By Our Reporters
If you have the big ambition of running for the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come the next lawful available window to do so – the 2019 Presidential Election – you will do well to watch every step taken in public or private by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
This is because, Providence sparing his life till then, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar will take a last shot at the Presidency in 2019, regardless of whether President Muhammadu Buhari would be convinced to seek re-election or not.
And from The Dream Daily’s exclusive poking of influential politicians and power brokers across the country and party lines, Atiku Abubakar came top of the list of possible candidates – other things being equal now and in the foreseeable future of the complex, intrigues-filled, twist-and-turn politics of our great country – to succeed President Buhari in 2019 if the President, as many of our sources strongly insisted, should excuse himself from accepting an automatic nomination to seek re-election as the candidate of the governing All Progressive Congress (APC) in the 2019 Presidential Election.
President Buhari Won’t Run in 2019?
In The Dream Daily edition of July 27-August 3, 2017, this newspaper had reported exclusively that President Buhari will not run in 2019, based on credible sources in the APC. Since we published that exclusive story, however, a lot has happened in Nigeria as a whole and in the APC in particular and in the country’s political circle across party lines in general. Investigations by this newspaper have revealed that some powerful and interested forces are coalescing to pressure the President to seek re-election in 2019.
This “continuity movement,” according to a source in the APC who pleaded anonymity for his political career, “is being championed by elements of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the APC, in and outside government who are now insisting that they ‘own’ President Buhari, especially those who continue throw in our faces the fact that they have been with him since the President’s APP, ANPP days.”
The APC source stated: “You are aware that some CPC politicians in the APC came out in the media recently to rubbish us, we from other parties that came together to form the APC and worked so hard for the party to defeat PDP last year. These people are in the ones leading the continuity movement for the President.”
The Dream Daily also learnt that “members of the continuity group are making overt and subtle moves to realise their dream, with support from those from their camp who have been rewarded with political appointments by President Buhari. However, it is not clear to some of us yet whether they are making progress with both President Buhari and powerful people they are seeing from state to state. What I know is that except our President is able to turn the economy around between now and next year, early next year in fact because that is when 2019 politics will start fully, I don’t know how we can face Nigerians again to tell them to vote for Buhari or APC o. That is my personal opinion, I don’t know but that is it for me, I mean with the hunger and suffering in the country today? I don’t know what to tell anybody again to vote Buhari.”
However, a member of the defunct CPC in the “continuity group” insisted that “President Muhammadu Buhari will go for second term and we from CPC in APC will support and sell him to Nigerians and Nigerians will vote for him again in 2019.
The “continuity group” member, who also pleaded anonymity “because it is not yet time to come out with full force” accused other parties in the APC coalition of “impatience, disloyalty and rebellion against President Buhari.”
He stated: “We standing with President Buhari, come rain come shine. These people should be patient to get appointment or contract from President Buhari, or go back to where they are coming from. Haba! This is what is causing the problem in this party. Was Rome built in a day? There are many appointments to be made, many contracts will be awarded and they will get in their camps too.
“They should stop frightening us with bad economy, recession, hunger, suffering; that this will affect us in 2019. President Buhari is working. This change is for real and the masses will soon smile, and they will voted for President Buhari again in 2019.”
APC and 2019: The Intrigues
However, The Dream Daily learnt that “the political game for 2019 was part of what played out during the APC primaries in Lagos when all the presidential aspirants agreed not to pull out of the APC if they lose the primaries. Those trying to prop up President Buhari now know what was agreed; I am not going to tell you now. Just wait and let things start to happen, then I will call you then.”
Sources from contending parties in the APC gave contradictory views on “the agreement” reached in the party as it prepared for the 2015 presidential elections. There are those who insist that there was an “implied understanding” that President Buhari would “only do one term and allow another northerner to do the other four years and complete eight years for the north and then the APC will give chance to a southerner to be our presidential candidate in 2023.”
On the other hand, another group stated that “there is no such agreement. Where was the agreement signed? Let them show me a copy of it or publish it in your paper. It is the old story they told in their party in 2015 against (President Goodluck) Jonathan in their party then. It won’t work here. If they don’t want to support President Buhari again in 2019, they should just come out plain and say it, and leave APC for us. We can win 2019 without them, in sha Allah.”
“Honestly speaking, I don’t know if there was any agreement like that,” a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member who defected to the APC after the 2015 elections told The Dream Daily. The source who does not want to be named added: “You know I just joined APC some months ago. Honestly, I don’t know. Someone said there was such agreement but you know how things are in politics; anybody can say anything to support themselves or just cause confusion in order to be relevant. Such an agreement cannot be signed on paper. How can? Those who said the same thing when we were in PDP, like the former Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, did they bring out any paper? Did they show us any signed agreement in black and white? So, I don’t know because I am relatively new in APC.”
Asked to name the candidate they could support in the APC of today if President Buhari decided not to seek a second term, most APC members who spoke with The Dream Daily chose Atiku Abubakar. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufa’i, came closest to Atiku on the party members’ mini straw poll conducted by The Dream Daily.
Curiously, a short list of PDP members polled for this story also favoured Atiku.
2019: Why Atiku Abubakar Is The Man To Beat
A number of factors are shaping up to favour the former vice president towards the 2019 presidential race. It appears that both the APC and the PDP have concluded that fielding a presidential candidate from any other region except the North in 2019 is tantamount to political suicide. While the APC is however divided on whether to continue with President Buhari or field another candidate, the PDP, in disarray since the 2015 General Elections loss, have no clear candidate for the poll.
