The political barometers in the country have overshot their elastic springs, making it increasingly difficult to predict the direction of the wind waves. President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill-health, which has kept him off the governance beat, is further exacerbating the tension and giving political actors, particularly leaders, the flexibility to manoeuvre the situation in their favour. AMOS DUNIA, who has been following political events in the polity, puts together an unfolding drama as various political forces battle to control Aso Villa in the absence of the ailing President
Irrespective of the angle, dimension, sphere, or space one tries to consider it from, the political calculations, permutations, and movements from every direction in the country today are just not adding up. This is just as the fragmentation along religious, ethnic, zonal and regional divide in the country is getting worse and wider than could ever be imagined. No thanks to the players and thinkers for the nation. Call them a clique, cabal or power brokers, their aim and objective remains the same. And that is, being in total control of power to enable them determine the allocation of scarce resources to what, where, who, when, and how?
Since the unfortunate health status of President Muhammadu Buhari became noticeable, political leaders in the country rather than offer sincere wishes for his quick recovery; have been busied more with how to benefit maximally and take advantage of the situation to gain political capital and mileage.
Curiously too, insiders agreed that recent events at the national level of political chess game seem to have further reverberated on the already weak economy. This is just as the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) has in the past few weeks responded negatively, following what analysts described as the absence of the nation’s chief driver.
Salvos Over Pmb’s Indoor Life
On the surface, PMB’s inability to attend the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in three consecutive weeks further exacerbated the debate for and against his ability or other wise to continue in office.
Among those to fire the first salvo is a leading chieftain of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, who said the health of President Buhari was affecting the health of the nation, but warned those seeking to make political gains from PMB’s ill health to have a rethink, because Nigeria of today is quite different from that of 1993.
Obviously in a move that ruffled many feathers, Akande, who was the pioneer National Caretaker Chairman of the APC said; “The health of the leader is intricately intertwined with the health of the nation. It is more so in a delicately fragile union of nations called Nigeria. I did not see President Buhari at the wedding of his grandson in Kaduna last Saturday. I was sad and I wept. When last we met at the wedding of his daughter in Abuja last December, I complained to him that I was not happy about his stressful looks. His reply connoted some allusions to circumstances where an honest man fighting corruption is surrounded mostly by unpatriotic greedy ruling class. He felt painfully frustrated. The rest is history, but we must appreciate that his poor health is already taking its toll on the health of Nigeria as a polity.”
One Presidency source agrees that Akande’s position on the two grave challenges facing the country today is quite germane. The first and most critical being the health of President Buhari, which Akande noted is a development beyond his control and for which Nigerians did not prepare; with the second being the disorder and lack of cohesion between the National Assembly and the Presidency.
According to the APC chief; “These are two great red-flag dangers that have the potential of plunging the country into unprecedented chaos and of destabilising the gains of democracy since 1999.”
Northern Counter Force
But upping the intrigues within the polity, a northern pressure group under the aegis of Northern Patriotic Assembly (NPA) came out smoking, claiming that political leaders from the South-west are working against the north by exploiting President Buhari’s ill-health.
The Assembly specifically warned APC national leader and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu to stop dining on PMB’s ill-health for political gains, stressing that such action was not only un-African, but completely immoral, despicable and unacceptable.
The group’s statement signed by its President, Hon Idakwo Jibrin and Secretary General, Alhaji Adamu Wakil, explicitly noted what it described as unpalatable remarks about PMB’s health by Chief Akande and Femi Falana (SAN). They are unhappy that what is ordinarily a personal matter to President Buhari has become over-politicised beyond comprehension by politicians, who hide under the pretext of agitating for what is in the country’s best interest.
NPA’s stance readily support those urging PMB not to worry about the opposition, even as the group stressed that the real vipers’ nest is right in his courtyard and wondered why the mischief makers are people who pose as Buhari’s party leaders, associates and friends but are now proving to be a mere crop of desperadoes.
