By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Although a thick cloud of uncertainty is still hanging over President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term ambition, no fewer than four strong contenders of Northern extraction are now jostling for the coveted seat, trying to build bridges across the geo-political zones of the country ahead of the next general elections. These include: former vice president Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, his counterpart in Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso and former National Security Adviser to the late Head of State Gen Sani Abacha, Hamzah Al-Mustapha.
It is no longer news that Atiku is still nursing the ambition to rule this country. He has been in the race since 2007 and his body language still gives a clear impression that his eyes are still very much on the exalted seat.
In several of his outings in the recent past, he had thrown up different controversies on some national issues, which seem to suggest that he is not on the same page with the present administration. For instance, at the recent launch of a newspaper publication in Abuja, he was quoted as saying: “Controversies have sometimes threatened the very existence of our country. The country is truly at a crossroads and things are made worse by the cocktail of economic, social and political problems which we have had to contend with.”
“Poor GDP growth rate, millions of school age children, out of school – I believe with the right kind of leadership, the right kind of vision, we can transform this country in less than eight years.” He has also remained a consistent advocate of restructuring, which some people believe is a subtle way to woo like minds from the southern part of the country.
It is, however, not yet clear on which platform he is going to actualize his dream. Though a founding member of the ruling APC, there are strong indications that the former number two citizen might eventually settle for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the event that Buhari decides to go for the race or anoint a particular candidate. The former vice-president had left the PDP twice. Following the power play and intrigues between him and his former boss in the build up to the 2007 general elections; he ditched the PDP and ran against the late president Musa Umar Yar’Adua on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He was initially disqualified by the Independent National Electoral Commission over an alleged financial misconduct by an investigative panel of inquiry set up by Obasanjo. It took the intervention of the Supreme Court to allow him to contest the 2007 election. He also contested the presidential ticket of the APC against Buhari in 2015, but was defeated.
Perhaps, preempting what may happen, if the APC denies him the ticket, Atiku is now said to be holding talks with the leaders of the PDP for the presidential ticket. For this move, Sunday Sun gathered that he may have to contend with former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, who, according to a reliable source, had already intimated all the 36 state chairmen of the party of his presidential ambition. “As a party, our door is open to any of our old members. But I can assure you that we won’t make the mistake of giving the ticket of our party to someone whom we cannot trust. With due respect to former vice president Atiku Abubakar, Lamido has been a consistent member of our party. I am saying this without prejudice to Atiku’s role as a founding member as well as his formidable structure, the source told Sunday Sun.
Beyond the issue of platform, Atiku has been meeting prominent political, traditional and religious leaders across the country in the past couple of months as a way to re-engineer his formidable structure. For instance, in the South-south, there is an insinuation about his alleged romance with ex-governor James Ibori, who just regained his freedom from a United Kingdom, UK prison. This speculation followed his recent visit to the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, FUPRE, in the company of Chief Ayirimi Emami, a strong loyalist of James Ibori.
Atiku and Ibori are no strange bedfellows. Both had opposed the second term ambition of former president Obasanjo before other governors intervened and prevailed on Atiku to step down from seeking for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2003.
Atiku’s spokesperson, Paul Ibe, while speaking with Sunday Sun neither denied nor confirmed the speculation. He, however, insisted that his boss remained committed to the success of the Buhari administration, adding that it was too early to begin to talk about the 2019 elections. His words: “The reality is that right now, his Excellency is still pre-occupied with providing support to the Buhari administration.
His commitment is to see how his government can overcome the current socio-economic challenges facing us as a nation. There is a mandate already. That mandate might have gone half way, but it is still a mandate. Being a former vice president, there are things he can do to help the present government. Besides, he is a loyal party man. So, I cannot confirm to you all the speculations about his presidential ambition. At the same time, I will not want to dismiss the speculations in the media as a figment of imagination of some people because the media have to take a global outlook.”
He dismissed insinuation about Atiku’s alleged romance with the PDP, saying: “How can he be a member of the APC and then be holding talks with PDP? People can say all sorts of things. But I am telling you that it is not true. As I am talking to you now, he is a member of APC. After he lost the ticket to President Muhammadu Buhari, he committed his assets to helping him and he has continued to support him. As I said, his commitment is to help the president succeed.”
Unlike his other contenders, former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, has not hidden his desire to contest the 2019 presidential race. One striking thing about Lamido’s ambition is that he is not thinking of any alternative platform to actualise his dream in spite of the leadership challenges confronting the PDP. As a founding member, he believes very strongly that the party would overcome its current crisis and give APC a good fight in the next general elections. His optimism derives from the fact that the Jigawa State chapter of the party remains very strong and intact even in the face of the leadership tussle at the national level.
Perhaps, one issue Lamido may have to contend with as he pursues his ambition is the alleged move by Atiku to stage a comeback in PDP. While Atiku had dumped the party twice for alternative platforms in the previous elections, Lamido has remained a consistent supporter of the party. But some analysts say the latter’s formidable structure could throw Lamido’s calculation off the guard. Somehow, he might have put Atiku on the defensive with the rapport he had already built with all the 36 state chairmen of the PDP ahead of other aspirants.
Lamido, exuding confidence in an exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, expressed optimism that PDP would bounce back in full force. “The PDP may have crisis at the national level, but the truth of the matter is that the structure of the party is still very intact at various state levels. Already, I have met with the 36 state chairmen of our party and intimated them of my ambition. And I can assure you that with the PDP platform, I will beat Buhari and the APC in 2019”, he said.
Former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, is also not leaving any stone unturned in his aspiration to govern the country. In 2015, he contested the presidential ticket of the APC against President Buhari and emerged the second leading candidate. Ahead of the 2019 election, Sunday Sun gathered that he had put structures in place across the 36 states of the federation.
Interestingly, back at home, Kwankwaso has been having a running battle with his former deputy who is now the governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. The alleged frosty relationship between him and the governor has been seen by many as a handiwork of the cabal in the presidency who feels that there is a need to decimate his political following ahead of the 2019 Presidential election to forestall a repeat of what happened in 2015 primaries held at Onikan Stadium in Lagos. But while Kwankwaso’s political structure, the Kwankwasiyya, which he had established before the 2011 general elections has been literally routed in the face of the lingering face off, his network has expanded to other states of the federation with effective coordinators on ground.
The puzzle remains: what platform is he going to actualise his ambition. For now, he has not hinted of an alternative platform to actualise his ambition. With all permutations, it will be much easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of the needle than him pickling the ticket of the APC. This is regardless of whether or not President Buhari is running for a second term.
Though a new entrant into the presidential race, Al-Mustapha has been busy meeting relevant interest groups across the states of the federation preparatory to the former declaration of his presidential ambition for the 2019 elections.
A source close to the former NSA told Sunday Sun that Green Party of Nigeria had already been registered as a platform to actualise his ambition, adding that response so far has been very encouraging.
“Although it is a new party, one of our strategies is to woo aggrieved supporters of the leading political parties. For now, we have been busy with grassroots mobilisation. And the response we are getting has been quite overwhelming,” a source who did not want his name mentioned in print told Sunday Sun.
There are also unconfirmed reports that the Zamfara State Governor, Abdullaziz Abubakar Yari is also in pole position to go for the plum job.
Yari is said to be deploying his position as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, to great advantage, through certain moves and strategies that have endeared him to colleagues.