Locating Buhari’s dilemma in emergent presidency’s mini-battles
Left for President Muhammadu Buhari, not up to 30 per cent of his present crop of ministers would return to join him in executing his second term mandate. The nature of Buhari’s second term presidency, including ministers, is a topic currently being discussed in hushed tones at the villa. The scramble for placement is on just as sundry emissaries and conmen acting as go-between continue to ferry curriculum vitae and vital information to facilitate possible nomination and appointment of prospects into various offices.
The president had expressed assurances that his second term in office would be better than his first, stressing that he would not only avoid the mistakes of the outgoing four years, but also ensure that the right persons are appointed to carry out the three-pronged agenda of his administration.
One of the national leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and erstwhile Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, recently stirred the hornet’s nest by trying to excuse President Buhari’s dismal outing in the outgoing first term on the stumbling blocks laid on his path by the antagonist tendencies of the National Assembly. Similarly, some political godfathers and jobbers have predicated the president’s assurances of better performance on a furtive plan to bring fresh enthusiasm through a brand new cabinet. This realization must have instigated what could be described as the quiet justling for positions of influence and prominence.
Despite the president’s plan to inject fresh hands into the running of his administration in the next four years, sources disclosed that the petition filed by Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate in the recent poll, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, seems to be prompting a rethink.
Insiders say that the petition is causing sleepless nights for the villa residents.
In the unfolding interrogation of the outcome of the 2019 presidential election, the president is said to be under intense pressure to accommodate more of the outgoing ministers, especially those that worked conscientiously towards his reelection, in the new cabinet so as to limit adverse comments and negative sentiments.
Yet, some of the small battles brewing within the villa continue to be waged by prominent party chieftains and marginal political actors, some of who are bandying closeness to the president. The hidden intentions of these shadow boxers include perceived desire to position themselves for the 2023 calculations, control APC structure, influence the forthcoming NASS election of presiding officers, make the second term cabinet or serve under the presidency’s shadow, otherwise called the cabal.
Not minding the president’s change of mind and insistence on participating in the electioneering for the 2019 election, it remains the thinking of his handlers that age and health might not allow him the vigour to grapple with the rigours of governance.
That sentiment, which was also echoed by President Buhari on his visit to South Africa in 2015, actually informed what befell his administration in the form of the notorious presidency’s cabal. Current situations in the presidency sustain the belief that Buhari still needs the cover of the cabal in spite of the opposition of Aisha, his wife.
Given his withdrawn and aloof demeanour, there would always be need for those who can positively interpret the president’s body language and be able at the same time to fill in the blank spaces of political finesse to reflect the people element.
Sources disclosed that although the president’s 10-day vacation in London would entail “some medicals, the retreat would afford Baba the opportunity to interact with friends of his administration” to situate the tenor of the coming four years, including the latent issue of succession plan.
While hinting that a similar ‘leave’ in the past provided the president with certain nuggets that informed the strategic roadmap for executing his second term ambition, the source refused to disclose the level of involvement and nature of input of ‘foreign experts’.
Those who wish that Buhari’s uncle, Mamman Daura, would no longer feature in the warp and woof of presidency’s politics are terribly mistaken. Daura is going nowhere even as a recalibration of the cabal’s membership remains a possibility.
The recent meeting at the villa, ostensibly convened to give the halo of presidential endorsement of the micro zoning of positions for the National Assembly’s presiding officers is part of the schemes that underscore the unique place of presidential shadows.
The president’s decision to grace the occasion of the meeting with legislators-elect was said to be ‘an empty show’ to humour the protagonists of zoning of the offices of the floor functionaries in a strategic posture to escape blackmail by those who blame him of shunning a similar confabulation on June 9, 2015. Buhari’s close confidants insist that his presence was mere formality rather than signifying his acquiescence or public endorsement of the subtle imposition of National Assembly leaders.
It is perhaps against this background that the jostle for membership of a new cabal has gained traction in recent weeks. And in the ongoing behind-the-scene lobbying, the offices of the Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Government of the Federation have attracted greater intensity intense.
Already, some shadowy power players have been spinning reasons for and against retaining the present occupants of those offices. For instance, the incumbent chief of staff to the president, Abba Kyari is being accused of sidelining former allies of the president in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) during previous appointments and in their place brought his friends and classmates who never participated in electoral battles or contributed to the president’s victory at the polls.On the part of the SGF, he is said to be a beneficiary of an unending supremacy political battle in the Northeast geopolitical zone, particularly in Adamawa State, which saw to the removal of Babachir David Lawal, who was said to be not only very close to Buhari, but also have a clever way of balancing the president’s body language and asserting his political interest against the schemes of power hawks.
Although Lawal is facing trial in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with the grass-cutting scandal of the Presidential Initiative in North East (PINE), the political undertones have resonated in the calls for the replacement of the COS and SGF to give the presidency a clean breath.
In the shaky moves to refresh the presidency cabal, two names have continued to feature prominently: Kaduna State governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai and Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Hussein Adamu. The minister, who hails from Jigawa State, is being touted as possible replacement for Kyari as Chief of Staff.
Adamu, worked closely with the president during his stint as chairman of Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), a principal consultant with Afri-Projects Consortium, the Management Consultants to PTF, where his assignment included planning and preparation of several national infrastructural projects spanning health, education, transportation, agriculture, water resources, and energy sectors.
It is being speculated that el-Rufai settled for a female running mate for the 2019 gubernatorial election that in the event that she becomes deputy governor, Hajia Balarabe could be elevated as governor, while he moves on to the presidency as chief of staff or SGF, thereby having the best of two worlds as de facto governor and presidency insider.
