As the build-up to the 2019 general elections intensifies and the field becomes increasingly clearer, some personalities and groups are emerging as the likely major deciders of the outcomes of the elections especially at the presidential level.
We take look at some of the major players with real influence ahead of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria.
1) Bola Tinubu
He needs no introduction. He is a household name in opposition politics circles. But he has moved a notch higher to become a major power broker in the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Starting off with National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), under which he went into exile to be able to push further the battle to send the military dictatorship of Late Gen Sani Abacha out, Tinubu contributed immensely in turning the heat on the military regime forcing its return to the barracks in 1999.
He became a beneficiary of that effort as he was rewarded with the governorship of Lagos State, by other stakeholders in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), a party which became the rallying point for most of those who participated in NADECO activities and shared its vision. That reward, became the launch-pad which he needed to become who is today – an envied power broker in the politics of southwest Nigeria. He has grown to become the dominant political character of the region with influence in other regions.
As governor of Lagos state for eight years, he instituted what is seen as a culture of creating a pool of egg heads which helped in the administration of the state. He set the stage for the state to become the centre of excellence which it now is. His development ideas were well appreciated by the people who also benefited immensely from his philanthropy. Tinubu holds the ace in southwest politics. In 2007, he ensured that the entire zone fell to the Action Congress of Nigeria, a party which replaced the AD after internal squabbles tore it apart. With that, he stamped his foot on the political control of the region.
Prior to that, he was seen as defiant in his refusal to be cowed by the federal government after he exercised the constitutional rights of Lagos state to create more local government areas. His dream of having same listed in the constitution suffered federal blows and he later settled with them as development centers, which they remain till date.
In 2015, Tinubu achieved his dream of participating at politics at the centre. He moved from his southwest zone to become one of the leaders of the APC after he played a major role in securing electoral victory for the party. Total sweep of southwest states by the party is attributed to his wide reach and acceptance by people of the zone.
However, he has had a running battle with leadership of the party leading to his open confrontation with its national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, when he called for his resignation. He is also seen to have held the party in the jugular leading to a two-day trip by President Muhammadu Buhari to Lagos state. The trip was viewed as fence-mending because of the strategic role he is expected to play in the re-election dreams of the president.
Tinubu is believed to have very major roles to play in the future of the APC. Many believe that any attempt by him and his followers to dump the party will lead to its demise. But he is seen as having his eyes on the leadership of the country. Many believe that he will join the presidential race in 2019. However, he is yet to betray any feelings in that regard.
2) James Onanefe Ibori
This 1999–2007 Governor of Delta State is not yet spent. Despite serving time in a United Kingdom prison after he was found guilty of money laundering, James Ibori still has a lot up his sleeve. The thinking that prison had broken him was proved wrong when he demonstrated great influence in the election of Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa, as governor of the state in 2015, while still in prison. Also, despite lying low since he was released from prison and returned to Nigeria to a somewhat heroic welcome, Ibori has calmly played his expected role in directing the politics of the South-South region, especially, the Niger Delta states. With the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, his counterpart in Bayelsa state, Ibori began the struggle for resource control in the Niger Delta region. That struggle pitched him against the federal government despite being of the same political party with the center.
His political strength was tested in the 2003 general elections when he led a movement that almost bridged Olusegun Obasanjo’s romance with the presidency. He was seen as an astute supporter of then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, and was said to have rallied governors of their party, PDP, to dump Obasanjo for Atiku. However, a late deal altered the plans.
Having literally installed the two governors that had ruled Delta state since the end of his tenure, Ibori is strategically placed to play a greater role in the politics of the region in 2019 as many argue that his absence crated a vacuum which the likes of Rotimi Amaechi sought to fill but have failed.
Ibori’s strategic importance recently received a boost when the National chairman of PDP, Uche Secondus, paid tribute to him for his sagacity and astuteness as a pillar of the party and the Niger Delta region.
