Political figures and institutions to watch in 2018

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Like an approaching locomotive train that announces its arrival through deafening noise and vibration, the next round of general elections in 2019 is already generating tension across Nigeria.

The imminence of the election was realised when a few days ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rolled out its timetable for the polls.

Analysts say that this year is going to be the busiest with too many political activities since the coming into power of the All Progressives Congress (APC). They say that alignment and re-alignment of forces would increase even as wheeling and dealing would be at an all-time high.

These activities would be propelled by individuals who have interests to pursue in 2019 as well as institutions, the activities of which would either make or mar the 2019 exercise.

We therefore present to you some of the politicians whose actions or/and inactions would be conveying serious messages to the Nigerian electorates.

President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari has done two years and eight months of his four-year term which began with his inauguration on May 29, 2015. His style of leadership has been largely criticised by many people within and outside the country. The Buhari administration has been embroiled in too many controversies.

Although Buhari has not openly declared any intention to seek another term, pundits say the signs of ambition to that effect are crystal clear. Those who hold this notion point to some of the president’s recent moves, chiefly his sudden realisation that the minimum wage was grossly inadequate and the move to review it even when many workers across the country are yet to be paid the existing meagre wage regime. His sudden empathy for the Nigerian workers, whom he said must be paid their last December salary to enable them celebrate the yuletide, pundits say, is pointing in the same direction. Moreover, his sudden fence-mending with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the APC, whose efforts saw the realisation of the Buhari Presidency, was a move observers say was not ordinary. The love or the working relationship between Tinubu and Buhari until recently appeared to have gone sour, but in a fence-mending move, Buhari decided to ferry Asiwaju to Cote d’Ivoire where the duo apparently had a heart-to-heart talk.

This year, Buhari is likely the most interesting figure in Nigeria to watch, because the progress or otherwise of the country this election year will, to a large extent, depend on his mood. If he decides to seek another term, it means that governance could suffer. Even if he says he will not run, his interest on his possible successor may also throw spanner in the works of his party and that of the country in general. Some observers say that the president may, in order to woo possible voters, spring some surprises in some areas.

“He could move against the Fulani herdsmen or get them to suspend the orgy of violence until the elections are over. So, when Nigerians begin to see fewer cases of massacres by herdsmen, it may not mean that the problem is over, it could be an understanding,” said an analyst who does not want his name mentioned.

“Again, when the Federal Government will announce a new batch of released Chibok girls sometime this year, Nigerians must not be quick to celebrate as they are signs of the 2019 poll,” the analyst said.

So, it would amount to political suicide for anyone to underrate the body language of the president or be taken by surprise the extent he can go this very year.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Tinubu’s relevance and his importance in Lagos State and at the national level are not lost on anybody who would want to vie for any position in the former capital of Nigeria, or at the federal level. Since 1999 when he became the governor of Lagos State, Tinubu has remained a kingmaker, a juggernaut and a celebrated godfather. Today, he remains the most relevant political figure in the country.

This year, the Asiwaju will be consulted by a large number of politicians from every part of the country. His fence-mending moves with the leadership of the pan-Yoruba cultural organisation, Afenifere, will draw more attention than ever. If he continues in that direction, his party at the centre may be jittery and Aso Rock may develop goose pimples.

Meanwhile, the Afenifere has refused to celebrate the rapprochement; they still see the Tinubu move as the smile of a vampire. They are also probably conversant with the words of John Webster, an English dramatist (1580-1632): “A politician imitates the devil, as the devil imitates a cannon; wheresoever he comes to do mischief, he comes with his backside towards you.”

Tinubu has not been totally pleased with the goings-on in the Buhari administration. He has on many occasions tried to verbalise this, personally or through proxies. As an astute politician, he knows what it means to consistently go against one’s own party, and government, particularly considering his immense contributions to the party’s ascendancy to the power stool. Analysts say that the Jagaban must have learnt his lesson and that it is not likely he would give his full weight to support Buhari’s rumoured return ambition without extracting some commitments from Aso Rock.

“Tinubu is not a neophyte. He understands the game. I think he has his card – his joker – close to his chest. If he is not careful, he may end up in the belly of the tiger he loves so much to ride. The truth of this is not lost on him,” said a political observer who pleaded anonymity.

Tinubu and his moves will surely present interesting headlines as the country approaches 2019.