“Even more unnerving is a situation whereby people we once held in high esteem as elders, leaders and professionals decided to descend into the mud, using President Buhari’s health as their new object of obsession. They have fanatically tried to impose this obsession of theirs on other Nigerians in a desperate bid to cause panic and confusion”, NPA further said
According to NPA, “They are the ones, who finding no avenue to corner the government to themselves, are now working day and night to use the President’s health as campaign tool to hijack the government. We want Nigerians to specifically call these people to order. They cannot be allowed to run riot with their own missions to the detriment of the rest of us.”
Though NPA’s outburst is generating heat, with insinuations that it is doing the bidding of a perceived powerful clique, they refused to be silenced. Boldly, the group accused Chief Akande of speaking from both sides of his mouth, saying; “the former APC national chairman urged caution about the way President Buhari’s health is discussed, yet went on to describe it as a challenge to Nigeria. This prevarication is unbecoming of an elder statesman of his stature.”
Like a wounded lion, the group pointedly turned its anger towards APC National Leader Tinubu, fuming; “Akande’s role is however that of “the Voice of Jacob and the Hands of Esau” since it is glaring he spoke for the self-appointed Yoruba Leader, Bola Tinubu, whose protégé is the next in line to benefit if President Buhari can be shoved aside on health grounds.”
Not ready for any ceasefire, the Assembly said to prove that PMB’s health is being exploited as a Yoruba’s plot against the rest of Nigeria, Chief Femi Falana, whom they described as APC affiliated lawyer, equally marshalled his arsenal of alliance same day with Akande and some commercial Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and other paid activists to foment crisis.
No Hiding Place For Northern Govs
While the NPA took on Akande and Tinubu, another Northern socio-political organisation, “Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF)”, went for the jugular of Northern governors, describing them as “wicked, callous, selfish and insensitive” leaders in their handling of PMB’s health. For the body, the 19 Northern governors’ resolve to abandon President Buhari in his moment of trial was not only inhuman, but evil.
In a statement by its National President, Alhaji Adamu Mahmuda, the NYLF noted that instead of informing their citizens about the true situation surrounding the President’s health, the governors have engaged themselves in schemes and underhand deals meant to favour their emergence as Vice President in the event that Buhari does not complete his tenure.
Showing their anger at the current political manipulations in the polity, the group said: “The Northern Governors, who won their elections for merely identifying with Buhari, have all of a sudden gone asleep, not wanting to be drawn into any issue surrounding the health of the President. After benefiting from his campaign and support through the provision of bailouts and other handouts for them to run their states, we find it extremely uncharitable for the governors to have gone so cold when the occasion demands they should rise up and reassure citizens in their states that there is no cause for alarm and that the president is only taking a rest. “Nobody is fooled by their ‘see no evil, hear no evil posture’ which is deliberate so as not to make them appear too supportive of the president for fear that it might make them lose out in case the president decides not to continue. But this is wicked, selfish and insensitive.”
Taken aback by reactions from the northern elements, Asiwaju Tinubu has swiftly moved to extricate himself from all accusations bordering on the President’s health. In what some political jobbers consider an afterthought and tardy attempt to save his face, the former Lagos State governor declared that those speculating about the health of President Buhari for selfish reasons shall be found out in time. He then urged Nigerians to trust Buhari to take the right decision about his health, just as he asked those that have shown genuine interest in the president’s health not to be discouraged by the knocks they have been getting from critics.
However, some APC stakeholders in the South-east are in agreement that Tinubu may have gone over-board when he dismissed the perception that a cabal is running the affairs of the country, stressing that he has it on good authority that the president is in control of his government. “If we can trust him to handle difficult matters of governance, we can also trust him to make correct decisions regarding his personal health,” Tinubu’s statement read.
According to him, “The President Buhari, I have come to know, is an honest and responsible man and leader. When he returned to Nigeria on March 10, he disclosed to the nation that he had been sick to the extent that he received blood transfusion and would leave for further treatment at some future date.”
But in what looks like a veil reference to his man Friday, Chief Bisi Akande and legal luminary, Femi Falana, the APC leader said; “Those who publicly speculate about the issue of the president’s health must keep all of this in mind. Much is at stake. We owe a responsibility to be wise and circumspect in what is spoken into the public ear.
