In a little over twenty months from now, General Muhammadu Buhari will come to the end of his tenancy at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa and a new occupant will move in. Who that individual will be is unknown for now but politicians are already aligning within and across party lines to occupy that office come May 29, 2023 in an election that promises to be fascinating because in Nigeria, elections are usually fascinating when the incumbent is not vying for a position.
For 2023, there have barely been any public declarations of interest yet, however, it is common knowledge that a lot is going on within the major political parties towards selecting flag bearers for that election. Some familiar names are already being bandied as prospective aspirants.
Former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, and his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, all of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, already have support groups testing the waters for their presidential bids in 2023.
For Tinubu, a group known as the South West Agenda, or SWAGA, is already up and running, lobbying and canvassing for his presidency in 2023, while the Atiku Support Organization, ASO, is doing a similar job for the former Vice President. The group recently issued a statement asking INEC to electronically transmit results. Governor Yahaya Bello also has groups, mainly his appointees, talking about his presidential aspiration.
The mission of SWAGA in trying to rally the entire south west geopolitical zone behind Tinubu’s ambition has already put the group at loggerheads with loyalists of Fayemi and reportedly led to cracks in the Ekiti State chapter of the APC. This division in said to be traceable to Fayemi’s determination not to allow the Senator Adedayo Adeyeye-led group any foothold in the state as the governor wants his state to back his own presidential aspiration. So, the emergence of the Jagaban or Fayemi would likely split the South West geopolitical bloc.
Meanwhile, the acceptability of both men outside the southwest is shaky, especially for Tinubu who the south-south and southeast blame for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s 2019 second term loss to President Muhammadu Buhari. In addition, Asiwaju Tinubu, like Atiku Abubakar, will be a septuagenarian in 2023 and it is doubtful if Nigerians will want to replace one septuagenarian (Buhari) with another in Tinubu or Atiku. In contrast, though Fayemi, at 56 years old, has age on his side, he may not have the name recognition Tinubu and Atiku enjoy across the country.
Besides the age factor, another concern surrounding Atiku’s aspiration comes from sentiments that the next president should come from the south geopolitical zone owing to the conventional zoning arrangement which requires a north/south rotation of the presidency after every eight years. That factor will also hold true against other potential aspirants of northern extraction, irrespective of the party.
Quite apart from that, Atiku’s party, the PDP, is hemorrhaging so badly at the moment that there may not be enough time between now and 2023 for it to heal, put its house in order and get an acceptable and sellable candidate to beat an APC party that currently boasts of 22 of the country’s 36 state governors (some will say still counting), nearly 70 senators out of a total 109, and over 200 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives from across the states and the Federal Capital Territory.
When all the factors enumerated above are considered, the APC may consider incumbent Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, as a wildcard for the presidency despite his apparent lack of interest at the moment. He has steered clear of politics and concentrated on his social intervention programmes, delivered speeches at events, visited markets for one programme or another and talked to young people at various ICT hubs, among others.
However, due to this apathy, some observers believe that Osinbajo might decline to run for President even if President Buhari himself urges him to do so; even if he is promised the ticket as a consensus presidential candidate of the party.
Nevertheless, with the benefit of hindsight, those who have governed Nigeria since 1999 did not necessarily show enthusiasm or even indicate overt interest at running for the office. General Olusegun Obasanjo, for instance, was in jail for his alleged involvement in a coup to overthrow General Sani Abacha, when a return to democracy was being negotiated. The military, led by General Abdulasalam Abubakar, brought him out of jail and Obasanjo became president in 1999.
Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua too was reportedly persuaded against his will to contest the presidency. He didn’t lobby for the position. He would probably have preferred to be left alone to look after his health after completing his tenure as Governor of Katsina State, but Obasanjo reportedly told him that Nigeria needed his services and they would not take NO for an answer.
And, the story of how Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the beneficiary of two unplanned ascensions to office as Bayesla State Governor in 2005 and President, Commander-in-Chief in 2010 is still fresh in the memories of Nigerians.
Without a doubt, the APC is currently in cruise control, though no one can rule out an implosion similar to the one that happened in the PDP prior to the 2015 general election where senior members of the party, led by then Vice President Atiku Abubakar and five sitting governors, defected to the APC thereby swinging the momentum to the new party and giving them victory at that election. With Osinbajo as candidate, the APC may just pip the PDP to the presidency in 2023 for obvious reasons.
First and foremost, his principal, President Buhari, might consider that Osinbajo has passed the loyalty test, especially when one recalls the acrimonious relationship between former President Obasanjo and his Vice, Atiku, and the not so cordial relationship between late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his Vice, Goodluck Jonathan. I stand to be corrected, but I have not read anywhere of a fracas or any major disagreement between Osinbajo and the president, despite the sycophancy that exists around all corridors of power.
Secondly, the essence of having a deputy or vice is for him to stand in for the principal in his absence and to understudy him; to get experience and ascend the office in the case of death or incapacitation. Having acted as president during the numerous overseas trips of his boss for health and vacation purposes, the APC will consider Osinbajo as having a fair idea of how to be Nigeria’s President having presided over several Federal Executive Council, FEC, meetings in addition to his headship of the National Economic Council, among others.
In addition, Professor Osinbajo has an apolitical mien, in other words, not power drunk or hungry. He looks professorial and legal thereby coming across as a trustworthy individual. His unassuming nature makes him almost anonymous in an administration where he is second in command. This means he works efficiently and quietly behind the scene without necessarily boasting or claiming credit for his work. Some other individuals in his position would be all over the place as the second in command.
Before he became Vice President in 2015, Professor Osinbajo was hardly known outside Lagos state and the law courts. In 2023, he would have put in eight years as Buhari’s deputy and the APC will believe he now has the name recognition necessary to launch a national political campaign.
Among prospective aspirants, the APC may conclude that Professor Yemi Osinbajo has a higher chance of acceptability in various demographics cutting across religious, political, ethnic and cultural divisions. His visit to Port Harcourt, where he labeled Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, ‘Mr. Project’ in recognition of what the governor was doing in terms of infrastructure might even give him some PDP votes as well. This is more so because Wike has played the part of Opposition-in-Chief to the Buhari administration for the last six years! Most career politicians will downplay the achievements of someone in the opposition.
To be fair, and as stated earlier, some potential aspirants in both parties like Atiku Abubakar, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Kayode Fayemi, Yahaya Bello, Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal, Rotimi Amaechi, Nyesom Wike, and David Umahi, among others, enjoy some of the attributes mentioned above, but because he comes with less baggage, the APC may think it stands a better chance of retaining the presidency if it presents a wild card in Professor Osinbajo and give other parties the headache of how to counter that choice.
However, eighteen months is still a long, long time away; enough time for PDP to put its house in order and for APC to implode!!
Bassey, a commentator on public affairs, can be reached at email@example.com