2019: Buhari’s Men Court Igbo with 2023 Presidency, But S’West Remains an Issue
Proposed change in election order still a concern in Aso Rock
In a new strategy to smoothen the path to the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari, some of the president’s henchmen have begun moves to penetrate the South-east zone of the country with a view to securing the support of the Igbo and in turn assure them of the 2023 presidency.
A presidency source told THISDAY at the weekend that the idea was that if the Igbo embrace this campaign, the 2023 presidential election, which is expected to shift to the south of Nigeria, might just be theirs for the taking.
Thus, in strengthening Buhari’s re-election project, some of his men have concluded that such understanding with the South-east could help break the likely southern opposition to the reelection of the president if the Igbo see the sense in the new argument to trade their support for the presidency in 2023.
The South-east voted massively in support of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari’s opponent in 2015 presidential election. The zone was until recently a cauldron of secessionist agitations.
The president’s men are said to hold the view that the prevailing circumstance provides the best opportunity for the Igbo to produce a president of their extraction in 2023 since it is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce the president of the country since the return of democracy in 1999.
The reasoning is that by 2023, Buhari would have completed his second term. But supporting a fresh candidate from the North in 2019 would mean pushing the Igbo hope to 2027, as the new candidate would want to do two terms.
It is therefore the belief of the president’s strategists that some of the prominent southern leaders who have begun to declare support for Buhari are doing so because they have their eyes on the nation’s number one seat and importantly, they are doing so to secure a tacit understanding of the president to support them in the 2023 presidential election.
But these allies of the president hold the view that if there is any part of the country deserving of producing the presidency in 2023, it should be the South-east hence they have commenced a subtle campaign for an Igbo president in 2023 with the understanding that the Igbo would play the Buhari card in next year’s election.
The source said, “The Igbo cannot get secession or any other request that is antithetical to the unity of the country because other parts of the country would not even back such a move. It is to that extent that the presidency could be theirs to lose in 2023 only if they can clearly read the political climate, build consensus and tag along with the current frequency.
“This is doable but to get it done, they must support the Buhari project. They must not play the hate card they played during the 2015 elections, where they gave their votes to someone else and lost total relevance by no fault of anyone else. But they must see the sense in a Buhari coming back in 2019 so that the pendulum can swing to the South and by extension, the South-east. It is the ideal thing to do and it is fair that the Igbo produce a president of the country.”
Though this strategy looks plausible, it would however have to contend with the two other zones from the South that might want to field their own people in 2023, particularly the South-west – the only zone in the South the President won in the 2015 election – which currently occupies the vice presidential seat. There are no signs that President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who have enjoyed a good working relationship, including the period Osinbajo served as acting president when Buhari was away on medical vacation in the United Kingdom last year, would not run on a joint ticket in 2019. This would further heighten the interest of the South-west zone in the 2023 presidential race, particularly with the rumoured aspiration of a national leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
But the source contended that the logic behind the Igbo presidency strategy was that since the South-west through former President Olusegun Obasanjo had spent eight years as president, coupled with the possibility that the zone would have also produced a vice-president for eight years if the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket wins again in 2019, and then, considering the South-south five years of former President Goodluck Jonathan, then, the South-east narrative would be an easy sell.
The source said while Buhari’s re-election cannot be totally predicated on the South-east extrapolation, it was a sincere calculation meant to stoke the South-east into reviewing their strategy for power acquisition.
Secretary to the Government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, recently hinted at the thinking in the corridors of power, when at a reception organised for the Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Affairs Office, Georgina Ehuria, by a former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, said 2023 was Igbo’s best chance to produce president.
Mustapha, who was reacting to comments by Kalu, that the Igbo have decided to give 75 per cent votes to President Buhari in 2019, said, “You made allusions to the fact that the South-east would support Buhari. Let me confirm to you that for any thought of Igbo presidency, this is the shortest part.
“I have been in this game in the last 35, 37 years. I can attest to it. I know what it is, I know the permutations. I know what is on ground and I am an election manager,” he said.
Meanwhile, the proposed change in the order of election by the National Assembly has continued to cause some stir in the presidency as the president’s men are pondering different options, because they see the move as capable of unsettling their 2019 permutations.
THISDAY gathered that the presidency is still working seriously to have the parliament change its decision to alter the sequence of election, which puts the presidential poll as the last bout of the exercise, a move believed could harm Buhari in 2019.
The House of Representatives, recently amended certain sections of the Electoral Act including the sequence of elections, which presupposes that the National Assembly elections would now hold first, followed by gubernatorial and state assembly polls, while the presidential election would be conducted last.
The amendment, which was made at the committee of the whole and presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Lasun, changed section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new section 25 (1).
Immediately, the House’s amendment was announced, the Senate too announced the composition of its conference committee to reconcile the differences in the amended version of the Electoral Act passed by the House and the one it passed last year.
Those in the committee as announced by the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, are Senators Shehu Sani, Biodun Olujimi, Hope Uzodinma, Dino Melaye and Peter Nwaoboshi. It committee is to be chaired by the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif.
The notion that the move was deliberate and targeted at the president is now very rife in the Villa and among supporters of the president, who are now seeking political solution to the situation by engaging the leaders of the National Assembly. The president’s men are currently pondering different options on how to get round it,.
Although it was reported that contacts had been established with the leadership of the National Assembly, they are however said not to be budging.
The source explained, “We know the game they are playing and we know why they are playing this game at this time. They want us to come to a negotiating table. They want to cut a deal that will secure their place in the next dispensation. It is unfair what they are doing and we are not going to sulk up to anybody especially that we know where this is coming from,” a presidency source said.
However, the source said, “I see their (the lawmakers) concern though, because this is politics. They feel you cannot be talking about the re-election of the president and leave their own career hanging. So, they want some kind of negotiation, such that they would secure their own future while the plan to get the president re-elected is on.
“For instance, the speaker of the House of Representatives is not in good terms with his governor and he believes he has been a good boy of the party, doing what the party wants in many instances and, therefore, justifiably nurses the feeling that he should be protected and that, I believe is right.
“The Senate President, too, is in the same position. It is not true that he wants to leave the party. At the very best, he wants to negotiate his return as Senate President. But the route they had taken us on this is very unfair and discomforting. But if we (the presidency) come out of this without their help and understanding, then, we might be unable to help them too and that would be it.”