2019 and Obasanjo’s threat

As the 2019 election draws nearer political forces are forming alliances just as alliances are collapsing. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is, at the minute, taking the heat as some of its alliance partners issue subtle or direct threats and a few others withdraw their support. The opposition People’s Democratic Party, which lost power to PDP, is far worse hit, as it fails to shape up since losing out in 2015.

Nigeria’s political turf is usually dicey. But it is dicier as each election approaches. The 2015 election is phenomenal in the country’s history. It was the first occasion an incumbent at the centre was handed a humbling defeat. Towards the end of his tenure as president, Goodluck Jonathan fell out with many of his allies, including those who played key roles in his election. So, it was obvious that the contest was not going to be a walk in the park for him, despite the ‘advantage’ of power of incumbency.

After repeated failed attempts to unseat the then ruling PDP candidates, the then opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, began to look like a real threat. Reasons were the withering support base of President Jonathan, general disenchantment with the PDP whose 16 years in power had brought the dividends of democracy to only a few, the worrying security situation in the country, particularly the monstrous Boko Haram insurgency, and, above all, the surprising unity of opposition parties that birthed the APC.

APC’s conception, birth and survival, especially in its early days, came at a costly price. But the choice of Buhari as its presidential flag bearer was its hallmark. The primaries had been, as unusual as it was for party politics in Nigeria, extremely transparent. The losers were, in defeat, sportsmanly. The winner was, in victory, magnanimous. The amazing show of unity profoundly unsettled the PDP, making its defeat, something that was hardly previously envisaged, almost certain, long before votes were cast.

One of former President Jonathan’s major miscalculations in the run up to the election was his inability to hold back his anger in the face of provocations. For example, trading words with former President Olusegun Obasanjo immensely contributed to his defeat because Obasanjo fired back with full vengeance, deploying every weapon at his disposal. Suffice to say, therefore, that Obasanjo’s support for President Buhari was a significant lubricant to the latter’s navigation to victory.

But, as important as Chief Obasanjo’s support was, it was not a sufficient factor for Buhari’s victory. Candidate Buhari was, among other reasons, the most trusted of the contestants to get Nigeria out of the woods. But his support, especially in northern part of the country, was unprecedented and, surprisingly too, the south-west soon caught the bug.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, is arguably the most formidable politician from the south-west. His popularity and strategising capabilities are ever reliable. He was one person whose backing of candidate Buhari had a profound effect on the election. Starting with the APC primaries in Lagos, he calmly but humiliatingly humbled former vice president Atiku Abubakar, who had strategically readied himself for victory. Tinubu matched the former VP tactic for tactic and the outcome shockingly placed Abubakar a distant third in the race.

It was this feat and Tinubu’s ability to rally the south-west behind candidate Buhari in the main election in March 2015 that made him a far more important factor in President Buhari’s victory. The south-west was (and still is) the beautiful bride, whose nod made or marred the two main rivals’ sail to victory. But the victory dance has, somehow, since given way to grief and not a few grumbles have rented the air. This, perhaps, is why the battle for Aso Villa in 2019 could be a lot fiercer and, maybe, messier. Whoever gets the bride’s nod comes out merrier.

But Tinubu is no novice and knows his onions; 2019 is as crucial as 2023. And, based on the gentleman’s agreement that power should be rotated every eight years between the north and south, 2023 would be a payback time; a time only those who sowed would reap, most probably.

But, in fairness to the south-east, it has yet to produce a president since Gen Aguyi Ironsi’s short but ghastly reign. So, as Chief Obasanjo argued not long ago, 2023 could be a time to compensate and pacify them to drop their secession plan. But there has to be, beyond mere sentiments, a basis for such concession.

In 2015, despite the APC reserving the Senate President position for the region, it massively voted for the PDP, and eventually aligned with rebelling members of the ruling APC to settle for the Deputy Senate President position. Up until now, although there is increasing support for the ruling party, the south-east is predominantly pro-PDP. This means if it remains with the opposition and the APC candidate is re-elected in 2019, the south-east would have little or no legitimate claim to bearing the ruling party’s flag in 2019.

For Asiwaju Tinubu and the south-west, therefore, supporting President Buhari’s reelection bid would be in their best interest, for a number of reasons. First, it would consolidate Tinubu’s political relevance in the region over and above Obasanjo’s claim, despite the latter being a two-term president. Second, it would be the second time the region is producing a president after Obasanjo’s two terms since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. Third, President Buhari’s victory, with the support of the region Obasanjo comes from, regardless of his threat, would permanently perish the former president’s claim to being a ‘power broker’.

But Obasanjo is not a man that makes empty threats. He makes good his promises and could fight really dirty.

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