With the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the appeal filed by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the February 23 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, the curtain finally fell on the poll, unveiling the hustling for the 2023 race.
THISDAY gathered wide-ranging consultations that had been restrained by the pendency of the appeal have now been unleashed with known gladiators whose presidential ambition has been barely concealed, hitting the road.
Leading the pack are two-term governor of Lagos State and National Leader, All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare; Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State; his Kaduna State counterpart, Malam Nasir el-Rufai; former national chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega; and former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi.
A source said, although it is believed that Atiku might still show interest, his close associates are telling him that it is over and that he should take up an advisory role in politics.
The ambition of Obi, who was the running mate to Atiku in the February 23 presidential content, is said to be sustained by the clamour for a South-east presidency by Southern and Middle-Belt leaders, who argue that equity demands that after eight years of Buhari, the presidency should revert to the South of the country.
That the Southern leaders’ argument is failing is evidenced by the caliber of aspirants from the North and South-west, who analysts say, have positioned themselves strategically for the run.
Clearly ahead of the jostle in terms of positioning, the two-term governor started the race long ago, when after a THISDAY publication of his presidential interest in 2017, he issued a clarification that he would only throw his hat into the ring if Buhari stood down from the race.
As president Buhari indicated interest for a rerun, he got appointed as the vice chairman of the presidential campaign council, a position second to only the president himself. With that, access to the presidential villa that had been partially shut for the greater part of the earlier days of the Buhari administration became more open to the consternation of his political tormentors in the inner recess of power.
Watchers of the power game say Tinubu has not only used the presidential campaign of Buhari to bounce back to reckoning but has also leveraged on his control of the party machinery, held in trust for him by the national chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole.
The vice president has been subject of a flurry of corruption insinuation in the media, particularly in the social space. His close associates told THISDAY that this is fueled by the belief of powerful forces that he is nursing a presidential ambition. “They wish to rubbish him,” a source said.
Although Osinbajo has not told anyone that he would be contesting for the coveted post, a few analysts contend that he might be looking to reap from the principle of right of first right of refusal. Said to be trusted by the president, he is said to be banking on that trust to reap the president’s support to push for him to ascend to the presidency. The case for that, said a source at the Presidential Villa, is the need for continuity.
Not a few political and social analysts agree that the little opportunity he got to stand in for his boss, he proved that he too could be president.
Respected for his intellectual clarity and wide understanding of political and economic issues, Osinbajo, say some political watchers, may be the dark horse that would upstage Tinubu in the impending contest. But will vested interests baying for blood in the media allow him?
Also reputed for his intellectual arsenal, Fayemi is believed to be positioning for the presidential slot. Political analysts point to his deft political move in clinching the position of the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum earlier in the year, pointing out that he appears to be leveraging on it.
To be fair, said an analyst, the Ekiti State governor, who just clocked one year of his second tenure, has shown leadership in his new position, breathing life into the almost comatose forum under former Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari.
Standing on the forum’s platform, Fayemi, who was also minister of Solid Minerals, has been around the country, either delivering addresses or leading his colleagues on one advocacy or the other, the most recent being the governors’ battle against wholesome deduction of bailout refund as well as uniform implementation of minimum wage and the allied consequential adjustment.
He is believed to be sounding out his colleagues and other power brokers on what 2023 would look like as he moves around the country supposedly on the forum’s assignment.
The fiery pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly is the only one of the lots that has openly declared his intention to replace Buhari at the villa.
Having run the race with Buhari in 2007, Bakare said he was the most suitable person to succeed the president in 2023. He told his congregation recently that he was not only interested in the race but was certain to win.
It is, however, unclear on which platform he would run being without a known party presently.
When in a prologue titled, ‘Defeating a Determined Incumbent – The Nigerian Experience,’ which he contributed to a book –Power of Possibilities and Politics of Change in Nigeria – written by the Director-General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Mr. Salihu Lukman, el-Rufai, canvassed the argument for the scrapping of zoning, to give way for competency, those not versatile in the subtlety in the nuances of Nigerian politicians would look at the argument on the face value.By 2023 when Buhari is expected to round off his term, power is expected to return to the South under the nation’s informal arrangement of power rotation.
Should the political elite buy into el-Rufai’s well-considered argument, the 2023 race will be opened to aspirants from the North, especially in the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP that to a large extent considered the power rotational principle an article of faith.
And one of the main beneficiaries of such a new arrangement would be the promoter of the no-more-zoning campaign: el-Rufai.
El-Rufai, who by 2023 would have ended his tenure as governor, is one of the key Northerners being touted to take a shot at the presidency. Although he has not officially acknowledged his political ambition, as typical of a Nigerian power seeker, there is no doubt he nurses an ambition to be the next occupant of Aso Rock.
Just on Wednesday, a shadowy organisation, Nasiriyya Group, modelled after a grassroots association promoted by former Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, for political mobilisation, rallied the governor’s loyalists to launch his 2023 bid.
