Nigeria 2023: Who will succeed President Buhari?

Nicholas Norbrook
By Nicholas Norbrook
Managing Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Wednesday, 26 January 2022 12:07

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari poses prior to celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris Friday Nov. 12, 2021. (Juilen de Rosa, Pool Photo via AP)/

Welcome to the Muhammadu Buhari Succession Show! In it, an ageing patriarch sits atop a hard-fought electoral empire built up slowly over the course of many bruising campaigns. Which of his children will inherit?

We are breathing the last gasps of his second term in office; the old order is dying and the new cannot be born, with a multitude of morbid symptoms likely to emerge over the next 12 months in the run-up to the 2023 presidential poll.

So who will star as the rival children eager to inherit the formidable Buhari’s 12-million-strong vote bank in the north?

Various northern chieftains from both parties are hoping to emulate him, from former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and former speaker of the house of representatives Aminu Tambuwal of the opposition People’s Democratic Party to Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai.

Even former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is reaching out to the north. He made sure that his 12th ‘Bola Tinubu Colloquium’ was held in Kano, and that everybody knew about it.

But, although he has announced his candidacy, things are not going entirely Tinubu’s way at present. He remains a frontrunner to win the APC ticket and the presidency, given that it will likely ‘rotate’ to the south.

He has a strong base of support in Lagos and many surrounding states, but he is running into stiff opposition.

Signposts for 2022

A couple of state elections will likely help as signposts as 2022 progresses. The first is in Ekiti State in June, the current bastion of governor Kayode Fayemi, another southerner keen to pick up the presidential mantle. If Fayemi is still in the race, he will want an ultra-loyalist to succeed him in Ekiti and go into bat on his behalf during the nomination process.

July will bring the Osun State gubernatorial vote. Adegboyega Oyetola, the incumbent, is a good friend of Tinubu’s. He should be handily re-elected with Tinubu’s wind in his sails; the ease with which this happens will be a good proxy for Tinubu’s grip on the APC.

For historians, Buhari might also be cast as the ‘Last of the Mohicans’; he is the last of the generation of northern generals who have had Nigeria in their grip for half a century.

This included Buhari in his first incarnation as coup leader, as well as Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.

Changing of the guard?

That has lead to hopes that a new younger generation will rise and take their place. Certainly there may be a raft of newer faces contesting this time around — including people like minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi (56), governor of Ekiti State Kayode Fayemi (56) or Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike (58).

Others fear the gerontocracy will roll on in Nigeria. Despite the #nottooyoungtorun campaign, heavyweight contenders for the APC and PDP tend to be (at least) around 70 years old.

Whether or not retired general Buhari is to your taste – and many Nigerians who joined the #EndSARS protests have made their feelings on that clear – Buhari still has a shot at redemption: organising transparent and fair elections, as his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan managed.

That will, in part, require improved security, one of much-trailed major focuses of Buhari’s two terms in office that has failed to materialise.

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