Never say never. That is one truism of Nigerian politics. Today’s prisoner may emerge tomorrow’s president. Ask Obasanjo. A serial loser may one day break the jinx and clinch the topmost prize. That’s how Buhari became president. So, don’t believe any simplistic analysis that routinely dismisses any particular person as incapable of political victory. In Nigeria, especially with the introduction of technology and reduction in primitive ballot snatching, politics is, to some extent, mathematics.
Atiku Abubakar has never made a secret of the fact that he wants to be Nigeria’s president. Having served as vice-president to Obasanjo between 1979 and 1983, he has seen up close the awesome powers the ultimate office controls and has sworn to wield it someday – if Nigerians permit.
Let’s do the kind of calculation that propelled Atiku to leave the governing party, APC for the opposition PDP from whence he came. Truth be told, Muhammadu Buhari is still APC’s best bet for presidency in 2019. He has overcome his health challenges and has faced his duties with renewed vigour. His integrity is unassailable. If Atiku remained in APC the chances of his clinching the presidential ticket in 2019 are not great; and that is putting it mildly. So he opted to return to PDP where, I’m told, he has been promised the presidential slot.
The last time out, PDP won in two zones, South-East and South-South. Atiku is calculating that he can attract votes from at least two other zones to brighten the chances of his party to clinch the presidency. He hopes, by some magic, to convince Asiwaju Tinubu and his kinsmen from the South-West to abandon APC and give him a backing. He also hopes to break into the North-Central, particularly the Middle-Belt area, to shore up his political fortunes.
The master tactician that he is, Atiku has been sucking up to the South-West by openly backing that zone’s clamour for political restructuring. Politics in the South-West is largely about issues. A candidate who promises to deliver a programme that is close to the hearts of the people has a high chance of being voted into power. In that wise, Atiku’s support for restructuring is a masterstroke. But like all masterstrokes, a chink will appear in the armour if Buhari suddenly jumps on the restructuring train.
The calculation that the South-East will continue to be massively anti-Buhari is full of holes. Unlike South-westerners, people in the Southeast are not used to playing opposition politics. When Yorubas were kept out of important appointments during the Jonathan presidency, that didn’t become a major issue because the people were used to opposition politics. They would rather bid their time until a party that met their criteria attained power. In just two years of being in opposition, the Southeast is crying foul – and I support their clamour for more inclusiveness. Therefore, Atiku’s calculation that the Southeast would be his for the picking may not be entirely correct, more so if Buhari constructs the second Niger Bridge as planned.
In the Northeast and Northwest, Buhari will rout Atiku in a presidential contest even though Atiku has personally financed a wide political network in the two zones. If it comes down to a choice between Atiku and Buhari, the masses of the people in the North are likely to queue behind Buhari who is perceived as incorruptible.
The major factor that could throw the presidency wide open in 2019 is if Buhari loses his current coalition of forces that formed the APC. If a major block like the former ACN backs out, then Buhari would have to strategise towards attracting a replacement. This scenario would be a prayer answered as far as Atiku is concerned.
Then, there are extraneous forces and tripping political demons that could stultify Atiku’s bid. His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, has not made a secret of the fact that if he had any say in the matter, Atiku would never be president. However, Obasanjo is not God. But he does have a big say in Nigeria’s political affairs. President Jonathan was not kidding when he described the wily Owu general as the “boss of bosses” Yes, maybe Obasanjo is part of the problem but in the political mathematics of Nigeria, if you call him a dead political force, he will show up at your political funeral.
When the race begins, if Atiku gets the PDP ticket, even patrolmen who lost out may dredge the canal and remind the nation of the “Jefferson matter”. Remember the ranking congressman Jefferson who had spent 18 years in the House of Representatives and was convicted of accepting more than $400,000 in bribes and seeking millions more in exchange for brokering business deals in Africa? Atiku’s opponents have always dredged up this matter at every opportunity.
The power of incumbency is in Buhari’s favour. And he will contest the next elections even if he (rightly, I think) insists on distancing himself from the subject for now. Strategically, he holds the proverbial yam and knife and can slice whichever way he wants. Even though he is not the traditional definition of a scheming politician, he is nobody’s fool and would not be naive to the extent of tolerating the continued empowerment of his major opponent. Read my lips!
And can Atiku win back a sizeable percentage of the forces that coalesced to sweep Buhari to power to such an extent as to alter the subsisting mathematical permutation? It’s your guess!