2023: Is Tambuwal testing the pulse with visits?
FELIX NWANERI reports on the recent visits by the governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, to some eminent Nigerians, which is viewed as part of his strategies to test the political waters before launching his 2023 presidential bid
The build-up to the 2023 presidential election is becoming interesting by the day as the various political parties and gladiators’ perfect strategies for the contest, which many say, would be a tough battle given the raging debate over where power shifts to as well as the likely heir to the coveted throne.
Already, some geopolitical zones and personalities are been touted. A handful of the names have resonated over time though most of the presidential hopefuls are still keeping their plans to themselves.
On paper, power is expected to shift to the southern part of the country given the zoning arrangement between the country’s two geographical divides – North and South, which took effect from 1999. However, indications are that the battle for the 2023 presidency may go beyond that if emerging developments in the polity are anything to go by.
The North, which has been in power since 2015 through President Muhammadu Buhari, seems not disposed to relinquishing power by the time it completes eight years in office. Some northern political leaders have been drumming the need for their region to hold on to power beyond 2023. They predicate their clamour on the need for the region to hold on to power for at least, another four years, in order to be at par with the South.
The present democratic dispensation is 21 years old and the power rotation arrangement, though not constitutional, has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West, 1999-2007) and Jonathan (South-South, 2010-2015). The North would have been in power for 11 years by the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023 (2015-2023) as Umaru Yaar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo in 2007, passed on barely three years in office.
The plot by the North started like a pun shortly after Buhari’s reelection in 2019, but it has continued to gain the support of most northern political elites. Arrowheads of the campaign have even gone to the level making a case for the abandonment of the zoning arrangement, not only for the Office of President, but for other political offices as currently obtainable in the country.
But political leaders down South have warned against jettisoning of rotational presidency at this point in Nigeria’s history. According to them, the country’s unity is presently under threat over rising insecurity, so abolishing zoning might lead to civil and constitutional crisis, which may aggravate the issues on ground. While it has been twists and turns as regards arguments for and against zoning of the presidency, there is no disputing the fact that some of the 2023 presidential hopefuls have commenced mobilization and consultation of relevant stakeholders and groups.
Tambuwal takes the lead
The 2023 presidential election is more than two years ahead, but the polity is gradually witnessing alignment and re-alignment of political forces, and to some extent, testing of the political waters with endorsements of possible candidates for the country’s top job.
These strategies are not new to the nation’s electioneering, but the recent visits by the governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal to some eminent Nigerians have been described by analysts as too important to be ignored. Among those said to have been visited by the governor include former President Olusegun Obasanjo; ex-Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) and a former President of the Senate, David Mark. Tambuwal is not a fresher to the presidential race.
The first time he came close to joining the race was in 2014, when some Northern political leaders muted the idea of drafting him into the 2015 presidential contest. It was reasoned then that Buhari should not contest the poll in order to make way for a younger person from the region. While the proposal failed and Tambuwal contested for the governorship of Sokoto State and won, his name popped up again ahead of the 2019 elections.
The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who was first term governor then, left the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and contested for its presidential ticket, but lost to a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. He was however handed the par- ty’s governorship ticket and got re-elected for a second term.
Ahead of the 2023 general election, Tambuwal is being urged to take another shot at the presidency. Those propping him believe that his candidacy will not only enjoy the support of the North, but other sections of the country. They said that the Sokoto State governor was able to build political bridges between the North and the South, while he was speaker of the House of Representatives.
Tambuwal is also said to be in the good books of most Northern traditional leaders as well as amenable, which is one of the qualities, the region’s political leaders are insisting that a candidate must have to enjoy their support.
Besides these plusses, Tambuwal is also said to have what it takes to run for the presidency as he has learned the political ropes, having started as Personal Assistant on Legislative Affairs to Senator Abdullahi Wali, the then Senate Leader (1999 to 2000) before he contested for a legislative seat as representative for Kebbe/ Tambuwal Federal Constituency in 2003 and rising to the position of speaker in 2011 and presently a second term governor.
In Abuja, Abeokuta and Lagos, where Tambuwal met separately and in succession with Mark, Obasanjo and Danjuma behind closed doors, it was gathered that the subject of discussion centred on the 2023 presidency.
Findings also revealed that the Sokoto State governor seized the opportunity to brief the trio on his decision to vie for the highest office in the land. However, politics being a game of denial, a statement issued by the Special Assistant on Media to Obasanjo, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi, quoted the governor as saying that he visited the former president to consult with him on issues concerning governance and others.
“You know Baba is our leader, statesman and it is always good for us to come around to see how he is doing, pay homage and consult him on many issues of governance. That is why we have come this afternoon. And, we brought him the greetings and felicitations of the good people of Sokoto State. “We shall continue to learn from him, drink from his wealth of experience and fountain of his knowledge and wisdom on issues of governance and challenges of today.
We pray that God Almighty shall continue to give him good health as I have met him today, and may he and all of us survive this COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement quoted Tambuwal as saying.
Politics behind the scene
Beyond the homage and national issues theories advanced by the Sokoto State governor as reasons for his visit to Obasanjo, discerning political minds are of the view that the 2023 presidency cannot be ruled out of it and their conviction over this is not farfetched.
According to them, the former president is one man, who knows the country’s politics inside out. It was further advanced that while Obasanjo’s detractors might conjure any conceivable hubris to denigrate him, truth is that, when allowance is made for human frailties, the Ogun State born ex-military Head of State’s ascendancy and continuing national relevance is partly explained by his deep knowledge of the Nigerian society.