“In fact if we are able to settle this national chairmanship problem, I don’t see anybody in our party today who has the clout of Atiku to face President Buhari in 2019,” a PDP stalwart who does not want his name in print for fear of sanction for anti-party comments told The Dream Daily.
Reflecting the majority view of other PDP members who spoke with The Dream Daily, the party man added: “I want President Buhari to go for second term. That will cause a lot of problem in their party. Atiku will be 73 years old in 2019. That is the same age as President Buhari in 2015 and he will be 77 in 2019. Atiku cannot wait till 2023. 2019 is his last chance to run for president. I pray that those pushing Buhari for 2019 will succeed, then I pray that this would enlarge their fight in APC so much that many of our people there, including Atiku will come back to PDP, or we regroup in another party. Atiku will be a good candidate for us then. It will be to our advantage, like our own crisis in 2015 was to their advantage. If they push Atiku out, then PDP can capitalise on that. The APC loss will be our gain in PDP. No problem.”
Sources said the bold public call by Atiku Abubakar on the need to restructure the country has also increased his electability value in southern Nigeria as well as among the marginalised minorities of the North who see a restructured Nigeria as the solution to the country’s many maladies.
However, an elder statesman who spoke with The Dream Daily on condition of anonymity because he has “quit partisan politics as an elder to all of you” cautioned that “southerners will not just vote for Atiku on his sound bites on restructuring today. Atiku or any candidate for that matter, who currently supports restructuring must commit to it in black and white to convince us here about his sincerity. He (Atiku) must not just say it, he must publish his blueprint on how he wants to restructure the country.”
Atiku’s support among those polled by The Dream Daily was also informed by the perception that “he is a businessman who can run the economy better than President Buhari.”
“How President Buhari does the magic to pull the country out of this economic recession is central to any second term for him or even the chances of the APC in 2019. It is all up to the President and his economic team now. If they don’t make things happen in the economy before the electioneering campaign starts, if Nigerians continue to cry over the economy, if the masses don’t have money in their pockets, then President Buhari and his party have a herculean task on their hands in 2019.
“Atiku has some successful businesses known to many Nigerians out there in the public. That should give him some good leverage or traction when he talks economy and how to go about making it work. I think if his campaign also set out a clear economic agenda, that will help him a lot if he contests the Presidency in 2019. President Buhari’s team just can’t get out their economic plans in clear terms as we are talking. Nigerians can’t just get it (economic agenda). It is one area the President and his economic team, I think, need to work hard on if they are to stand a chance with the common man,” another source added.
The Dream Daily also got a sense that many APC members and some PDP faithful feel that “Atiku has paid his due in politics as to crown his efforts with the Presidency of this country in 2019.” They cited “his loyalty to late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in life and death, his calmness in the face of virulent attacks by a man like (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo, his tremendous contribution to making Buhari President after how many failed attempts and the way he has kept many dissatisfied factions of the APC in the party since May 29, 2015,” as some of the reasons they would support Atiku, “even against President Buhari.”
“What you see in APC is camouflaged unity. Many of those who formed the party are tired of how some people close to the President have hijacked everything. Atiku Abubakar is a blessing to our party and even the President himself. If not for Atiku who has been pacifying everybody, most of us would have left the APC to the President’s favourites from their APP, ANPP CPC era. I mean I can you expect me to support you, a President from my party using the courts to chase me around and tarnish my image in the public with corruption allegations that cannot stand any serious legal scrutiny? How can the President explain his core appointments with conviction, without any media hype, to us loyal party members from other regions of the country? These are some of the issues tearing us apart in the APC. Kudos to Atiku, he has been a great unifying factor in our party, keeping many of us here. He (Atiku) is not getting any younger and 2019 is the last reasonable chance for him to be President and I think he deserves it because he has paid his dues in the service of this country,” an APC leader told The Dream Daily in Abuja on condition of anonymity.
Can El-Rufa’i upturn the applecart against Atiku?
However, it appears that Governor El-Rufa’i of Kaduna State is the most serious obstacle to Atiku’s ambition in 2019, at least for now, in the APC. Sources told The Dream Daily that “El-Rufa’i fancies himself as the heir to President Buhari and he is not leaving that in doubt.”
According to one of our sources, “El-Rifa’I also appears to have the ears of President Buhari more than other party leaders in the APC. He is no doubt well liked by the President, despite his faux pas in a stament widely published in the media some years back where he pointedly said President Buhari and IBB (former President Ibrahim Babangida) were past their prime and un-electable. His ‘sin’ may have been forgotten because everyone can see how his preferred candidates have been receiving big appointments from President Buhari. A case in point is the appointment of his chief of staff as the new NPA (Nigerian Ports Authority) MD. I think he is a contender for the Presidency in 2019 if President Buhari won’t seek a second term.”
But an APC chieftain in Kaduna dismissed the chances of “El-Rifai in a contest against Atiku in the APC or (on) any other platform,” stressing that “the Presidency is too big for El-Rufa’i. He should go and sit down! What has he achieved here in Kaduna? Who will vote for him here, especially in Southern Kaduna? He should concentrate on performing here first. Look, many people are regretting that they voted for him o, with all these anti-people policies, demolitions here and there, and all that. Atiku will beat him (El-Rifa’i) hands down any day, any time, even if President Buhari gives him federal might.”