The year 2023 will be so pivotal to the continued survival of Nigeria as one indivisible, peaceful and united country. Already there are very ominous signs in the horizon and a foreboding sense of denouement for a federation hanging precariously on the precipice. Indeed the past three years have been most traumatic for our country and her citizens so much so that not a few believe that the Nigerian federation has lost its relevance to them. And these disenchanted citizens may be right in their reasoning given the untold hardship in the land. Prices of essential food commodities have hit the roof, far beyond the reach of the common man. The situation is so unbearable that even garri, a form of granulated cassava, arguably what used to be the cheapest staple in the country and the consolation of the poorest of the poor, has become pricey and non-affordable for many of our countrymen and women. Cooking gas is already out of reach with many families retrogressing to the use of firewood with all its consequences of deforestation and damage to the ecosystem. To put it as it is, there is grave hunger in the land!
If citizens had to deal with hunger alone, that would be even tolerable. No. Beyond the problem of hunger is the bigger problem of security. From the North to the South, from the East to the West, killings are going on almost unabated with the security agencies appearing to be overstretched. Yes, when President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015, there was already the problem of Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast. As a matter of fact, it was the perceived failure of the PDP government of President Goodluck Jonathan in taming the insurgency in the Northeast that strongly recommended Buhari to Nigerians who believed that he would crush Boko Haram quickly, given his military background. Unfortunately, why the Boko Haram problem has festered in the Northeast, banditry (perhaps a euphemism for terrorism) has broken out in the Northwest. Every now and then, this group of criminals would stroll into schools and cart away school children unchallenged and move them into the forest without mercy until their parents pay the ransom for their release.
In the Southeast, we are nearly back to 1967 with the demand for a Biafran state as the only solution to real and perceived marginalization of the region. To be sure, the governors of the region have lost their legitimacy to a secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who now issues command and gets popular obedience unlike the former. Even in the Southwest that historically used to playing the moderating role in the country, talk of secession is no longer in hush-hush tones as a renowned professor, not a nondescript, is now insisting on the O’odua Nation. Time is indeed running out on the Nigerian federation.
Yet the year 2023 is another opportunity, perhaps the last one to salvage our country. Let’s face it, in 2015, the Buhari presidency was so appealing and filled with so much promises that many are still wondering what happened today. But this is not the time for blame games and buck-passing; this is the time to save our country or allow it to go down as one of those federations that went into extinction. It is also not in doubt that had Buhari become the President of Nigeria in 2003 or 2007; he could have addressed these challenges frontally and do far better than this. But old age and a tiring health have set in. Unfortunately, the gains recorded by his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo, who stepped into the saddle when he was sick, were reversed by the cabal led by former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari (late). But it appears things are changing, and Buhari is beginning to give Osinbajo some added responsibilities. Is the star boy back?
In 2023, Nigerians will go to the polls again to elect a president that will take over from President Buhari. Within the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a lot of realpolitik, consultations, negotiations and horse-trading have started. You may have noticed some governors moving across party channels and some past sworn enemies reconciling and ending their famous quarrel. You may have also noticed the struggle to control the souls of the major parties and the return of some notable professional, if seasonal, presidential candidates. These are the signs of the time.
While the politicians can continue in their game of deceit, citizens must focus and keep their eyes on the ball because what is at stake in the next election is the very survival of our country. The choice of president in 2023 will either make or mar this nation. In 2023, Nigerians would need a president with the Buhari integrity, no doubt. But beyond integrity, the next president must be one who understands that today’s world is knowledge-driven. The next president must be one who understands the knowledge industry as driven by global technological flux. The next president must be one who understands that the real wealth of the nation is not majorly the mineral resources buried in the womb of its earth but inheres in the head of her citizens as human capital. The Nigerian president after Buhari must be vast in the workings of international economics and politics, and he must be eloquent enough to perform his role as the marketer-in-chief of the nation. Above all, the president to take over from President Buhari must be a great listener, an effortless communicator and one who believes in the effectiveness of dialogue in resolving national issues.
Rummaging through the piling heap of serious candidates, charlatans and presidential wannabees who have raised their hands and those still biding their time, the consensus among Nigerians from all political persuasions is that the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, dwarfs everyone. However, before Osinbajo is presented to Nigerians for their endorsement, his party, APC must reach a consensus to present him as their candidate. It is reassuring to note that APC is gradually coming to a consensus to zone the presidency in 2023 to the South, which equity and fairness demand. Having zoned to the south, the next logical consensus to consider would be to determine who among the southern aspirants would attract massive votes for the party from all the geopolitical zones of the country? Which of them have the right temperament to soothe frayed nerves and douse agitations from all the fissiparous forces threatening to tear the country apart presently? APC would do well to also consider the aspirant whose emergence would make the party more coalescent and which one would elicit divisions and factionalization of the party, going into a major election?