Ibori, who prides himself as a boy who grew to lay out a table for himself, is one politician who is most likely to spring surprises in the 2019 journey as he is most strategic when he is silent.
3) Muhammadu Buhari
This is Nigeria’s incumbent president. He is seen as the only man of integrity in the ruling party. There may be another but his claim to integrity was the unique selling point he presented for the 2015 presidential election. He contested for the office on three past occasions. He shed tears after the third and declared that he was through with elections. However, he was encouraged to join the race in 2015 by his friends who believed that his touted integrity was marketable. His victory on the fourth try became a turning point in his life.
A former military dictator who was overthrown by his colleagues for being high handed and insensitive to group interest, his return to office 30 years after, was greeted with great expectations as he promised a lot. However, he is viewed as a disappointment by many Nigerians.
Bowed by old age and debilitating illness which kept him locked away behind intensive care unit doors in a hospital that has remained a top government secret, he recently expressed his intention to re-contest for same office in 2019. Though his brand of ailment has also remained a state secret, guarded like the nuke code, Buhari is seen to have lost grip with reality as his support base has waned due to his perceived mismanagement of the economy and alleged high insensitivity to the country’s diversity and security issues.
His claim to fighting corruption in the country has also been punctuated by displays of selectivity where he turns the blind eye on corrupt acts of those very close to him and those aligned with the ruling party, but fights against members of the opposition.
His brand of leadership, not known to the country since independence in 1960, has irked several national leaders and statesmen who have weaned themselves of fears and are now publicly condemning his style. He has had to endure devastating blows thrown at him, in public statements, by two of his predecessors and military colleagues. He has also had to live with the devastating criticisms of some of his closest supporters and election financiers who have asked him to seek retirement in 2019.
His handling of the affairs of his party, the APC, as its national leader has also been very disappointing. He failed to rise to the occasion when duty called and is now seen as the architect of the crossroad which the party is steadily walking into. However, many wait to see how he handles the leadership issue facing the party to determine the future of the party. For many, he has proved to be a poor politician. However, he still may have a game up his sleeve as 2019 approaches, and may spring surprises, given the power of incumbency.
4) Rotimi Amaechi
Currently the Minister for Transportation, but without a say on what happens in the Aviation sector, Rotimi Amaechi has been within government circles since 1999 when the man he eventually betrayed and turned against, Peter Odili, pulled him along into politics. He was a private personal assistant to Odili and became speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly at Odili’s instance. He later succeeded Odili in 2007 after the ‘coup’ by the PDP against him, which saw the installation of Celestine Omehia as governor, was botched through a judicial pronouncement.
To win that battle, his friend Nyesom Wike proved a worthy instrument. However, he is today, Wike’s worst antagonist and worked very hard to ensure that Wike did not become governor in Rivers state. He still bears a pain that Wike out-smarted him in the race.
As governor of Rivers, he is accused of using state funds to fund APC’s rise to power for which he was rewarded with a ministerial office. As 2019 turns in, he sees himself as one on a mission to stop Wike from achieving a second term in office. He has been out instigating electoral upheaval against Wike. How far he goes on this is yet to be seen He has also fallen out with one of his closest friends, Magnus Abe, who is currently in office as senator. Amaechi sees himself as the political leader of Rivers state, but has stepped on several toes in the state that it is belied his only saving grace at the moment is the ministerial office he currently holds.
Besides, he is also at logger-heads with Tinubu. Their romance ended with the 2015 presidential election. Since then, they have not been the best of associates. As it is, he has lost friendship with the southwest and also, recently, drew the ire of the southeast when he delivered a convocation lecture at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Anambra state where he squared up with several Southeast leaders, especially the Ohanaeze leader John Nnia Nwodo, over his call on southeast people to follow him into the Buhari camp.
Already, Amaechi has inserted himself into the heated race for 2019 general election, as he has taken a position of campaign director of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign team.
No doubt, Amaechi’s war-chest will be deployed to fight in RIvers State to determine who emerges as governor, and also at the federal level in his party to ensure he has a say in who emerges the party’s flag bearer.
