By Magnus Onyibe
Beyond the Rotation of Presidency between the north and south arrangement, which seems to be taking up a huge chunk of media space as 2023 general elections loom large, there are other critical factors, which are nuanced but Germaine to the matter of who becomes the President of Nigeria in 2023. The word on the streets is that the fast approaching 2023 presidential contest would as usual be a two horse race between the ruling All Progressive Party, APC and the main opposition, People Democratic Party, PDP. It is also being predicted that the battle would be waged between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of PDP and former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu of APC.
The permutations that the Ex-Vice President would fly the flag of the main opposition, PDP, and Ex-Lagos State Governor is likely the flag bearer for the ruling party, APC may be based on the first movers advantage being enjoyed by the duo who happen to have been the most visible and active politicians that are angling for the presidency from both parties at this point in time.
But the question of who would become the candidate for the presidency in 2023 still depends on if the ruling party, APC zones the presidency to the south as agreed when the coalition of opposition political parties against then ruling party PDP was in the making in 2013/14. In the event that the presidential power shift agreement is upheld, then Bola Tinubu who was instrumental to APC clinching the presidency in 2015 would be waiting in the wings to collect the flag.
And in the case of the PDP, the possibility of the Presidential Candidate being Atiku Abubakar would become clearer, if the party accepts the Bala Mohammed led committee recommendations that the main opposition party jettisons her presidential power rotation policy and declare the ticket open to all interested parties.
Should the foregoing proposition become manifest, the PDP may decide to rally once again behind Atiku Abubakar, her Presidential Candidate in 2019.
But the aforementioned simple calculus about who becomes the President of Nigeria in 2023 is just scratching the surface. That’s simply because politics of the presidency of Nigeria is more complex than what meets the eyes.
Consequently, given the complexities of the ethno -religious issues in the country, particularly with respect to the unprecedented levels of insecurity of lives and properties, and how polarized the society currently is on the issue of ethnicity and religion, both the ruling and main opposition parties are yet to hold their conventions, which is unusual because it is barely 20 months to the 2023 general elections.
The delay is partly because both parties are shadowing each other so as to be guided in their decision about whether the presidential pendulum would remain in the north or swing to the south.
The slack in holding their conventions is also exacerbated by the fact that both parties are currently facing leadership schisms.
Given the cracks on the wall of the political parties caused by the internal wrangling, a factor that could prove fatal to both parties if they go into the 2023 general elections as fractured entities, holding a party convention to set the agenda for the general elections in 2023 appears to be in abeyance until they are able to put their respective houses in order.
As the conventional wisdom dictates ‘a house divided can not stand’.
Therefore, the sooner both the ruling and main opposition parties settle the rifts within their ranks, the better their chances of victory in the 2023 general elections.
While the APC is led by a caretaker committee headed by Mai Mala Buni, the seating governor of Yobe State,, which is deemed as illegal in some quarters, because the APC party constitution forbids anyone in an executive position doubling as the party’s chairman, opinion from another quarter in the same party is that the Buni-led Caretaker committee of the party is legitimate and in order.
Similarly, the PDP leadership is being tossed up and down like a ship caught in a stormy sea by a series of law suits (4 in number) sacking the chairman, Uche Secondus two times, and another reinstating him to the position twice. As the embattled Secondus insists that his tenure as chairman does not expire until December, his traducers vow that he has been sacked at both the ward and national levels and a convention would be held in October to replace him. Should Secondus’s contentions be ignored and elections are held in October to elect new National Working Committee, NWC members, and thereafter the Supreme Court gives judgement in his favor, the decisions of the executives to be elected in October would be ultra vires.
In view of the energy that both the ruling and main opposition parties are dissipating in internal conflicts, instead of designing and releasing manifestoes, which they should be selling to Nigerians right now, untangling the noose, which they may have unwittingly tied around their own necks is currently palpably giving the leadership of both parties indigestion.
On the part of the PDP, whereas there are indications that it would like to continue with its Policy of rotating the presidency between the north and south,, which has proven to be a winning formula and the ingredient for its pan Nigeria outlook, it is not clear whether it would nominate a southerner as its Presidential Candidate. That is owed to an apparent dearth of presidential ‘material’ in the south East whose turn it is, (on equity basis) to produce Nigerria’s next President in 2023.
Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan idiomatically had his palm kernel cracked by benevolent spirits when Yar’adua passed away in 2010 and the ‘doctrine of necessity’ propelled him from Vice President to President for two years after, which he leveraged the power of incumbency to get himself re-elected as president in 2011.
