As 2019 election fever tears APC apart

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Even though the 2019 presidential election is about 18 months away, JESUSEGUN ALAGBE takes a look at how it is already causing cracks within the ruling All Progressives Congress party

Subtly, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has started making known his intention to run for the presidency in 2019 and in doing so, he has somewhat turned himself into an opposition figure for his own party, the All Progressives Congress.

Recently, in an interview he had with the Voice of America in Hausa, the former Vice-President criticised the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

In the interview, Atiku complained that he had been dumped by the Buhari-led government, despite spending his resources on ensuring that the President got to power in May 2015.

The former Vice-President had said, “Honestly speaking, I’m still a member of the APC; I was part of all the processes, including campaigns until success was achieved.

“But sadly, soon after the formation of the government, I was sidelined; I have no relationship with the government; I’ve not been contacted even once to comment on anything and in turn, I have maintained my distance.

“They used our money and influence to get to where they are, but three years down the lane, this is where we are.”

Interestingly, Atiku’s comments came out only a few hours after the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, declared her readiness to support his bid for the presidency against President Buhari should he (Atiku) decide to contest in 2019.

The Taraba State-born minister had, in a leaked video on social media, endorsed the former Vice-President for the 2019 presidential election.

The minister, who spoke in Hausa in the video, had referred to Atiku as, “Your Excellency, our father and our president by the grace of God, come 2019.”

She had added, “Before you are your people, your supporters for life, the people of Taraba State.”

Those who watched the leaked video might perhaps not have believed that a serving minister in the cabinet of President Buhari would declare her support for another chieftain of the party.

But Alhassan, in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, confirmed that she would support Atiku in 2019 because “President Buhari has not told anybody that he would contest the 2019 presidential election.”

But even if Buhari would contest, Alhassan said she would support Atiku because since her civil service years, Atiku had been her mentor and godfather.

“He (Atiku) has remained so even now that I have joined politics. There is a reason for every political relationship,” she had said.

Expectedly, the duo’s actions have caused some uneasiness among top members of the party, with the lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, telling Alhassan to resign from the Buhari administration in order to start campaigning for her benefactor (Atiku).

One of those also furious over Alhassan’s comments was Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said to be one of the closest friends of the President.

The governor wasn’t even shy to say he and some other party chieftains never wanted Buhari to appoint the minister into his cabinet in 2015.

Political pundits believe Alhassan couldn’t have openly declared her support for Atiku for the 2019 presidency if she didn’t have the backing of other people in the party.

“It is just a matter of time before we start seeing clashes among Buhari’s and Atiku’s supporters because of 2019,” a lawyer and social commentator, Mr. Daniel Onyebuchi, said.

He suggested the minister’s comments showed that there were some “strong” hands making some moves behind the scenes which caused Alhassan to have made her pro-Atiku comments.

Onyebuchi said, “No matter how naive a politician Alhassan was, she wouldn’t have come out to declare her support for someone who is not even in the cabinet. She’s an insider declaring her support for an outsider.

“Many people think she doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she does. She is not a dumb person. The person we are talking about here was a former governorship aspirant, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of her state. She was the first woman to be appointed as the Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Judicial Council and so on.

“So when she came out to make the comments, it showed she had seen the writing on the wall. The development only proved what we had been seeing right from the outset: the APC is a divided party, full of people with different missions and purposes. There is no unity there.”

Consequently, the National Working Committee of the party was said to have planned discussing Atiku’s and Alhassan’s outbursts at a meeting during the week.

However, the meeting didn’t hold as planned as it was learnt that some of the party chieftains were divided as to whether or not Alhassan’s comments were worth deliberating upon.

Aside the latest outbursts, Atiku had as far back as 2016 started making some statements which seemed to create an impression of failure of his party and the President Buhari-led Federal Government.

Since last year, the former Vice-President has been one of the most vocal voices calling for a restructuring of the country, which Buhari had said was not on his administration’s priority list.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had on June 9, 2017 said restructuring was not on the Federal Government’s priority list.

It was probably after the calls for restructuring became intense that the party eventually set up a panel some weeks ago, headed by el-Rufai, to look at the definition of the subject.

