, the former vice president’s stand on that crucial fabric of Nigeria’s statehood brought back strains of his travails in the nation’s democratic experience. National chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, came up to say that restructuring does not rank in the priority concerns of the Federal Government, thus defining the differences in political ideas and thought within the party.

As was expected, a sort of shadow boxing began anew in the ruling party. It would be recalled that after helping to position the inchoate post-military democratic administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, for a smooth takeoff, Atiku, who was brought in as Obasanjo’s running mate to help give the ticket a semblance of acceptability to the political class; was later made to bear the brunt of Obasanjo’s obtuse democratic credentials.

All manner of obstacles were thrown on the vice president’s path as he aspired to contribute his quota towards consolidating the new democratic experience. From the dictatorial and illegal sacking of the vice president from office for ventilating his ambition to contest the presidency, to prodigious efforts to invalidate his membership of PDP, Atiku was forced to change political platform.

However, after a temporary sojourn in the new platform, ACN; the then vice president was compelled by emerging dynamics to return to the party he helped to entrench. That was shortly after the 2007 presidential poll. It was possible that following the ‘death of Herod’, Atiku believed that with the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the conducive political atmosphere had arrived for real democracy to flourish and bear the fruit of good governance in the country. Or, he must have thought that the return of power to the North in line with the zoning principle of the then ruling PDP meant that the North had the opportunity to show that it can solve the nation’s leadership challenge by enthroning egalitarianism through the rule of law, which Yar’Adua professed.

Nevertheless, new challenges against democratic freedom emerged when the former president kicked the bucket and his former second in command, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, became president. The nation was thrown into feisty argument over the propriety of denying the then president his constitutional right to contest the presidency, as well as, the morality of the PDP zoning arrangement supplanting constitutional provisions.

In the end, believing that the best way to settle political arguments in a democracy is through the ballot box, Atiku and the core north devised a method of choosing a single candidate to contest the presidential ticket against the incumbent. That he emerged as the consensus candidate of the north may not have happened just on account of his acceptability, but also for the relevance of his luminous manifesto, which tended to show deep understanding of what the nation needs to move forward in unity, fairness and prosperity.

But during the 2011 PDP presidential primary election, the issue was not whether the process was transparent or the best candidate won, because it was obvious that the nation fell for the popular sentiment of allowing a candidate from an ethnic minority to taste a full presidential mandate.

Four years after, Atiku, the consensus candidate of the north; again desired to contest the presidential ticket, but the PDP ensured that the ticket was not made available to other contestants, apart from incumbent President Jonathan. An open primary was denied. Faced with that fresh stonewall, Atiku and other naysayers to that democratic bottleneck, quit in anger and crossed over to the new amalgam called APC.

Not much insight has emerged as to how the promoters of the APC conglomerate ensured that its presidential primary election did not produce the best and brightest. Rather, it was obvious that the foot soldiers and the king makers of the new party worked towards a ready answer. And to this day, the sour taste of the APC first presidential nomination convention has ensured the absence of convivial amity within the party.

Was it over reaching self-confidence that inspired Atiku to contest the primary in a political party he just joined, hoping to win or was it implicit conviction of the superiority of his manifesto and capacity to deliver the goods? Whatever might have informed the choice in Lagos, the book launch in Abuja, once again provided Atiku the golden opportunity to showcase his thought frame and proof that the search during the Lagos primary was not for the man with the best of ideas and capacity to deliver the goods, to fly the party’s flag.

After blaming the emergence of military rule and the intervening civil war for the splintering and weakening of the federating units, as well as centralization of resources and concentration of power at the federal level, the former vice president called for the restructuring of the country.

He said: “We must refrain from the habit of assuming that anyone calling for the restructuring of our federation is working for the breakup of the country. An excessively powerful centre does not equate with national unity. If anything, it has made our unity more fragile, our government more unstable and our country more unsafe. We must renegotiate our union in order to make it stronger.”

And with that position, Atiku opened himself for fresh attacks and plots. Yet most of his political traducers and allies acknowledge the former vice president’s capacity to mobilize and sensitize. That was why his recent visit to the national headquarters of the APC brought about fresh frenzy in the polity, with conspiracy theorists alleging that the Turaki Adamawa has set the machinery in motion for the 2019 presidential poll.

Political jobbers also went to town to speculate that the vice president and his supporters have finalized plans to cross over to another political platform. Some also associated the former president with the setting up of a 43-man steering committee to itemize and analyse socio-economic challenges in the country and possible solutions.