As for the current incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, he succeeded on a fourth attempt only after Bola Tinubu, Ex-Lagos State Governor who was effectively the leader and controller of politics in Yoruba land in 2015 swung the Yoruba votes in his favor after a successful combination of multiple opposition political parties to unseat then ruling party, PDP. Now, as a side comment, not many people recognize the role that the late Balarabe Musa, one time governor of Kaduna State played in getting opposition parties to forge a common front against the ruling party.
That is perhaps owing to the power of incumbency that makes it extraordinarily difficult to unseat a candidate in office except a catastrophic event happens.
If Ex-Vice President Abubakar picks up the gauntlet for a fourth (4th) shot at the presidency in 2023, ( and it appears that he is inclined to do so) he could achieve the goal with an lgbo Vice Presidential Candidate who would acquire national stature in the fours years that he would serve under an Atiku Abubakar presidency. That would be a sort of mentorship arrangement for the new Vice President who would be propped up to take over after Atiku Abubakar serves only one term instead of the two terms that he is constitutionally entitled.
The unique proposition is underscored by the fact that Abubakar who is currently 74 years old in November, would be 76 in 2023 and may be too old to seek re-election in 2027 when he would be 80.
Nelson Mandela, the late Ex-President of South Africa served only one term and bowed out due to age and President Joe Biden of the USA would likely also do so by handing over to Vice President Kamala Harris after his first term as he would be 82 years older in 2024.
I am not unaware that the proposition is inconsistent with the expectations of the lgbos and therefore would be susceptible to resistance. But it is an innovative solution to an apparent political lacuna arising from the non availability of an lgbo man with the political clout to be the President of Nigeria in 2023.
By the way, should Atiku Abubakar throw his political hat into the ring for the fourth time, he would be in good company. That is because the incumbent President, Buhari is known to have vied for the presidency four (4) times before he succeeded in 2015. Going farther ashore, one time prime minister of England, Harold Wilson is also known to have contested for the office a record four (4) times before he succeeded in becoming UK’s prime minister. As evidenced by the cases referenced above, there is virtue in building on a foundation already laid, which is underscored by the principle of incremental value based upon the power of repetition, which helps transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious. Having vied for the office three times, it can be imagined that becoming the President of Nigeria must have by now become easier for Atiku Abubakar, who is also a treasure trove of sorts about governance of Nigeria since he has served as Vice President for 8 years along side President olusegun Obasanjo, from 1999-2007.
And one of such innovative approach would be for the APC to settle for or adopt the immediate past president Goodluck Jonathan, who the rumor mill claim is already being wooed by the ruling party, with the consent of President Buhari that is presumed to be championing the candidacy of Jonathan as President in 2023.
The question is : should the politically fatal outcome of the elections in Edo State not be an ominous sign and lesson for the APC to learn the consequences of playing with the intelligence of the electorate, which the fielding of Goodluck Jonathan as APC’s Presidential Candidate in 2023 would boil down to?
Of course, many more twists and turns on the road to Aso Rock Villa in 2023 are expected.
Because there abound in both the APC and PDP alike, other political juggernauts who are also preparing for the race to Aso Rock Villa seat of power, but are yet to come out of the closet to formally declare their interests.
Of all of them, only Bola Tinubu, a very formidable contender earlier mentioned is currently the APC candidate from the south that has tacitly shown interest in becoming the President of Nigeria, 2023 via body language. All the other consequential contenders, particularly from the north are clearly tarring awhile perhaps because they prefer not to beat the gun by jumping into the contest before the leader of the party, President Buhari green-lights it.
On the side of the PDP, there are the immediate past Senate President Bukola Saraki and current governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal. The aforementioned PDP stalwarts faced-off in the primaries for the elections in 2019, which Atiku Abubakar won leveraging the PDM advantage. Subsequently, Saraki with candor, remarkably became the campaign director general for Atiku Abubakar’s campaign, his erstwhile rival, and, which was quite an extraordinary demonstration of togetherness by the leadership of PDP. And a lot of the credit for the peaceful and decorous conduct of the PDP presidential primary elections for 2019, are attributable to IfeanyiOkowa, Delta State Governor-led committee that dexterously executed the task.
Whatever the case may be, one thing that is certain is that the jostle for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023 would be more complex than any other election.
One of the reasons for the assertion above is that owing to the high caliber of contenders and how polarised our country has become, the journey to the presidency, which has very high stakes would be fraught with twists and turns as the candidates would have to navigate their ways through tribal, cultural and religious cliffs, valleys, rapids and mountains, which currently define our political landscape.
For instance, it is the first time that southern governors would speak with the same voice on the vexed issue of open grazing of cattle and the consequential deadly herders /farmers clashes that has created alarming human casualties, which they unanimously agreed should be banned.
