While the Not Too Young To Run Act continues to inspire politically ambitious youths across the country to vie for major political offices, the outcome of the 2019 general election may force some presidential aspirants out into retirement, EMAMEH GABRIEL writes.
As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) widens its search in the North for a marketable presidential candidate to give the incumbent and potential flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari, a fight for his popularity and power of incumbency, the 2019 election might be the last shot at the top office for some of the frontline PDP aspirants.
The major opposition party, which recently formed a coalition with the breakaway faction of the ruling APC (rAPC) and other political parties in the country, is set to conduct its primary elections in a matter of weeks going by the time table recently released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Already, some of the leading aspirants of the PDP who have thrown their hats into the ring for the 2019 presidential race, are currently traversing the length and breath of the country, lobbying in their final efforts to win the party ticket for the plump job.
However, some aspirants who consider the 2019 polls a last chance to get the top job in light of party reforms and clamour for young persons to assume presidential seat in the coming political dispensation.
With the perception of majority of the Nigerian electorate and the ongoing political enlightenment and sensitisation on their part, political parties in Nigeria are gradually gearing toward major internal party reforms to build on their chances of public acceptance.
The PDP had since its shocking defeat in the 2015 general elections, started the process of re-engineering itself as part of its plan to bounce back to political power in 2019. Consequently, the party is poised to find itself making difficult decisions that would either go in favour of the current yearning for fresh, young and digital hands to run the affairs of the country or to use its old structures to wrestle power from the ruling APC, than groom and prepare the next generation of political leaders.
Among those who have indicated interest are former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar (71), Ibrahim shekarau, Ibrahim Dankwambo (56), Sule Lamido (70), Taminu Turaki, Senator Ahmed Makarfi (62), Datti Baba-Ahmed, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa (68), Rabiu Kwankwaso (62), Aminu Tambuwal (53) have all intensified lobbies toward fortifying their chances of winning the party ticket.
Although the PDP is believed to have decided to trim down the number of its presidential aspirants as its primary election draws closer, apart from Atiku and others who are at the range of 60 year and below, it is not clear as to who would be stepping down for the other.
So far, among the front liners are Atiku Tambuwal, Kwankwaso, Dankwambo and Lamido.
However, given the age of some of the major aspirants, 2019 might be their last chance if they lose the ticket or the presidential election.
Although the PDP has only limited its presidential ticket to 40 years and above, the Not Too Young To Run Bill recently signed by the President is gradually gaining momentum as youths across the country using such as the new instrument to aggregate their chances of taking over leadership from those who they said have not only failed to better the nation’s fortune but persistently continue to recycle themselves in power since independence.
The notion is to give the next generation of leaders, the very demography of the nation’s human capital potential, a considerable leadership space to lead.
While this will of course be an issue of contention for the PDP in considering who flies the party’s flag in 2019, it will be the last chance for some of its presidential aspirants who have both the financial war chest and political structure to create the upset against a Buhari candidacy in 2019.
If there is any one in Nigeria who had tirelessly contested presidential elections close to Buhari or even more with his recent official declaration, is Atiku Abubakar. The former vice president has shown in the past few months through his wide consultations that the presidency is his destination in 2019, leaving many asking whether the Adamawa born political tactician has a chance this time around given the wave of younger northern politicians who have also thrown their hats into the ring.
Clearly, Atiku is a colossus in presidential election contests in the country, just as he is not unfamiliar with the nation’s political terrain. He has contested for Nigeria’s number one seat four times within the past two decades. Although, the Turaki of Adamawa has never won any presidential primary, he looks very set to give all his best to make the difference this time, knowing it might be his last chance to drive home his presidential ambition.
Atiku registered himself into the nation’s political landscape during his first expedition into presidential election contest in 1993. He sought for the plum job on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) but emerged third after late MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the primaries of the party.
In 1998, he contested and won the governorship of Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But while still waiting to be sworn into office, he was however picked by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as his running mate. They went into the election and won in 1999 and were sworn into office on May 29, the same year.
Atiku had since then contested presidential primaries in three different occasions and the last was against Buhari and Kwankwaso where he trailed the latter with a wide margin.
Subsequently he left the APC for the PDP, having realised that the party he helped build with other powerful forces may not guarantee him a ticket in 2019 with the rumour that Buhari may seek a re-election in 2019.
With the PDP zoning its presidential ticket to the North and with the rumour of the APC handing power to the South-East, where the agitation for sovereign state of Biafra has been a national concern, after Buhari’s second term, the gladiators in the zone are already positioning themselves for the presidency in 2023.
This will be one of the greatest challenges Atiku or any other contestant from the North would be confronted with in convincing the power brokers in the South that he would serve for a single term in office and quit in 2023.
Reason is that, learning from history and political tradition, it has mostly been proven that every incumbent president the world over, except in rare cases, always seek a second term in office. So, even though most of the ruling elites in the South are on the same page with Atiku and others in the PDP on the issue of restructuring, they may not queue behind him in 2019 if Buhari is running. The fear that an Atiku presidency might stretch till 2027 would be a factor to reckon with in the South come 2019.
Besides this permutation, Atiku will no doubt find it difficult battling with the likes of Senator Kwankwanso who defeated him in the 2014 APC presidential primary held in Lagos, and Aminu Tambuwal who appear to be a favourite from some quarters. The duo of Kwankwaso and Tambuwal are young politicians in their early 50s and 60s with large followership in the North and are likely going cause Atiku’s some challenges.
The implication of all of these is that if Atiku fails to win the PDP 2019 presidential ticket, it will amount to sending him to compulsory retirement. This is so because the former vice president will be 72 by 2019 after the general election and would be 80 by the time any of his party members may have finished the second term in office if the PDP eventually wins the presidential election and so 88 by the time the ticket is zoned back to the north.
If Buhari is eventually returned, which is still very possible, Atiku would be close to 77 by the time Buhari finishes his second term in office and 85 or more by the time the ticket returns from the South-east.
Although his supporters believe that 2019 provides the best opportunity for his presidential ambition, Atiku has no other better time than now, however the odds and time are really against him.
Atiku’s returned to the party with the hope of clinching the ticket of the party. But he may meet an uphill task though many believe the advantage of his financial clout may put him ahead of other aspirants. Since PDP has zoned the presidential ticket of the party to the North; Atiku whose supporters may slug it out with other aspirant from the zone.
Like Atiku, Sule Lamido who joined Nigerian politics in the Second Republic, would be 70 this month. What that entails is that if the PDP ticket eludes the former Jigawa State Governor, his presidential ambition, just like others of his age who may join the race, would be put to halt.
Lamido is confident that the PDP ticket is almost at his grip but can he swing the pendulum in his favour when the likes of Atiku with better structure still have their fate hanging off the balance.
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