5) Atiku Abubakar
Waziri Adamawa is a household name as far as presidential election contest is concerned. After a smooth presidential first term with his boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, ended in 2003, Atiku had a very stormy second term which led to efforts by Obasanjo to sack him as Vice President. His boss also orchestrated a stripping of his functions and laid him bare. He responded by still going to his office and sitting out his time till the end of their tenure.
He showed interest in the 2007 presidential contest. To achieve his dream, he dumped the PDP for ACN after he was denied a place in the contest for PDP’s ticket. To further frustrate him, Obasanjo used the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to disqualify him, alongside some other politicians, from contesting in the 2007 election. His challenge of the action at the Supreme Court came back positive for him. He entered the race on the bill of ACN five days to the elections and as such could not tour Nigeria on campaigns.
He returned to PDP and attempted again in 2011. He lost out in the primary to Goodluck Jonathan. Though he was saddened by the development, he took it in good faith and hoped for the future. In 2014, he dumped the PDP again alongside others and pitched tent with the APC after his plan to contest for the presidential election under PDP was thwarted as the party printed only one presidential nomination form. His movement into the APC ended in disappointment as despite alleged huge financial inducements to the party leadership, Buhari trumped him in the primary election.
He again left the party and rejoined PDP citing the same reasons he gave when he left in the run-up to the 2011 elections. Atiku, who is stupendously rich and is capable of single-handedly financing his own campaign, has indicated interest in contesting the 2019 presidential election, a decision which has forced the ruling APC to force a clampdown on his businesses, including his largest investment, Intels.
While Atiku wields a lot of influence in his home state, Adamawa, where he is very instrumental to who becomes governor, he also has a great influence in the APC, as well as PDP which he has against joined. Though he has left the ruling party, a number of his loyalist remain in the party, and it is expected that he would pull all strings to achieve his dream of becoming, though he would have to contend with people like his former boss who vehemently oppose him, and waning himself of a belief in many quarters that he is very corrupt.
6) Bukola Saraki
Saraki is the President of Nigeria’s Senate. He became the president in an election where many APC members did not vote. His election became a contest for wits, guts and trickery between him and Tinubu who had wanted to install a National Assembly leadership. The APC victory in 2015 gave Tinubu a false sense of control, believing he was in charge of everyone within the APC rank. For Saraki however, Tinubu was only dancing on imaginary fame. And when the opportunity came to prove that some others were smarter, Saraki pulled the rug and laughed last.
While Tinubu and his anointed team rued their loss, Saraki hit the gavel to stamp his feet on Senate authority. However, with the operation of his office, he has proved that he is to be feared more than anyone else in the top echelon of Nigeria’s leadership.
An overtly ambitious politician, Saraki sees the office of President as befitting enough for him to occupy, but even though his closest allies in APC still doubt his loyalty to the party. They believe he is PDP at heart and APC by cloak. While his opponents seek to pull him down, he has so far proven to be smarter and broken every of their moves.
He has placed his grip on the Senate very firmly and has shown rebellious tendencies. Going towards 2019, he is seen as likely to return to PDP from where he will make another attempt for the presidency. His first was in 2011. Saraki is not trusted within the presidency and he knows it. However, he plays a smart power game with the presidency but connects very well with his acolytes and political family in the north central region of Nigeria. His major shortcoming is his lack of strong roots into the south south and south east regions. Besides, he is seen as morally damaged following a corruption case which he is still battling at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
7) Rabiu Kwakwanso
Former Kano State governor and serving senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, is one politician whose influence has continued to grow within the Nigerian political sphere.
In 2013, during his second stint as governor, he, alongside four other governors of the famous G7 faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP,) defected to then opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), a move that dealt a strategic blow to the PDP and bolstered the chances of the APC ahead of the 2015 general elections.
With governors Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers State), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) and Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Kwankwaso led a movement that significantly weakened the PDP and heralded a series of other high-profile defections including those of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Aminu Tambuwal, then speaker of the House of Representatives.