Additionally, irrespective of the political platforms that they belong, southern states governors have also resolved that the presidency should return to the south upon the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure in 2023. How can we forget the Value Added Tax, VAT wrangling that has caused further polarization of Nigeria as the apparent inequity in its collection and sharing has pitched the south against the north, Christians against Muslims with respect to the hypocrisy of VAT collected on alcohol being shared to states in the north that regard consumption of alcohol as taboo. So in many ways than one, with Lagos State joining in the legal battle initiated by Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State currently gaining momentum, resource control is no longer a mere Niger delta struggle, as it is assuming a new dimension with VAT wars in the courts as proxy and potential game changer.
Ordinarily, the Southern governors could be said to be re-affirming an existing agreement which they had in 2013/14. But their northern counterparts do not see it as such. Instead,they deem the decision of the southern governors as an imposition. Apparently, the northern governors are affronted by the fact that what should have been negotiated was turned into a grandstanding affair. Hopefully, after the initial filibustering, which is a major part of politics, both the southern governors who needed to show their constituents that they are not Lily-livered, but posses some spunk, and the northern governors who may be intent on getting something in return for the likely impending concession of the presidency to the south in 2023,, which is typical of politicians who often get a kick from horse-trading, would settle their differences.
In the event that the PDP fields Atiku Abubakar, (the wind seem to be behind his back) and Bukola Saraki once more graciously accepts to be his campaign director general, a role he played in 2019, Abubakar would be squaring up against Goodluck Jonathan, if the APC decides to feature the former President as its candidate,, which is possible, based on the rumors that have been swirling around about President Buhari having a soft spot for him. And it would be an epic battle, since that would be the second time that Atiku Abubakar and Goodluck Jonathan would be locking horns politically. The first was during the PDP primaries in 2011 of, which Jonathan as the incumbent President walked away with the victory trophy.
Would the momentum, which Atiku Abubakar had built up in the course of his last presidential contest in 2019 stand him in a better stead to win the contest against Jonathan and subsequently the presidency the fourth time around ?
Likewise, in the event that Goodluck Jonathan emerges APC’s presidential flag bearer in 2023, can he leverage the goodwill that he enjoyed as President from 2011 up to 2015 to win the contest against Abubakar a second time ?
As the saying goes, you do not change a winning team. So would the APC be giving transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, a two time director general of the Buhari campaign organization, the responsibility to ‘deliver’ Jonathan as he did for Buhari in 2015 and 2019?
Being the one who literally ignited the fire that engulfed the ruling party, PDP and, which eventually consumed Jonathan politically, would a scenario whereby Amaechi is Jonathan’s presidential campaign director be possible? In the event that it happens, it would be interesting to see how Amaechi markets Jonathan.
It would also be such a perfect imperfection, especially if Bukola Saraki also becomes Atiku Abubakar’s campaign director general.
In a recent interview granted by AriseTv, Babangida, who was Nigeria’s military Head of State from 1985 to 1993, and recently clocked 80 years, offered a template of who should be Nigeria’s President in 2023.
Below is IBB’s recipe of the Characteristics that should be internal and external in the person who would be President President of Nigeria in 2023:
The retired military general’s audacious expectation is not without foundation. It is underscored by the fact that general Babangida (retd) is one of the young military officers involved in the counter coup of July 1966 after the major Kaduna Nzeogwu led putsch of 1966 barely six (6) years post-independence from the British colonialists and self governance. He did so as an army Lieutenant alongside the likes of Major TY Danjuma and Muhammadu Buhari, also an army Lieutenant at the time.
For the reasons above, some Nigerians are questioning lBB’s moral standing and justification for his pontification on the personification of the President of Nigeria in 2023. More so because he actually ‘ stepped aside’ (more or less abdicated office) in 1994 after failing to steer the drifting ship of state into calm waters. Rather he allegedly drove the ship of the state of Nigeria to the edge of a water fall before literally abandoning the ship.
The counter argument to those espousing anti-Babangida rhetorics would be that,since the octogenarian military icon has been watching from the sidelines from as far back as 1993,(28 years ago) he must have learnt a thing or two that might have given him a better world view and understanding of the trouble with Nigeria, apologies to Chinua Achebe, author of the famous book: The Trouble With Nigeria.
Hence he has decided to weigh in with his wise counsel on the way forward for our beloved country.
The bottom line is that whether most of us agree or disagree with Babangida’s definition and characterisation of who would be the President of Nigeria in 2023, he has had his say and the rest of us can have our way by voting for our preferred candidate.
That is the beauty of democracy, which stipulates that while the minority will have their say, the majority will carry the vote.
*Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former Commissioner in the Delta State Government, sent this piece from Lagos.