• We haven’t endorsed anyone – IBB
• I’m aware there are moves and realignments- Atiku
BY FEMI BABAFEMI
Though President Muhammadu Buhari has not officially declined to run for a second term in office, his long absence and health challenges may have prompted an early search for his successor in 2019 by the nation’s power brokers and kingmakers.
Nigeria’s political gladiators have virtually concluded that Buhari who is expected back in the country soon, all the other things being equal, may have lost interest in a second term. He has been away in London on medical vacation since May. As a result, the political terrain has been busy with consultations, meetings, alignments and realignments, more often away from public view and knowledge.
Central to all of these is the Hilltop home of former military president, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in Minna, Niger state, which has hosted a number of such consultations and meetings. One of such is a meeting between former vice president, Atiku Abubakar and Gen. Babangida as well as an ex-National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Gusau in the second week of February at the Hilltop mansion.
Saturday Sun gathered that prior to that, Atiku had spent two nights with Babangida in search of realignments. But in the meeting with IBB and Gusau in February, the former VP who is gunning to succeed Buhari in 2019, specifically met the duo to seek their support and endorsement for the race. While a source close to Atiku hinted that the two Generals who are top on the list of Nigeria’s kingmakers agreed to support the former number two citizen, Babangida’s spokesman, Prince Kassim Afegbua told Saturday Sun that, that was not a true reflection of the outcome of the meeting.
Even if there was an endorsement of Atiku by IBB and Gusau, such suffered a bad kick from another kingmaker, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who a top politician involved in the realignment processes, quoted as saying his former deputy would never be president when he is alive. “Baba (Obasanjo) said even if he’s dead and he hears Atiku wants to be president, he will beg God to allow him go and stop it”, the APC chieftain from the same North East as Atiku stated. As a result, Obasanjo was said to have insisted at another meeting of the kingmakers in IBB’s home on May 2nd, 2017 that Nigeria’s next president must be below 70 years of age, thus technically ruling out Atiku, who will be 71 on November 25.
Atiku’s spokesman, Paul Ibe however denied knowledge of any objection to the candidacy of his boss on account of his age by former President Obasanjo.
He said, “honestly I have no idea about Obasanjo objecting to the support of my boss on account of age.” He added, “I know that, naturally, there are moves, alignments and realignments. Those things are expected in politics.”
Though the details of a tripartite meeting by former Heads of State, all retired Generals – Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar at the IBB home in Minna, on May 2nd, were not made public safe for a group photograph, Saturday Sun gathered that the issue of who succeeds Buhari in 2019 dominated the discussion.
At the meeting, said to have been initiated by Obasanjo, “It was agreed that the next president must be under 70, must be a pan-Nigeria personality from any part of the country.
Ethnicity and religion must also not be a barrier.”
A source close to the leaders told this paper that they considered some top politicians who have indicated interest, even though quietly, in the race and they zeroed in on a few they could identify on the spot, who also met their set criteria. They include a former governor of Kano and now a serving Senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (60); current governor of Sokoto state, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (51); former Cross River governor, Donald Duke (55) and the immediate past governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomhole (65), all of who are of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, stock.
Confronted with the facts of the consultations and meetings held in IBB’s home, his spokesman, Afegbua, who was until recently a Commissioner for Information under the Oshiomhole administration in Edo state, confirmed some of the developments and offered to do a detailed response, which he promptly sent.
“First of all, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as a politician with an ambition has the right to reach out to anyone who he thinks can add value to his aspiration. It is true that he, Atiku has reached out to General IBB and also General Aliyu Gusau, the same way other presidential aspirants have been reaching out too. What is not true is to state that he has been endorsed by the duo.
“On the other hand, Chief Obasanjo has a right to own his opinion on any aspirant, but in the life of any aspirant, no man can play God. General IBB’s doors are open to any aspirant who feels he, IBB can add value to his aspiration. General IBB has left partisan politics six years ago when he clocked 70. As an elder statesman, he remains committed to the ideals of the founding fathers of Nigeria and its unity.
“He will continue to welcome Nigerians of all shades to his Minna home in furthering the narrative of one indivisible Nigeria. When it is time for election, in line with his inalienable right to vote, he will identify with anyone whom he thinks can represent the country and preside over her affairs beyond 2019. For now, it is not a time for endorsement. It is a time for sober reflections”, he stated.