Olusegun Obasanjo

This Ogun State-born soldier-turned-politician is unarguably one of the luckiest Nigerians. Since he embraced stardom in 1976 as the military head of state, there has never been a dull moment in his life. His second time on the nation’s power stool was more of a divine orchestration than any known military manipulation. Languishing in Sani Abacha’s gulag and waiting for the time he would be led to the gallows, the unthinkable happened – Abacha suddenly kicked the bucket. One thing led to the other and this Ijebu-Egba (Ijegba) hybrid was released from prison. Pictures of him taken at a thanksgiving service shortly after his release bear testimony that he could not have survived additional two months in that prison from the day Abdulsalami Abubakar granted him freedom.

Ever since, Obasanjo has remained an enigma in the Nigerian political space. He has had a hand in the emergence of whoever that has ruled the country since 1999. He supported Buhari’s APC in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election. Although he has since torn his PDP membership card, speculations are rife that he is planning to return to the umbrella party. Pundits say that his major plan could be to frustrate Atiku Abubakar’s touted presidential ambition in 2019.

The former president will once again be relevant this year and as usual, his residence will become a Mecca of sort.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a pastor and politician, is no doubt a loyal deputy to his boss. Although mischief-makers have tried several times to put a wedge in the cordial relationship existing between Buhari and Osinbajo, the Ogun State-born vice president has maintained his cool and his normal self. But pundits say that anything can happen as Osinbajo’s chances of retaining his portfolio beyond 2019 may not be sacrosanct after all.

No matter whatever happens, though, the vice president will be a strong force to reckon with in the build-up to the next election. He is a man to watch this year. Some school of thought says he may be traded for something bigger for the lion of Bourdillon, to whom he owes his achievements in politics.

Atiku Abubakar

For many years Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, has been seeking to occupy the position of the president of Nigeria. This ambition has seen him move from one party to the other. He joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014 and was not successful. He became frustrated by the style of leadership of the government and administration in power. Convinced that he has something far better and different from what is being given to Nigerians, Atiku, toward the tail end of last year, opted out of the broom party. He rejoined the PDP, the platform that offered him the opportunity to become the country’s vice president in 1999.

Although he has yet to make his presidential ambition officially known to the party, his body language has since spelt out the ABCD of his mission. He is one of the frontline politicians to watch this year. What would be his reaction if he succeeds in getting the ticket in the PDP or how would he react if otherwise? It is expected that his political activities would increase as he would be moving from one part of the country to the other on consultations and fraternisation.

Although a few people in the PDP believe his coming back was a waste of time, they would be underrating Atiku’s connections and his power to make this happen, to their own hurt.

Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo

Since a Catholic cleric in Enugu State, Revd Father Ejike Mbaka, made public his prediction that the odds for the 2019 presidency favoured Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, current governor of Gombe State, subterranean campaign has been going on in Dankwambo’s favour in some parts of the country. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Gombe chapter, has since been upbeat, claiming to be in support of the governor for a higher office.

Dankwambo is of the PDP and it appears that certain members of the party are more favourably disposed to him than to any other aspirant for now. In the last few weeks, the print media have been awash with stories that try to sell the Dankwambo candidature in PDP. The social media platform is also not left out. He is a man to watch this year where the early campaign will lead.

Nasir E-Rufai

The governor of Kaduna State has continued to be in the news since his inauguration in 2015. His closeness and loyalty to President Buhari and some of his comments have not gone down well with many people. At a point during the challenging days of President Buhari as a result of ill health, speculation was rife that E-Rufai was going to replace Buhari. Moreover, the incessant attacks of people of Southern Kaduna by those suspected to be Fulani herdsmen and the refusal of the state government to bring the perpetrators to book have since set the governor on a warpath with critics. What he does or fails to do; what he says or fails to say in the build-up to the election would be read differently by different people. He is indeed one of those to be closely watched.

Dave Umahi

The Ebonyi State governor is a man to watch this year. Elected on the PDP platform, Dave Umahi appears to be leaning towards the APC. There are speculations that in the months ahead, the governor may jump ship.

Umahi is currently the chairman of South East Governors’ Forum and observers say his closeness to Aso Rock may have become suspicious. He will be seeking re-election in 2019.

Rochas Okorocha

He is the governor of Imo State and has courted many controversies. Although he is doing his second and last term, he is angling to determine who succeeds him. The chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum will be a rallying point for the party’s faithful in the South East during the campaigns. It will be interesting to see how successfully he will work towards the re-election of Buhari this time around, especially in a government he may not have much say.

Bukola Saraki

Senate President Bukola Saraki has been in the news since he was elected to lead the National Assembly. The circumstances of his emergence have made him a permanent foe to the owners of the party on the platform of which he presides over Senate. Although he enjoys the cooperation of his colleagues, it is doubtful if he would come back to the seat in the event that the APC returns in 2019.