“Many people have openly speculated about the president’s health. Some have done so for their own selfish reasons. These people shall be found out in time. There are many who have done so out of sincere concern for the president. These people should not be condemned for their heartfelt concern. However, they should be advised not to allow fear to ambush their better judgment and their courage. They should not give themselves to idle speculation.
“We should not buy into the myth of some cabal at work. Dwelling in empty speculation on the existence of some mythic cabal is not what the country needs at present. From what I can see, the president remains at the helm and his policies are being implemented. By fomenting animosity among groups that have heretofore been allied, those who hold to the bankrupt politics of yesterday seek to thwart the president’s mission while claiming to support him.
“Those who truly care about the president and the important work he still must do should not allow themselves to become the unwitting tools of these regressive forces. We must stand with and beside our President. The unfounded speculation around his health should stop. We must not covet fear and rumour but should engage our creativity and enterprise to help the president accomplish his historic mission,” Tinubu enthused.
How far the APC leader’s explanation would assuage NPA, other northern pressure groups and members of the cabal, which Tinubu admits does not exist, is another kettle of fish. One thing is however certain; there is obvious lack of trust and homogeneous working relationship within the APC as a party.
The Classic Intrigues
Against the backdrop of the President’s failing health, there are now different groups just as more are emerging by the day to form alliances that are built on different permutations and interests. All these are pointing to a likely successor to the coveted and most powerful national throne, the Nigerian Presidency. Principally at stake are issues of power blocs and rotation vis-a-viz the race ahead of 2019 if Buhari returns to continue work or handover the reins of power to his deputy, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, currently presumed as a target by some members of the so-called cabal.
Most pundits agree that suspicions and fears over the likelihood of Vice President Osibanjo taking over power should President Buhari thinks he cannot continue in office or otherwise are as real as stating that the Sun sets in the West.
Growing political calculations point in the direction of the North losing power to the South-west that spent eight years at the helm of the nation’s affairs between 1999 and 2007. The anxiety is made worse by insinuations in some circles that the possibility of gaining power back in 2019 looks bleak should Osibanjo decides to play the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s card. A close political associate of a serving APC governor in the North-west pointedly told this magazine that should Osibanjo take over power, either by design or otherwise, the North would constitutionally have to wait in hope and prayers that he would not ask for a full term in office or plan to handover to a different zone of the North that is yet to have a taste of power, particularly the North-central and North-east geo-political zones.
Forefront gathered that some powerful Northern forces that did an overview of the situation recently arrived at the simple conclusion that the cost of retaking the presidency from an incumbent is pretty difficult, just as the human and socio-economic costs needed to achieve such a task are better imagined than accomplished.
Fear Of Political Reprisals
Further checks by Forefront indicate that one of the greatest fears of the Northern elite and power brokers, particularly the so-called cabal in the presidency, are predicated on the heels of Asiwaju Tinubu becoming the powerful god-father in the event of Osibanjo’s mounting the Presidential saddle. The concerns here are that the ‘Lion of Bourdillon’ would mostly likely not spare those he perceived as having successfully and completely edged him out of the seat of power for the last two years.
A source within the presidency told Forefront on condition of anonymity that for sure; “Tinubu won’t spare them and as a South-west leader that has seen nepotism played out without any qualms, he will readily take advantage of the precedence set by PMB on favouritism and sectionalism, which today gives the North advantage over other zones. Tinubu would surely have influence over Osibanjo and play a key role in the government, thus easily dismantling President Buhari structures and sending the cabal packing with applause from the vocal Southern Nigerians and those described in political parlance as the ‘wailers’.
How all these permutations would crystalise into concrete political understanding and acceptance is certainly left for the future to decide.
The battle for 2019 may have begun in earnest, but the gladiators and their hordes of supporters continue to sing the ‘not-so-fast’ tunes for Nigerians now waiting patiently, with sleeves folded up in readiness for an expected ‘mother-of-all political showdown.