The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable for the 2019 elections in March this year. The next presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019.
With only a year and a half to go before the election, the body language of many prominent politicians, especially in the two major political parties, is that the battle for the coveted presidential seat has already begun. We take a look at 12 powerful politicians to watch ahead of the 2019 presidential race.
President Muhammadu Buhari has not declared his interest in seeking a second term but the possibility that he will do so cannot be ruled out as his loyalists and political associates have continued to fly that kite with oracular enthusiasm. The Progressive Governors Forum Chairman, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, in February this year reportedly asked his fellows in the South-East not to talk about an Igbo presidency until after Buhari’s tenure, saying the president has a tenure to work for four or eight years according to the zoning arrangement of the ruling APC.
Buhari defeated former President Goodluck Jonathan during the 2015 elections that was widely adjudged to be free and fair; thus becoming the first Nigerian politician to defeat a sitting president through the ballot box. While he is about to complete his first two years in office as an elected civilian president of Nigeria there is the big question as to whether or not he would seek re-election. Although he is yet to declare his intention, the constitution of Nigeria allows a sitting president to seek re-election after his first term of four years. Having emerged as president on the mantra of change, Buhari’s major political strength lies in his incorruptible credentials that have made him very popular among Nigerians, especially in the North.
The fight against insurgency in the North-East as well as his anti-corruption crusade is seen as his major achievements in his first term. Serious health challenges since January this year however cast a big question mark on Buhari’s political future. He has been out of the country seeking medical attention for most of this year, which has raised doubts that he will seek another term in 2019. Even if he does not seek a second term however, the popular incumbent president could be a decisive factor in determining who flies the APC flag in 2019.
Professor Yemi Osinbajo was a relatively lightweight Vice President around President Muhammadu Buhari’s overwhelming political personality but his political stock greatly increased this year when he became the Acting President. An intellectually hefty Law professor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a very eloquent pastor, Osinbajo has impressed Nigerians during his acting tenure at the top. He does not however have a political base of his own, being a product of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s political machine to which he has remained a loyal follower. If Buhari does not seek a second term in 2019, Osinbajo will loom large in APC calculations even though regional calculations within the party could affect his chances. He must also contend with the ambitions of Tinubu, who wanted to be Buhari’s running mate in 2015; he only yielded to the religious factor and nominated Osinbajo instead. If however Buhari is unable to complete his first term, Osinbajo will become substantive president and it will thereafter become difficult to stop him within APC.
A former Vice President for eight years, Atiku Abubakar is a political heavyweight in Nigeria with considerable political machinery especially in Northern Nigeria. Atiku, who never hides his presidential ambition, had contested the 2007 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) after realizing that he could not get the PDP ticket because of his frosty relationship with then President Obasanjo. Atiku also contested for the PDP presidential ticket against President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. He again vied for APC’s ticket in 2014 against President Buhari, finishing third at the Lagos convention.
Could 2019 be his year? The action, body language and utterances of the Waziri of Adamawa are enough to show seriousness. In the past year Atiku suddenly became a vocal voice for restructuring. This is seen as a strategy to woo the South-South and South-East, regions where Buhari is not popular. In the North, Atiku’s strategy is to insist on a “power shift” to the North East. He has been saying since 1999 that the North West has marginalised the North East in top political offices. Those strategies are backed by very deep pockets and one of the greatest determinations in Nigerian politics. Atiku celebrated his 70th birthday recently and his renewed determination probably stems from a calculation that 2019, when he will be 72, is his last chance.
Atiku’s political reputation over the years has been harmed by his frequent change of political parties in pursuit of his presidential ambition. In the run up to 2019, it is possible that he may again return to PDP. He is already laying grounds for that because last week he attacked APC as a party without internal democracy.
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Former two-term governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu is one of the biggest power brokers in Nigerian politics, the effective political leader of the South West states. President Muhammadu Buhari admitted this much in his acceptance speech after being declared winner of the 2015 election. Tinubu however believes that Buhari’s administration has not accorded to him recognition and influence commensurate to his contribution in 2015. He was also frustrated by the leadership that emerged in both Senate and House of Representatives against his wishes, and he is also at war against party national chairman John Oyegun.
