Aisha Alhassan aka Mama Taraba is the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari. She is a lawyer and the first woman in Taraba State to hold the position of Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. She also served as a Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja and as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Mama Taraba also fought valiantly in the last election to register another first as the female Governor of Taraba State. She did not get there. But her political credentials are amply acknowledged by those who know her.
With such a formidable curriculum vitae and her acknowledged political battles many people have wondered why she made the unguarded public statement she made recently. Here are her words: “Atiku (Abubakar) is my godfather even before I joined politics and again Baba Buhari did not tell us that he is going to run in 2019. And let me tell you today that if Baba said he is going to contest in 2019 I swear to Allah I will go before him and kneel and tell him that Baba I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve your government as a minister. But Baba, just like you know I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather. That is if Atiku said he is going to contest. As we are talking now Atiku has not said he is going to contest.”
In an interview with Reuters, Madam Alhassan was also quoted as saying “in 2014/2015 he (Buhari) said he was going to run for only one term to clean up the mess that the PDP government did in Nigeria. And I took him for his word that he is not contesting in 2019.”
By her statement Aisha has shown that if Buhari chooses to run in 2019, she will not be in his corner. He will be on his own. She has also indicated that if by chance Atiku decides to run she will back him to the hilt because he is her mentor and godfather. She has made her choice two years before the 2019 elections. Democracy is the ultimate giver of choices to people so the freedom of choice is one of the precious gifts of the democratic enterprise. She cannot therefore be faulted for making a choice between two potential presidential candidates but there is a snag here: she is working for one right now and that is President Buahri.
Some people think that by making her choice openly while still serving as Buhari’s minister she is courageous. I think she is naïve and disloyal. A Presidential system runs largely on the personal synergy and empathy that exists between the President and his ministers. The aura of the Presidency as a corporation is subsumed under that relationship. That is why every minister, even if recommended by the party officially or other persons of influence, is regarded as the President’s personal appointee. And once you are appointed your total loyalty, undivided loyalty, must reside in the President. If for any reason the President makes a decision that cannot be accommodated by your conscience or worldview the honourable thing is for you to resign.
As at the time I am writing this piece Aisha had not resigned or had not been fired. But it is clear that with her howitzer her position in the cabinet is untenable. She will no longer be able to enjoy the full confidence of President Buhari no matter how large-hearted he may be.He will be thinking that he has a spy, a political enemy, in the house who does not deserve to be trusted with secrets she could possibly leak to her favourite candidate who is a likely opponent in 2019. Secondly, even if Buhari does not sack her, the Buharists in the cabinet and party will no longer trust her and may choose to dine with her with a long spoon. Besides, in many government circles she may be treated, judging by the way we play politics in this country, as a sort of persona non grata, a pariah.
Many people will think she is under watch and she may notice a drop in the volume of her phone calls and personal visits for fear of being tarred with the brush of Aisha’s impudent declaration. She seems to have a masculine force about her and the force of her convictions because she adopts the fatalistic view that it is God that gives – and takes – power. But God does so only through human beings, so human beings are an important element in the power equation.
I am almost certain that Aisha knows with pulse-pounding certainly that her remarks have acquired a life of its own. Maybe she can heal her wounds inflicted on her by her but the repercussions of the bomb she has detonated are likely to be more far reaching than she apparently expected. Now there is a renewed urgency about 2019. Instead of the government basking in the euphoria of our recent theoretical exit from recession we have had to shift our attention quickly to dousing the fire lighted by Aisha.
The next thing is to rally the splintered congregation of the APC to the choir stand and to ask them to sing from one hymn book.Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President, is a past master in high-end political battles. He knows from experience where terrific things begin. When the north was trying to find a consensus candidate in the PDP some years ago they set up the Adamu Ciroma Committee and Atiku trounced all the competitors including President Ibrahim Babangida. However, in the last battle of the APC primaries Buhari, with the heavy artillery of the Bola Tinubu group, gunned him down mercilessly. But the hunger in him for the Presidency which his boss President Olusegun Obasanjo denied him has not diminished. He still has the impatience of a challenger eager to take on the champion for the ultimate prize.
Since the end of the 2015 Presidential election Atiku has been oiling his guns. His followers admire him for his simplicity which is why, both old and young people simply call him Atiku, not Alhaji Abubakar. He has been able to gather many converts since he started the campaign for the restructuring of the country. While some others who have an eye on the presidency in future wish that the unitary structure remains with enormous powers and resources lodged in an ineffectual centre Atiku thinks otherwise. He believes in the devolution of powers from the centre to the states and in the installation of a state police. Is he altruistic, pragmatic or he is just playing mind games on potential voters?
Whether he is playing politics or not he has upped the ante on the issue of having a more workable federation which the present government is responding to with calculated unresponsiveness.
The Aisha declaration is a pointer to the woeful nature of the state of APC. Since the end of the elections in 2015 the party has been busy managing the booty of its success without paying serious attention to its unity and cohesion. That is why in spite of its majority it lost the position of Deputy President of the Senate to the opposition. That is also why it is unable to fashion out a good working relationship between the Presidency and the Senate. As the scramble for 2019 begins, the chickens will soon come home to roost. The nerves of the party will be at full stretch particularly as the PDP, just out of the grave, is shopping around for the best man for the job.
But President Buhari is likely to maintain his silence on 2019 and will refuse to take the bait thrown by the Aisha declaration. But his foot soldiers are likely to take up the gauntlet. Before long we will witness some road shows and town hall meetings to showcase what Buhari has achieved. That way a basis for a second term will be established for him. He will then be in a position to say, maybe next year, that he has no choice but to accept the invitation of the people to finish what he started.