CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes on the stance of former military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), about the age of the next president and some of the perceived contenders in the race.
Former military president Gen Ibrahim Babangida made no pretenses when he described whom he thinks the next president of Nigeria should be, thereby setting the tone for the 2023 presidential election.
There was no better time to do so than on his 80th birthday which afforded him the opportunity to speak on national issues not just as an elder statesman but much more as someone who controlled the reins of power at the highest level in the past.
One aspect of his intervention, among others, that really got many Nigerians talking was his proposition during an interview on Arise TV, that Nigeria’s next president should be in his 60s.
He said, “I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. That is, a person, who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with.
“That is a person, who is very versed in economics and is also a good politician, who should be able to talk to Nigerians and so on. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in his sixties.” he said.
Babangida’s suggestion was widely interpreted as excluding the national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and former vice president Atiku Abubakar from the 2023 presidential race.
Tinubu and Atiku’s presidential ambitions have been rife even though they have not publicly declared their interest.
While Atiku, who is 75 years old, will be 77 in 2023, Tinubu, who celebrated his 68th birthday last March, will be 70 years old by the next election.
Although the former military president clarified that he didn’t rule anybody out of the race, he insisted on the age mark for the next president.
“You the media misquoted me to say that I said Atiku and Tinubu should not contest in 2023. I never mentioned anybody. I just talked about what I think we should be looking for in the next President.
“My take is that at the age of around 60 years, the person must have been a public servant, private entrepreneur, a professional and would have acquired a lot of experience to rule the country. That is all; I did not say it to rule out anybody,” he said.
Still, some pundits would argue that a highpoint of the maiden edition of IBB legacy dialogue, a product of the IBB and Maryam Babangida Presidential Library to mark his birthday, was a tutorial for the next president as former government functionaries who served under his tenure, reflected on his leadership style.
However, since the former president’s intervention on the matter, the searchlight on who fits the bill seems to have started regardless of political party and geographical disposition.
Although most of them have not publicly declared their ambition to seek the top job, prospects of their joining the race are high considering the fact that the position will be open.
Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, 58, would be 60 years old by 2023. The minister, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has served as governor of Lagos State for eight years, where he significantly distinguished himself. His emergence as minister is said to be on the back of his performance as governor. As one of those ministers who returned in President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term, his performance in the first term. Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is widely regarded as sound even though his political strength is suspect.
Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, 56, has also come into view. Fayemi presently heads the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), the most influential political bloc besides the presidency. His presidential ambition has been widely speculated. While his governorship was interrupted in 2014 after which he served as minister of power and steel, he was able to reclaim the governorship mandate in 2018. The APC chieftain is also considered sound. But how he handles the evolving party crisis in his state will be insightful. More so, he would need to dispel the rising insinuation that he has betrayed his benefactor.
Kingsley Moghalu, 58, boasts an impressive and somewhat intimidating curriculum vitae. He is a political economist, lawyer, author and former United Nations official. He served as deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria from 2009 to 2014. He is also the only person that has publicly declared his presidential ambition for the 2023 race. He contested the 2019 presidential election as well. Although he has not disclosed the party on whose platform he intends to contest, he has since started giving insights on his plans while he continues his consultation.
Ibikunle Amosun was a former governor of Ogun State. Amosun, 63, who now represents Ogun Central district, is a close associate of President Buhari and chieftain of the APC. He had served as Senator in 2003 to 2007 and was reelected in 2019. While some pundits argue that his political pedigree beyond his closeness to Buhari remains hazy, some of his colleagues feel he has alienated them.
Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, 56, is one of the influential ministers in the Buhari administration. He is perhaps one of the most experienced political actors in the APC having served as speaker of the House of Assembly, governor and now minister since 1999. However, he has had to fight to establish presence in his state, Rivers, where he served two terms as governor. Still, some watchers of his politics have raised concerns about his temperament.
Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, 64, is seen as the star of the APC. His incursion into elective politics, though relatively new, has seen him display political sagacity especially during the first term when the president travelled out of the country. Beyond his urbane and empathy-driven disposition to politics, his strong legal backdground as a SAN and professor of Law, is a significantly plus. His ability to interface with the youths is commendable, according to his supporters. While his vice presidential position coupled with his acument gives him an edge, pundits aver that he has to firm up his political base as well as retain the trust of his party leaders.
Former President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, 58, is renowned as another formidable figure in the equation of those who can emerge. A PDP chieftain, his political sagacity has seen him become two-term governor of Kwara State and later as president of a vibrant Senate which pushed for electoral reforms. He was also chairman of the governor’s forum which gives him a broad appeal among his peers. He blends well with the youth and has a strong political base. He has emersed himself in the political fabric of the country which made it easy for the PDP to entrust him with heading it’s national reconciliation committee. Having been cleared by the Supreme Court of all alleged corruption charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), his supporters believe that not being a core Northerner gives him a good advantage as a bridgebuilder in these times.
Former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, 60, is also speculated to be interested in the top job. Although like others he has not made a public declaration, the former PDP vice presidential candidate in 2019, impressed many with his economic acumen during the debate and campaign of the last election. His record in the governance of Anambra State remains unmatched, as he swelled the state’s economy. With a strong academic and business background, he was able to navigate through the turbulent political waters of the state. How well he spreads his political network up north will be instructive.
Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal, 55, is regarded as one of the most astute politicians in Nigeria today. Having rose through the ranks as legislative aide to member of the House of Representatives, Speaker and now governor, it was no surprise that he emerged the chairman of the PDP governors forum and vice chairman of the NGF. His ability to rally his party governors over the recent upset in the party was insightful.