With the rapid fire approach his support groups are adopting in garnering support for his second term bid, it is becoming clearer by the day that President Muhammadu Buhari would run for the presidency in 2019. In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH attempts a political arithmetic on the permutations and calculations ahead of the forthcoming presidential poll.
In political climes, it is the norm for governors and presidents to seek a second term in office. They have the right of first refusal even, in advanced democracies. American president, Donald Trump was sworn into office on January 24 this year but there are already talks of him contesting for a second term in 2021.
In Nigeria, talks about Buhari’s second term are done in hushed voices since the president has not indicated interest in contesting the 2019 election. Some political observers have likened him to former South African president, Nelson Mandela who served just one term, laid a solid foundation and anointed a successor to carry on his legacies.
But when his support groups under the umbrella body of National Committee of Buhari Support Groups (NCBSG) suddenly appeared in the details some months ago, the political equation changed. The activities of the NCBSG of recent seem to be unsettling those not comfortable with a Buhari 2019 presidency, including some big wigs in the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The arrowhead of the Buhari 2019 presidency and national chairman of the NCBSG, Senator Abu Ibrahim, who activated the support groups, zone by zone, appears not to he relenting. Political analysts aver that the APC federal lawmaker representing Katsina South senatorial district is going about it as if the president’s second term bid fulfils all life’s ambition. Working assiduously behind the scene with the NCBSG, Senator Ibrahim is tacitly getting state governors and political leaders across the geopolitical zones to endorse the president for 2019.
It became even clearer that President Buhari would run for the 2019 presidency when he openly endorsed the NCBSG. A delegation of the committee of the support groups, led by Senator Abu Ibrahim had in October paid him a courtesy visit in Aso Rock last month. Buhari told the delegation of the committee of 189 support groups that worked for his election in 2015 that their work at this time require a lot more of sacrifices, both physical and material.
He commended the support groups working for the progress of his administration, saying posterity will reward their sacrifices for the peace, progress and prosperity of the nation. A statement, signed by the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, quoted Buhari as saying, “I am grateful for your sacrifices. Your work requires a lot of sacrifices, both physical and material. I do not think anybody will join this organisation for material reasons. What you are doing is for the nation and not for me as an individual. Therefore, there is no way you can lose because what you are doing is for posterity”.
Apprising the president of their activities, the NCBSG said they would continue to engage in the production of detailed sector-specific documentaries, programmes, policies and achievements of the administration. In a PowerPoint presentation, the group told the president that they had a massive, diverse, grassroots base, which would strive to mobilise young Nigerians to become drivers of the programmes and achievements of the Change administration.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the closed door meeting with the president, Senator Ibrahim said members of the national committee of the Buhari support groups have had series of meetings discussing the problems of the country and that they came to the villa to intimate the president of the outcome of their meetings.
He said, “We came here as members of the national committee of the Buhari support group. This is an amalgamation of about 189 different support groups that had worked for President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC to win the 2015 general election.
“We have been holding meetings, discussing the problems of this country, Nigeria. So, we thought it was high time we met with the President to intimate him about the activities of the group. We discussed with him about the plans to improve the situation in Nigeria. Mr President was very pleased with our programmes”.
He further said the support groups would encourage President Buhari to contest for the 2019 election because they believe in his philosophy. “We believe in his philosophy and we believe he can solve the problems of this nation. He can ensure the progress, stability and prosperity of this nation”, Ibrahim said.
But the argument by those opposed to the Buhari 2019 presidency is that he will be 76 by 2019 and may not have the power and stamina to undergo vigorous campaign in 2018 and early 2019. The thinking is that the president has been suffering from health challenges, which have kept him away for four out of 11 months spent in this year alone. However, the president has recovered significantly in the last few weeks.
There were also reports of political meetings while the president was away in the United Kingdom since it was believed that he may not come back and even if he does, he will resign. Scheming for who will emerge the vice president to Osinbajo and fly the party’s flag in 2019 had even reached a crescendo.
But while the surreptitious meetings were in top gear in Buhari’s absence, the Senator Abu Ibrahim-led NCBSG were busy activating the support groups and holding meetings from one geopolitical zone to the other, in preparation to kick-start the campaign for the president’s second term bid. Where others saw hope dimming for the Buhari presidency, the NCBSG rekindled hope for Nigerians, assuring them that the best is yet to come in the Change Agenda of the president. And like the cat with nine lives, Buhari came back looking healthier than ever.
Like Chinua Achebe’s proverbial toad which does not run in the day time for nothing, recent activities by the president’s support groups indicates that he will be running for a second term. The endorsement of the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups by the president himself and the recent commissioning of the NCBSG office by some governors and ministers, is a pointer to the fact that a second term for Buhari is in the offing.
Besides, keen observers believe that Buhari’s promise during the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the APC that he will appoint more ministers into his cabinet is another 2019 political card. LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that the president is set to appoint eight new ministers, one from each geopolitical zone and one from Lagos and Kano. The new ministers, it was learnt, will be core politicians who can mobilise voters from their states and regions in preparation for 2019.
The president also visited Ebonyi and Anambra States last week. This was the first time he would be visiting the South East since he became president in 2015. The South East has been protesting over alleged marginalisation, saying they feel ostracised by the Buhari administration. But in the last few weeks, the president, by his actions, has turned on the charm-offensive, trying to woo the region.
There are keen observers of the polity who posit that Buhari is the only person that can win the presidency in 2019 for the APC. The thinking is that no matter how bad or well the president has performed, he still has a massive following in the North, given the kind of crowd the NCBSG has been pulling in the zones that the support groups have held their zonal meetings so far. They argue that no Northern politician can match the president in the region. The jubilation across the states in the North when Buhari came back from his medical vacation also proved he still holds the ace in the North.
