Nigeria: Buhari’s failure to plan his succession

Donu Kogbara
By Donu Kogbara

Writer/broadcaster who shuttles between Nigeria and the UK

Posted on Friday, 10 June 2022 11:31

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a plenary session at the start of the Paris Peace Forum, in Paris, France, November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Muhammadu Buhari, a Northern Muslim, has been President of Nigeria since 2015 and is due to leave office after elections next year. Last week, he summoned the 22 (out of 36) Governors who belong to his All Progressives Congress (APC) party and asked them to allow him to choose his successor.

Much to the amazement of onlookers like this writer (who are not accustomed to politicians being altruistic), 11 (mostly Muslim) Northern governors – perhaps suspecting Buhari of wanting to impose a fellow Northern Muslim flagbearer – demanded, in writing, that APC’s 2023 candidate be a Southerner.

Zoning – power rotation and job-sharing based on geographical considerations – is a very big deal in Nigeria at both state and federal levels. And the governors’ headline-grabbing statement was, they said, motivated by a desire to be honourable and patriotic and to “uphold a principle in the interest of building a stronger, more united and more progressive country.”

They might have added that Buhari’s government is extremely unpopular, that Peter Obi, the most prominent opposition politician from the South, is becoming increasingly popular and that any attempt to perpetuate Northern dominance – which is widely regarded as being largely responsible for the nation’s multiple ills – is likely to lead to a resounding electoral defeat.

‘Consensus candidate’

Party Chairman Abdulahi Adamu, a staunch Buhari acolyte, was clearly not reading the room perceptively when he tried, a couple of days after the governors’ weekend intervention and the day before the APC Convention, to foist another Northern Muslim (the obedient Senate President Ahmed Lawan) as a “consensus candidate” on colleagues who were insisting on change.

An outraged chorus of disapproval ensued.

The governors promptly disowned Adamu while Buhari went into full-blown plausible deniability mode and quickly distanced himself from Adamu’s audacious announcement, claiming that the Lawan selection wasn’t his idea.

It was obvious that Adamu wouldn’t have dared fly such a controversial kite without permission from his principal. Nobody doubted for one nanosecond that Adamu was acting out a script that they had drafted together.

This inability to successfully install a political son and heir will surely go down in history as one of the most bungled political gambits Nigeria has ever seen.

But Buhari is famed for disingenuous aloofness when trouble looms and for not standing by besieged subordinates; and he surprised nobody when he strolled off to an overseas assignment, leaving Adamu to carry the can alone.

At the end of the day, Lawan only got 8% of votes cast by primaries delegates; and Buhari had to grit his teeth and watch Tinubu, an APC grandee and his least favourite major aspirant – triumph and achieve a landslide victory.

‘Massive humiliation’

This inability to successfully install a political son and heir will surely go down in history as one of the most bungled political gambits Nigeria has ever seen.

“This massive humiliation would never have happened to any of his predecessors!” says Dotun, a Tinubu devotee and APC member I talked to.

So why did it happen to Buhari in a country where democracy is largely theoretical and heads of state wield enormous clout, ruthlessly control their parties and rarely lose important battles of wills?

Some of Buhari’s supporters – an endangered species, it has to be said! – have tried to put a positive spin on his failure.

According to a tweet from Festus Keyamo, the minister of state for labour and employment, Buhari lacks the tyrannical tendencies of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo (who openly thwarted those he disliked by any means necessary while claiming to completely respect the rule of law) and has “provided for the world to see a complete transparent process to pick a possible successor; no IMPOSITION; NO INTERFERENCE; who’s the democrat now?”

Others beg to differ and see chronic ineptitude where Keyamo sees virtue.

Reno Omokiri is a lawyer who worked for the former President Goodluck Jonathan. He frequently rails against those who thought Buhari would do better and has listed contests in which people linked to the president performed poorly:

“…Buhari is not politically savvy enough to anoint his successor. Look at what happened in his own state [Katsina]. His nephews were defeated in the APC primaries. His in-law was roundly trounced in Kaduna. In Kano, his aides were defeated. And in 2023, his candidate will be defeated by Nigerians!”

Except that Buhari’s candidate has been kicked into touch by Tinubu, who can reasonably be described as the candidate the APC imposed on its leader.

A force of nature

My view is that a man who overcame a president, vice-president (also ran, Professor Yemi Osinbajo) and a senate president is a force of nature.

Tinubu consistently amassed a seemingly bottomless war chest, built a huge nationwide fan club and forensically strategised. Preventing him from participating in the APC Convention was only way he could have been stopped.

Buhari did not have the balls or foresight to use the tools he had at his disposal – the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, for example – to take Tinubu down before a Convention that was mostly populated by people who wanted to crown him.

Embracing Tinubu as his Chosen One was the only other way in which Buhari – who lost election after election until Tinubu threw his considerable weight behind him and handed most of the SouthWest geopolitical zone to him on a platter of gold – could have succeeded in appointing his own successor.

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