Senate President Bukola Saraki stirred the hornet nest when he hinted last week that he was considering vying for the highest political office in the land in the 2019 presidential election. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH, in this report, dissects the arguments for and against his presidential bid.
“I am consulting and actively considering it …I believe I can make the change.” These were the words of Senate President Bukola Saraki while giving a hint on his presidential ambition in an interview with Bloomberg last week. Since he granted that interview to the foreign media organisation, there have been a mixed grill of opinions on Saraki’s bid. It is no secret that the former governor of Kwara State wants to become president of Nigeria. In the last few weeks, his stock has risen considerably. The son of the late strong man of Kwara politics has gained a reputation as a master strategist. His political base has further strengthened by the public sympathy he attracted to himself by being projected by his spin doctors as as one who suffers persecution in the hands of the executive.
If he eventually makes up his mind to contest, Saraki will be the 11th person in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who has indicated interest in the presidency. It is instructive to note that In 2011, he had indictated interest in the highest position in the land and was among the Northern consensus candidates, including former military president, Ibrahim Babangida; former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led ‘17 wise men’ commitee was mandated with the task of getting a consensus candidate for the North to square up against former President Goodluck Jonathan in the PDP presidential primaries. The committee finally settled for Atiku Abubakar as the Northern consensus candidate.
According to political analysts, Saraki is qualified to be president of Nigeria, having been governor for eight years, a federal lawmaker in the Senate since 2011 and crowning it up with the Senate presidency in 2015. Saraki who has had a turbulent reign as Senate president was recently given a clean bill of health by the Supreme Court in his asset declaration case.
Saraki recently defected to the PDP after months of speculations. According to some keen observers of the polity, his defection was driven by his unquenchable desire to contest the presidency on the platform of the PDP. Presidential hopefuls in the PDP include Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ahmed Makarfi, Senator Datti Baba – Ahmed, Aminu Tambuwal among others.
Giving the hint of his presidential bid last week, Saraki said he believed he can “make the change.” He pointed out that, while the PDP has learnt its lesson from its defeat in the 2015 elections, the APC did not learn any lesson from its victory.
Saraki stated that while his group was negotiating with the PDP, it raised a number of issues. The Senate President said, “We talked about how to sustain and improve the fight against corruption; the issue of providing more powers to the states; inclusion and having a more nationalistic approach to things we do; to continue to improve the environment that will ensure investments. We listed a number of items during the discussions with the PDP, and there is a written agreement to that. We trust that we can hold them to that.
“We would ensure that the party is strong on security. The APC too has not done well on the issue of security. We have the opportunity with the right kind of presidential candidate and the president to provide the leadership for the party. The party has a good opportunity to lead the country in the right direction.”
Political observers contend however that Saraki’s presidential bid may not fly in the present circumstances. The thinking is that a Saraki will lose abysmally against a President Muhammadu Buhari in the general elections. They point to a number of factors, including that even though he is from the North Central, he is from the Yoruba speaking part of Kwara State. In the core North, he is regarded as a Yoruba man and if he chooses a running mate from the South East or South South, the ticket will be viewed in the North as a pure southern ticket. This, they argue will aliniate Northern voters. In the South West, Saraki is viewed as a Gambari man and not a true Yoruba man. The only places he can command votes is in the South South, South East and Kwara. He may not even get bloc votes in the North Central region. The PDP may not want to risk a Saraki presidency at this crucial moment of fierce power struggle.
On the other hand, some keen observers of the polity argue that President Buhari is still the man to beat in 2019. Irrespective of his performance or the lack of it, his “duende”, like the Spanish would say, is is still very strong, especially in the North.
The PDP is targeting a candidate from Buhari’s stronghold in the North West to challenge the president in 2019 and according to reports, the PDP presidential ticket is a straight fight between Kwankwaso and Tambuwal who are both from the North West.
No matter what people say, ethnicity and religion still play a major part in elections and this will definitely play a major role in the 2019 elections. Fielding a Saraki as its presidential candidate in 2018 is a big risk that the PDP may not want to take.
But there is another school of thought that contends that Nigeria should move away from ethnicity and religion. They aver that Saraki fits the bill of a modern politician who is sauve, articulate and brilliant. Some argue that Saraki’s hint at contesting the presidency is a just bait for an insurance policy against further attacks and persecution from the executive.
But will Saraki take the bold step and contest for the presidency? This is the big political question yawning for answer on the lips of Nigerians. But whether the Kwara born polittical crafstman will brave the odds and plung himself into the pool of the presidential contest or chicken out when the chips are down is left for only time to tell.