Buhari’s Consensus Candidate: The Blind Man’s Buff

By Chris Gyang

Nothing rattles Mr. President. That is, the way the leader of a country that has fulfilled all the undignified requirements of a failed state naturally should.

Confronted with relatively less problems, leaders of other democracies, even dictatorships, have been known to quake, but gather themselves up and trudge on. But not Mr. Buhari. He appears to have crumbled a long time ago from the sheer weight of the responsibilities of governance.

Even the uptick in kidnappings for ransom, armed banditry, Fulani herdsmen’s violent land-grabbing in parts of the Middle Belt, Islamist terrorism, mind-bugling corruption in the corridors of his administration and run-away inflation, among others, do not shake our president no more. Afterall, these are the frightening outcomes of his lethargic, laid-back, leadership style.

Quite instructively, in April this year, a prestigious Scottish university shared the picture of President Buhari on twitter reclining comfortably on a settee at the presidential palace picking his teeth, obviously after a sumptuous meal. This is in stark contrast with the poverty, hunger and general state of discontent ravaging ordinary Nigerians. According to the institution, the picture was used to illustrate bad and insensitive leadership. They accurately hit the bull’s eye.

That twitter representation of our president also captured the very essence of the man and his leadership style in a country buffeted on all sides by monstrous problems, most of them caused by a leadership deficit. But even before then, because the president had continued to show an almost complete lack of interest in the burning problems threatening to over-run the country, there was a time it was widely believed that the man in Aso Rock was Buhari’s body double, a foreign impostor from Sudan known as ‘Jubril.’

Many Nigerians could not rationalize how a true national leader could display such crass ambivalence to the tempests tottering the ship of state. And although the conspiracy theory that it was Jubril of Sudan and not the ‘original’ Buhari who gave the plagiarized “I am for no one but for everyone” speech that was at the Villa was later proved wrong, Mr. Buhari has remained as aloof and absent-minded as ever.

Many other Nigerians who claimed he had dementia still hold on to that belief and cite Mr. Buhari’s tepid responses to the killings, abductions for ransom, armed banditry, armed herdsmen’s attacks, etc, as glaring examples.

But there is still a very notable exception to these. Matters of partisan politics, wielding and dispensing power (with large doses of nepotism) and choosing his own successor, excite Mr. President in no small measure. To Buhari and the core northern political, religious and feudal establishments, political power is an end in itself. They proudly call it MULKI up north and hanker after it with uncommon zeal.

For them, controlling the levers of the Federal Government is sufficient, even if large swathes of their own states are in the hands of terrorists, bandits and other well-armed gangs. For them, it is enough to be president even if your region holds the ignoble record of having the largest number of poor people and out of school children in the country, not to mention their concomitant consequences.

Unfortunately, it is these and such other beliefs that have underpinned Buhari’s administration in the last seven years. And it is on that basis that he wishes to impose another northerner on the country during his APC’s presidential convention.

It is so frightening that President Buhari’s misplaced but growing sense of entitlement, self-accomplishment and self-worth make him feel that he should be allowed by the ruling APC to single-handedly determine its presidential candidate in next year’s election. Apparently, he wants to perpetuate this sweltering nightmare, state of anomy, that has become Nigeria’s new normal since he assumed power in 2015.

In a meeting with APC governors on May 31, 2022, President Buhari spelt out his demand in no uncertain terms. DAILY TRUST newspaper (June 1, 2023) captured it this way: “President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday dropped a bombshell when he told the governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to allow him to make a choice for his successor.”

According to the tabloid, the governors were taken aback because they had expected the president to allow them choose one of them to succeed him. But the president’s demand should not have come as a surprise to the governors because there appears to have been an understanding between them and the president on this matter. Thus, he reminded them that the Party had already put in place smooth succession plans at the local government, state and national levels.

“For example,” Mr. Buhari explained, “first term governors who have served credibly well have been encouraged to stand for re-election. Similarly, second term governors have been accorded the privilege of promoting successors that are capable of driving their visions as well as the ideals of the party.”

Aggrieved Party members in states such as Plateau who felt that their second-term governors unjustly imposed their successors in the recent primary elections now know that they did so with the tacit backing of Aso Rock. The pact was that the governors would also bend over backwards to serve the interest of Mr. President when it comes to choosing his own successor.

So if such APC members had had any hopes of extracting justice through the intervention of Mr. Buhari or their Party’s national leadership, they should kiss that hope goodbye.

Now the president wants his pound of flesh from the state governors. He is telling them that, in the spirit of give and take, they should also allow him choose the presidential candidate of the APC. During that meeting with the governors, he proceeded to pontificate about the values of democracy and the goals and benefits of good governance in a way that completely belied his democratic credentials and the way he has misled the country so far.

Hear him: “In a few days, the party will be holding its convention during which primaries would take place to pick the presidential flag bearer for the 2023 General Elections. This is a very significant process and its outcome should prove to the world, the positive quality of the APC regarding democratic principles, culture as well as leadership.

“As we approach the Convention, I appeal to all of you to allow our interests to converge, our focus to remain on the changing dynamics of our environment, the expectations of our citizens and the global community. Our objective must be the victory of our party and our choice of candidate must be someone who would give the Nigerian masses a sense of victory and confidence even before the elections.” Mere platitudes, as usual.

