Prof. Kamilu Sani Fage of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University Kano (BUK) is a former vice president of the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA). In this interview, he discussed the declaration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to contest the presidency in 2023. Excerpts:
What do you make from Tinubu’s visit to the Villa on Monday?
I think it is part of the politics. He was trying yesterday (Monday) to make his intention more visible to the people. By going to the presidency and talking to the president, I think he has come out openly to show that he intends to run for the presidential seat.
Politically, what is the significance of going to the president first before officially announcing to the country?
One, to show to the world that he is to make his intention known to everybody; secondly, you know the president has consistently said he doesn’t have any candidate and that he is not going to support anybody. So by coming out, I think he is trying to woo the president to his side and to make it in such a way that perhaps others may not come out.
Despite the challenges the APC government is facing, many people still run to the president to get some of his political clout. So a lot of them will try to gain his support.
The visit is coming a few days after the visit of former President Goodluck Jonathan to the Villa amidst rumour that he is being considered by the leadership of the APC to recontest the presidency. Do these two visits have any connection?
No, I don’t see that connection. You see, if we make simple calculation, I don’t think APC will take former President Goodluck. They wouldn’t because if they do they will be stabbing themselves. Most of the people who fought, who struggled to form the party, who struggled to get the party to win the election will not welcome the idea of putting them aside.
It will be politically costly for the party to leave its stalwarts to bring an outsider and say they will make him a candidate. That is number one. Number two, by our constitution, Jonathan is not qualified to contest for any presidential election anymore even though they bamboozled their ways to the polls in 2015, the matter will arise again. It may just be for his influence that some people want him in the APC fold.
What impact do you see Tinubu’s declaration having on APC politics?
People are expecting that the vice president will be the next presidential candidate for APC. But the way Asiwaju played his cards has side-lined him (Osinbajo) and now he (Tinubu) is making it more open that he is ready to do it. So I think it will dampen the idea of the vice president and other people who have issues with it will now think that powerful figures from South West like him are coming out.
So, literally, he is trying to now make sure that even though there is no rotational presidency in APC, he is coming out to show that it is the turn of the South West this time around.
The major challenge for Asiwaju now is to see that he carries most of the people around him along. You know he has political machinery and now he has to endeavour to go beyond his political base to woo others to his side. Number two, he has a very Herculean challenge in terms of the performance of APC now.
You know with the crisis, inflation rate with the mounting increase of poverty, unemployment and other issues that APC campaigned for and they have not been able to resolve them, I think that would be a major challenge for him. His only hope is if there is no credible opposition.
Thirdly, his major challenge will be to rid APC of its internal crisis. Already, about 13 states now have more than one different leadership. Not all the leaders are on his side. So he has a lot of this. How does he solve the internal crisis in the party, how does he build his own political machine to woo others to own side, and above all how will he make APC sellable to Nigerians.
With this internal crisis, what impact will his declaration have on the APC convention?
They call him the national leader of the party, so if he wields his power and clout, he may be able to resolve the conflict. But aside from the conflict, his health might be another challenge.
Aside from APC, what implication does this move has on the 2023 general elections?
It will have an impact because already, the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has boxed itself into a corner by emphasising this issue of rotational presidency and by zoning its party leadership to the North and the South South has already produced a president.
So, if PDP is to follow that zoning properly, it is for it to zone its presidency to the South East and that will make it less appealing to Nigerians. If it goes to South West, Obasanjo already came from there, so they have that problem within PDP.
So the challenge Asiwaju will face is where other parties will come up with credible candidates, he is going to have a run for his money.
Do you think this declaration could potentially heat up the polity and politics?
Even his coming out now is unconstitutional because the ban has not been lifted. I think it was a political miscalculation for him to come out now given the laws of the land. If the electoral laws are to be applied, I think he will have serious legal challenges for coming out to say it now before the ban is lifted.
But all the same, if nothing happens, I foresee that others will come out, too. They will say ‘if the ‘bigshots’ can break the law and nothing happens, we too can come out.’ Very soon, you will see aspirants coming out, taking a cue from this and I think that will unnecessarily overheat the polity before even the official time for campaign to start and the elections.
On a kingmaker becoming a king, what are the chances?
I don’t want to underrate him because he has his own political influence at least in the South West but I think people are over-emphasising the role he plays as a kingmaker in this dispensation. Because if you look at it, politically, he is very much strong in the South West, but South West is just one zone and there are five other zones.
So, what he needs to do is to see how he can build bridges to the other zones given our constitutional provision of someone having to get a quarter of the votes in 2/3 of the states. So, his influence has to extend to the five other geopolitical zones which is also a bit challenging depending on how, for example, PDP and other parties play on this zoning system. His biggest challenge will be in the general elections.
In the past few months, Tinubu has been identifying with Kano and having engagements with the Ulama (Islamic clerics). How strategic is that?
The major problem is the disappointment people of Kano have with the APC performance at the national stage. To be frank, getting the clerics may help him but it all depends on what the party has been able to do this year and in early 2023, because actually the performance has been a rather disappointing one.
The odds are very high and I don’t think he can perform miraculously in Kano. His only chance is if other parties have not brought any sellable candidate to the people of Kano.
What do you make of the argument for and against the presidency going to the South?
If you look at what is happening in Nigerian politics now; actually, the fact that Buhari is from the North and is almost completing two terms, I think that will make it difficult for any party to have a candidate here from the North. But if anybody says he is going to do away with the North and go ahead on his ticket himself, I don’t think he will be able to make it because out of the six geopolitical zones, three are in the North.
So whatever it is, the North could be a determining factor in who becomes what. Perhaps if the smaller groups can provide a very influential candidate for example from the North Central which has not provided a candidate before, I think that could pose a serious challenge for APC or PDP.
Kogi State governor is already being touted as a potential candidate of the APC, do you see him as a challenge to Tinubu’s aspiration?
No, I don’t think he will be a serious challenge. He is not a big politician in the North beyond his own state. I think even if it is in the North, I am not underrating him, but I don’t think he can be a big challenge to Asiwaju.
What are the implications of Tinubu’s declaration for President Buhari?
I think this will put him (Buhari) in a corner because he has clearly and consistently been saying that he is not going to support any candidate or put any candidate. So I think giving the role Asiwaju played in his election and giving his (Buhari’s) position in the party, now this would put the president in a very tight corner.
Of course, the dilemma now is whether he will go for his actual stand that he will not support any candidate or whether he will jettison his political ally. So it is a big dilemma for the president.