With less than two years to 2019, politicking has started in earnest, with pocket bangs of political knockouts here and there from the gladiators who have been campaigning subtly. Already, recent comments by the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, has pitched President Muhammadu Buhari’s camp against that of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH writes on the intrigues.
Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, drew the ire of President Muhammadu Buhari’s supporters and her party, the All Progressives Congress ( APC), when she declared that she would rather support her political mentor, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in 2019.
“Atiku is my godfather even before I joined politics and again, Baba Buhari did not tell us that he is going to run in 2019. 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 in your government as a minister but Baba just like you know, I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather”, she said, while declaring support for Atiku.
President Buhari’s men and the APC consider her action as the highest form of betrayal and are calling on her to resign from the cabinet. Party bigwigs, including governors and leaders of the governing APC have been unanimous in telling her that the humble thing she should have done is to tow the part of honour and resign.
It is no secret that Atiku is nursing the ambition of contesting the presidential election come 2019. The former Vice president has been a serial contestant since 1993 for the presidency and 2019 is seen as his last chance to clinch the presidency.
Besides, his campaign for restructuring is seen as a weapon to woo the South for the 2019 election. The campaign for restructuring had grown louder, with the South championing the course. Southern leaders declared recently that Nigeria will disintegrate before 2019 if the country is not restructured. The former Vice president has been singing restructuring in all public foras. According to political analysts, restructuring will be the major campaign weapon in 2019.
Presently, Atiku is seen as the only person in the North with the war chest and networks to challenge Buhari in 2019. Last week, in a move seen as last ditch efforts to dump the APC in furtherance of his presidential bid, he said he had been side-lined by Buhari’s government which he helped into power in 2015. In an interview with Hausa Service of the Voice of America (VOA), Atiku said he had been sidelined despite the fact that he used his contacts and resources to defeat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015.
“Honestly speaking, I’m still a member of the APC; I was part of all the processes, including campaigns until success was achieved. But sadly, soon after the formation of government, I was side-lined. I have no any relationship with the government. I’ve not been contacted even once to comment on anything and in turn, I maintained my distance. They used our money and influence to get to where they are but three years down the lane, this is where we are”, Atiku said.
President Buhari, on the other hand, rode to power on the wind of change and two years down the line, things seem not to be going according to plan. With the economy plunging in and out of recession and separatist agitators threatening the unity of the country, it has been a bumpy ride. The president’s health condition has also affected governance as he has been out of the country for four out of the nine months this year has consumed.
Keen observers of the polity posit that the president may not contest the 2019 election. The thinking is that his ill health and age may rule him out of the race. However, the president’s return and his energy in recent days have shown that he could as well be a top gunner for the job in 2019.
According to a source, President Buhari contesting the 2019 election is the only guarantee of APC winning the presidency and at the same time keep the party together. He said even the major opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), knows too well that with Buhari flying the APC flag in 2019, its chances of winning the presidency is very slim because no Northerner in the opposition can stand Buhari in 2019.
“Presenting Buhari in 2019 is the only guarantee APC has of winning the 2019 election. When he came back from London last month you could see he has not lost his popularity as widely speculated. The president is still loved by the masses. Don’t forget that the president is the one holding the party together. If he fails to contest, the party may scatter as the different interest groups in the party may fuel crisis that could lead to an implosion.
Also, a top official of the PDP confided in this paper that leaders of the major opposition party are praying that Buhari should not contest in 2019 because they are planning to field a Northern candidate in 2019 and they know no Northern candidate can stand Buhari’s popularity in the North at the moment.
But there are indications that some governors and ministers are trying to convince the president to contest in 2019. Speaking to State House correspondents on Friday, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El- Rufai, said governors and ministers whom he described as Buharists would wait for President Buhari to show them the direction to go if he would not contest the 2019 presidential election.
He said, however, that they were all fervently praying that Buhari should seek re-election come the next general election.
He said, “Look, my name has continuously been mentioned as a presidential aspirant since 2007 after my years in the FCT. There is nothing new about that. What I want to say here very, very clearly is that I have never been a presidential aspirant. I have never even been a gubernatorial aspirant.