Having successfully participated in a move that elevated his standing as a national political force, and well aware of his bargaining power within the APC, Kwankwaso tossed his hat in the ring for the presidential ticket of the party, the threat of powerful aspirants like Muhammadu Buhari and AtikuAbubakar notwithstanding.
The Kano politician’s second position in the primaries underscored his stature in Nigerian politics, as he convincingly bested a veteran politician like Atiku Abubakar.
It has however not been smooth sailing for Kwankwaso within the APC. His first few months as a senator, having ended his governorship tenure on a high, with his deputy and close friend, Abdullahi Ganduje, succeeding him, were beset with corruption allegations principally from Kano pensioners who sent a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), with the former governor approaching a High Court in the state to seek an injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting him. The turn of events also signaled the emergence of cracks in Kwankwaso’s relationship with Ganduje.
Kwankwaso’s frosty relationship with erstwhile partner Ganjuje has continued to deteriorate, with clashes between their supporters assuming a violent dimension. Both politicians have been locked in a bitter battle for political supremacy in Kano, even as the governor has strengthened relations with Abuja, tightened control of the reins in local politics as underscored by the controversial landslide victory of the APC in the recently concluded local government elections in the state, in a bid to fend off the advances of the kwankwasiyya movement, a band of red cap-wearing diehard supporters of Kwankwaso.
The combination of factors that has created great unease for Kwankwaso in the APC has led to a situation where the spectra of defection has continued to hover around him for years. This is also the main reason Kwankwaso matters in 2019.
An unsettled politician with his influence and following poses a threat to the ruling APC, as his defection would certainly cost the party some vital political capital especially in Kano where the APC secured its highest vote to propel its then candidate Buhari to a historic victory for the opposition in Nigeria.
Should Kwankwaso return to the PDP or join an alternate platform as is being mooted in some quarters, the APC would definitely pay a political price; the actual cost is however open to debate.
8) Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo has remained a factor in the Nigerian political space since at least the civil war. Having deputized late General Murtala Mohammed as 3rd Chief of Staff, Supreme Military Council, between 1975 and 1976, he emerged head of state following the demise of Mohammed, serving from 1976 to 1979. His role as power broker can be said to have started at this point.
In the build-up to the 1979 elections, with the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, respected veteran politicians contesting alongside populist Aminu Kano and wealthy Kanuri businessman-politician Waziri Ibrahim, Obasanjo was said to have backed Shehu Shagari, a former teacher who though previously had a stretch of participation in politics and appointments in federal cabinets, was deemed of lesser political profile by many.
Out of power, Obasanjo almost always appeared restless, criticising his successors publicly and organizing gatherings that raised serious questions around plans to undermine their governments. As far as public records go, only the short-lived Interim National Government of Ernest Shonekan and the Abdulsalami Abubakar government which freed Obasanjo from detention, were spared criticisms.
Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Yar’adua, Jonathan and Buhari again, were all openly criticised by Obasanjo during their reign.
For close watchers of Nigerian politics and students of the pattern of Obasanjo’s political behaviour throughout history, it did not come as a surprise when he dropped his latest explosive letter against the Buhari administration in which he also urged Buhari not to seek reelection in 2019. Obasanjo was acting true to type!
Being one to almost always assume something of an exalted moral position and ostensibly pontificate about governance, Obasanjo was quick to lay out a path forward for the country—Coalition for Nigeria Movement.
Obasanjo’s similar move against Jonathan ahead of the 2015 elections had been seen as a contributory factor in the emergence of the APC.
The fact that the former president has set about, alongside his lieutenants, mobilising hordes of grassroots supporters to sabotage the chances of the APC and the PDP, is testament to his commitment.
Contrary to his claims that his involvement in the movement did not include picking a candidate for president in 2019, many have identified some signs that point to a secret scheme to put forward a strong northern politician to challenge Buhari in 2019.
