The Search For A Dark Horse
Since January, when President Buhari hinted about his preferred presidential candidate in a rare Channels TV interview, the nation’s curiosity around this subject has heightened. Prediction of this candidate has eluded political outsiders probably because of the population of the cast of characters who’ve rushed to obtain the ruling party’s nomination forms. Buhari’s choice to keep his favourite “secret” for fear that he “may be eliminated,” a half-teasing excuse by the commander-in-chief, makes almost every self-advertised aspirant a prime suspect in this gathering suspense.
That the identity of this favourite had to be protected points the observers away from the easiest guesswork which, typically, must begin with the possibility of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. As the second-in-command, Osinbajo ought to have the right of first refusal to succeed his principal. But over this seeming privilege looms the dark cloud of his principal, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s ambition. Both politicians are pillars of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) camp in the coalition that became the All Progressives Congress (APC) and from a region most advantaged to produce the party’s next presidential candidate.
If Osinbajo and Tinubu were Buhari’s preference, there wouldn’t have been a need for his secrecy. There, also, wouldn’t have been the fear of possible elimination if either’s identity is revealed. They are heavyweights in the political ring, and capable of funding their defence against any adversary or hostility within and outside the party. They don’t need Buhari’s protection, only endorsement.
Osinbajo’s diminished influence isn’t news. He’s been successfully subdued by Buhari’s right-hand men, and the job he loved to do passed to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Even though Sadiya Umar Faruk isn’t fairing better, she’s taken over the spotlight that got the Presidency envious of him. His humanizing fraternity with beneficiaries of the government’s economic and humanitarian intervention schemes must’ve been interpreted as a bid to outshine his master.
For Tinubu, the opposition has been largely subtle but unmistakable. There’s the experience of the former Director-General of his support groups, Dr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who got hounded by the government and accused of violating public service rules for openly campaigning for the former Lagos governor, and also the antagonism of his rebellious former mentees who are a part of Buhari’s cabinet. Dr. Jibrin’s yellow card was flashed by the Minister of Works and Housing who once rode on Tinubu’s coattail to become Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. Tinubu was also openly antagonized by another member of Buhari’s Cabinet who, like Fashola, is his political beneficiary. Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Minister of Interior, set out to clip Tinubu’s wings when he backed a governorship candidate in Osun State to beat one endorsed by Tinubu. He lost.
One other aspirant likely to qualify as a favourite of the president is the Minister of Transportation. Since Rotimi Amaechi got the politically pampered former Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, sacked for insubordination, his political profile has expanded. It was one war he was predicted to lose because Ms. Bala Usman didn’t only function as a political daughter of Buhari, she was El-Rufai’s mentee. These connections must’ve emboldened her to miss that she’s dispensable. But, then, Amaechi’s chances came under scrutiny when former President Goodluck Jonathan, a larger profile from his geopolitical zone became a variable.
But neither Rotimi nor Jonathan would need Buhari’s protection to escape elimination. Both are established for the storm to come. So, when, on Wednesday, Buhari directed all his ministers running for elective positions to resign before May 16, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, got our attention when he rushed to tender his resignation letter. It’s not a Nigerian thing for a politician who doesn’t seem to stand any chance at winning to forego such office. Even though Mr. Nwajiuba fits the profile of a politically vulnerable option, APC’s desirability in the South-East isn’t inspiring enough to make him the party’s bride.
Next in vulnerability to Nwajiuba is the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, a political dinosaur whose boyish charms were countervailed by an allegation of corruption that left him buried for too long. Even though he was acquitted by the court, the question of these alleged financial transgressions was amplified for analyses when his media handlers engaged social media influencers to promote his brand online. Even with the distrust for Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials, it’s unlikely he would settle for an aspirant with such a moral stain.
Last week, a notable public servant and commentator, Dr. Aliyu Tilde, hinted about the likelihood of Borno State Governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, as APC’s presidential candidate. As a political upstart propelled by a supportive former principal, Senator Kashim Shettima, his vulnerability isn’t unobtrusive. If chosen, he’s likely to need Buhari’s protection. Unfortunately, it’s a ticket that won’t sell. The moral debate of fielding a northern candidate after eight disappointing years of a northerner in charge is a calamity for which the APC is unprepared. This bid would sink the party’s ship, and there’s no number of bullion vans capable of preventing an unintended consequence.
In the early hours of Saturday, May 14, a new name popped up in a tweet by President Buhari’s Personal Assistant on New Media, Bashir Ahmad: “Bola Tinubu, Yemi Osinbajo, Akin Adesina, Rotimi Amaechi, Ahmad Lawan and 20 other presidential aspirants contesting under our great party, the APC returned their expression of interest and nomination forms.” This wasn’t the first time the name of the high-flying President of the African Development Bank was listed as a contender for APC’s ticket to Aso Rock, the rumour of Dr. Akin Adesina’s contest had been wild before his name appeared in the presidential aide’s communication and, expectedly, it has been singled out for headlines.
Adesina is one of the four citizens and heads of international organizations—along with Dr. Ngozi Iweala of the World Trade Organization, Amina Mohammed of the United Nations, and Mohammed Barkindo of OPEC—who’ve become the country’s brand ambassadors. But he stands out from the quartet for being a recurring decimal in the intellectual projections of the 2023 presidential elections. The arguments for his suitability appeal to Nigeria’s rural farmers, who are beneficiaries of his innovative thinking as Minister of Agriculture between 2010 and 2015 as much as the educated demographic to whom he’s a model.
Whether the record-breaking economist and development banker is Buhari’s dark horse is yet to be established, but he qualifies as the only candidate worthy of the president’s caution among the cast prepared for the party’s primaries this month. His intellectual and moral superiority in the race to grab APC’s ticket makes his case compelling. As, also, a non-career politician and from the region the president is most likely to choose his favourite, his entry makes our dark horse theory easy and difficult to solve.