By Wale Oloko
After a two-term, eight-year tenure, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will expire at noon, May 29, 2023. That is what the Constitution prescribes. As to be expected, succession battles and presidential maneuverings have begun within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the numerous fringe political parties that come alive only at election time. As it is typical of presidential politics in Nigeria, much of the early noises are about the section of the country that is entitled to produce President Buhari’s successor. Because the two major political parties stand equal chance of winning the coveted presidential price, until they conduct their national conventions, the part of the country that might produce the next president and who that person might be remain matters of speculation.
Notwithstanding the noises, posturing, apocalyptic threats by socio-political groups and hired presidential support groups polluting the airwaves and the environment with billboards, knowledgeable insiders and smooth political operators are unmoved by this ritualized game of political brinkmanship, because they know that, after eight years of President Buhari, the presidential gravy train would likely head southwards. But that possibility does not provide much clarity, in part because the south comprises three politically antagonistic, ethnically exclusive groups, each with plausible claims to the presidency.
On the face of it, the shift in the presidency to the southern part of the country, though unconstitutional, is sensible real politic in a fragile and multiethnic country as Nigeria. It is also good news to the professional politicians from that zone of the country. However, that may not be so for the vast majority of Nigerians, who believe that such an arrangement is no guarantor of good governance and national prosperity, as it had been the tragic case in the past. For the vast majority of Nigerians, power shift is a ruse, a self-serving mechanism devised by professional politicians to manage access to the national patrimony in what cynics have termed ‘turn-by-turn’ presidency. Nigerians acquiesce in this dubious arrangement largely because they are powerless; besides the fear is that any other option might undermine the country’s fragile democracy.
Ordinarily, it would not be out of place to assume that in the event that the presidency goes to the southern part of the country, for the sake of equity, fairness and justice, the Southeast geo-political zone should claim the big price. The compelling argument is that in the 4th Republic, both the southwest and south-south zones have had their shots at the presidency.
However, any idea that the southwest is out of the equation may be premature, even politically naïve. The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is from the same northwest geo-political zone as former President Musa Yar’Adua renders the case against the southwest futile. In practice, there is nothing illegitimate about having two presidents from the same geo political zone if the political parties and the electorate allow it. It is for that reason that candidates from the Southwest and south-south geo-political zones might feel encouraged to vie for the top job, notwithstanding the claims and pleas by the southeast. All these make the permutation towards 2023 even more interesting. What is, however, not in doubt is that the 2023 presidential contest is a straight battle between the APC and PDP, as it is rather too late for any third force to displace either of the two mainstream parties.
This is where the Bola Ahmed Tinubu factor and moves by the ruling APC to retain power at the center come into play. Although he has yet to formally declare for the presidency, there is every likelihood that he or someone from his political family will do so on the platform of the ruling party. It is also probable that the PDP will concede the presidency to the southeast in view of the sizable support it has in the region, and the fact that the party had already produced two presidents from the southwest and south-south respectively. Moreover, the PDP does not have serious foothold in the southwest. Although the PDP has a large followership in the south-south, it does appear the region is not mobilizing for the presidency as at now. Perhaps former President Goodluck Jonathan may fancy his chances and decide to throw his hat into the ring? If he does, on what platform would he pitch his tent, given the rumors making the rounds that he might be drafted by the ruling APC? If that does happen, how would the APC sell his candidacy to a largely PDP-dominated south-south, a disenchanted southeast, and an APC-dominated southwest in awe of Ahmed Bola Tinubu?
Ahmed Bola Tinubu is an intriguing character, given his larger-than life image in the ruling APC. While his antecedents in Lagos are well known, he appears to lack the temperament of a no-nonsense politician ready to whip Nigerians back into line. Besides, while his style of governance, especially his tendency to emasculate both the executive and legislative branches of government, might have worked for him in Lagos state, such a strategy could come unstuck at the federal level.
Moreover, some analysts believe that his interests are usually at variance with the collective interests of the people. This is to the extent that he may more than likely enhance the political fortunes of his loyalists in order to make possible his disposition towards state capture, as it is in Lagos State where his political machinery has dominated the landscape since 1999. But should his famed political sagacity disqualify him in the upcoming presidential contest? Certainly not.
The expectation of experts and non-politicians appear to be that, after two decades of the 4th Republic, merit should be uppermost in the minds of all who wish Nigeria well. The argument is that there is no correlation between the well-being of the people of a zone and the factor of the president coming from that particular zone. Examples abound of complaints and dissatisfaction by the peoples of zones that had produced presidents but have struggled with poverty, insecurity and infrastructural deficits in much the way and to the same degree as other less politically favored parts of Nigeria. Moreover, precisely because the Nigerian president is constitutionally bound to serve the whole country, the occupant of that exalted office cannot, and should not, in good conscience develop one part of the country at the expense of the others. To that extent, some well-meaning Nigerians have argued for a meritocratic presidency that is open to all qualified Nigerians, regardless of ethnic, sectarian or geo-political affiliations.
The case for an open contest has assumed even more salience in recent time, not least because at the moment none of the rumored and potential presidential candidates in the two main parties appear really angry enough about the current situation in the country to fundamentally change the direction of governance, if elected in 2023. In essence, no one seems to fit the bill of a “Change Agent” with the vision, discipline and charisma to provide the leadership to finally unlock Nigeria’s mythical potentials. What we see are the same old, tired faces, people that are more than likely to maintain the status quo than embark on the radical change that Nigeria needs. We do not see any ‘young turks’ among the probable or possible presidential hopefuls, and if there are any on the wings, it is unlikely they would prosper in the presidential politics of either of the major political parties.
Thus, for the vast majority of Nigerians, the prognosis for the future is bleak. But Nigerians are desperate for change and change they must get and the time is now. There is little doubt that without a fundamental change; without a major course correction in politics and in governance, Nigeria will remain a country of missed opportunities, a country where potentials, not achievements, are celebrated. One does not have to be a clairvoyant to know that the country is not going in the right direction and must change course to realize its potentials for the benefit of all citizens.
The clock is ticking and 2023 is now on the horizon. Let the political fireworks begin.