So far, no Northerner in the APC has indicated interest in contesting the presidency. It is an established fact that former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, will contest the presidency in 2019 but not on the platform of the APC. The calculation in the APC is that, with Osinbajo as the running mate, the South West will vote for Buhari since the South East and South South are still regarded as opposition territory. Besides, there is the possibility that the PDP will zone the vice president slot to the South East or South South.
Considering the activities of the NCBSG, even the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is praying fervently that the APC does not present Buhari as its candidate in 2019. The fear of the major opposition in the country is that at the moment, it cannot boast of an eligible Northern candidate it will present that can stand Buhari in the North. PDP believes that if APC mistakenly presents another Northerner apart from Buhari for 2019, it has a good chance of clinching the presidency.
But pundits posit that PDP’s fear tends to be a bad dream that may soon unfold into a pleasant reality. This, they said, is more so when it is considered that even state governors under the party’s platform are beginning to endorse Buhari for a second term. Recently, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, who is an opposition governor, endorsed the president’s second term bid. He told journalists in Aso Rock that as far as he wishes a second term for himself, he also wishes same for the president.
Acknowledging this, chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum and Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, recently declared that all but two governors in the country are in support of a second term for President Buhari. Okorocha said this while addressing leaders of the Democratic Youths Congress for Buhari 2019, who visited him at Government House, Owerri on Tuesday. He urged every Nigerian to support Buhari for a second term, saying there is no “better man for the job than Buhari”.
He said, “People should not use the Anambra election result to judge the support for Buhari as it does not reflect the support. Even the government and people of Anambra support President Buhari, what happened was that an internal disagreement among the leaders in APC in Anambra cost us the election”.
Also, the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups pulled more endorsement for Buhari from state governors at its North Central meeting in Abuja on Tuesday. Governors and some political leaders from the North central geo-political zone called on President Buhari to seek re-election in the 2019 general election.
They vowed that they are not prepared to persuade or preach to him, but that they will compel him to re-contest because there is no other person who can come up for now to sustain the change and economic growth taking place in the country at present other than President Buhari
Prominent among those who called on Buhari to seek a second term in office, were Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State and Senator George Akume. The motion at the meeting for Buhari to contest for second term in office was moved by Senator George Akume and seconded by Governor Lalong of Plateau State. The audience, comprising members of the NCBSG from the zone, unanimously adopted the motion.
Citing reasons for their decision, Senator Akume listed successes in the fight against terrorism, economic recovery, sustenance of democracy, restoration of Nigeria’s reputation in the comity of nations, and Buhari’s personal integrity and patriotism as justification for their call. Lending his voice to the discussion, Governor Ortom said “for 2019, there is no credible presidential candidate for the APC other than Buhari”.
There at the meeting, President Buhari again endorsed the NCBSG. In a speech delivered on his behalf by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, he assured the NCBSG that the economy is set to be on a better pedestal following steps already taken by government in that regard.
Buhari stated: “We are convinced of the need to establish a firm foundation upon which a united, peaceful and prosperous nation can be built by, and for, this and succeeding generations of Nigerians. I remain very grateful to all Nigerians for their patience and understanding as we go through the difficult steps necessary to achieve this objective…. Toward this end, we shall continue to count on the unflinching support and understanding of every area, especially those of you who trooped out to convince fellow countrymen and women of our sincere commitment to the course of Nigeria”.
However, there appears to be discordant tunes coming from the APC camp on Buhari’s second term bid. On the day it was reported that North Central governors and the NCBSG in the zone endorsed Buhari, national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was also in the news saying President Muhammadu Buhari cannot get an automatic ticket for the 2019 presidential election. This is also less than 24 hours after Governor Okorocha said 34 governors had endorsed Buhari for a second term.
Speaking in Akure, capital of Ondo State, Tinubu said, “Governors cannot appropriate the power of endorsement to themselves”. The APC leader maintained that leadership of the APC had not endorsed Buhari as its sole candidate for 2019. He added that the flagbearer of the ruling party in the 2019 presidential election would emerge through a democratic process.
“Buhari that I know, who says he will lose at any convention? But if the national body, the national executive committee and all of us as members endorsed him as our single candidate, we would not be violating INEC regulations; we would not be violating our party constitution. What you are hearing is just a campaign by other people who might like to do so”, the former Lagos State governor said.
Political watchers say they are trying tediously to fathom the motive behind Tinubu’s remark on the president’s second term bid. They hold strongly that if what he said is anything to the contrary, then he may just as well be one of the party leaders who is seen with the president in the day and work against him at night.
As it stands at the moment, Buhari’s second term bid is indisputable. The presidency also confirmed this during the week when it said the president is as fit as a fiddle to seek re-election for the presidency in 2019. Presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu spoke on Monday morning when they appeared on Arise News Channel.
Shehu said, “That is the perfect answer but if you ask that question: is he good enough, is he fit enough? I can tell you the president is very well and good enough to go”.
Also, in an opinion piece he wrote recently, Adesina stated that Buhari personally rejected the motion to endorse him for 2019 during the NEC meeting of the APC.
Adesina wrote: “I was there (APC NEC meeting). The atmosphere was friendly, almost convivial. At a point, someone moved a motion of confidence in the Buhari administration.
“The seconder, a former state governor, added to the motion, seeking an endorsement of the President as candidate for second term in 2019. As he raised the motion, I saw the President gesturing, with his two palms downwards.
“The gestures meant, please, cool down, not now. This is premature. And the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, weighed in, accepting the motion of confidence, and deferring the one on automatic candidacy. Everyone was satisfied”.
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