Emboldened and motivated by the return of President Muhammadu Buhari to the seat of power after 103 days’ medical vacation in London, his loyalists within and outside his cabinet as well as the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, have begun to push for a second term in office for him.
As the move to get a second term for Buhari gathers momentum among his supporters, the division within APC is explicitly widening ahead of the 2019 general elections. Members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) are enmeshed in battle over the desirability of issuing the incumbent President automatic ticket for the presidential election.
There was no debate over the acceptability of the choice of President Buhari as the candidate for the 2019 presidential race before his health challenges, but his two medical trips to the UK this year alone may have invoked the debate over his fitness for the job.
President Buhari, has remained the only personality stopping the governing APC presidential hopefuls like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Governors Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto respectively as well as Senate President Bukola Saraki among others from declaring and embarking on aggressive campaigns for the 2019 battle as they decided to bury their ambitions for him or move to another political platform to pursue their ambition.
There has been palpable fear that an outright decision to give automatic ticket to the President who is in and out of the sick bed, in a democratic setting without regard to performance and other considerations may prove grossly counterproductive as it did when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), took similar decision in 2015 and led to the defeat of the party’s candidate, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
A combination of several factors, including Buhari’s capability, fitness and competence to deliver on his campaign promises have raised the controversy on whether he can still enjoy that wide acceptability that propelled APC to wrest power from the then ruling PDP.
As political activities towards the 2019 general elections gather momentum, who becomes the APC’s standard-bearer for the presidential election has become a poisoned chalice and a source of division among the national leadership and the party chieftains.
While some members of the NWC are not favorably disposed to giving automatic ticket to President Buhari for the 2019 presidential election, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun has launched vigorous campaign for right of first refusal for the incumbent, insisting that he remains the presidential candidate to beat.
Downplaying the effects of President Buhari’s ill-health which many believed slowed down governance and affected the delivery of the party’s manifestoes and campaign promises, Odigie-Oyegun had equally dismissed the insinuations that such decision will have adverse affect on the APC’s bid to retain power in 2019.
“The thinking that ‘will he be President in 2019’ is really not doing any good. His need today is good health. When we get to 2019, it is for him to decide if he wants to run or if he doesn’t want to run and to consult the party on his decision,” Oyegun said, adding: “If he wants to run good and if he doesn’t want to run, the country isn’t bereft, the party isn’t bereft of capable hands,” he said.
Oyegun however, noted that the issue of the candidacy of the party in the 2019 presidential election ought not be a priority now but for God to fully restore Mr President to robust and good health.
In his words: “Why build bridges if there is no river to cross? Why don’t you wait until you come across a river, then you build a bridge. With all due respect, for what it stands for, what is critical today is for our good Lord to restore Mr President to robust, good health.
“I am sure that the prime thing he will be considering isn’t 2019, but to have his health fully restored and I am sure he will give anything just to have his health restored. Let’s terminate it at that point; when 2019 comes we will deal with the issues that arise,” he insisted.
Similarly, like many other proponents of President Buhari’s second term project, a chieftain of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, supporting Chief Odigie-Oyegun’s pledge of automatic ticket for President Buhari, argued that the move would assist the president to consolidate on his achievements.
According to him, “I support Mr Chairman 100 per cent. Continuation means that Mr President will be in a position to consolidate on the silent social revolution he is embarking on – silent revolution to plug all leakages to fight corruption, to motivate and re-modernise security agencies so that there will be security in the land.
“And some other issues like the development of critical infrastructure such as standard rail-line across the country, rehabilitation of dilapidated federal road networks, and the ease of doing business in Nigeria,” he noted.
Another National Officer of the party who pleaded anonymity told Saturday Sun categorically that the party had no option but to give its presidential ticket to Buhari unconditionally next year.
To justify this, he said “don’t forget Buhari is the reason the party is still together today. Buhari won the 2015 election and not APC, just as Jonathan lost that election and not PDP. It will surprise you to know that even if Buhari dies today, God forbid, the North will still vote for him in 2019. The vote will even be twice of what he got in 2015 because the masses and the middle class in the region have been empowered by this government. It is only the elite who have no access to free money unlike before that are now complaining.”
The NWC member added that though Buhari has not told the party executives about his plans, but “if he says he is coming back, he will be adopted as the sole candidate by the party because he has the right of first refusal.”
However, the view may not have received unanimous approval from the national leadership of the party as another member of the National Working Committee (NWC), who spoke to Saturday Sun in confidence said that the major concern of the party should be to see how Mr President can serve out his first tenure and more importantly deliver the unfulfilled campaign promises that convinced Nigerians to massively vote for him and the party.
Asked about the decision of the party on President Buhari’s second term automatic ticket, the party chieftain said: “How can you even be talking about second term for Mr President when he has not finished the current term. As far as we are concerned, automatic second term ticket for Mr President is not a consideration for the national leadership for now and we don’t want to respond to mere speculation because he has not even formally informed us of such an ambition.”
“Our major concern and prayers now should be to see how he finishes his current term and deliver the campaign promises he gave to Nigerians. So, the issue of automatic ticket or offer of first refusal does not arise,” the party chieftain added. Sunnews.