The president even emphasized the need to meet the expectations of the global community as if he had made any spirited attempts in his seven years in office to effectively leverage on the strategic position and immense human and natural resources of the country to make it a key global player.

With an intractable Islamist rebellion and armed Fulani herdsmen’s expansionism going on almost unabated, the Buhari administration has consistently shown the international community that it lacks the moral courage and political will to put a stop to these and other forms of bloody criminality that have become the order of the day all over the country. As a result, most of the global community has now adopted a stand-and-watch attitude towards Nigeria as it goes about its half-hearted motions of battling insecurity.

It is a continuation of this that the president wants the APC to allow him perpetuate by choosing a northern candidate to succeed him. No doubt, the feeling that he wants to impose a northern candidate on the APC has caused great disquite in the ranks of the party and frayed a lot of nerves. Apparently, now that it suits their whims, power shift and zoning may as well go to the dogs. But once upon a time, in fact only about eight years ago, Buhari and the core north tightly held on to these principles with religious zeal and threatened to upset the political apple cart if they were not strictly upheld. And they had their way because good reason prevailed.

The outbursts of the National Leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on June 2, 2022, at Abeokuta, Ogun State, clearly underscored this growing tension, dissatisfaction and suspicion both within the APC and the polity generally, considering the fact that it is this political party that is in charge of running the affairs of the country.

In obvious response to Buhari’s shinanigans, an apparently frustrated Tinubu declared: “If not me that led the war front, Buhari wouldn’t have emerged. He contested first, second and third times, but lost. He even said on television that he won’t contest again.

“But I went to his home in Katsina. I told him you would contest and win, but you won’t joke with the matters of the Yorubas. Since he has emerged, I have not been appointed minister. I didn’t get contract. This time, it’s Yoruba turn and in Yorubaland, it’s my tenure.”

In the last few days, there have been strong indications that the president may very likely cave in to pressure from the cabal in the Presidency, chiefly made up of his relatives and a few high-ranking officials in his government, and select between the Senate President, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan (an ultra-conservative core northerner) and former Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Yarima (the man who first introduced Sharia as state law while he was governor) as the APC’s consensus presidential candidate. Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s anger must have been fueled by these widespread speculations which are gradually gaining traction.

But in a swift response, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir David Lawan, lashed out at Tinubu’s grandstanding, describing it as ‘bulshit’ (sic). Now, it’s significant to note that this is coming from a man who is one of Tinubu’s closest political allies. In fact, he was among the heavyweights that purchased the APC presidential nomination form for Tinubu and has been a leading force in his campaign to be president in 2023.

But Lawan, a self-professed northerner, appears to have sided with the core north and Mr. Buhari against his political ally. And his vituperations would further reveal the deep-seated suspicion the core north has harboured against the Yoruba, spanning decades. VANGUARD quoted him as saying: “Sometimes it is very difficult to support a Yoruba person in national politics if you are not one.
“They have a way of making you regret your support because they eventually make you seem like a traitor to your own people. Now all these comments about Bola’s Yoruba presidency and his support of Buhari without which Buhari would not have been president is bulshit.”

He pointed out that there were many other Nigerians from other parts of the country who also contributed in making Mr. Buhari president but were “not bragging about it” and expressed regret that “You may wish to know that all of us Buhari supporters are shocked and pissed off by Bola’s speech on this occasion. It is unlike him.
“And this speech is massively trending in the North and being given a negative connotation as you can well imagine. I first read it this morning on an Adamawa group platform and the anger is palpable and all round.”

Certainly, the fact that Buhari wishes to single-handedly select the APC presidential candidate is creating big cracks in the APC as old comrades tear each other to shreds, egged on by their deep ethnic and regional cleavages. These have now been exposed by the stress of this brutal struggle for the APC presidential ticket. But Babachir Lawan is not yet done. He must remind the Yoruba and other Nigerians about one of Bola Tinubu’s tribesman whose stars, he believes, were dimmed by similar attitudes.

“This appears to be the Abiola saga,” he said, “being replayed. Abiola won the election with majority Northern votes but they took the brunt of the post-election protests that followed.

“Just survey all the people that are doing more meaningful practical things to enthroned (sic) Bola as president and you will find that almost all are northerners while his kinsmen engage themselves social media activism and Northern bashing.
“When Yorubas vilify the North like this, our sense of fear and insecurity under a Yoruba presidency gets heightened and in the end, pushes us to re-think our support for not only Bola but any Yoruba as president for that matter.”

But he concluded on this rather conciliatory note: “Please, do not join our opponents to destroy our chances of clinching Monday’s primary elections.”

Nevertheless, Buhari’s consensus candidate gambit has already done irreparable damage to the APC. It can only get worse and may well be the last straw that will break this camel’s back. Buhari is taking a dangerous shot in the dark.

He is blindly groping in the dark, like he has done with the destiny of Nigerians and their motherland in the last seven years, with these catastrophic consequences. In this highly risky blind man’s buff game he is playing, the odds are dangerously high. He may just lay his hands on the wrong person. And things will definitely fall apart.

(GYANG is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Visit our website: https://jccri-online.org. Follow us on our Twitter handle: @jccri1. Facebook page: facebook.com/jccrionline. Emails: info@jccri-online.org; chrisgyang01@gmail.com)

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