Tinubu said early this year that if Buhari does not run in 2019, he will consider running himself. Tinubu is the South West politician best placed to replicate Chief Moshood Abiola’s 1993 feat. He has firm control over his base and the Jagaban Borgu also has deep reach into the North. His ambitions could however be complicated by the further rise of his protégé, Osinbajo. This is especially true if Osinbajo becomes substantive president before 2019.
Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso
Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso was governor of Kano State from 1999-2003 and after losing his re-election bid in 2003, he bounced back as governor in 2011-2015. In-between he was Obasanjo’s Defence Minister in 2003-07 and he is now a senator. During his governorship tenure Kwankwaso gained a reputation nationally as a wunderkind who rapidly churned out inventive social and infrastructural projects and created twenty different higher institutions in Kano State. He also finished second to Buhari in APC’s 2014 presidential primaries.
Since 2015 however, in-fighting within the Kano State APC has greatly dented Kwankwaso’s political standing. His own former deputy’s administration created a question mark around Kwankwaso’s achievements and claimed that he left behind a huge debt and many uncompleted projects. Even though the former governor is relatively low key in the Senate, his Kwankwasiyya political movement is still very strong in Kano and has spread its tentacles to other states. Some observers say that Kwankwaso’s number one priority in 2019 is to deny Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje a second term, a political project that he might place over and above his presidential ambition.
A former two-term governor of Kwara State, former chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and current Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki aims to succeed where his father, the late Senator Abubakar Olusola Saraki stopped just short. Saraki has defied political gravity so far and would certainly fancy his chances of becoming President, especially if the incumbent does not run.
Saraki briefly entered PDP’s presidential primaries in 2010 but bowed out when the Adamu Ciroma panel adopted Atiku Abubakar as the sole Northern candidate to run against Goodluck Jonathan. Saraki’s defection to APC in 2014 was a major contributor to the party’s eventual success. He snatched the Senate Presidency against the wishes of Buhari, Tinubu and APC leaders in 2015 and has kept the Senate remarkably united behind himself with deft political moves since last year.
He has a loyal base in Kwara State too, where Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed recognizes him as leader of the ruling APC in Kwara State. Although he is wealthy, well known nationally and has a firm control of his state, his presidential ambition is unpopular among diehard Buhari supporters in the North, who see him as the effective “opposition leader” to the Buhari presidency. APC loyalists also accuse Saraki of anti-party activity, since PDP senators helped him to clinch the Senate Presidency and still stand solidly behind him.
Former two-term governor of Jigawa State Alhaji Sule Lamido has already commenced campaigning for the PDP ticket ahead of 2019. In April last year he reportedly told newsmen in his village, Bamaina in Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of the State, “If my party finds me worthy of the party’s presidential ticket to serve Nigeria, I will thank God and oblige.” Two weeks after he was released on bail from prison over allegation of incitement preferred against him by the Jigawa State Government in May this year Lamido unveiled his 2019 presidential bid during a dinner for the 36 state chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held in Abuja.
Lamido is one of the most experienced politicians in Nigeria today, having been a prominent PRP member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic and was a leading member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Third Republic. Lamido was also Obasanjo’s Foreign Affairs Minister in 1999-2003. As governor of Jigawa, he earned kudos for executing many worthwhile infrastructural projects including roads, airport and a state university. Throughout his political career however, Lamido’s reputation is that of a political hothead who is known for controversies and ruffling political feathers. It might yet prove to be the quality PDP needs in 2019.
Nasir El Rufai
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and current Governor of Kaduna State Malam Nasir El Rufa’i is widely known to nurse ambitions to succeed Buhari as president. The stint of this “accidental public servant” in national politics and governance since 1999 has been a mixture of courage, inventiveness, epic controversy and not a little dare devilry.
As Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in 1999-2003 he pursued privatisation of public enterprises with great courage but also a lot of controversy. As Obasanjo’s FCT Minister in 2003-07 el-Rufa’i innovatively sanitised Abuja but was accused of insensitivity in demolishing slums and illegal buildings.
He was one of the pioneers in APC’s formation in 2013 and he struck a very close relationship with his former adversary Buhari, who encouraged and supported him to become the governor of Kaduna State. As governor, el-Rufai is credited with dynamism but also with epic controversy such as demolishing of houses that encroached school quarters, sale of government quarters, a poorly executed school feeding program, unending quarrels with political opponents and initially poor handling of trouble in southern Kaduna State.
