I was surprised that some people seemed surprised that Buhari decided to seek re-election. I have always maintained that it will be unthinkable for any President of the country to forgo the opportunity of seeking re-election – even if that President is in coma. Aside from the natural allure of power, in our type of society, the office of President is by definition bigger than its occupant such that the decision on whether to seek for a second term or not is bigger than the occupant of that office. Once in office, a President will realize – or it will be drummed into his ears - that he is merely the person chosen by providence to represent certain primordial groups’ turn in holding that office.
Add to this, the hangers-on and system beneficiaries whose livelihoods depend on the President continuing in office! For instance before the gravely sick Yaradua died in 2010, there were already groups campaigning for his re-election, and arguing that his health challenges would be no impediment to his performance.
I argued elsewhere (at the height of the debate on whether Buhari would run in 2019 or not) that our concern with Buhari should not be whether he would seek re-election or not but whether he would accept defeat if he loses, and if he wins re-election, whether he can resist the temptation of elongating his tenure for a third term. Since the 1990s, almost 30 African Presidents had sought to amend the constitutions of their countries in other to elongate their tenures after exhausting their constitutionally allowed term limits.
Does Buhari really deserve re-election?
This will partly depend on one’s location in the country’s fault lines and one’s stand in the active controversies of the day. The truth is that the idea of ‘performance’ in office is highly subjective. For instance while critics can accuse the Buhari government of not having started and completed any infrastructure project since it came to office, supporters will see it as evidence that Buhari sees government as a continuum and did not want to jettison “uncompleted and abandoned” projects he inherited from his predecessors just to embark on vainglorious projects of his own. In essence, while critics can mention a thousand reasons why Buhari does not deserve re-election, his supporters can mention as many reasons why they feel that Buhari is the best thing that has happened to the country since the invention of egusi soup, amala or tuwon shinkafa. I have argued elsewhere that those who feel that the election will be won or lost on the basis of Buhari’s performance or non-performance in office have a lot to learn about elections in societies like ours.
Several variables will interact – including our identity politics, who Buhari’s key opponents are, the attitude of leading foreign powers to the various candidates and other unknowable intervening variables - to determine who wins in 2019.
The games politicians play
Buhari and his strategists realize that they need a good outing in the South-west, which, as in 2015, will be the battle ground in 2019, if he hopes to win re-election. This calculation means that Bola Tinubu, once thought to be marginalized after the 2015 elections, is now being courted like a beautiful bride by the presidency. And Tinubu appears to be enjoying the attention (of course his options are limited). But in courting Tinubu, Buhari seems to face the Devil’s Alternative: though no one really knows Tinubu’s true electoral value in the South-west, a perception that he was used and dumped or treated shabbily will draw sympathies for him in the region and evoke memories of how some people from the region felt the late Chief Awolowo was shabbily treated after helping the Federal side to win the Biafran war. On the other hand, courting Tinubu and throwing the APC’s national Chairman Chief John Odigie- Oyegun under the bus will equally draw sympathies for him and alienate the anti-Tinubu forces loyal to him in both the South-west and outside it.
I think Buhari has been trying to balance the two options: the way he came against the ‘tenure elongation’ of the Oyegun-led National Working Committee (apparently without first taking them into confidence) was clearly aimed at placating Tinubu, who seems to be in Cold War with the APC National Chairman. On the other hand by pleading at the recently concluded National Executive Committee meeting of the party for waivers to be granted to members of the National Working Committee who wanted to re-contest, Buhari seemed to be also trying to mollify Oyegun and his loyalists.
The danger in playing this sort of games for Buhari however is that he can end up alienating both sides and some may choose to undermine his second term ambition secretly – even if they are officially drumming support for him.
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