People should forgive my ignorance if what I write here does not come to pass. His Excellency, Professor Babagana U. Zulum, the Governor of Borno State, the subject of this article, should overlook my wrong forecast at the political climate and not feel offended if indeed I am proven wrong. It is just an attempt to add one to another to make two. I have not spoken to him or to any politician about the 2023 presidency. My only sources on the matter are the eyes of a keen observer and the ears of a good listener. Now, come with me.
Professor Zulum dissolved his cabinet yesterday. This is quite unusual of a straightforward person whose appointments are determined more by merit than by political expediency. Is there an emergency? Yes, I think.
His ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) has been playing chess with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regarding the zoning of the Presidency. Our friend, Farouk Adamu Aliyu, a confidant of the President, about a year ago told the BBC Hausa Service that their party’s choice for president will depend on the choice of the opposition—meaning, if the PDP would give a northerner its ticket, then APC will have no choice but to do so too. The North is where the bulk of the votes resides.
That calculation still holds. The APC National Chairman, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, said as much last week when he said that the ticket of the party is open to all interested aspirants. APC is not doing this at its own volition. In fact, it has some very sleezy remarks for PDP’s likelihood to field a northern candidate. In an interview published by Punch three days ago, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, a founding father of the PDP, furiously accused PDP of being Machiavellian and responsible for APC’s return to the drawing board. He said: “They (PDP) want to capture power by all means, indeed using Machiavellian tactics. We all know that PDP is famished, thirsty and desperate to win Presidency in 2023… The PDP is aware that President Buhari will not be on the ballot in 2023, therefore, for them there is a void to fill. They must have reasoned that the Buhari vote bank would be up for grabs if they go North. The PDP’s calculation is a desperate one, and selfish to the extent that they breached their own constitution and their age-long die-hard supporters in the South, especially the South-East.”
Other than him there is no APC candidate today in the North who can foot the above bill better for the party. It is a pervasive perception in the North that he is honest, brave, courageous, competent, down to earth, no-nonsense, empathetic—the embodiment of Northern perception of an iconic leader and thus to the Machiavellian APC, the perfect Mike Tyson who, on a good day, would knock out the PDP with a bloody nose within a few seconds of the match. Few Northerners, if any, can bet their dime against this
Here, I wonder who is more desperate for power between the APC and the PDP. Mr. Okechukwu and the APC should then be more pious and politically correct than the PDP by sticking to a southern presidential ticket. But abandoning the South and looking up North, thus copycatting the PDP, leaves him and his party at no better moral position than the former. And if indeed President Buhari has a 12-million vote bank, why would not the APC just sit back, ask him to open his vote bank and give his party the 12 million it claims is there? The truth is that pragmatic politicians like the chairman of the party know very well that those votes are no longer there. They have been washed away by seven years of Buhari’s presidency to the extent that today you cannot find him again appearing on the poster of any northern candidate—from councillor to president.
People like the APC national chairman know that losing power in Nigeria is “next in agony only to Day of Judgement,” as the chairman of PDP in Bauchi State put it with all seriousness at the party’s stakeholders’ meeting way back in 2020. The APC national chairman was himself a PDP governor. He is only being honest. Rather than give the ticket to a Southerner when the party has failed Northerners by the low performance of the president and lose the election to a Northern PDP candidate, he is ready to throw away the moral costume of zoning and save the party and its members a day of judgement on earth. He honestly knows that today Northerners are not safe and comfortable enough to brave a Southern presidency. They are not at all in a gentleman’s mood of 1999.
In its choice of a Northern candidate, we all expect the APC under Senator Adamu to be ruthlessly surgical. He knows well that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Governors Bala Mohammed, Aminu Tambuwal and Bukola Saraki are there to break into the “12-million vote bank,” and selecting a less renowned candidate in the APC means apocalypse for the party in 2003.
Coming to the North, the APC would naturally go for someone more appealing to the electorate than just a shared regional identity. Afterall, nobody can be more Northern than the Waziri of Adamawa, the Kauran Bauchi, or the Mutawallen Sokoto. APC needs someone who is both Northern, undoubtedly, and who can sweep the votes as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise in its favour, someone who has the additional quality that Northerners always crave for: a penchant for the common man, a bent for justice and, now, after the sad experience of Buhari, a brave performer who cannot sacrifice the North for any other region and who can arrest the unprecedented level of insecurity and underdevelopment in the region with the courage of a warrior. In short, he must be the athlete who can, right from when the gun is fired, when the candidates emerge, give the PDP a good run for its money, making the elections conclusive before they even take place.
This is where Professor Zulum comes into the APC presidential equation. Other than him there is no APC candidate today in the North who can foot the above bill better for the party. It is a pervasive perception in the North that he is honest, brave, courageous, competent, down to earth, no-nonsense, empathetic—the embodiment of Northern perception of an iconic leader and thus to the Machiavellian APC, the perfect Mike Tyson who, on a good day, would knock out the PDP with a bloody nose within a few seconds of the match. Few Northerners, if any, can bet their dime against this. I am not doubting that there are candidates that can perform as well as Zulum in the PDP. However, politics, they say, is about perception. It favours Zulum. Add to it the incumbency privileges of the CBN, INEC, Aso Villa and other uncountable resources of government.
Zulum has, therefore, found himself in the position of many other unintentional candidates who ruled this country before: Tafawa-Balewa, 1976 Obasanjo, Shagari, 1984 Buhari, 1999 Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan. He has not bought the form yet, even as I write this article. That is not to say that there have not been behind the scene consultations on the matter between him and the party. There must have been some. But it was getting late as at yesterday. Hence the cabinet dissolution—I continue to think.
If our speculation on this emergency is correct, Zulum has to rush and dissolve the cabinet because there is no gubernatorial candidate of APC in his Borno State and INEC is adamant on its June 6 deadline for parties to submit the names of their candidates. Going beyond 6 May means that in case Zulum is contesting for the presidency—which many strongly believe he will be conscripted by his party to do at the dying minute—no member of his cabinet would succeed him because they will not be able to meet the one-month statutory requirement of quitting any political appointment before the party’s primaries.
That is why as soon as I heard yesterday that he has dissolved his cabinet, I heard the sound of the last pin drop in the dark, quiet night of my supposition, 500 km from Maiduguri. Otherwise, it is not in the style of the tall, straight-forward professor to dissolve a cabinet this late in his tenure. With it done now, his cabinet members and indeed any other APC member in Borno can aspire to contest the seat of the governor.
Zulum is coming!
* Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde is the Commissioner for Education, Bauchi State
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