There is no doubt that the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo ticks all the boxes and possibly holds all the aces. In terms of competencies and the understanding of the dynamics of global economic trends, the professor is quite at home. For instance, at the sixth Kaduna Investment Summit in September, the vice president stated inter alia that “the focus today must be developing a knowledge-based economy. The knowledge-based economy referred to stands for human capital development. Education and knowledge can become productive assets to be sold for profit rather than natural resources.
“Digital data, digital solutions to improve agricultural yields, digital platforms to provide online study. It is possible to move from where we are to knowledge economy. Millions of data in terabytes are stored in chips, 1,000 megawatts of power can be stored in battery. The future of financial technology is not in banks. Nigeria is becoming technology investment solution hub in sub-Sahara Africa”. This is the kind of forward-looking thought expected from anyone aspiring to lead this country in 2023. Just a few days ago at the Ekiti State economic summit, Osinbajo reiterated the need to key into the knowledge economy and even advised states as federating units to be more creative and think big.
Osinbajo is not just an eloquent speaker with competencies in rebuilding a failing economy, he is also gifted with the necessary emotional intelligence to manage the great diversity of our country. In the short period he acted for his boss, Mr President, he was able to bring down the rising political temperature of the country at the time by simply engaging with aggrieved groups because of his belief in dialogue and consultations. This is perhaps the most important quality expected of anyone positioning to lead the country after Buhari. Lest we forget, he is also capable of wielding the big stick when the occasion calls for it by taking tough decisions as in the sacking of the former director general of the Department of State Security (DSS) who allegedly embarrassed the Buhari government by ordering laying of a siege to the National Assembly.
As attractive as the Osinbajo candidacy may appear, pundits, however, believe that there is an elephant in the room that may pose a great obstacle. That obstacle may be Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a leader Osinbajo himself respects. Tinubu is a leader of the ruling party who perhaps has contributed more than any other individual in the becoming of the Buhari presidency. And he has not hidden his intention to vie for the highest office in the land. In fact, some of his supporters who visited him recently while recuperating from a surgical procedure in London were already referring to him as “Mr President” in an arrogant violation of the Constitution when there is in fact, a sitting president. But if truth be told, as influential as Asiwaju is in the APC, is he the kind of president that Nigeria needs in 2023 with all the agitations everywhere? The brave answer is no. He will do well to continue as a godfather, and we must give it to him and respect him for all he has done.
APC as a party must understand that in 2023, there will be no Buhari on the ballot to mobilize millions of votes as before. So in choosing its presidential flag bearer, the party must consider someone that will naturally earn the support of President Buhari to replace him. And who fits that bill better than the man who has dutifully and loyally served as his deputy for eight years in the person of Osinbajo? Again, as popular and influential as Tinubu clearly is in the Southwest, he must tread carefully and understand that beyond a few sycophants positioning to sell his candidacy because of money, he is not particularly liked outside the region. If anything, there is a creeping animosity and disapproval of his godfatherism outside the Southwest as everyone saw in the last Edo gubernatorial election. Another concern is the way and manner Akinwumi Ambode, a sitting governor who performed better than many governors, was treated. Top politicians are certainly wary of Tinubu becoming the President. And to win the Nigerian presidency; a candidate will do well to be attractive to the other geopolitical zones, not just in the Southwest alone. Yes, other aspirants may be trounced by Tinubu in the Southwest, but Osinbajo is likely to be more acceptable than his godfather in the wider Nigerian political ecosystem.
Finally, the president Nigeria needs in 2023 will certainly be one young and healthy enough to be alive to his responsibilities. Regrettably, age and ill health appear to have already disqualified Tinubu and there is nothing anyone can do about that. Given the experience with the Late Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, and lately with President Buhari, fitness in terms of age and good health will be an important issue in the 2023 presidential election and APC must do well not to play into the hands of the opposition.
Let it be said that the presidency in 2023 is the ruling party’s to lose. Already the main opposition party, the PDP is terribly weakened by the sterling performance of Mai Mala Buni and his caretaker committee. What is thus needed to clinch the coveted crown again in 2023 is to avoid being drawn into an adversarial presidential primaries that would further divide the party. The time calls for consensual politics that promises unity and coalescent behaviour from members going into a major election. It is not only in the interest of APC to consider a consensus candidate acceptable to all the geopolitical zones of the country; it is even more in the national interest to pick a candidate that will unite Nigerians at this critical time that our national unity is being seriously tested. The vice president, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, is that consensus candidate. Moves by campaigners in recent times to push out a series of Osinbajo-for-president posters, first with Kano governor, Abdullahi Ganduje as running mate some months ago and last week with Jigawa governor, Muhammad Badaru Abubakar as running mate validate his growing acceptability in the North. Recently, both Nasarawa and Borno State governors, Abdullahi Sule and Professor Umara Zulum spoke eloquently in support of the Osinbajo persona when some groups visited them to canvass support for him (Osinbajo). It is time the APC wore its thinking cap, chart the right trajectory and present a consensus candidate that will not be too difficult to sell.
▪︎Malam Kabiru Mohammed, a political scientist, contributed this piece from Kaduna.