Some argue that the political dynamics ahead of the 2015 election which added force to Obasanjo’s opposition to Jonathan are quite different today. For one, Unlike Jonathan, Obasanjo did not hand-pick Buhari. In fact, Buhari had been his longstanding political rival, contesting against him in 2003 and against his chosen candidates and his party a couple of times after. More so, Buhari, also a retired general and veteran politician, would be less threatened by Obasanjo’s opposition than a Jonathan.
On a more strategic front, Obasanjo has opted for something of an experimental move this time— third force— as against backing a traditional opposition party. His choice was no doubt enforced by the fact that he had already resigned membership of the PDP and active participation in partisan politics. Also, it can be argued that the reasons cited for his opposition to Buhari are even less damning than the allegations he had repeatedly levelled against his former party. The obvious contradiction had he opted for the PDP would have amounted to an ethical conundrum lethal enough to self-sabotage and ultimately doom his latest ‘rescue mission’.
How much impact will Obasanjo have on the outcome of the 2019 presidential election? Only time will tell.
9) Nyesome Wike
There are a number of powerful governors majorly belonging to the country’s two dominant political parties— the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP—whose sphere of influence now transcends their states, with major national political import especially as regards the 2019 elections. Rivers State governor, Wike is one of such.
A PDP strongman, he was instrumental in the emergence of the party’s current chairman, Uche Secondus. At a time the party battled internal crisis owing to an intense struggle for control between forces aligned to former Borno governor, Ali-Modu Sheriff, a man known for his solid war chest, and former Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi, Wike emerged as a reliable counter-force with sufficient war chest to back Makarfi and subsequently install his preferred candidate to the party’s top post.
He also succeeded in laying the groundwork for his positioning as one of the party’s major power brokers ahead of 2019. It is little wonder that aspirants, including frontline contestant, Atiku Abubakar, have been visiting him to all but seek his blessing for 2019.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the aspirant Wike backs will likely secure the party’s nomination, given his commanding influence within the party and strong financial base. For a party that was once led by veteran politicians, retired generals and elder statesmen, Wike represents the face of the new power brokers within the PDP.
The hope of the party beyond the primaries will also depend on the likes of Wike who would be expected to bankroll the party’s presidential candidate, as well as contribute massive votes from Rivers and the entire South-South region to bolster the candidate’s chances at victory.
10) Willie Obiano
Ordinarily, the APGA governor of Anambra State would not have made this list considering the rather limited reach of his party.
But from a broad strategic standpoint, given observed outreach efforts by the two main parties, especially the APC, to APGA, Obiano matters, as does APGA in the grand scheme of things ahead of the 2019 elections.
Since a known longstanding regional challenge to Buhari’scandidacy and this time, reelection bid, remains the South-East, the APC has viewed a likely alliance with APGA as a strategic master stroke that will enable it broaden its attainment of the minimum electoral requirement of 25% especially in the South-South and South-East regions of the country.
Currently, the party only governs one state in the South-East, Imo. It needs all the help it can get in the South-East, and with support appearing to be waning in the North-Central over the poor handling of the herdsmen-farmers clashes, expanding the support base will really help.
This will not be the first time that such an arrangement will be attempted and implemented. APGA and the PDP have in time past had such an alliance that saw the party adopt the PDP’s presidential candidate during the election.
Given the seemingly strained relations existing between the PDP and APGA especially following the recent fierce governorship contest, the APC has sensed an opportunity. And their overtures have so far been met by a seemingly receptive APGA governor. But is Obiano, APGA? And is APGA strong enough to generate support for a party and president widely deemed to be anti-Igbo? The debate will continue.
All said, Nigeria’s political space remains sufficiently fluid at the moment and 2019 may yet be a special year, a year of disruption, a year of departure from the norm, in keeping with recent elections around the world where outsiders and insurgents have unsettled the system and emerged victorious.
But is Nigeria ripe for such a major disruption? 2019 will tell!
By Chinedu Chidi & Femi Qudus ….
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