2019: Men Behind President Buhari

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Although President Muhammadu Buhari has not declared his intention to seek re-election in the 2019 general election, there are indications that some of his core loyalists and appointees have started putting up machinery in place to ensure that he not only contests the election, but also emerges victorious. And they are also mounting pressure on the President to make sure he does not decline to run. All that became clear recently when the Minister of Women Affairs, a loyalist of former vice president Atiku Abubakar, openly declared that she would be supporting Atiku in 2019 and not President Buhari, who appointed her into his cabinet, if both men choose to contest the presidential election.

Alhassan’s declaration set the stage for the debate on whether Buhari should seek re-election or not in 2019, especially against the backdrop of his state of health.

The President had gone on medical vacation four times since assuming office on May 29, 2015. He embarked on a six-day vacation in the United Kingdom between February 5 and 10, 2016. On June 6, 2016, he embarked on another 10-day vacation to attend to what the Presidency described as “persistent ear infection.” The President returned to Nigeria on June 19, 2016 after spending 14 days in London. But he again left the country on January 19, 2017, for another medical vacation and returned on March 10 after a 49-day medical sojourn, disclosing that he had never been that sick in his life.

After being absent from some public events, including three consecutive weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings, Buhari again on May 7 returned to London for medical consultation, making it the second time he proceeded on medical leave this year. He returned after 104 days amid heightening calls and protests for his resignation.

Many political observers in the country have advised the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against drafting the President into the 2019 presidential race for a second term in office on account of his ill-health. Those that hold this view believe that the party would lose the 2019 presidential election should it present Buhari as its candidate. But Buhari’s loyalists would take none of that; they want their principal to throw his hat into the ring in spite of the perceived odds.

Soon after Alhassan’s declaration, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-rufai revealed that governors and ministers under the ruling APC were working underground to ensure that Buhari contests the 2019 presidential election.

El-Rufai, who made this known to State House correspondents after a closed door meeting with the President in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, penultimate Friday, said the governors and the ministers had resolved to draft the President into the race as members of the “Buharist Group”. The “Buharist Group”, according to him, is an association of APC governors and ministers, whose primary aim is to promote and defend the perceived socio-political interests of President Buhari. He dismissed the assertion that he was being groomed to replace Buhari in 2019.

He stated that as a member of the “Buharist Group”, he had no presidential ambition as being speculated. “My name has continuously been mentioned as a presidential aspirant since 2007 after my years in the FCT; there is nothing new about that…As far as 2019 is concerned, my position is the President is looking very well; he is recuperating very fast. My hope and prayer is he will contest in 2019,” El-Rufai said.

Aside from El-Rufai and his Buharist Group, there are other Nigerians and groups that have also declared support for the President’s second term project. Sunday Sun gives insight into the identities of some of them and their reasons for doing so in this report: Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Ogun State Governor and Buhari’s long time political ally: “The only thing that can prevent President Muhammadu Buhari from contesting is if his health cannot take it. If not for this present administration, only God knows where Nigeria would have been. When the government came on board, it was like jumping into the pool at the deep end.

Alhaji Yahaya Bello, Kogi State Governor: “Nigerians still need Buhari beyond 2019 to consolidate the gains of the past two years. Nigerians have seen why this nation was messed up for many years with institutionalised corruption, institutional failure and absence of visionary leadership. The present administration has restored the confidence of the international community in Nigeria.

