The race for 2019 is on. The race for Aso Villa is getting hotter with aspirants declaring their intentions to run. Former governor of Jigawa State, AlhajiSuleLamido, Ekiti State governor Ayodele Peter Fayose, former Vice-President, AbubakarAtiku and Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo have all indicated interest to contest the Presidential election come 2019 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, the defection of former Vice-President, Atiku to PDP heightened political activities and interests as his move came just days to the PDP Convention at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
So far, just one candidate is standing for the governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). He is President MuhammaduBuhari whose Buhari Support Organization (BSO) launched its operational secretariat in Abuja weeks ago with Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) as DG.
Many believe that with Atiku’s defection from APC to PDP, the way for Buhari to cruise to a successful re-election has been narrowed, despite the severe media (particularly in the social media) attacks on Atiku.
It is also believed that Atiku could clinch the PDP Presidential ticket but that does not in any way imply that he could sail above the incumbent President when the election comes in 2019,if the latter’s political moves as witnessed in the crowd that greeted his visit in Kano, are anything to go by.
However, political pundits, analysts and observers believe Buhari isn’t exactly walking an easy street either. With the woeful performance of his government, contrary to expectations, Buhari is certain to be given a run for his money especially as the political costs expands and more and more credible aspirants throw their hats in the ring.
Apart from Atiku and others, another man that could give Buhari a serious run for his money in 2019, perhaps even a bloody nose, is Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki whose body language initially suggested he could get into the ring but suddenly not much has been heard from his camp lately.
Indeed, Saraki’s silence is being interpreted in diverse ways by different political watchers. Some suggest that he probably may have reached a deal with party chieftains and the presidency not to run since that could have a telling effect on the unity of the party and the spill-over effect could further affect the chances of Buhari more so, his (Saraki’s) position will be guaranteed and secured in the second term arrangement.
Another school of thought opines that perhaps Saraki has chickened out seeing that he stands no chance before a renewed and fortified interest of Buhari to seek a second term and he may not be taken seriously just like Atiku if he chooses to return to PDP to fulfil his dream of becoming President.
Yet another opinion saysSaraki may be keeping his ace to his chest, observing events and waiting for the eleventh hour to strike. This option sounds most likely considering the political antecedents and attitude of Saraki especially after his cold war with APC chieftains at the beginning of this administration.
Politics, as they say is a game. You wait for the weak period of your opponent to launch the masterstroke. It is a game where trust is just a word without bond or honour. It is a game where you don’t underrate your opponent irrespective of your strength and advantage over him/her.
In this vein, it may not come as a surprise should Saraki step into the ring before the end of the first quarter of 2018. Unconfirmed reports suggest that he is under immense pressure to declare his interest to run. Before now though, he had never hidden his ambition to step into Aso Villa as President.
Those who know say his biggest ambition is to lead Nigeria as president. This again suggests that he may beat the APC eggheads to their game having quietly yet powerfully maneuvered out of every stumbling block set on his way after that famous Senate leadership election where he emerged Senate President and leader of the National Assembly.
It is not debatable that Saraki has huge influence and control over the National Assembly just as he has goodwill before the very powerful Nigerian Governors Forum. He made lots of friends in the South East and South Southin the course of his emergence as Senate President. He has a firm support base in the North Central where he hails from. These are all indicators that Saraki will step into the ring sometime soon.
A close aide to the Senate President said: “He is not the type that rushes into conclusion. He does not rush totake decisions especially those that concern his political life and the country. He consults widely. He speaks to almost everyone. I think that could be the case here.
That is a mark of a man and public servant who is not desperate for power. He has his card to his chest. Yes, I can confirm that this issue has been burning among his faithful. But he will always say, ‘it’s not about us but about Nigerians whose decisions matter most.’ No one can say if, he will or not but truth is the pressure for him to declare is very high. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Let’s wait, watch and see.”
Observers, however, think that one factor will drive Saraki to enter the ring. That factor is his geo-political zone. The Presidential tickets for both APC and PDP have been zoned to the North. Should Buhari secure the ticket for second term in 2019, which is not unlikely, then, that implies that the North will have to wait for the South to produce the President after Buhari’s second term which ends in 2023.
The big question is, will Saraki be patient enough to wait till 2031 to get a shot at the presidency after a Southern President finishes his/her two terms? Will he be able to enjoy same support he enjoys now then? Won’t there be more sophisticated, vibrant and younger politicians springing up from the North to shove his intetests aside? Will the political atmosphere and calculations of the country remain the same by then? Won’t a new power bloc have emerged from his State (Kwara) and zone (North Central) then? Many questions to be answered!
Saraki’s supporters are torn into two divides on this. One group thinks he is still young and can wait till then for as long as he still nurses the ambition to preside over Nigeria. A second group thinks otherwise, suggesting that he should make hay while the sun shines. This group believes that Saraki stands a better chance now than any other time more so, he may not be the only politician from the North Central eyeing the presidency.
If Saraki goes with the latter argument then, he may find it difficult to upset or upstage Buhari who surely has APC locked down to his side. Buhari’s recent “fence-mending” exercise, which “realigned” Bola Ahmed Tinubu to his camp is a massive political boost for Mr. President.
His recent visit to the South East after the “Operation Python Dance 2” is seen as a good political goal scored by Mr. President. These are proofs that Buhari is tactically reaching out and tightening his seat belt in readiness for take-off for the journey to 2019 and beyond.
Suffice this to mean that Buhari will surely end up as the sole candidate of APC in 2019 Presidential race. So where does this leave Saraki’s ambition if he decides to run?
Perhaps Saraki may also return to PDP to slug it out with Atiku and co. With his massive support in NASS and the NGF, Saraki may dwarf Atiku to grab the PDP ticket to square up in a titanic battle with Buhari for the key to Aso Villa.
But will Saraki follow his mind or brain? Will he listen to his heart or head? Will he wait till after 2023 or better still 2031, to step forward or take the bull by the horn to join the 2019 race? Is he even ready for this journey or is he simply being egged on by cheap supporters and sycophants? Perhaps, the first quarter of 2018 will get the picture clearer. But, one thing is certain: Saraki’s silence is a message loud enough to give politically-conscious Nigerians some concerns.
●Desmond Ekwueme is a Lagos-based journalist