by Alabi Williams
We advised not long ago that in no time, issues around 2019 would dominate the political space and push serious governance challenges to the sidelines. But we did not predict the speed at which it would unravel and that it might take the shape of some wild occurrence, like a hurricane. Yes, hurricane 2019 has landed our shores. While others in different continents are battling natural disasters of calamitous proportions, for which man has little answers, except to find some protective shield, while the storm lasts; we are here stoking electoral troubles.
Political parties here are not in a hurry to grow, and growth is not all about number of years, but willingness to learn from mistakes of the past. We thought with the caliber of persons who formed the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the harrowing experiences they harvested in the wilderness in their different shades as opposition parties, that they would do things differently now that they are in government, much better than the party they ousted in 2015.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) managed to stay in government for 16 years before the people got fed up with it and looked for an alternative. In just two years, however, the APC has shown, just as we predicted, that it was sheer hunger for power that brought together the leaders who patched it together. But they promised to do things differently. Now, they are unable to manage power because of the dissonance in their different levels of lust.
At the head of the team is President Buhari, whose appetite for power is not hidden. Once he was shoved aside by his fellow coup plotters in 1985, the man spent the next years nursing how to find his way back to reckoning. From 2003, he was out there campaigning to be crowned president. He failed three times, until he met other power hungry collaborators who agreed to crown him in 2015. Now, minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Aisha Alhassan, tells us that Buhari pledged to serve only one term. For that reason, she will invest her energies to campaign for Atiku Abubakar come 2019, should Atiku run for office of president. Meanwhile, Buhari has not indicated interest to run again, and Alhassan, believing that Buhari will be a man of his word and stick to that pledge feels no obligation to stay with Mr. President.
The constitution permits a president to seek another four years after the first four; that is if his party is willing to field him again. Obasanjo, at that time had not made his interest known, but it was clear to all he loved power and would do anything to hang on. It became an issue and the party had to deal with it. Atiku was a formidable party man; a founding member of the PDP and you could not handle him anyhow. We were told he was appeased, and that OBJ had to beg him for another four years.
Ordinarily, a party gives a sitting president who is in sound health and doing his bit on governance the right of first refusal, before the ticket is thrown open to other party members. And Obasanjo was in good health and doing pretty well in office. Before he was chosen as candidate of PDP, he was a stranger in that party. He was not one of the founding members; neither did he invest in the party. In fact, it was the PDP that rehabilitated him, after he narrowly escaped the noose in Abacha’s detention.
Conversely, it was Atiku who was among the arrowheads and nucleus around which the PDP revolved. So, he felt some sense of entitlement to make him challenge an incumbent for the party’s ticket. Even though he was appeased, because he had the camp of governors at his beck and call, he courted the lifetime hatred of an Obasanjo who hardly let it go. From 2003 till now, Atiku is still nursing the bruises inflicted on his political history. He barely managed to complete the last four years of their joint ticket, except that he too is a dogged fighter.
And the Buhari Presidency appears to be another version. We cannot authenticate the pledge he made to serve only one term. But even if he did, a lot of water has passed down the bridge for him to remember. After all, he had publicly announced his retirement from presidential pursuit in 2012, until the people earnestly yearned for him in 2015. The same people are already egging him on for 2019.
After tasting the luxury of office for just two years, free accommodation here and in London, free flights, free healthcare and all that, it sounds unreasonable to expect Buhari to throw in the towel. He is not a Nelson Mandela to voluntarily let go of power. Even if the spirit of Mandela were to minister to Buhari, which is unlikely, because the spirit cannot abandon Mugabe so close by in Zimbabwe and jump to Nigeria, the tribe of hangers-on and yes-men in Nigeria are sure to imbue him with the physical energy he no longer has.
That brings us to the party. It is the APC that should make life easy for Buhari and for all of us. It is the party that owns the ticket and the government, but if a party surrenders its powers to one man, and the man surrenders it to some henchmen to manage on his behalf, it might be very difficult to retrieve. When you have a situation like this, you have something close to what they have in North Korea or one of those old communist systems. There, you cannot challenge the leader, no matter how badly the government is run.
In the PDP days, we had a class of governors who could call the bluff of a president. The governors’ forum under Rotimi Amaechi gave Goodluck Jonathan some trouble. In the APC, El Rufai says they have a class of Buharists among governors, ministers and legislators. Their belief is Buharism, just like the late Chairman Mao was deified.
Senator Alhassan has not said anything new. Remember, it was late Dora Akunyili, a member of president Yar’Adua’s executive council who stirred the hornet nest, when a cabal shielded Yar’Adua from medical investigation. Maybe it is the lot of women in this dispensation to show uncommon courage, where original owners of APC have developed cold feet. Even a professed scholar in the rank of El Rufai does not know that the party is supreme in a democracy. The supremacy of a party is to be found in its internal democracy, free and fair congresses, culminating in an indisputable national convention.
Yes, Buhari can run in 2019, if he is physically fit. But let him pass the word around, so that the Atikus, Musa Kwankwasos and Senator Alhassans can either look elsewhere, or concede to him the right to run. It has to be freely given. But to close the door against other contenders, as PDP did in 2015, will amount to enthroning communist dictatorship.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Alabi Williams/Guardian