Buhari’s 2023 Plot: Its Neither East Nor West -By Majeed Dahiru

Filed under: Political Issues |

Much like how his nearly four-year presidency has divided Nigerians sharply along ethno-geographic and religious fault lines, President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid is proving no less divisive. From the legacy of a fractured country, arising from Buhari’s isolating leadership style, which has turned farmers against herders, Christians against Muslims, the North against the South and the masses against the elite, the next frontier of conflict appears to be between the South-East and South-West geopolitical zones over the 2023 presidency.

Having failed to deliver on any of his core campaign promises of tackling corruption, resolving insecurity and growing the economy in Nigeria, with very little or nothing to show in terms of life-changing infrastructural development on the eve of a major election, the Buhari campaign has been reduced to the deployment of ethno-geographic sentiments for power as a weapon for baiting voters. However, like his unfortunate leadership style, this latest opportunistic attempt to sway votes in the South-East and South-West geopolitical zones appears to be not only flawed but dead on arrival.

Majeed Dahiru

By way of subtle electoral blackmail, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has thrown up the long agitated for ‘Nigerian president of South East extraction’ trump card as a potent weapon of negotiation to secure the geo-political zone’s support for the president’s re-election. Having inflicted an unprecedented level of marginalisation upon the South-East, which has seen the zone completely shut out of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet and entire top echelon of the nation’s security services, with the resultant deep resentment for the current administration, efforts are under way to win over the people through the issue of being offered the presidency.

Speaking to newsmen yesterday after a meeting between President Buhari and the South-East governors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, said the visit was remarkable and had corrected the impression that the federal government was not doing anything for the people of the zone. According to him, “we received a very high-powered delegation today and I think it is a remarkable visit because they came essentially to thank Mr. President over the major activities that have taken place in the South-East.” On whether President Buhari solicited the votes of the South-East at the meeting, the SGF said: “This obviously might not be the most appropriate time. You remember there was a programme in the South-East where Mr. President asked me to represent him and I threw the kite by telling the South-Eastern states that their quickest and easiest means to the presidency is to support President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term. Meaning that they can short circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years and whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter, because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.” Having repeatedly justified the marginalisation of the South-East on the basis of the paltry 198,000 votes obtained in the zone by the president in the 2015 election, his handlers are now trying to misrepresent this political punishment as a useful lesson to becoming wiser, by voting for the APC presidential ticket in 2019.

In a now familiar pattern of double-speak by the Buhari administration, and in another part of Nigeria, the South-West, a different chorus is being sung by another set of regime agents. Having failed to better the socio-economic lot of the majority of Nigerians of the South-West, in addition to the near absence of federal presence in most areas, as the perennial repair works on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway amounts to nothing but a servant’s reward, minister of power, works and housing, Babatunde Fashola had to push the prospect of a return of power to the region if only it supports the second term aspiration of President Buhari. Speaking in his native Yoruba language for maximum effect at a town hall meeting in Oyo State, Fashola said, “Do you know that power is rotating to the South-West after the completion of Buhari’s tenure if you vote for him in 2019? A vote for Buhari in 2019 means a return of power to the South-West in 2023. I am sure you will vote wisely.” This statement that was initially dismissed as inconsequential was soon to provoke national discourse when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was reported to have expressed a similar view in his consultation with Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo, when he said, “Yoruba have a lot to contribute to Nigeria for the 2019 elections. It is for us Yoruba, if you understand, it is for us. We are not looking at 2019, but 2023. If we don’t get it now, it may take some time again.”

The reduction of national discourse to the issue of ethno-geographic sentiments of a presidential power aspiration, in an election year, is actually a reflection of Buhari’s elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy. Buhari’s sectionalism has not only left Nigeria divided but has entrenched the Hobbesian state of a polity primarily driven by the primordial sentiments of ethnicity, geography and religion. If the double speak from the presidency is designed to plunge the South-West and South-Eeast geo-political zones into fierce competition over who delivers more votes to APC’s Buhari in order to qualify for the 2023 presidency, the ensuing struggle that may likely emerge between these two zones in the event that the scheme scales through, will most likely achieve the unexpected or maybe the originally intended effect.

It will amount to sheer naivety for any Nigerian of South-Eastern origin to contemplate a pact with President Buhari in exchange for the presidency in 2023. It is unlikely that a President Buhari, who since 2015 hasn’t considered any Nigerian of South-Eastern origin as trustworthy enough to head any branch of the security services, including the unarmed Federal Road Safety Corps, will consider enabling one become the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces in 2023. The ensuing struggle between the South- East and South-West will provide the perfect setting for withholding this unintended offer. Similarly, the South-West zone, which has been the most visible champion of Buhari’s re-election, denouncing the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the process as the destroyers of Nigeria, while designating the president as the only trustworthy Nigerian who has no alternative, would have unintentionally provided the grounds for a continuation of the Buhari presidency beyond 2023, albeit through democratic means. If PDP destroyed Nigeria in sixteen years and it becomes impossible for Buhari to fix it in just eight years, especially when there is no alternative to the leader among 200 million Nigerians. Then it is possible that such an alternative is yet to be born. With Buhari not making any verbal commitment to either the South-East or South-West, therefore in 2023, it would neither be the turn of the East nor the West to ascend to the presidency.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through [email protected].