President Muhammadu Buhari can be inscrutable. Difficult to predict and divine. You cannot tell what he is thinking. And like the old general that he is, he has perfected the art of not telling it all and choosing his words carefully like a cat on tightropes.
In an interview with Channels Television in January 2022, the old fox kept his mystery and had everyone guessing. When asked who his preferred 2023 presidential candidate was, the artful general said: “I don’t have any favourite for 2023 and if I do, I won’t reveal his identity because if I do, he may be eliminated before the election. I better keep it secret.’’
Since this ‘’tactical manoeuvring’’, many presidential aspirants have been courting the president’s attention and seeking to establish themselves in the national consciousness as his sanctified pick.
Who is Buhari’s consecrated presidential choice? Is it Bola Tinubu, former Lagos state governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC)? Well, one thing is certain – we may not know Buhari’s preference, but we do know those who will not go through his beatification. In January, Tinubu visited Buhari at the presidential villa. He later announced that day that he had informed the president of his intention to run for presidential office in 2023 — and the pyrotechnics began.
Some regard Tinubu’s ‘’ambush’’, considering how, where and why he declared his presidential bid, as a desperate move. It is common knowledge that Tinubu and the president, including members of the recondite cabal, have not had a sunny relationship. It is alleged that Tinubu who contributed principally to the success of the APC in 2015 was given the heave-ho soon after the president and ‘’his men’’ came to power.
Remi Tinubu, the former Lagos governor’s wife, is one of those who have taken this allegation to town. She said Tinubu was ‘’trashed’’ after helping the APC win the presidential election in 2015. Her words: “I was hurt [by] what they did to my husband after the campaign. He didn’t say a thing. We were running three campaigns in my house, and for him to be trashed like that…”
Those privy to palace gossip say Buhari is not ‘’comfortable’’ with Tinubu based on principles. Buhari is of the conservative stock, but Tinubu is the wheeler-dealer politician who understands the art of the deal. If Tinubu was good enough to help bring the current administration to power, why is he not fit to be supported by the same hand he held up?
The declaration of Tinubu’s presidential bid at the presidential villa was not necessarily to seek the permission of Buhari, but to call his bluff and soldier on with ambition. It was a case of ‘’I know you do not want me to succeed you, but hey, I am getting on with my ambition anyway’’.
Is Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo Buhari’s presidential favourite? It will be too hasty to say, but the chronicle of relationship between the two puts a doubt to the question.
In September 2019, Buhari took drastic steps to whittle down the power and influence of Osinbajo. The vice-president had reportedly offended ‘’members of the conclave’’ when he sacked Lawal Daura as the director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS) following the siege on the national assembly by the DSS in 2018. The vice-president was also alleged to have taken some unsanctioned decisions and actions.
In a presidential memo, as reported by TheCable, the president asked Osinbajo to, henceforth, seek presidential approvals for agencies under his supervision. This was not the case during Buhari’s first term in office. Osinbajo is the chairman of the governing boards of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA).
He is also the chairman of the board of directors of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), a limited liability company owned by the three tiers of government.
The directive was for the vice-president to follow due process in seeking approvals for contract awards, annual reports, annual accounts, power to borrow, and power to make regulations, among other key functions. Buhari also appointed the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) and disbanded the Economic Management Team led by Osinbajo.
Not sparing any effort in this blitz, the president removed NEMA and the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) from the office of the vice-president and put them under a newly-created ministry of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, headed by Sadiya Umar Farouq.
However, Osinbajo took the president’s decision well – without acting out or gunning for a dogfight. But does Buhari trust him enough to put the laurel wreath on his head?
Is Buhari’s presidential favourite Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation; David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi state; Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi state, or Chris Ngige, minister of labour? Only the retired general can tell – a clairvoyant will find it hard to decipher this mystery even from the president’s famous ‘’body language’’.
The fact is whoever Buhari ‘’sanctifies’’ will get the support of the north – which holds the ace in elections in Nigeria.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.