With a wide network spanning the various social spectrum and ethno-religious divisions of the country, it is a given that should Atiku decide to move, he could count on some following. Perhaps, this could be the fear in some quarters, and in a bid to take the wind off his sail, a plot was hatched to re-admit the former chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, to APC.

Like Atiku, Ribadu has undertaken a political voyage to the Southwest and experimented with the idea of contesting the presidency. Consequently, Atiku kicked, an observation that could be merely to register the fact that he was not usually taken into confidence on matters concerning the running of the party in Adamawa, rather than any fear that Ribadu was being procured to rubbish his ambition to contest the presidency in 2019.

Yet, there are tell-tale signs that PMB’s political acolytes may have settled for Ribadu, following recent discovery that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, may not provide the needed mix to challenge Atiku when the time comes. Though Lawal confessed that he was a creation of the Southwest kingmakers, the fact of his religious belief and limited political aptitude, seem not to jell with PMB’s inner men.

This may not be the first time Ribadu is being used as a pawn in the power game of the masters, but it could as well be that the former top cop wants to reposition himself to ensure that Atiku’s hold on the Adamawa governor, Muhammadu Jibrila Bindow would be challenged in 2019.

After contesting the last governorship election on the PDP platform, Ribadu rejoined APC, which he quit in protest a year ago, when a vacancy chanced on the Adamawa governorship. As it turned out, his ambition to cash in on that auspicious opening was blocked when he was told that occupying the position would rob him of the 2015 candidacy of the party.

The former EFCC chairman told party officials in Yola that he was rejoining the party with good intentions and to contribute positively to nation building at all levels. Alluding to speculations that he was coming to prepare the grounds for 2019, Ribadu recalled how he conceded defeat to Governor Bindow, stressing that he was committed to supporting the governor in transforming the state.

No matter how Atiku and Ribadu want to situate their recent political moves, what is not hidden is the fact that both men know that serious alignment of political forces have begun in the country, particularly in APC, where it is common knowledge that the major driving force that propelled the party in 2015 has evaporated.

Furthermore, Ribadu may have been talked into returning to the party to help divide Atiku’s reach in Southwest against the discovery that Southeast has sold their political soul to pragmatic mercantilism.

But, should a broad coalition of democrats and pro-restructuring elements decide to mass around the Turaki of Adamawa, could a Ribadu offer enough distractions? Again, having proved his understanding of the various levers that drive good governance, would the economic despondency enveloping the nation recommend an anti-corruption crusader more than a well heeled pragmatist adept at wealth creation and knows his onions?

For now, issues that would determine the direction of the 2019 presidential election are just forming, even as, the Buhari team appear roused to deliver on its mandate. Atiku may run on whatever platform as the champion of democracy and a new destination from military transition. Alongside Nuhu Ribadu, the former vice president has shown Nigerians by the recent shift that the journey of a thousand miles begins from a first step.

Setting The Stage, Tone For 2019
THE problem PMB handlers have on their hands concerning the 2019 project seems to be their early start of contemplation. Worse still, the Presidency has never come out to denounce the seeming covert intrigues to set the path clear for PMB’s second term. Yet, the socio-economic situation of the nation continues to throw up big questions for his present mandate.

Most Nigerians still hold unto the general perception that President Buhari does not lie. But how he would present himself again to Nigerians in search of a second term in office defy conjecture. Would he tell Nigerians that he would crush insurgency, fight corruption and improve the economy? If he does, it is possible that he would be confronted with a chorus of ‘how’?

On the other hand, efforts to constrict the APC platform in a similar fashion to what former President Goodluck Jonathan did to PDP in 2015 would boomerang, because APC continues to tout internal democracy as one of its strategic pillars of change. But over and above such a forceful elimination of opposition, it is beginning to look as if 2019 would also be, not only a battle of wits but also against militiricians.

Having endured the harrowing eight years, spanning 1999 through 2007 and the mixed grill of 2015 through 2019, would Nigerians still see political redemption from the hands of recycled former military leaders? Furthermore, if the north waged a united fight to reclaim power for the zone, would it still leave the space for imposed leadership?

Prior to Buhari’s eventual emergence as the presidential flag bearer of APC, it is on record that a greater percent of Northern intellectuals was not favourably disposed to him due to a number of concerns. This also could be where PMB’s foot-soldiers would encounter fresh challenges. Considering that in 2011, when they sought a consensus presidential candidate no mention of Buhari was made, how far his four years impacted on the socio-economic fortunes of the north, as well as, national acceptability would be evaluated when it is time to bargain.

