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Political North, President Buhari and options for 2019

By Leo Sobechi
11 March 2018   |   2:10 am
There is a desperate voice crying in the north that only those who are careful about socio-political engineering could understand it. From the look of things, it would take much conscious effort to address the nagging socio-economic options open to the once strong north.

President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: BAYO OMOBORIOWO

There is a desperate voice crying in the north that only those who are careful about socio-political engineering could understand it. From the look of things, it would take much conscious effort to address the nagging socio-economic options open to the once strong north. At the base of this problem of what the future holds for a united northern Nigeria is what becomes of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Presidency as the country moves forward to the election year 2019.

While some die-hard optimists believe that the 2019 Presidential poll is a sure banker for the incumbent, there are countless others in the north, who believe that President Buhari’s repeat Presidency in 2019 would put the north at the mercy of vagaries of unsteady national perception of both his performance and leadership style.

And this is where the staggering questions arise: Would President Buhari’s second term guarantee a better deal for the north or create another scenario that tends towards an unexpected power shift? Would the north be better in a restructured or troubled Nigeria? In the event of an inconclusive Presidential poll or rigged election that could trigger crisis, would the north find things easy in the light of Boko Haram insurgency?

The South, notably Southeast, South/south and Southwest have recently hinted that restructuring remains the lowest common condition for the continued existence of Nigeria as a united country.

The clamour for restructure has assumed a national stature so much so that most of the naysayers have began to see some positive sides to it. In an interview with The Guardian, Katsina State governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, said he decided on proactive educational development, as well as, prudential management of resources in readiness for the possible effects of restructuring.

Indeed, insecurity is turning back the hand of the clock back regarding achievements recorded and planned strategies. Against that mounting challenge, the politics of the region has assumed a new dimension. The reality on the ground is that the Buhari Presidency has gone a long a way to redefine the politics of the region. While the President cultivates amity with some opposition state governors, he fails to discourage the subtle division in the north between those governors that identify themselves as Buharists and others, who are forced to tag along in the interest of party loyalty. It is this later group of governors that loathe supporting President Buhari’s second term.

And amid that silent division within the APC is the socio-economic condition of the people in the region. Most observers have expressed the belief that the cycle of violence and discontent, particularly between farmers and cattle herders, are but manifestations of citizen discontent and response to their socio-economic situation under the Buhari administration.

President Buhari had alluded to the pernicious association of his regime with suffering of the poor by declaiming that it would have been worse if not that he came to power in 2015. Whether the elite lay credence to his assertions or not is immaterial, because as could be seen during his visits to states, large crowds throng his path as a measure of his unaffected popularity.

In The Eyes Of Elders
There is no gainsaying the fact that some northern elders have seen some scary signs in the polity, which warranted their meeting in Abuja last month. In their wisdom, these farsighted politicians formulated two issues, bordering on economics and politics, which they believe present imminent challenges to the region.

The Northern Leaders and Stakeholders Assembly (NLSA), which was co-convened on February 10, 2018 by three eminent politicians from Northwest, North central and Northeast, namely Dr. Bello Mohammed, Senator Ibrahim Mantu and Senator Paul Wampana, inaugurated five committees to look into the various challenges facing the region.

Most importantly, one of the standing committees was charged with evolving strategies for a peaceful conduct of the 2019 election in the country. And, although its chairman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai described the Assembly as a non-partisan political organisation, the coming together of the leadership stakeholders underscores the central role politics occupies in statecraft.

That could also be reason why the leaders decided to set up separate committees for Northern unity, Elections and Restructuring. Yet, among the five standing committees, it is the one on elections that conjures the sense of urgency. While explaining the adoption of Northern Leaders Stakeholders Assembly from Northern Elders and Stakeholders Conversation, under which it was convened, Yakassai denied that the immediate challenge of the organisation is not selection of a consensus Presidential candidate for the 2019 election.

Yet, despite the large coast charted for the committees, the fact that partisan politicians were selected to chair three important standing committees, created the impression that NLSA was motivated by political considerations. For instance, former Adamawa State Governor, Boni Haruna, chairs the Political committee, while former Speaker of House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’abba, and Senator Jeremiah Useni, were put in charge of Election and Northern Unity respectively.

These committees would be involved in the March 15 enlarged meeting to deliberate on issues revolving around the 2019. But having denied that the issue of consensus candidate was not in its immediate mandate, the NLSA would without doubt look into the political developments in the country, as well as x-ray the strengths and weaknesses of the major political parties.

President Buhari’s Perspectives
AS a former military officer, President Buhari seems to be under no illusions that the whole talks about strengthening the northern political unity has nothing to do with inferences on his past three years in office. The President is under intense pressure by his close allies to seek another term in office, while some of his close relatives remind him of the need to call it a day and return to family and take care of his health.

Recently, APC governors met with the President and formulated reasons why he should seek another term to drive home the wonderful work he started in the areas of fight against corruption and insurgency. The governors were also said to have reminded the President that he looks healthier and stronger than ever before, assuring that God has kept him to “continue the good work you are doing.”

The Presidency had once indicated that two issues that would determine whether the President would go for a second term are Buhari and his health. It would be recalled that the President had personally confessed shortly after his return from a prolonged medical vacation abroad that he has “never been this sick” all his entire life. He also disclosed that his doctors advised that he fills his stomach with food and takes plenty of rest.

Perhaps, it was as a result of that recuperation and doctors’ advise that the aura of a cabal looms large amid general perception that certain persons unknown to the constitution are indeed performing the functions of the President. Nonetheless, against the background of the second leg of APC governors’ plea namely, that he nominates anyone for them for the 2019 Presidential election that the President began what an insider described as a discreet search for a credible candidate to fly the party’s flag in 2019.

The source explained that the President expressed worries about the likelihood of the opposition PDP coming back to power, stressing that while he weighs the odds against his reelection, he has penciled three persons that could serve as his backup plan.

According to the source, three governors, both serving and former, from northwest and northeast are those the President has been interfacing with. “The unique thing about what the President is doing is that not all of these persons belong to the APC, but they are politicians he has interacted with closely in the past,” the source declared. He said that one of the three, who is involved in plans to rejig northern solidarity, was invited to the Presidency shortly before the President traveled to Ghana.Although the source could not say whether the President’s scout was limited to the three persons already contacted, how the development would affect the calculations for 2019 is left to be seen, especially against the background of the division within the fold of APC governors.

The Necessity Of Consensus
WHETHER President Buhari seeks another term or not, the reality on the ground as sufficiently argued by the NLSA is that the north needs to build consensus around a candidate in 2019. The assembly has indicated that the matter would be pursued effectively after the prospective presidential aspirants emerge on different political parties.

However, one thing is clear and that is that the north does not want to have a President from the region that would be dancing to the dictates of outside interests. Part of the assignment of NLSA is therefore to raise relevant data and marshal strategies that could be of help to the next President, whoever it is going to be, to tackle the myriad challenges facing the region. With a plethora of political movements springing up, signs of how far the north would go in ensuring that it throws up a national acceptable and capable candidate would begin to emerge when the Political committee meets next Thursday. All said and done, the heat is really on the north, not only for 2019, but also beyond.

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