President Muhammadu Buhari has thrown down the gauntlet, calling out those who are interested in his position. He is apparently ready to defend his champion's trophy in the 2019 presidential election.
Having coasted home to victory in the 2015 presidential poll on the crest of a nationwide approbation, Buhari is once again on the cusp of another historic election. Whether or not he would be able to successfully defend his prize is a different ball game. Reflectively, the truth is that a vast majority of Nigerians had expressed optimism in his capacity to ventilate the polity and clean the Augean stables of the episodic tragedies of maladministration, insecurity and corruption that had purportedly afflicted the immediate past administration. Much more good was expected from his presidency. An unprecedented countrywide faith was invested in his oppositional candidature that approximated a near triumphal messianism.
In the topsy-turvy that characterised and energized the opposition movement, candidate Buhari did not escape essential plaudit as the liberator, patron saint and incorruptible one. These attributes coalesced to produce his emphatic victory that disrupted the cosmos of conventional establishment politics and defied the incumbency factor. The rampart of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency and his candidature got dismantled by the preponderance of people power. Historically, Buhari had always exuded confidence in his popularity as anchored on the northern talakawas cultic followership. In 2003, 2007, 2011 and even 2015, Buhari was unflustered about the presidential enterprise, although he was not able to lock in the 18 million votes in the northwest zone in 2007 as he lost the zone to the late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua.
As Olusegun Obasanjo confidently said in 1999 after he had picked the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ga fili, ga doki, meaning see field, see horse, in a boastful readiness for the race for the soul of Nigeria, Buhari had approached all the previous presidential elections with equal assurance. But surprisingly, as an incumbent this time round, Buhari appears to have lost the momentum. He has been tentative and dilatory in the critical contemplation of the 2019 re-election. The conditions that galvanised his emergence as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and president of Nigeria in 2014 and 2015 have since changed.
Regardless, he has thrown his hat in the ring despite the unraveling of the philosophical contradictions that have questioned, for instance, his talakawa politics and blunted the prism of his acclaimed nationalistic temper. First, I wonder what Buhari will tell Nigerians when he mounts the soap box in another round of electioneering blitzkrieg. What new messages will he pass across to the talakawas in the north, those distraught youths who had not only looked up to and called him Baba (father) but had also voted for him in expectation of fatherly care? They had kept their own side of the bargain, but Buhari has denied them the expected quid pro quo. These youths have become more pauperized. We are witnesses to how desperate, disconsolate, hungry and angry the mass of the people have become from the north to the south. The northern scenario is, understandably, more grotesque.
There is a wide gap between the elite and the poor masses that are historically vulnerable to manipulations for electoral ends. How does Buhari intend to sooth the frayed nerves of this group and win back their confidence. Three weeks ago or thereabout, at the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) mega rally in Buhari's home state of Katsina, the refrain by the unprecedented mammoth crowd, comprising mostly restive youths, was: end to hunger in 2019. How else, other than that, could they have passed across their message of failure of leadership and vote of no confidence in Buhari?
Without insinuating the rigging strategy, what does Buhari have up his sleeves to regain the votes of these distraught youths? Sincerely, the president has been imprudent in the management of his support bases and loyalties. He appears incompetent and overwhelmed; and, those who should have helped him have wickedly taken advantage of his frailty due to his health to service their pecuniary interests. Second, Buhari is trifling with the two to three million votes that the Shiite Muslim group can invest in his re-election in 2019. The continued detention of the group's leader, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, in spite of court order that he should be released on bail, is seen by the Muslim sect members as a deliberate policy of the Buhari administration to exterminate the sect.
The Shiites have embarked on a series of protests in Kaduna and Abuja to press for the release of their leader to no avail. The latest protests in Abuja took place on April 16, 17 and 18, 2018, and the protests might be sustained. Already, notice has been served that the action would spread to some other cities in the north. By the way, what really are the existential fears of the Buhari administration now about the Shiites that did not exist when Goodluck Jonathan was in the saddle as president? Perhaps, beneath El-Zakzaky's detention saga, much more than the claim that he is being held on security grounds, are some primordial considerations, which are not my concern here.
It is not also my concern that Buhari has mismanaged his electoral victory and squandered the enormous goodwill on which he rode to power in 2015. My real concern is the possible extremes the political desperados around him may go in a bid to win the 2019 election in spite of the nationwide angst and disapproval of his governance style. Election rigging does not start and end on the Election Day. It starts well ahead and I worry that it has started with the plank on which Buhari announced his re-election bid, to wit: that he was responding to the clamor by Nigerians. I keep asking which Nigerians was he referring to? Even though the so-called clamor remains a writ-large domestic facade; it is no doubt a ploy intended to rig the perception and mentality of the international community to believe that his re-election bid sits pretty with the majority of Nigerians. Nothing could be more deceptive than such a cruel mind-game.
After announcing his re-election bid, he jetted to London where, during one of his meetings, he dissimulated when he told the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, that his concern was not politics but economy and security issues. If his concern was not politics, why did he approve the appointment and announcement of his campaign spokesperson with such dispatch even when the presidential primary of his party has not held?
Third, his military colleagues, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida and Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma are not in support of his incompetent and nepotistic leadership. For his obvious shambolic handling of the genocide unleashed by Fulani herdsmen on farming populations in the traditional middle belt states of Benue, Plateau and Taraba, his APC brand has lost its popularity in that enclave.
The proscription of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and other exclusionist policies that have accentuated the cries of marginalisation by the Igbo; the South-south minority concerns about how they were denied a second term in the presidency and the issue of resource control; and the Southwest's agitation for restructuring and true federalism are all worries that reinforce the odds against Buhari's re-election. Yet he appears ready to test his will against the will of a vast majority of Nigerians. I wish him well.
- Ojeifo wrote from Abuja.