While the attempts to checkmate Atiku continues, it would be seen how the ambitions of other possible presidential aspirants could be contained; and how that would also reflect on the tone and temperament of the 2019 electoral battle.

It must have been against the background of the number of presidential ‘possibles’ from the Northwest that the move to bring back Ribadu was hatched, at least, to provide some distraction for the envisaged aspiration of Atiku.

In the expected battle for 2019, a crowd of presidential aspirants have already become perceptible. As such, when the Northwest, from where Buhari hails and Northeast, where Atiku comes from; come out to settle where the pendulum should swing to, the following names would be in circulation:

Malam Ibrahim Shekarau: Many people still remember Ibrahim Shekarau for two main things. One is how the school teacher downed an incumbent to become Kano State Governor in 2003 and went ahead to serve the constitutional two terms in office. Secondly, Shekarau performed brilliantly during the 2011 presidential debates. At the formation of APC, the former All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) presidential candidate was very visible. He was compelled by encumbering political developments in Kano, namely the entrance into the amorphous party of the man he defeated in the 2003 governorship, Musa Kwankwaso; to defect to the PDP, where he later became the minister of education. There is the belief in most quarters that Shekarau lost the 2011 presidential election due to a combination of factors, including feebleness of his platform and national sentiments in favour of the minority incumbent. Shekarau was among the forces that forced Buhari out of ANPP. In the emerging talks of power shift to the new generation, the former governor is still expected to run for presidency.

Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso: Senator Kwankwaso learnt a bitter political lesson in 2003, when he lost the Kano State governorship election, despite his obvious advantages as an incumbent. After serving the nation as minister of defence and staging a successful comeback as governor, Kwankwaso successfully enthroned his former aide and political ally as his successor. He went ahead to win election into the senate on his new political platform, APC. Although forces loyal to PMB have succeeded in driving a wage between benefactor and beneficiary, Kwankwaso is now struggling to keep the political temperature of Kano warm through his Kwankwasyya movement. But for the insistence of the powerful backers of APC from Southwest, the senator representing Kano Central was enjoying favourable ratings for the 2015 presidency, particularly in Kano and Kaduna States. Discountenancing age and other indices touted against their preferred candidate, the Southwest was said to have insisted that it was either PMB or no deal with the north. However, despite that loss of prospect, Kwankwaso is yet to abandon his presidential ambition.

Sule Lamido: Former Governor Sule Lamido rejected suggestions to seek a space in the Senate at the tail end of his eight-year tenure as governor of Jigawa State. Before the creation of Jigawa in 1991, Lamido was on the way to becoming the governor of Kano State. Together with the late Abubakar Rimi, Lamido helped to sustain the progressive political flavour of the ancient city. Although he spurned the proposition of some of his colleagues to defect from PDP in 2014, it is generally believed that Lamido’s travails in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were precipitated by his presidential ambition. It is also alleged that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s frustration with Jonathan was caused in part by the refusal of the immediate past president to yield presidential power for the North, where Lamido was waiting in the wings as a possible anointed candidate to thwart the possibility of Atiku ever becoming president. Lamido is among presidential possibles from the North that PMB’s insiders are eager to restrain, especially coming from the same Northwest as their principal. At the commencement of his trial by EFCC, the former governor cried out that he is being victimized for 2019. He has not hidden his desire to be president of Nigeria.

Ahmed Makarfi: If there are politicians in the present dispensation that ply their craft without bitterness, Senator Ahmed Makarfi is definitely one of them. After serving Kaduna as governor for eight years, Makarfi went to the represent Kaduna north in the Senate. At the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, many people expected that Makarfi, instead of his successor, Architect Namadi Sambo; should have been selected as deputy when former vice president, Jonathan, moved to become president. Although he was generally seen as a gentleman, Makarfi has no pretensions to gullibility.

A smart and methodical politician, his attempt to return to the Senate was not fruitful, but he did not push it. For his dovish inclination, Makarfi was chosen as caretaker national chairman of embattled PDP, even against the backdrop of the understanding that he should not use his position to facilitate his presidential ambition. It was based on that undertaking and general belief that as gentleman, the senator would keep to his promise that the three months timeline was handed down to the caretaker committee to organise another convention to elect authentic leadership for the displaced former ruling party.

Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai: Malam El Rufai chanced on Nigeria’s political scene when the former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, brought him to head the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). It was from there that current Kaduna State governor moved to become the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). El Rufai’s defection from PDP to APC was without fanfare, but his opposition to PDP, particularly its then president; was virulent and well celebrated. Noted for his zealous efforts at restoring the FCT to its master plan, El Rufai was one of the forces that prevailed on Buhari to rescind his resignation from further chase of the presidential seat to contest the 2015 poll. Many believe that the former FCT minister propped up PMB mainly to cling on his flowing gown to the Kaduna State Government House. Although the gambit paid off for El Rufai, PMB’s inner men are said to have drawn a dwarf wall against his influence, both in the presidency and the APC. He has the effective challenge posed by Senator Shehu Sani to contend with. Those in the know of the ongoing underground power play say the strategy is to checkmate El Rufai’s second term ambition and in the process whittle down whatever resources or reach he may nurture for a presidential ambition in 2019. In spite of the shenanigans of his detractors, the Kaduna State chief executive holds the view, albeit in his closet; that the time has come for generational shift in the leadership of the country.

Waziri Tambuwal: Aminu Waziri Tambuwal’s phenomenal rise in Nigeria’s politics came by way of the gang up against the Jonathan’s presidency and PDP’s strangle hold on the national polity. Benefitting from a conspiracy between members of the then opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and opponents of the PDP zoning arrangement for the leadership of the House of Representatives, Tambuwal became the arrowhead of the bi-partisan leadership in the lower house of the National Assembly. Although he continued as PDP member of the Green Chamber, his every legislative and political consideration was dictated by the template of the opposition. Having assisted the opposition to undergird the Jonathan presidency, Tambuwal was one of the top contenders for the APC presidential flag. Like Kwankwaso, the insistence of Southwest on PMB scuttled the planned coronation of the former Speaker, who had received the endorsement of former military president, Ibrahim Babangida; as presidential candidate. With the backing of Senator Maigatakarda Wammako and the Sultan of Sokoto, Tambuwal may have to choose between a second term as governor and ventilating anew his presidential ambition. Sources close to the powerbrokers in Sokoto disclosed that that dilemma could only appear when it becomes obvious that PMB would not be in the race.
Senator Ali Modu Sheriff: Controversies have always trailed the former Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. When he is not being accused of political harlotry, SAS is alleged to be associated with the growth and pervading presence of Boko Haram in the northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Having been governor and senator, Sheriff has the ambition of becoming president of Nigeria. He defected from the curious amalgam known as APC at the point of its fructification based on political differences with the faction of former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Sheriff frowned at Tinubu’s attempts to select a presidential candidate for the north and defected to the PDP, where he worked for the unsuccessful second term mandate of then President Jonathan. His emergence as PDP acting national chairman was mired in controversy, exacerbated by his rumoured presidential ambition. Apart from having the resources and international contacts to prosecute a presidential campaign, Sheriff is interested in regaining control of Borno politics. It is not clear whether he wants to use his aspiration to achieve the later or use the later to achieve his presidential dream.

Possible Scenarios:
AT a glance, it is evident that there are more viable presidential candidates to challenge PMB from the Northwest than there are in Northeast to contest against Atiku, in terms of capacity, national visibility and following. The puzzle for both geopolitical zones to solve depends on whether fairness and free competition would prevail. But in the absence of the predictive conditions that enhanced PMB’s imposition as APC candidate in 2014, is possible for PMB to contest for a second term and defeat Atiku in a free and fair presidential primary? Alternatively, if PMB’s inner men succeed in foreclosing the platform for their principal, how far could Atiku’s exit affect the stature of the APC? Then in a presumptive ultimate showdown, could PMB defeat Atiku in the presidential election, assuming both run on disparate platforms? It is in such likely contest that the election would turn out as referendum on the Buhari presidency.

In the final analysis, it would be seen whether in trying to warm himself to the larger North, PMB succeeded in reducing his national appeal to that of a local champion. Which of the presumptive candidates would garner more votes in the South and North Central?

It is in the likelihood of such a possibility that issues of Northeast and Northwest interests would take centre stage. And when that happens, the positions of the candidates on restructuring, wealth creation, and national harmony would tilt the scale through the votes of other geopolitical zones.

Prevailing circumstances have made it that national debates would henceforth feature prominently in leadership selection processes in the country. It would be interesting to watch PMB debate rival presidential candidates on engaging issues of national cohesion and progress.

Most of those who listened to Atiku deliver his invited paper at the recent late General Usman Katsina memorial conference said they felt like listening to a new Sarduana pointing the way forward for a better future for the north in a progressive Nigeria.