It was based on that probable scenario that the Kaduna governor jocularly dismissed claims that he was jittery over losing his second term bid. He had said then that he has a job reserved for him at the presidency. Should he become chief of staff to the president or SGF, the governor would have made nonsense of the apprehension of other governors nursing 2023 presidential ambition, especially Governor Kashim Shetima, who was said to have been involved in the orchestrated removal of Lawal to advance his own presidential ambition.
But some powerful presidential insiders, including Daura, are said to be opposed to el-Rufai’s move to the presidency, insisting that his political ambition would becloud the performance of the office of chief of staff or even SGF. That is where Adamu seems to have an edge and Boss Mustapha, a reprieve.
Moreover, most of those fighting against el-Rufai’s prominent position in the presidency have been pushing forward arguments, especially reminders of how Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as then SGF began a subtle campaign to replace late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua when signs of his failing health became public knowledge and source of grave national concern.
Although generally acclaimed as methodical and intelligent, the Kaduna State governor has not endeared himself to most northern leaders, especially given what a prominent political actor in the presidency noted as his ‘hotheaded mentality’. It is also believed that his desire to succeed Buhari does not augur well for Northwest cum Northeast balance, as well as the abiding desire of Northeast Buharists for their loyalty and support for the president to be reciprocated in 2023.
Second term team
The outgoing federal cabinet comprises Buhari’s supporters and Tinubu’s protégés. That impression, more than any other consideration, is what the president’s inner men want to change in the second term. A source disclosed that shortly after the February 23, 2019 presidential election results were announced, one APC chieftain from Northwest told Buhari, “You ascribe too much confidence in the influence that man. Have you seen how his selfishness nearly ruined your chances in the Southwest?”
From the foregoing, it could be safely said that any delay in nominating the new cabinet should be blamed not only on pressures from party faithful but on the need to strike a balance, including erasing the perceived “impression that only one man matters in the distribution of positions and rewards” in the ruling party.
Unlike what obtained in the past, those who contributed to APC’s electoral ‘triumph’ in the recent election would be recognized, especially those who had been through thick and thin with the president on his political odyssey. Consequently, some of the current ministers that would definitely not make it back include those who would fall by the wayside for political considerations and not poor performance or graft as being insinuated.
NASS election intrigues
In principle, the nature of the 9th NASS would simulate the present zoning format where the North Central and Northeast produce the Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives. Most APC stalwarts endorse the decision to have the president of the Senate emerge from Northeast, while the deputy comes from South-South.
The decision to have the senate president come from Northeast, The Guardian learned, was predicated on the need to block the chances of incumbent Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, who still enjoys the confidence of his colleagues, posting another surprise. However, certain powerful elements in the Northeast, perhaps based on previous experience, do not overtly want the senate president to come from the zone so as not to obviate the zone’s chances of producing the 2023 presidential candidate of the party.
Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, had reacted to suggestions that a similar zoning of the senate presidency to the North in 1992 paved the way for the ultimate emergence of late Chief MKO Abiola as the presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP). He said: “We are in 2019, and what all of us in APC are looking forward to is a National Assembly that works for all Nigerians based on the agenda that President Buhari has set for us.”
Although the outgoing governors of Yobe and Borno States, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam and Shettima, who incidentally are senators-elect, have publicly endorsed the choice of Lawan as APC’s preferred candidate for the post, sources dismissed their overt support as face-saving, stressing that the two outgoing governors, who are interested in the presidency, are not sincere.
A member of the National Assembly from the Northeast disclosed that while Gaidam feels that he has nothing to lose by supporting Lawan, he is apprehensive that such elevation could undermine his continued relevance in the party both at the state and national levels. On the part of Shettima, the lawmaker said the governor’s support for Lawan is merely to give the impression that he is a good party men, when in fact he is doing so “simply to spite Senator Ali Ndume”.
Knowing that the Senate president would emerge from the Northeast, APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had tried to secure President Buhari’s understanding that his ally Pally Iriase be considered for the position of deputy president of Senate, to which the president was said to have rhetorically observed: “But comrade, you are from Edo. How do you think it would look if the deputy senate president comes from same state? What about the one they call ‘General’?”
There is no doubt that schemes by various interest groups with masked intentions contribute to making Buhari’s second term very intriguing, a development that is being compounded by the president’s inability to put his feet down or outline his strategies.
That also explains why the attempt to zone the speakership to the Southwest is being met with cynicism by the president’s men, who have the feeling that North Central and Southeast are being considered to give semblance of balance anticipated in the president’s second term.
What is the implication of a strong national chairman on the evolving 2023 hysteria? That is part of the questions dogging presidency insiders as they plan ahead for Buhari’s second term. For starters the attempt to replace Mai Malla Buni, the immediate past APC national secretary, has thrown up its own small squabbles in the ruling party. Originally, replacement for Buni, who was favoured to become governor of Yobe State, was planned to come from Borno State, until President Buhari came out with his endorsement of Oshiomhole and the secretary so as to retain some institutional memory in the party’s leadership.
The mood in the party is that replacement of such an important party position should be left for the party’s midterm convention when the president would have overcome the hiccups associated with the second term in office and pending the outcomes of various election petitions.
When the party’s former national publicity secretary and deputy national chairman (Northeast), Lai Mohammed and Babachir Lawal, were appointed minister and SGF respectively, their replacements were introduced through debatable constitutional methods.
In the ongoing efforts to avoid the mistakes of the past, it is not likely that such underhand methods would augur well for the clean image being contemplated for Buhari’s final four years in office.
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