“I am governor today by the grace of God because President Buhari called me and said go and run for governor of Kaduna State. As far as 2019 is concerned, my position is the president is looking very well; he is recuperating very fast. My hope and prayer is that he will contest in 2019.
“Everything that our group is doing, and we have a group. We have a Buharist amongst governors and ministers. Our group wants to ensure that President Buhari runs in 2019. If he chooses not to run he will tell us which direction to go. We are Buharists; we don’t have any personal ambition, we don’t have any personal aspiration and we are waiting for him to decide.
“And we know many people that have already started campaigning. They want to tag some of us as part of the problem and we are ready for them. But our political ideology is to support whatever President Buhari wants to support; that has not changed. And I want to assure you that whatever names you hear, Nasir El-Rufai is not an aspirant for the presidency, neither is any of the governors that are known to be Buharists as well as some of the ministers that are known from time”.
On comments attributed to the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Aisha Alhassan, to the effect that she would not support President Buhari if he chose to contest for a second term, el Rufai noted that the woman was just being herself as she had never been a supporter of Buhari at an time.
He said, “The Minister of Women Affairs, Jummai Alhassan, has been in the Students Union. In the APC she was never in the Buhari camp. She did not support our candidate during the national convention. She didn’t vote for Buhari during the primaries. But out of largeness of the President’s heart and to encourage women in politics, he felt that even though she was never a supporter of his politics nor his beliefs or ideologies, and what she has tried to do in Taraba, he felt she earned being nominated as a minister.
“Many in Buhari’s camp did not support it but he overruled everybody because that is how he is; he tries to be inclusive, he considers every Nigerian his own son or daughter and he nominated her to be minister.
“Her comments are not surprising, she has never been a supporter, she has never believed in the Buhari ideology. So, I am not surprised and as a Nigerian, as an individual she has every right to express her views and support whoever she wants.
“But what I am saying is Nigerians should not be surprised or shocked. This has always been her position because from time she has never supported Buharism or what Buhari stands for. Being part of Buhari’s government is a different thing because government sets policies and if you are a minister you execute the policies. You can execute those policies while pursuing a different brand of politics. And it is okay; there is no problem with that”.
On whether he thought Buhari should retain Alhassan, el Rufai stated: “It is the president’s prerogative. Look, you can retain a person in the cabinet even if he doesn’t support you but adds value to the country because this is a government. It is not a political grouping that we are fighting for some political progress. If Jummai Alhassan is performing as Minister of Women Afairs and adding value to the government and the people of Nigeria, it is the president’s prerogative to retain her in spite of her political views. But if she is not adding value in spite of her political views she can be dispensed with. That is the president’s decision. I don’t think people should get worried about it. I have worked closely with the president, I know him and I know how he thinks. He doesn’t take this things personally or to heart. What is primary to him is Nigeria’s progress and how well the government is doing and what everyone is contributing. That is what matters ultimately”.
On his part, Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun who is one of the president’s staunch ally in the South West said only ill health will stop the president from contesting in 2019. The governor stated this in Abeokuta shortly after attending a book launch put together to mark the one year anniversary of the death of renowned educationist, Chief Lamidi Sofenwa.
He said, “If President Buhari and his administration had not come in time with rescue mission, only God knows where Nigeria would have been today. On this 2019, for me, the only thing that can probably prevent Mr. President from contesting is ill -health because if not for this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari only God knows where Nigeria would have been today.
“As humans, we quickly forget things. If we could be fair to this administration, they came in at a time the country was plunged into a very deep end and imagine where the country is today. We were in recession and now we are out of it and it not easy to get to this point.
“Again, I am saying it, the only thing that can stop Mr. President is ill- health. But as we can see today, Mr. President is back, rejuvenating and very soon, it would be clear for everybody to see that Mr. President is so well now.
“Meanwhile, nobody will take the fact that from the three cardinal points he set for himself, this administration has been doing tremendously well in the area of security. We all know that nothing good can happen in any country without adequate security.
“Yes, some people are saying Boko Haram has not yet been conquered but if you look at America and put into consideration how many years it took them to win the war against Osama Bin Laden among others you will know that this administration should be applauded as far as security is concerned.
“The same thing in our economy. Just look at our agriculture for instance; it has never been this good. At least I am a governor and this is my seventh year. This is the first time that Nigeria is truly diversifying.”
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