His opponents alleged that el-Rufai was angling to become vice president if Buhari fails to complete his term. Early this year a memo that the Kaduna governor wrote to Buhari providing solutions to many national problems was leaked, allegedly by persons close to Buhari who wanted to portray el-Rufa’i as overambitious. Nasiru el-Rufai’s potentially biggest obstacle is zoning within APC, which could zone his North West region out of 2019 presidential calculations even though it is the country’s most populous region and also its most solidly pro-APC zone. Everything considered, this man with a small body frame but giant intellect and ambitions is a man to watch in 2019.
Two months ago Borno State’s Governor Kashim Shettima suddenly came under a sustained social media attack from invisible quarters. Political pundits later traced the attacks to Atiku Abubakar’s hyper-active media office, which they said identified him as a likely obstacle in Atiku’s way. The non-controversial Shettima has not indicated his ambition to run for the Presidency in 2019 though Danlami Kubo, Deputy Speaker of Borno State Assembly, reportedly said earlier this year that Governor Kashim Shettima should be considered as Nigeria’s future ruler.
According to pundits, Atiku’s team calculated that if Buhari does not run in 2019, APC’s 24 state governors would seize the initiative and insist that one of them should be the next party leader. Within their ranks, they are likely to maintain the ticket in the North, where most APC supporters are. Within the North, they could well decide to zone the ticket to the North East since the populous North West zone has produced many leaders since 1999 including President Yar’adua, former Vice President Namadi Sambo and Buhari. APC has four serving governors in the North East of which two are first termers.
Of the second term governors, Shettima has a much higher profile as a former top banker and university lecturer who tackled his state’s devastating Boko Haram problem with courage and dynamism, including efforts to rebuild shattered communities so that IDPs can return home. He is also the chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum [NSGF] and has recently been engaged in efforts to get Arewa Youth groups to cancel their Igbo quit notice. It is for these reasons that this undeclared candidate is one of the top men to watch in 2019.
Governor Okorocha is not new at taking shots at the nation’s Presidency. In 1999, Okorocha competed in the primaries to be PDP candidate for governor of Imo State but lost to Achike Udenwa. He then moved to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) but was unsuccessful in his quest for the party’s ticket for the presidency in 2003 and thereafter returned to PDP.
Okorocha formed the Action Alliance (AA) in 2005, planning to become its presidential candidate for the 2007 elections. He finished second to Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua in PDP’s 2007 presidential primaries. After that Okorocha decamped to All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), on which platform he won election as governor of Imo State in 2011. He then carried his APGA faction into APC in 2013.
Rochas Okorocha is chairman of APC governors’ forum and does not hide his presidential ambitions. As APC’s most prominent Igbo politician, his calculation is that he should get the ticket when APC zones the presidency to Igboland in 2019 or 2023.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi was governor of Kaduna State from 1999 to 2007. Within the eight years he was in office, he was able to mitigate religious and ethnic violence in the state and has through that feat projected himself as an objective and fair-minded leader.
His outstanding performance in the state’s infrastructural development with his sharp focus on rural roads, rural water and rural electrification shot him into national limelight. Makarfi was a senator in 2007-15 where he chaired the committee on Appropriation. Even though he lost the bid to return a third time in 2015, his profile rose further when PDP governors and party members appointed him Chairman of the party at a convention which held in Port-Harcourt last year. Since then he had been battling for the position with former governor of Borno State Ali Modu Sheriff, until recently when the Supreme Court ruled in his favour.
Makarfi is expected to relinquish the PDP chairmanship which has been zoned to the Southwest but he is already a likely candidate for its presidential ticket, which was zoned to the North, especially given the trust key members of the party, especially serving governors, have in him.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal
Governor of Sokoto State Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is often mentioned as an important APC contender for president if Buhari does not run in 2019. Tambuwal developed a wide national reputation after he clinched the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011 against the wishes of the ruling PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan but with the full backing of ACN leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In four years he also kept the House remarkably united and became a prominent voice on the national scene admired for his intellect and level-headedness.
Tambuwal fell out with Jonathan and his wife, Patience over many issues and in late 2014 he defected to APC. He did not contest the party’s presidential primaries but instead picked its governorship ticket and became governor of Sokoto State. He is however said to have lost Tinubu’s support because he supported Yakubu Dogara to succeed him as Speaker against Tinubu’s candidate, current House Leader Femi Gbajiamila. Still, Tambuwal is a visible option to succeed Buhari in 2019.