By ABBA MAHMOOD –
Almost two years into the Buhari/Osinbajo administration, the anxiety in the political arena and uncertainty in the economic sphere are palpable. No Nigerian leader has ever got the genuine love and support of the ordinary people of this country like Buhari. It appears, unfortunately, no one has over-squandered his enormous goodwill like him too. This year, 2017, will define the success or failure of the Buhari era. This is why it is important to bring out the salient issues clearly so that mistakes can be corrected and what remains of the goodwill can be saved and possibly built upon.
Buhari had the misfortune of wasting very precious time, 166 days in all, before forming his cabinet. Buhari’s greatest misfortune is that he appointed some of the worst people into key positions. His chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, is neither a politician nor a technocrat. The secretary to the government of the federation is neither a public servant nor a personable character. It was a case of square pegs in round holes. Consequently, both governance and politics are suffering. To complete the bad picture, there are very few experienced hands in the cabinet, and he has declined to appoint expert advisers earlier approved for him by the Seventh Senate.
He merged three key ministries – power, works and housing – into one and appointed a lawyer to supervise that highly technical ministry. It demystified the bright star of Lagos, Minister Babatunde Fashola, who got overwhelmed and failed to perform his famed miracle. In addition to this mega ministry, finance, telecommunications, solid minerals, FIRS, and major economic ministries were given to one section of Nigeria, the strongest economically among the various regions. It was a clear case of adding power to the most powerful, as the Hausas would say.
The Yoruba are very strategic — they calculate very well. They bid their time. They just had a major meeting in Ibadan where all their active political figures attended and strategized for the next political move by their region. Regardless of their outward show of differences, they are the most cohesive part of the country. They never forget any good turn by anyone and they hardly forgive bad ones by anybody either. The 2019 political process will revolve around the southwest regardless of what plays out between now and that year.
However, Buhari has been lucky to have a very loyal gentleman, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as vice president. The whole public is watching Osinbajo, and he has been very impressive so far. Take, for instance, his recent trip to Imo State. Rochas Okorocha, the Imo governor, told the VP that Imo is the only APC state in the south-east and that they have only a junior minister in the Buhari cabinet. Osinbajo replied that even President Buhari’s state of origin, Katsina, and state of residence, Kaduna, both have only junior ministers. Of course, what each of these two northern states gave to the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket is more than what the entire south-eastern states gave in terms of number of votes.
If the truth must be told, all the 19 northern states are not happy with the Buhari administration, but are just being patient out of courtesy. In terms of infrastructural development, in terms of economic empowerment, in terms of improving standard of living of the people and in terms of genuine human development indices and general poverty eradication, the lives of the people of the region have not been positively affected by this government. Even the appointees of the president in this dispensation from the region are mostly those who despise the people. There is deep frustration as those who worked hard and sacrificed to bring this government into office are not those who are benefiting now.
Although the political value of the north has diminished tremendously in recent times, even though it is the same north that has been short-changed in this dispensation, it is the northerners who are angling to contest for the 2019 presidency as if sealing the fate of Buhari even before he made any pronouncement to that effect. Governor Tambuwal of Sokoto has not hidden this ambition and has been sponsoring newspaper articles in support of “generational” shift, whatever that means. But has he forgotten that he engineered the coup that brought Hon. Yakubu Dogara to the House of Representatives speakership and that the Yoruba don’t forget such treachery? In any case, I doubt if being first among equals in the House of Representatives and being first term governor of a homogenous Sokoto State are enough credentials to be president.
There are many others, of course, who want to be president but the next most visible one is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Atiku is crisscrossing the country and making consultations with some important personalities on his burning ambition to be the president of Nigeria. At over 70 years old, Atiku rightly thinks that 2019 is his last chance to take a shot at the number one seat.
Atiku is a creation of the establishment but he now thinks he can be the Nigerian Trump – old, anti-establishment and unconventional. This was why he went to a Biafran book launch where he criticized the Buhari administration and even promised to “restructure” Nigeria, alluding to the fact that he was now a convert to the “renegotiation” of the nation’s unity. He was only appealing to the emotions and sentiments of some local southern irredentists and, by so doing, ruffling some feathers up north, thinking that he could court the support of the south, since, in his calculations, northern support is a given, since he himself is from the north.
But a politician can take such gamble if he is sure of a strong political base. Atiku wasted his best chance in 2003, and has been on the decline since then, just as Senator Bola Tinubu has been on the political ascendancy since then. After all, the political worth of a politician is in winning elections. In 2007, Atiku crossed over to Action Congress from the then ruling PDP, contested for the presidency but could not deliver even his home state of Adamawa to the AC governorship. He went back to the PDP but could not even get the presidential primaries against relatively new President Jonathan in 2011. In 2015, he came to the APC and contested for the presidential primaries ending up a distant third after President Buhari and then Kano governor and now senator Kwankwaso. He opposed the emergence of Bindow as Adamawa governor in 2015; Bindow won hands down.
In any case, Buhari has destroyed the chance of any 70-year-old to become president in the foreseeable future. Atiku can be a kingmaker, however, if he plays very well no doubt.
History is on the side of the oppressed.