Forget crowd, North is still real battleground
There is every tendency that all calculations about the outcome would end up as big miscalculations.
None of the two major political groupings, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could boast that it is standing on solid ground anywhere.
By-elections have been held and the incumbent has also visited some states.
Nonetheless, until standard bearers of the parties emerge, those parameters do not stand out, as reliable considerations to mirror how next year’s election would go. Both APC and PDP are still struggling for air.
APC grappling with emerging realities
Regardless of how the party’s leadership perceives the recent staccato defections from its base, the APC is facing the internal contradictions that defined its formative steps.
It is hard to conclude that the party has been purged of all vestiges of the nPDP within its fold.
Even at that, it does not seem that those remaining in the party would not be tempted to move on.
Part of the challenges facing APC is how to handle the intricate issue of direct primary as method of selecting its candidates.
While the first term state governors are uniting to rebuff that lofty democratic method, members of the National Assembly, particularly Senators, insist that what is good for the governors, is also be sauce to them.
It is this intricate connection between the assurances of automatic tickets to the Senators that the party seems to have things a bit testy in its desire to remove Senate President Bukola Saraki from the exalted office as first among equals.
To understand the matter, one needs to recognize that the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, shot himself on the foot by his enthusiasm for the direct primary system, which does not offer him enough leg room to navigate a favourable bend through the demands of the Senators and his pet project of Saraki-Must-Go.
Worse still, some insiders in the Presidency have been using the direct option as a new weapon of blackmail against former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu.
They accuse the President of falling for the bait that put absolute control of the party structure out of his hand to be shared between Tinubu and his old time benefactor, Oshiomhole.
Would President Buhari be subjected to the rigours of a presidential primary and thereby made to ingratiate himself to Tinubu?
The booby trap in direct primary is its negation of automatic access and right of first refusal.
But, knowing how such things go, the grandstanding might end up creating opportunity for the party big men to access easy money and for the automatic delegates to earn some free income to prosecute their own primary selection process.
The President has been tested with the National Assembly imbroglio and found to be “up and doing” for his second term aspiration.
But the other side of the snag is the electoral environment in the north is not looking so good for Buhari.
Upshots from other northern candidate
UNLIKE in 2003 and 2011 when he contested against Presidential incumbents from the South, in 2019 President Buhari would be up in electoral battle against three formidable northern candidates.
As such, despite the massive crowds that greeted his recent visits to some states in the region, the President may likely witness a similar scenario to what happened in 2007 between him and his late kinsman, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The implication of other presidential candidates appearing on the ballot alongside President Buhari is that of vote split.
It is this possibility of vote split that makes next year’s poll dicey for the President, because unlike when he contested against a Southern candidate, particularly in 2015 when the clamour for return of power to the north was at its peak; he would be subjected to thorough background checks.
In the first place the poll has already been programmed as a referendum on Buhari’s first term.
Although the prosecution of the fight against insurgency has remained a subject of debate, the insecurity in the country, defined by the killer herdsmen the President claimed are mercenaries from Libya, deflates Buhari’s argument.
The performance of the President on the job has been a subject of undulating public debate, with most commentators saying that the President performed below average.
Observers also noted that the fact of the large number of presidential aspirants that have indicated interest in the presidency underlines the approval rating of the President and his performance.
However, there is also concern being raised about the President’s state of health.
While most northern politicians refuse to acknowledge the fact publicly, they are apprehensive over Buhari’s ability to grapple with the rigours of leading a multiethnic nation like Nigeria with myriad of socio-economic and political challenges.
The apprehension over the President’s vitality was said to have informed recent statement by some northern youths in which they warned the former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu that he should not arrogate to himself the power to determine for the zone, who should be the President.
National president of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, disclosed, “the north would resist the antics of some political figures in the Southwest to determine, like it successfully did in 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari was imposed as candidate of the region despite better options.
The group noted that although the national consensus is that power should remain in the north in 2019, leaders from the zone have decided that no one “should dare try to teleguide the region and its people this time around.
Northerners have a right to their democratic aspirations and choice of a president.”
Next to the concerns about performance and vibrancy is the issue of age.
Political stakeholders are also said to be factoring age into the search of the next president that would also be acceptable to the South.
That could be why some presidential aspirants on the platform of PDP have been touting their age as a positive consideration.
For instance, while supporters of the former Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki maintain that Turaki “has age and dynamism on his side, being neither old nor too young for the onerous task of President,” former national caretaker chairman of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, said in addition to age, experience is also on his side.
“My experience as a member of the Senate committee on finance for eight years is also an advantage,” he declared.
The opposition PDP have been considering the new breed for the exalted position, a development that brought the likes of Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Senator Bukola Saraki into reckoning.
Middle Belt revolt
BUT, one major disturbing factor in the northern calculations for next year’s presidential poll is the attempt by the Middle Belt zone to seek separate political destiny.
At no time has the northern solidarity and hegemony been more challenged than now.
And majority of northern politicians blame Buhari for adopting positions that erode not only northern solidarity, but also deep-seated animosities among the constituent parts of the region.
Despite the fact that Kano gave the President the winning votes in 2015, the people complain that he did not reciprocate their effort, stressing that even when the late Maitama Sule died, the President did not bother to pay condolence.
But, signs that Kano people were holding some grudges against Buhari for the coldness towards Dan Masanin Kano emerged when the President visited the ancient city and summoned the family to the Government House.
Also, doubts persist that President Buhari would return much votes in Kano because most of those that voted for him in 2015 feel that the President did not step in to do what was expected of a leader to unite two former allies, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Senator Kwankwaso, “when they started manifesting some political misbehavior” that gradually dovetailed to estrangement.
It is also being counted against the President in his home state, Katsina, that since he mounted the saddle as President, not one borehole was constructed for the people.
Most people in the state claim that if not for the fact that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has a governor in Katsina, it would have been hard for the President to draw massive home crowds when he visits.
As the political parties move into the hot primary season, it would begin to show that indeed the real battle for the presidency is in the north, particularly across party lines. Would Buhari pick the ticket if he goes for direct primary?
The presidential primary would indicate which group was right, between those that wanted tenure elongation for Chief John Odigie Oyegun as chairman and those that opposed it.
As such, apart from Governor Nasir el Rufai, which other insiders could influence the turn of events in APC to Buhari’s favour if democracy triumphs?
The situation right now is that the incumbent remains the presumptive APC presidential stand bearer.
That being the case, if the north has rejected Buhari it would only become obvious when rival candidates emerge.
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