It has been touted severally that Saraki is nursing a presidential ambition next time around. One thing is sure: he will very much be in the news this year, not just because of his activities at the National Assembly, but because of his likely actions and inactions that would receive variegated interpretations. If he stays put in the APC, it would be newsworthy, and more news if he decides to go back to the PDP. Saraki is a man known to spring surprises; neither Aso Rock nor Bourdillon will take him for granted this time around.

Aisha Alhassan

She is currently the Minister of Women Affairs. Nigerians are watching with keen interest to know where she would pitch her tent in a matter of months from now.

Alhassan, popularly known as “Mama Taraba”, dominated newspaper headlines some months ago when she openly confessed her loyalty to Atiku Abubakar. She was quoted as saying, “Let me tell you today that if Baba said he is going to contest in 2019, I swear to Allah, I will go before him and kneel and tell him that, Baba, I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve in your government as minister, but Baba, just like you know, I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather; if Atiku said he is going to run.”

Many people have expressed surprise that she is still in the Buhari cabinet several weeks after her political godfather dumped the APC. It would be interesting to see how this woman minister would handle the jigsaw puzzle.

Samuel Ortom

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is one state executive in the ruling party that has been unfairly treated by both his party and the presidency. On several occasions he has run to them for help and succour but received cold shoulders. Since his inauguration in 2015, his eyes have seen pepper. He has buried close to 1,000 indigenes of his state who were, at different times, massacred in a most horrendous manner by marauding Fulani herdsmen.

Only a few days ago, Ortom was back in Aso Rock to appeal to the conscience of the chief occupant there. All he received was the oft-castrated assurances without action. Up till now, no arrests have been made. Benue will never forget Thursday, 11th January, 2018 when victims of Fulani herdsmen attack were brought in many trucks laden with black caskets and given a mass burial.

But Ortom has since declared his intention to seek re-election. It will be interesting to watch and see if he would continue in the APC, a family that has abandoned him in times of need, a family that has caused him serious headache and heartache.

Mahmood Yakubu

This is the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of supervising the conduct of the 2019 general election. Yakubu will grace the front pages of the national dailies this year. His activities will receive condemnation and commendation in equal measure, depending on perceptions of such activities by different people.

Nyesom Wike/Chibuike Amaechi

Rivers State is likely to experience more assassinations and bloody clashes between opposing political groups. The escalating rivalry between Chibuike Amaechi, a former governor of the state and current Minister of Transport, and Nyesom Wike, the incumbent governor, may get to a head this year as the struggle for the control of Rivers State moves to a dangerous level as we approach 2019.

INEC

The responsibility of conducting the general election is on this commission. From this moment, attention of Nigerians will focus on the agency. What it does or fails to do in the run-up to the election will earn it spaces in national newspapers. How it goes about making itself ready for the exercise in terms of updating the voter register, sensitising registered voters on the need for them to collect their voter cards and how it tackles the oft-recurring card reader issues will all put INEC on the radar this year.

Security agencies – Army, DSS, Police

The various security agencies in the country are to be watched as regards how they carry out their duties. Many activities of government have not received commendations as many more people have become critical of them. Chances are that as the election date approaches, government may grow very intolerant of the mounting criticism and begin to go brutal. Unfriendly activities of the Army, the DSS and regular police while trying to defend government have given an inkling into the extent they may go this year to protect the government in power, public outcry notwithstanding.

APC

The party in power and its government are likely to adopt some pro-people policies and roll out programmes to change the negative perception that has trailed them. Observers also say that the broom party is likely to pick up its arsenal of propaganda as a survival strategy. A number of people may be hoodwinked as there may be defections from other parties to it. The leadership of the party under John Odigie-Oyegun will have tough time convincing many electorates on the need to return the party. This year is going to prove the toughest for the broom party.

PDP

The umbrella party rising from the ashes of long-drawn leadership tussle and internal wrangling is likely to be enmeshed in a new round of crisis. This time around, the choice of a presidential standard bearer may be the crux of the matter. Although many Nigerians appear to have grown weary of the ruling party, it may be wrong, however, to say that it will amount to wholesale support for PDP. The year is going to prove very challenging for a party that lost a golden opportunity to retain the presidency as an incumbent, as a result of carelessness. Uche Secondus, the newly-elected chairman of the party, may also discover that his chairmanship position is nothing but a “crown of thorns”.

 

Zebulon Agomuo

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