This time the destination is Riyadh, where Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman – another firm friend of Buhari’s – is presiding over an investment summit in early November. After that comes a sojourn in London. That is a private trip, as the current political scene in Britain is too chaotic for any serious business.
Some think it may be another medical check-up. There is no comment from Buhari, as always. Yet in his absence, the political amebos (gossips) will rip with speculation about his health and the line of succession. The dust is yet to settle on this year’s presidential election, but would-be kingmakers are already lining up their candidates for the 2013 vote.
One of the likely contenders is vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who as presidential candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, lost to Buhari in the elections in February. While Buhari is away, the Supreme Court will hear Atiku’s appeal against the election result and a special tribunal’s ruling in favour of the incumbent. [– update: Atiku lost this petition]
Atiku has been a recurring figure in national politics for the past three decades and has made three runs for the presidency. One of Nigeria’s wealthiest businessmen, Atiku retains a strong base in the south and the north-east.
If he stays the course for 2023, he could face another national figure in the presidential hustings: Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos who is plotting a course to win the nomination of the ruling All Progressives Congress. The position will be vacant in 2023, according to Buhari’s office, which has denied any interest in forcing a constitutional amendment to secure a third term in office for the incumbent.
And Tinubu is picking up endorsements from Nigerians who want to make friends and influence, as well get seriously rich.
- Popular columnist Dele Momodu, who has swung in favour of political patrons in many different camps in his long career, is the latest passenger to board the Tinubu bandwagon. Writing in his column ‘Pendulum’ in national daily ThisDay at the weekend, Momodu suggested the elder statesman’s “uncommon audacity” and “kamikaze” instincts could carry him to the top job in 2023.
- In October 2019, Babachir Lawal, the former secretary to the federation who was sacked after his implication in a scandal, endorsed Tinubu: “Bola Tinubu, without prejudice that he’s my friend, will make a good president”, said Lawal. “Other issues notwithstanding, he [Tinubu] will make a good modern president because the presidency these days is scientific. Nigerians, by convention, seem to have agreed that there should be rotation of the presidency.”
- In July 2019, billboards for a Tinubu presidential campaign were erected close to the headquarters of the Lagos State government. Of course, Tinubu denied any involvement in the operation.
A Lagos Affair
Also at the weekend of 26-27 October, fiery Lagos preacher Tunde Bakare threw a brickbat at Tinubu, complaining about the gargantuan levels of corruption since he was governor of the state and installed his protégés in the political system there.
It seems that Bakare sees himself as a rival to Tinubu. Weeks ago, an undated video of Bakare, Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 presidential elections, proclaimed himself Nigeria’s 16th president. Buhari is the fifteenth since independence in 1960.
In a 2015 interview, Bakare said he had been pressured in the run-up to the elections in 2011, by unnamed politicians, to sign a dated resignation letter. The deal was designed to make Bakare go quietly should that prove necessary for Buhari’s handlers.
- Current vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, another Lagos clergyman enmeshed in power struggles in the presidency, is believed to be the victim of a concerted effort to reduce his goodwill and sellability ahead of 2023.
- Some whisper that Osinbajo’s erstwhile political benefactor Tinubu is at the centre of that campaign.
- Pulse Nigeria reports that Osinbajo himself told the press at the latter’s birthday colloquium earlier this year that Tinubu’s political trajectory has just begun.
Bakare has since said that the video believed to be from February 2018 was dug up by “cyberspace libertarians” eager to link his fellow clergyman’s travails to him. “The vice-president, Osinbajo, will have the last laugh – they think I’m stupid – except he has violated his oath,” he said.
The dynamics among the Lagos trio – Osinbajo, Tinubu and Bakare – point to a deal to pass the presidency on to the South-west after Buhari leaves. That may cause resentment in the South-south and South-wast geopolitical zones which have produced one president each – and are less favoured than the other geopolitical zones.
The bottom line: In 2023, good governance may take second place to the politics of patronage and personality as more wealthy contenders vie for the presidency. There is also a question mark about Buhari’s second term: if he is so concerned about his health and has no elections to worry about, there could be a term of a distracted government on auto-pilot.