A United States-based political scientist and founder of the Youths Must Shine, Mr. Femi Matthews, said Atiku’s call for restructuring showed that he was “practically” not on the President’s side.

He said, “If you have been observing the comments of the former Vice-President since, you would see an element of disgruntlement. He is not happy; his wings are clipped and the only way he felt he could fly was to start opposing his own party and the President.”

On August 2, 2017, the former Vice-President, had criticised the APC (and the Peoples Democratic Party) of lacking internal democracy, accusing the party of over the years refusing to hold vital meetings.

“In the absence of those meetings and elections, their existing leadership, often under the direction of the executive at the state or federal level, fills the void. That’s not party building but party bullying. And it’s certainly not a way to democratise parties and aggregate their members’ opinions, interests and aspirations,” he had said.

The former Vice-President, had also on September 11, taken a swipe at Buhari, asking him to fulfil his promise of providing security to Nigerians.

A day later, Atiku again said he could fight corruption better than Buhari.

The former Vice-President had added, “It is sickening to continue to regurgitate allegations of corruption against me by people who have failed to come forward with a single shred of evidence of my misconduct while in office.

“People who lack initiative, personal resourcefulness and ideas about wealth creation always assume that a man cannot build himself without stealing.”

Meanwhile, as Atiku has somehow started his presidency campaign, President Buhari’s supporters have also not gone to sleep, with el-Rufai; Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, among others, saying recently that they had endorsed the President for the second term should he decide to contest.

El-Rufai had said after Alhassan’s pro-Atiku comments, “I am governor today by the grace of God, (and) because President Buhari called me and said ‘go and run for Governor of Kaduna State.’ As far as 2019 is concerned, my position is that the President is looking very well, he is recuperating very fast. My hope and prayer is (that) he will contest in 2019.”

While campaigns for 2019 are subtly going on for Buhari and Atiku, political observers believe it wouldn’t be long before those in the camp of a national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also start coming out.

A political scientist and social commentator, Mr. Hassan Abiodun, said it would be wrong for anyone to think “Tinubu is sleeping.”

He added, “We are not yet in 2018 and we are already seeing all these. I tell you, by next year, lots of intrigues will take place in the APC. Some people might be thinking because the North seems to be in control of the party, Tinubu can’t do anything.

“But by now, even the dumbest politician should know that Tinubu in a way wields a strong influence in Lagos and even in the entire Southwest. Tinubu might seem to be sleeping now, but I think he’s making his own calculations too.”

Abiodun’s submission might perhaps be the reason why Sani recently asked Buhari to reach out to Tinubu because “he (Tinubu) could “drown” the President.

Sani had made a veiled reference to Buhari and Tinubu in a Facebook post last Saturday, warning that the latter had a damaging political capacity.

The post had read, “The Lion Monarch should reach out to the aggrieved but silent Lagoon Lion so that he doesn’t explode like the hippo. The Lagoon Lion controls waters that can drown.”

The senator had confirmed that “The Lagoon” represented Lagos, while “The Lagoon King” was in reference to Tinubu, a former governor of the state.

Meanwhile, Abiodun said it was unfortunate that the APC was focusing its attention on the 2019 election when it had yet to deliver on its 2015 campaign promises to Nigerians.

He said, “Everything that has happened in the past one week — from Atiku’s outbursts, to Alhassan’s comments, to el-Rufai and other governors canvassing for Buhari while we are still in 2017 — shows that the party is not serious about governance.

“It is even more unfortunate because the party has not been able to unite itself all these years. There are various factions with different missions. This could be why the party is not delivering on its promises.

“When you have persons working for the interest of individuals rather than for the interest of Nigerians, it means something is wrong with our system. Even if the party wants to think of 2019, it shouldn’t be distracted from serving the electorate who brought it to power in the first place.”

Also according to Matthews, it was wrong for the APC to allow 2019 presidential election take centre stage when the party had yet to meet all its electoral promises.

He said, “It is shameful that many Nigerian politicians still think the citizens are fools in this age. I plead with Nigerians, especially the youth, to be conscious of those who are good at governance and those who don’t know what they are doing.

“The latter do little or nothing at governance, dwelling much on politicking, while the former are those whose actions show that they have the interest of the people at heart.”

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