According to Saturday Vanguard, President Muhammadu Buhari may have strengthened his hand in getting the Presidential ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, with last Tuesday’s sweeping extension of the tenure of the National Working Committee, NWC.
However, more trouble lies for him in the general contest from a coalition of displeased party members and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that could make last Tuesday’s endorsement of the NWC a pyrrhic victory. That is if the President resolves to seek a second term, despite health and age concerns.
Buhari, who was inaugurated as President at the age of 72, making him the oldest person to have occupied the Nigerian Presidency, would extend that record if he goes on to win a second term at 76.
Health and age issues
His health and age issues nonetheless, critics within his party are not giving up on stopping him, if not on account of alleged underperformance, then to stave off what some party insiders claim as potential vengeance in a second term.
The opposition, Saturday Vanguard gathered, is now centering around Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who became an early target of the Buhari Presidency, upon claims of his alleged ‘unbridled Presidential aspiration.’
Saraki, who was an influential factor in rallying the Middle Belt and the business community towards the Buhari candidacy ahead of the 2015 elections, has twice been charged by officials of the Buhari administration on two alleged crimes; forgery of the 2015 Standing Rules of the Senate and wrongful declaration of assets.
The charge of forgery was withdrawn by administration officials upon lack of evidence, while the government and Saraki have appealed and cross-appealed disfavourable judgments on the assets declaration charges.
Tambuwal, Markarfi, Lamido, Atiku
With Saraki apparently being pushed to his wits’ end, Saturday Vanguard learnt that he is being prevailed upon to forgo his reported Presidential aspiration, to help forge a strong alliance that could stop Buhari’s second term.
Those canvassing the idea expect Saraki to return to the PDP, and help push the candidacy of any of the four major aspirants being canvassed to fly the ticket of the opposition party.
The four include: Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Alhaji Sule Lamido, and Atiku Abubakar.
Saraki has become increasingly distant from the APC, despite reconciliatory moves made by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, towards him and his allies. A source disclosed that immediately Tinubu was given the assignment to lead the reconciliation, one of the first persons he met in Abuja, was Senator Saraki.
“Asiwaju told him that he has been given the job, and that he needed Saraki’s cooperation for the job”, a source privy to the encounter between the two men which occurred about two weeks ago said.
Absent at APC meetings
The encounter between Saraki and Tinubu was particularly sensitive, given claims that the APC National Leader was one of those who marshaled opposition to stop Saraki from occupying the office of Senate President.
That meeting between both men, Saturday Vanguard learnt, did not produce any breakthrough, but that did not stop Tinubu in his task. Evidence of the lack of substance from the meeting was Saraki’s absence at two National meetings of the party, earlier this week; the National Caucus, on Monday, and the NEC meeting, the following day, despite being in Abuja.
Saraki remarkably was in court, last Tuesday, when the NEC meeting of the party took place in Abuja.
One of Saraki’s Associates dismissed insinuations about his absence at the two meetings.
“How could they have expected him at the meeting of the National Caucus, when he would have been preparing himself for the court case that was to come up the following day, and that was the same day that the NEC was holding.”
Saraki’s Spokesman, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, was however, quick to disabuse any claims of mischief in the absence of the Senate President at the two meetings.
In a statement issued late on Thursday, Mr. Olaniyonu said the Senate President returned from an official Senate engagement in Benin, late on Monday, and was unable to attend the Caucus meeting. He also traced his absence at the NEC meeting to the CCT trial.
It is possible to defeat Buhari
“On Tuesday when the NEC meeting was holding at the APC Secretariat, the Senate President was at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, where he was fighting to clear his name as the defendant in an ongoing case. Dr. Saraki did not fix the date of the adoption of briefs by prosecution and defence Lawyers. The Tribunal did, and by law, Saraki must be physically present at the Tribunal, as the defendant.
“It stands to reason that he cannot be in two places at once, and so he was unavoidably absent at the NEC meeting.
“Dr. Saraki is not one to sneak into a room via the window. He would rather enter through the front door, so that his entry is well noted and acknowledged. Nigerians know that when he joined the APC, he did not sneak in. Therefore, no one should attach any mischievous or inaccurate interpretation to his absence at the two meetings held at times when his whereabouts were a matter of public record.”
Despite Buhari’s continued popularity in some portions of the North, his critics within the party believe that it is possible to defeat him, and hence the shopping around for strong Politicians to turn the tide against the President. Besides Saraki, others that are being courted include: the influential senior Senator from Zamfara, Senator Sani Yerima, and the immediate past Governor of Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Wamakko.
Remarkably, the two Senators like the overwhelming majority of APC Senators, are supportive of Saraki.
Those courting Wamakko are counting on him to back Tambuwal for the Presidency, a decision they believe would help to stave a substantial proportion of the Northern votes away from Buhari.
One million votes from Sokoto
The argument in support of Tambuwal according to the projections, is that it would deny Buhari the estimated one million votes from Sokoto. Even more, is the fact that a Tambuwal candidacy could rally the Northern feudal establishment which, in any case, had been largely circumspect about Buhari, around a more youthful person. Another projection by the North, is that a Tambuwal candidacy defeating Buhari would project the Presidency to be in Northern hands up to 2027, instead of 2023, which the second term for Buhari could offer.
However, the same projection of handing power to the South and particularly to the South-West, is at the centre of the troubleshooting efforts of a South-West Leader of the party. The South-West Leader who is himself interested in the Presidency according to sources, believes that the best route for him is for Buhari to do a second term and relinquish power to the South.
The permutations driving a Tambuwal Presidential aspiration are, however, tempered by local domestic politics in the Governor’s home State, in which external forces have recently tried to break the cordiality between the Governor and his political Leader and predecessor, Senator Wamakko.
Tambuwal’s Presidential aspiration
Though both men continue to display signs of cordiality, Saturday Vanguard learnt that there are apprehensions from those around Wamakko that Tambuwal could fall out of line. That fear is real, given the claims that Governor Tambuwal has not been too mindful getting close to some of his predecessor’s estranged allies, including a former Minister from the State and a former Governor.
A source close to the two men told Saturday Vanguard that Tambuwal was not Wamakko’s original plan for a successor, as the former Commissioner for Finance and later Local Governments, Alhaji Farouk Yabo, was the preferred choice.
Sources in Sokoto revealed that Wamakko might not mind a Tambuwal Presidential bid, as conspiracy theorists say that it would, win or lose, help Wamakko plant Yabo as Governor, and thus, ensure that his legacy in Sokoto State survives in the longer term.