The Nasiriyya Group, a support group loyal to el-Rufai, and headed by Alhaji Ibrahim Nabuga, Garkuwan Rijau, has started putting the blocks together to give wings to el-Rufai’s muted ambition. The Plateau State Chairperson of the group, Hajiya Nafisatu Omar, made a pitch for him, describing the governor as “a detribalised, and not a religious bigot, suitable for the job of a president.” The group has opened a campaign office for el-Rufai in Jos has launched the Nasiriyya Organisation Support Group(NOSG) to drive the governor’s yet-to-be declared presidential bid.
A quantity surveyor, who launched his public service career as Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), to oversee the nation’s privatisation programme under the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, made such an impressive showing that he got promoted to cabinet rank as Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during Obasanjo’s second term from 2003 to 2007.
El-Rufai, who will be 63 by 2023, is a focused administrator who pursues his agenda with determination and has networks across party lines.
Against the run of play, Mr. Peter Obi, a businessman with vast interest in banking, brewery and commerce, among others, emerged the running mate to Atiku. What undoubtedly gave him the post despite opposition from his fellow South-east politicians, where the position was zoned to, was his eight-year stewardship as governor of Anambra State and his reputation as a parsimonious manager of public funds.
Had the PDP succeeded with its appeal at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, he would have been the nation’s vice president by now. But with the apex court’s summary dismissal of the appeal and age not being on his septuagenarian principal side by the next election season, Obi, who is now 58, looks sure, for now, as one of the likely serious contenders to scramble for the presidency in 2023.
Given the groundswell of sentiments for the South-east to be allowed to take a shot at the presidency, for the first time since the rebirth of democracy in 1999, given his credentials, Obi would stand tall among his kindred, should such concession get a nationwide backing.
The 1984 Philosophy graduate of University of Nsukka, and member of the Presidential Economic Team in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan began his foray into politics when he vied for the governorship of his state on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2003.
Before he left office in 2014, he had started hobnobbing with the PDP, the then ruling party and his eventual defection to the party came as no shock to political watchers.
Until the last hours, the auguries favoured Tambuwal, a former speaker, House of Representatives, to pick the PDP presidential ticket to square up to Buhari for the occupation of Aso Rock, the seat of power. He and Atiku were the frontline contenders for the party’s ticket and with backing from the powerful bloc of his fellow governors, he looked good to clinch the ticket until the table finally turned in favour of Atiku. With his defeat by Atiku, he returned to his state where through subterfuge, he had prepared the ground to be able to run for the governorship election, in case he lost the presidential ticket as he eventually did.
Tambuwal, now 53, is a 1991 graduate of Law from the Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, who began his political career at the outset of the Fourth Republic in 1999 as a Personal Assistant on Legislative Affairs to the then Senate Leader, Senator Abdullahi Wali.
In 2003, he contested election into the House of Representatives on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to represent the Kebbe/Tambuwal Federal Constituency, and won.
Towards the 2007 general elections, he dumped the ANPP to join former Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, in Democratic People’s Party (DPP), which the latter founded. His membership of DPP was, however, brief as he returned to ANPP when his new party denied him, along with some other defectors, tickets to run for election. Again, he dumped the ANPP and moved with the party’s governorship candidate for Sokoto State in the 2007 election, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, to PDP.
During his stay in the House of Representatives, he was minority leader, deputy chief whip and at various times, a member of several committees, including the House Committees on Rules & Business, Communications, Judiciary, Inter-Parliamentary and Water Resources.
Should the PDP throw open the 2023 race by abandoning the zoning policy or conceding the presidency to the North, Tambuwal, who is a veteran of many political battles and has over the years built political alliance across party lines, is in a good stead to vie for the party’s ticket.
Until June 8, 2010 when the then President Goodluck Jonathan nominated him as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the reputation many Nigerians have of Prof. Attahiru Jega, a former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, was that of an academic and a unionist.
As President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in the early 1990s, Jega rallied the union behind labour and other activists to form a body of opposition to the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, over his convoluted transition programme and other policies.
However, his defining moments were his superintendence of the electoral commission, especially after the shambolic conduct of the 2007 elections by his predecessor, Prof. Maurice Iwu, which the winner of the presidential stanza, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, said had shortcomings and his running mate who eventually succeeded him, Jonathan, confessed caused him a lot of embarrassment, notwithstanding the Supreme Court judgment that upheld their victory.
Jega, a leftist academic with a doctoral degree in Political Science from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois in the United States, brought credibility to the conduct of elections in the country that under his leadership, led to a drastic reduction in number of election petitions filed to challenge electoral outcomes.
His leadership style and predisposition contributed largely to the plaudits that trailed the conduct of the 2015 general election that saw for the first time in Nigeria’s annals the defeat of an incumbent president and the peaceful transfer of power from the ruling party to the then opposition party.
He returned to his base after his tour of duty at INEC and nothing could have linked him to the jostling for the 2023 presidential race but for his declaration in August for the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), a party with a leftist leaning.
Since his declaration for the party, the polity has been awash with tales of Jega’s warming up to throw his hat into the ring and be an active participant in a race he was once the chief officiating official.