The presidential race is here and the marathoners are lining up with the eagerness of a boxing challenger. The gong has not gone yet but any moment from now the referee will give the signal for the fists to fly. This battle promises to be the fiercest we will see in a long time.
Some credible candidates, non-politician technocrats have already emerged. Let me mention two of them: Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, a lawyer and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, is the presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP). Moghalu was a United Nations public servant who has travelled across the globe. He is very polished, well-spoken and does not fit the bill of a typical Nigerian politician. He has written several books the last of which is titled, “Build, Innovate and Grow: My vision for our country.” He is a policy wonk and the book represents the Nigeria of his vision.
There is Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education and Minister of Solid Minerals under President Olusegun Obasanjo. She is the convener of an NGO called the Red Card Movement. She intends to use the red card to show President Muhammadu Buhari the way out of Aso Villa. She is also a policy wonk, very articulate, well informed on various issues. She was also the Vice-President of the World Bank. She will be running for the presidential position on the platform of the Allied Congress Party (ACP). What I can assure the public is that Professor Moghalu and Mrs Ezekwesili have both the knowledge and the courage to raise, quite brilliantly, the many issues that have trapped Nigeria in the vortex of underdevelopment. I doubt however whether they have both the wherewithal and the mammoth machinery for a presidential campaign. That will be the chink in their armour.
There is also Donald Duke, who had run Cross River State as its Governor for eight years under the PDP. He is now the presidential candidate of the SDP. His most notable achievements as governor was the creation of TINAPA, an economic and tourist zone within Calabar town. He also gave tourism a shot in the arm with the famous Calabar festival, thus putting Nigeria on the carnival map of the world. He created by legislation a savings scheme that ensured that the Cross River State Government was able to put aside 10% of its receivables for the rainy day. This guaranteed that his workers were paid without any hitches.
President Muhammadu Buhari of APC and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP appear to have both the wherewithal and the machinery for a marathon race. Both of them have won the tickets of their parties, the two biggest parties in Nigeria. It will be an insult to other presidential aspirants if I should say that the 2019 presidential race will be a two horse race between Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. But at the moment it looks like that. This is merely a tentative statement because in politics things can change dramatically within a week because of what a candidate says or does that may bring down or boost his chances.
Buhari is an incumbent who is serving his first term as the elected President. This is his second incarnation. He had served 34 years ago as a military head of state and went out of office exactly the way he came in: by a military coup. The way he was overthrown leaves him with a huge residue of bitterness which he harps upon from time to time. For the 2019 race he will be judged by his performance as a military ruler (1984-1985) and as an elected president from 2015 to 2019. In the last three and half years his focus has been principally on three issues, namely: security, corruption and economy. Other issues have sprouted like mushrooms since his entry into office and he will be held to account on those issues as well. And what will he be tackling in the next four years if he wins? That he will spell out during the campaign as well as tell Nigerians whether or not he has fulfilled all his election promises.
Atiku Abubakar, everybody calls him Atiku, is like the man next door. He was Nigeria’s Vice President under President Olusegun Obasanjo for eight years. He proved to be a very effective Vice President but Obasanjo did not trust him. The mistrust arose from the fact that some PDP Governors who had problems with President Obasanjo had tempted him with the offer of the 2003 presidential primaries against Obasanjo. He fell for it. That poisoned the relationship between them. President Obasanjo also believed that it was Atiku who sponsored the attempt by the Senate to impeach him. Atiku has always vigorously denied the allegation. However, Atiku believes that it is actually his opposition to Obasanjo’s third term project that has put the wedge between them. Now that Obasanjo and Atiku have a common opponent in Buhari will the former Vice President and his former boss sheath their swords, mend fences and train their guns on a common foe: Buhari? As the axiom goes in politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. We shall see.
Buhari got the ticket to run again last Saturday without breaking a sweat. His Party, APC, had loads of trouble conducting the primaries for other offices but the presidential primary was just by affirmation, or if you like, coronation. Even though there were two or so candidates who were making some shrill noises and threatening to contest against Buhari they were nowhere to be seen on election day; maybe they were looking for stomach infrastructure and may be Chairman Adams (Mao) Oshiomhole “talked to them very nicely.” I am sure you get my message. In 2014, those who wanted to contest against President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP were told by the party apparatchik that only one nomination form was printed. That form was only for Jonathan. The printer had gone on leave and would only be back to work on election day. The Buhari people were smarter. They got those irritants out of the way quietly. If it is food they wanted they were given so they were happy to scamper into the holes from which they came. Truth be told, in other climes people within the same party hardly contest against the incumbent. But this is Nigeria, people do so either to improve their Curriculum vitae or to get something for their stomachs.
The real contest for the presidential ticket was in the PDP where 13 persons were vying for the slot. There was intense lobbying of the Governors who brought the delegates from their states. There was quite a lot of horse-trading but it was clear that all the states did not vote the same way. At the end of the day Atiku Abubakar whipped them all with a huge margin. That is the easy part. The tough one is how to beat Buhari who has immense advantages as an incumbent. He has a cult following among the talakawa in the North East and North West as well as a reasonably large support in the South West. The areas that will be his Achilles feet are South South, South East and North Central. These three zones are largely friendly to Atiku especially because of his message of restructuring. However, the campaigns are not yet in full gear. How the zones will respond to the candidates will depend on their messages and whether or not those messages are believable.
Atiku knows the issues based on his experience as a former Vice President and a private businessman of note. He has been harping on employment creation and restructuring. These will feature prominently along with insecurity, corruption, economy, low living standard and high prices as well as human rights. If the Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu are not released by then, that will be a major talking point as well. The politicians will raise the issues they consider important but one expects the press to set the agenda for them. After 58 years of roaming in the wilderness what should we be doing differently? How do we fit into the current hankering by the world after STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Can we develop appropriate technology for our development? Alternative Medicine has been from time immemorial a big deal in Nigeria and Africa. Why are we not keying into it big time instead of just being avaricious consumers of alternative medicine from China? Why are we unable to maximize the enormous solid minerals under our feet, minerals that include even gold? The reason: stupid politics, the same kind of stupid politics that is hampering us from maximizing the enormous benefits of our liquid minerals, oil and gas. Why do we have a rich green carpet of fertile soil and good weather and yet are hungrily importing food for our citizens to eat? Why do we have four near moribund refineries and have had to be importing petroleum products at grossly inflated costs? Why do we use more than 70% of our resources in servicing politicians and civil servants and their ghosts while only about 30% is left for development projects? There will be many more questions which I expect the press to throw at those who want to rule us in 2019 bearing in mind the world is leaving us behind.