There is never a dull moment when it comes to Nigerian politics and as the county draws closer to elections scheduled for next year, the jockeying for strategic positions is gathering momentum. President Muhammadu Buhari who will stand again, is in the eye of the storm. Rafiq Raji accesses his chances.
In September, the Nigerian government took issues with HSBC, a British bank, over the conclusions of a research note to its clients. Simply put, HSBC reckons a second four-year term for President Muhammadu Buhari would not be favourable for the Nigerian economy.
Although, the note was meant for internal distribution, it somehow made its way to the wider public. In an unusually aggressive response towards a foreign private institution, a bank at that, Buhari’s officials went all guns blazing, asking HSBC to instead return funds looted by past Nigerian leaders and officials and lying in its vaults.
Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the President, alleged that more than $100m had been laundered through the British bank by General Sani Abacha, one of Nigeria’s former military dictators.
The administration’s ultra-sensitivity to criticisms and unfavourable prognostications about the prospects of Buhari winning a second term in office, is certainly a sign of the heated political times.
Over the past few months, Buhari’s chances of securing
the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s Presidential candidate ticket unopposed, have improved considerably. His main rivals for the position within the party have all decamped to the leading opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP),
Buhari’s real competition from now on as he hits the campaign trail is probablythe record of his administration thus far. His competitors have been picking at his supposed achievements and discrediting them one by one.
This September, Senate president Bukola Saraki, a leading contender for the PDP Presidential ticket and the proverbial stone in Buhari’s shoe, told a rally in Southeastern Nigeria:
“Nigeria has never been this divided. People are afraid to be called Nigerians. Ethnicity and religion have taken over. There is no inclusion anymore, no fairness, no federal character, no jobs and businesses are dying. Survival of businesses is survival of the country. Poverty is everywhere.”
At first glance, there is a tendency to think some of these assertions probably border on exaggeration. On further scrutiny, they are bizarrely nearly accurate.
Although poverty is certainly not everywhere in the country, 87m Nigerians, about half of the estimated 190m population live in extreme poverty, according to a recent report by The World Poverty Clock; in essence making it the “poverty capital of the world,” after surpassing India. (See lead story).
Accusations of insularity and ethno-religious bias can also be seen in key appointments to government positions by Buhari. The security cluster of the government, from the heads of the army and navy to the chiefs of the police and secret service, are largely in the control of Nigerians from the predominantly Muslim north.
The rebuttal of the administration tends to be that there is at least one Federal Minister from each of the federating states in the Cabinet. But that is the law.
Buhari’s opponents argue his open-mindedness or lack thereof can best be adjudged from his discretionary appointments. The President does not seem particularly perturbed by the outcry. After the firing of his kinsman, Lawal Daura as head of the secret service by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, while acting as President during Buhari’s sojourn in the UK Buhari appointed Mathew Seiyefa, who happens to hail from the predominantly Christian South.
That said, Buhari is probably the least corrupt Head of State Nigeria has ever had. His incorruptible image also makes him vulnerable. In what was clearly an eventful September for the administration, erstwhile Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun was forced to resign over a certificate forgery scandal.
She could have kept her job if the President had so wished. But if he also wished to secure a second term on the back of his adminstration’s anti-corruption stance, he could not afford to let her stay.
The point is that what ordinarily would be considered exaggerated political jibes by Buhari’s opponents are, when analysed, close to reality. Even so, Buhari remains widely popular.
Pundits, however, believe that not only would his core support base in the North be eroded by increasingly attractive and younger candidates from the region, but that when his unpopularity in the South-east and South-south regions of the country are coupled with likely gains here and there by the opposition in the southwest, where his allies are largely in control, he could lose.
And were Buhari to win, it would likely be by the slightest of margins.
Too little, too late?
There is certainly a realisation in the Buhari camp that a victory in the upcoming polls will not be easy. Efforts are now in high gear to win the hearts and minds of key political leaders in the restive Southeast and South-south regions.
But his officials are not entirely helping matters. In early September, the police raided the Abuja residence of Edwin Clark, an influential politician and elder statesman from the Niger Delta region, for arms and ammunition. They did not find any.
In an unusually swift response, police chief Ibrahim Idris declared the search to be a rogue raid by errant officers and dismissed them with almost the same alacrity as the disturbing raid itself.
That singular action, in addition to long-running grumblings by dissatisfied former Niger Delta militants with a great deal of influence over the voting public in the region, suggest Buhari’s chances there are not bright.
And even though Southeasterners are not known to vote as a bloc, there are a great deal of them who do not like the President for largely excluding their kinsfolk from his administration.
Of course, it did not help that Buhari did not also hide his displeasure about their not voting for him in the 2015 election that he won. (Apart from one state where he scored 18% of votes cast, Buhari secured less than 5% percent of the votes cast in most of the other Southeastern states).
With such deep aversions on both sides, it would be tantamount to a miracle for Buhari to secure a decent number of votes from the region this time around.
Thus, if Buhari is to win, he would have to use state power disproportionately against his opponents and indeed the electoral process itself. This tends to involve the jailing of opponents on corruption charges, declaration of states of emergency in areas of unpopularity, and election rigging. As an ‘incorruptible’ Buhari would be reluctant to do such despicable things and so, he may lose.