Gov. El-rufai leans on colleagues unsure of their second term to muscle in President Buhari for 2019. No idea how many Nigerians want a battered old general for another term
By Elijah Olusegun
Aisha Alhassan is a tough old bird, any day.
You know her type: those that don’t give a damn.
“If because of what I said, I am sacked, it will not bother me,” she said after her Reuters interview Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai put down as back-stabbing her boss hit the headlines.
“I believe in Allah that my time has elapsed.”
Well, El-Rufai, too, is more than the accidental civil servant he calls himself. He’s also an iron-ass party man.
He was the first to pitch into the women affairs minister for her two-timing. “This has always been her position,” the governor told State House correspondents after a meeting with Buhari at the Villa Friday. “From time she has never supported ‘Buharism’ or what Buhari stands for.”
Political observers are looking forward to more brickbats between the two. And as they clash, the resulting friction is bound to generate more sparks—and conflagrations—as events unfold in the Buhari presidency.
But for now, El-Rufai has outed: he belongs to an underground clique—a coterie of governors and minsters branded The Buharists. They are sweating it out to drag President Muhammadu Buhari into the 2019 presidential contest.
Nigerians might not have known this before—in terms as clear as these. But they have now been put out of their misery. At least the group now has a face. Its body can now be pieced up—from the puzzles lying around all along.
By elimination, one can tell those who don’t care about the Buharists in the APC: at least two of the Aishas in the administration, including the First Lady who told the BBC last year she might not support her husband in 2019; all the southeast governors; all the senators and reps; all but two governors in the APC southwest. The black sheep could also include all ministers, like Alhassan, yawning and itching to escape the drudgery of tweaking Buharism—an ideology of killing corruption, saving money, and letting cronies pull the wires in party politics.
That’s what many Nigerians make of the political thinking.
But Buharism has got a different cast for El-Rufai and his associates. It means becoming an automaton. “Our political ideology is to support whatever President Buhari wants to support,” the governor said, referring to governors and ministers that are in on the campaign. “If he chooses not to run, he will tell us which direction to go.”
Some governors are well known all along as loyalists to Buhari, considering their hero worship and apparent political orphanage. It won’t really wow Nigerians if they are the group rooting for Buhari in 2019.
In pecking order, El-Rufai appears the most darling and closest to Buhari among the APC governors, though the 55-year-old resents the cabal allegedly running things at Aso Rock. He has the highest traffic to the Villa; he spars frequently with Buhari’s enemies; he has the agility he deploys in scouting the political terrain for the president. And he’s been so open about it that Kaduna APC Sen. Sheu Sani on many occasions has had reason to tackle him hard. Sani has been criticising the APC central government so much the party leadership were worried about his anti-party pose. And the senator alleged El-Rufai has been moving the state party to ostracize him.
Naturally, Katsina, Buhari’s home state, has no alternative than to root for a Buhari come-back. Likewise Gov. Bello Masari. He was among the northern governors that organised massive intercessory sessions for Buhari while he was in hospital bed in London. This might be because the president’s well-being matters for 2019. And thank God—Buhari is as fit as a fiddle now. Besides his closeness to the president, Masari has declared his 100 percent loyalty, Katsina’s, and everybody else’s—except the kitchen sink’s — to Buhari. That also covers the president’s second-term ambition—if he ever has.
Borno Gov. Kashim Shettima has maxed out the Boko Haram insurgency to endear himself to the presidency. For filling in Aso Rock on the progress of the counterinsurgency in that axis of evil—Borno, Yobe, Adamawa—Shettima has become one of Buhari’s go-to guys. Borno’s Deputy Speaker Damalami Kubo got beside himself in March, and exploded Shettima is the right replacement for Buhari in 2019. You can almost predict the governor’s response—all the way from Norway. He said it was insanity to ever think of replacing Buhari. “How can anyone in his right thinking be talking about succession when a cherished President is dealing with his health?” He said. So you can count on Shettima to always support Buhari—no matter what—for a second term.
Gov. Abdulllahi Umar Ganduje will forever be grateful to Buhari. The 2015 was a year of their mutual benefits in Kano: Ganduje won his guber race, and Buhari, with 1.9 million, massacred his opponent former President Goodluck Jnonathan that got about 215,000. And Gamduje is all game for Buhari 2019. “Look at how communities have been liberated from Boko Haram insurgents and members of the community are returning back to their homes. Look at how looters are being arrested and trillions of Anita recovered by Buhari administration,” Ganduje told a get-well-quick rally for the president in August. The governor has been pounding his predecessor Rabiu Kwakwanso who dared to contest the APC primary with Buhari in 2014.
Gov. Abdulazziz Yari hides no political interest behind his closeness to the seat of power. That much is obvious now. With his chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors Forum, and some conjugal interests in the first family, as alleged in the media, Yari, definitely, ranks well among the Buharists. Moreover, he is one of those yes-men preaching how much of a spring chicken 74-year-old Buhari is now. So those Johnies-on-the spot pushing the governor to run for the presidency are dead wrong. “The creators and managers of such fraudulent twitter and indeed all other related online platforms accounts are doing such campaigns on their own,” he said late August when posters were out he was in for the race.
Kogi Gov. Yahaya Bello cannot be left out of the Buharists. Aso Rock made him, in the first instance. James Faleke, who was APC leader Bola Tinubu’s man and running mate to Abubakar Audu that dropped dead on the morning of his guber victory, could have been the governor. For that support, Bello owes his allegiance to anything Buharist. He was among the faves selected to visit the president when he was recovering in August.
Down southwest, a couple of the governors are under moral obligation to join El-Rufai and others in pushing Buharism—the second term agenda in particular.
Ogun Gov. Ibikunle Amosun stands tall—cap and all—among them. Politics apart, Amosun has been friends with the Buharis for ages. Both of them were in the ANPP before Amosun hopped into the PDP and the ACN. The governor is also one of those that have Buhari’s ear on issues of appointment and other political decisions. His candidate Kemi Adeosun clinched the finance portfolio in Buhari’s cabinet. The governor can only pay back by supporting Buhari 2019. Morality compels that.
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Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu makes a good prisoner of conscience to have been in support of a Buhari come-back. He was among those Aso Rock supported to the hilt—to halt Tinubu (and his candidate Segun Abraham) in his empire building across the southwest early in the APC government. In spite of the alleged shenanigan that marred the Ondo guber primary in 2016, and the rift that resulted between the Tinubu movement and Abuja, Buhari, in his bad health then, still had time to grace the Akeredolu campaign. Buharist exponent El-Rufai was also there giving all sorts of backing. And Akeredolu, a lambie in partisan politics, eventually had a landslide in the election. Now is his turn to be a good guy, and push for Buhari come 2019.
The Buharists is a growing movement, sucking in all sorts of odds and ends until it gets bloated. Fortunately, Buhari’s approval rating has been doing nicely. The July Buharimeter Perception Survey, a performance rating the Centre for Democracy and Development conducted, revealed that 57 percent of Nigerians surveyed gave Buhari thumbs-up.
The figure, however, was mostly from his kinsmen from the northwest, northeast and north-central.
If that is high enough to get him enough votes in 2019 is the moot question. And with his state of health and old age, it’s not impossible he might want to buck the sit-tight trend in Africa, and become another statesman in the mould of South Africa’s late President Nelson Mandela.
Aso Rock has kept mute for now. And the Buharists could have taken the official silence for consent.
But if Buhari eventually comes out to play the Madiba, the Heath Robinson contraption El-Rufai has put together may then self-destruct.