Perhaps, it is against this backdrop that the former military and civilian leader remains one of the most sought after politicians among his peers. Since he left office in 2007 and retired to his Abeokuta Hill Top Mansion, the place has remained a Mecca of some sort.
Members of the political class from across the country regularly pay visit to consult him and there is no doubt that he is known for his bluntness on national issues. It would be recalled that such visits got to a height ahead of the 2015 general election.
To the consternation of most Nigerians then, both the ruling and main opposition parties at that time – PDP) and APC, respectively, met Obasanjo on several occasions to seek his endorsements of their presidential candidates – then President Goodluck Jonathan and former Head of State, Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari (now president).
Even Obasanjo’s known political foes like ex-Lagos State governor and National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had to overlook their political differences to consult him. It was same for the leadership of the PDP on whose platform, Obasanjo won the presidential election twice (1999 and 2003), but later fell out with. After much horse trading, it was the APC that secured Obasanjo’s endorsement for its candidate.
And shortly after Buhari’s victory at the poll, Obasanjo urged Nigerians to be patient with him, vouching for his ability to clear the mess of the Jonathan’s administration as well as to fix Nigeria.
It was however a tactical withdrawal, when the camaraderie spirit between Obasanjo and Buhari waned. What later ensued was a running battle and the former president has not ceased from criticizing Buhari’s leadership style till date.
There is no doubt that Obasanjo’s political structure spreads across the country. However, the question over this assumption is: Will Tambuwal reap from the former president’s presumed political goodwill?
While adversaries would be quick to describe Obasanjo as a spent force, the fact remains that he will play a crucial role come 2023 and as a result, none of the PDP gladiators can afford to go into the contest for the party’s presidential ticket without the support of the man who won the presidency for two terms on its platform (1999 and 2003)?
Obasanjo holds the record of Nigeria’s longest serving leader – 11 years (military – 1976 to 1999 and civilian – 1999 to 2007). Besides this enviable record, the man fondly called Baba Iyabo, also boast of having made two presidents – Yar’Adua and Jonathan. He single-handedly picked the duo as PDP’s presidential and vice presidential candidates in 2007.
After Yar’Adua’s death, Obasanjo moved in quickly to see that Jonathan succeeds him despite fierce opposition by some northern political leaders. When the whistle for the 2011 elections was sounded, Obasanjo initially refused to back Jonathan until the latter yielded grounds. As president, Jonathan consulted the former president in almost everything he did but the bubble burst when he started taking decisions on his own.
With the collapse of the bond, Jonathan warded Obasanjo off the Presidential Villa and the PDP. Consequently, the Ogun State born general began throwing verbal missiles on Jonathan including writing toxic letters. In one of the letters titled: “Before it is too late,” dated December 2, 2013, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of taking actions detrimental to the unity and progress of the country. Jonathan, in his response, chided Obasanjo for his un-statesman conduct.
What followed was the latter’s return to the trenches, alignment with opposition forces in the 2015 general elections to halt Jonathan’s second term bid as well as PDP’s reign after 16 years. Many have also not forgotten the scheming that saw Obasanjo’s emergence as the PDP’s presidential candidate in 1999, barely months after coming out of prison over a phantom coup against late dictator, General Sanni Abacha, ahead of highly favoured former Vice President Alex Ekwueme. Members of the Northern oligarchy, comprising of retired and serving military officers at the time, not only ensured his victory at the party’s national convention but the election as well.
Tambuwal is not unaware of all these as well as the rift between Obasanjo and President Buhari on one hand and his party (APC) on another hand, and therefore, may be working towards cashing in on that to get his endorsement ahead of the 2023 polls. 2023 calculations Obasanjo may not be in a position to install a president come 2023 like he did in 2007, 2011 and partly in 2015, but he still has the wherewithal to influence whoever will emerge.
A pointer to this belief is his recent charge to youths to take active part in political activities in their various countries, so as to flush out the older generation from office. Speaking at an interactive session held virtually to mark this year’s International Youth Day, organised by the Youth Development Centre, an arm of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, the former president enjoined the youth to take over leadership positions by “squeezing older generation out of office.”
He asked them to demand affirmative action enshrined in the constitution of political parties, as part of a gradual process to phase out the old generation of leaders in the continent.
According to him, unless the leaders are forced out of the stage, they would continue to occupy the leadership positions. His words: “Unless you squeeze out those who are in the office and those who want to remain in office perpetually, some after the age of 80. Unless you squeeze them out they will not want to be out. The type of change I am talking about, that I believe we can all embark upon is to subscribe into the constitution of political parties in favour of the youth. Or if you like it you call it affirmative action in favour of youths.
For instance, if you say, in the constitution of a political party, not less than 50 per cent of those who hold executive office within the party will be less than 40 years of age. “You’re just making sure that people that are 40 years of age will hold 50 per cent of executive offices within the political party. You can even go beyond that and say that people who will be put up for election, not less than 50 per cent of them, will be less than 40 years of age. That’s affirmative action.
That’s positive discrimination in favour of youths. “I am saying this because if you leave it entirely for people to do it for you, nobody will do it for you. You have to do it for yourself.”
Tambuwal is 54 and may have crossed the age bracket of those Obasanjo enjoined to take over the leadership of the nation, however, he could not be associated with members of the old brigade, who have held on to power for long. It is against this backdrop that many are waiting to see if the former president will throw his weight behind the Sokoto State governor come 2023.