“In two years, President Buhari has given hope to the international community and Nigerians that the country is capable of fulfilling its potential for the benefit of her citizens, Africa and the world at large. The recent exit of the economy from recession is a clear indication that Nigeria is set to take the world by storm through sound economic policies that are germane to improved standards of living of Nigerians.” Prof. Abdur-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications; former member of Oyo State House of Assembly; member of 2005 National Political Conference: “We still have two years. But I want to assure you that by the grace of God, we would urge him to seek re-election because it is only once in a while that you get a father figure for a nation to move forward and attain greatness. He is unlike former President Goodluck Jonathan, who never, with due respect, symbolised anything for the country. Buhari’s body language is enough to compel people to do things rightly, in the area of finances, electricity and others. A lot of people have had to sit up even before he spoke. So, we need the Buhari father figure for a length of time for the country to get its act right to attain greatness under his leadership.” John Odigie-oyegun, National Chairman of the APC: Oyegun was recently quoted as saying he would beg President Buhari to seek re-election in the 2019 general election. When told that Nigerians were disappointed with him over the comments because of the state of health of the President in a recent interview with a national newspaper, he said: “This is a free country. I have my views and I have expressed them. Why do I say so? I said so because the main gift President Buhari is giving to this country is what he represents and that is his absolute integrity. What Nigerians should aspire to be, the kind of country that we want Nigeria to be, a country where a man’s yes is his yes. A country with leadership that treats with respect public resources; a nation that is disciplined; a nation that is not wallowing in indecent corruption that we have today that is making one ashamed. That is what Buhari represents. “He is like a General leading a charge against the major ills of this country. The job is so enormous that one term cannot do it. The job is so enormous that two terms cannot do it. Even after President Buhari’s tenure, we still need people like him to continue in office. So, my prayer is that God gives him robust good health and once he enjoys that, of course as an individual, I will work that he comes back for another term…The task is enormous and we need continuity in principled leadership, which President Buhari represents.” Senator Ayo Arise, who represented Ekiti North district in the Senate between 2007 and 2011: “One thing that is certain is that every person that becomes President wants to solidify his own achievements. And it is not unexpected that any incumbent will want to run for second term. The challenge here is the health condition of Mr. President. But the truth of the matter is that he is the only person that knows his own health. He knows his body; he knows how he feels. A person that is so sick today can still become active and agile and even outlive many people. Because we do not have the barometre to measure the lifespan of individuals, this man that is sick and receiving treatment could live very long. That is in the hand of God. So, if he feels that he is okay, I think Nigerians will like to build enduring legacies, which is what the President is doing now. If we are able to convince him to run for a second term, I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. At the end of the day, the people will vote.” Preye Aganaba, founding member of APC, Bayelsa State and a member of the party’s presidential campaign council in 2015: “If President Buhari runs for election today, he is going to win. I don’t think the President is as ill as the cynics are trying to sell. Like every other human being, he can fall sick. The problem is that because he is in government and he is President, there are lots of stories. But he is back and healthy. I don’t think that for now the APC has any other choice than to field him. People are free to contest the primary, of course.

A few days ago, the story of Nigeria getting out of recession was all over the news, the prices of basic foodstuffs is going down. I get a minimum of 20 hours light per day. I am not too bothered about the economy because it’s in good hands, but perhaps by the politics within the various zones. That is what will determine the outcome of the next election. The APC with Buhari will win that election, but to what margin is what I cannot say.”

Comrade Wilfred Frank-Ogbotobo, Coordinator, South-South Legacy Forum (SSLF) and former chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Bayelsa State: “Nigerians are impressed with President Buhari on the exemplary leadership and courage he has demonstrated, without pretence, to inspire the country to confront the reality of our situation, just like other great nations have done in their time. Presently, Nigeria is walking the path to become a nation of serious people, conscious of the responsibility and the strength expected of their humanity. “President Buhari has inspired a silent spiritual awakening. A wave, compelling fundamental adjustments, has set in. Though, the material sacrifices and hardship accompanying these adjustments are excruciating and tough, there is also the dawn of realisation that these circumstances are the result of the false perceptions and lifestyles we allowed ourselves to be led into cultivating over the years.

“Hence, no sensible Nigerian would want us to jettison these strides and deliberately wish to be deceived again by the same political desperadoes who led us to this sad situation in the first place. We are already on the threshold of a new epoch.”

Chief Anike Nwoga, Chairman, Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), Enugu State Chapter and a chieftain of the APC: “From all our interactions and that of our leadership with President Buhari before the 2015 election, there was no day the issue of one term was discussed. Rather, from day one we had always known that the rot left behind by successive Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) squandermania regimes was deep and that Buhari needed eight years in order to cleanse the Augean Stable. And to be exact, he needs to consolidate the war against corruption, insecurity in the land and to consolidate the solid foundation for economic prosperity. All we in the BSO are praying to God is to guide and give him good health to complete the good works he is doing in revamping our critical infrastructure, Enugu Coal, second Niger Bridge and so on.”

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