I am not sure that inviting all Nigerians to air their views on this matter will not cause similar traffic confusion. Bello, who spoke to reporters after APC governors met with the president, quoted Buhari as saying, “I’m very comfortable that Nigerians will speak loud” on his second term ambition. The Kogi governor however tried to hijack the impending debate when he added, “There are three things. One, [the president] has done well. Secondly, on fighting corruption. Even we the governors are competing among ourselves to ensure that the little resources available, we utilize them for the people. So, corruption is reduced to the barest minimum. Next is the revival of the economy, job creation and making sure that Nigerians are comfortable. Based on this performance, we are urging Mr. President to please run and fly in 2019.” This advice by governors is akin to the passengers telling our bus driver to go straight.
If indeed the president invited this advisory free for all, his fervent supporters will urge him to go right; PDP members will tell him to go left; disgruntled APC chieftains will urge Buhari to stand still while this country’s volatile NGO community could ask him to “reverse back”. Just like our bus driver, taking instructions from too many quarters could cause utter confusion. Of course it would not lead to early arrival in Heaven but it could leave the president holding a broken piece of his Commander-in-Chief’s baton.
With the exception of Nelson Mandela there are few, if any recent examples of a world leader who was not keen about seeking a second term in office. Mandela announced from day one that he will serve only one term as president and even at that, that he will delegate most day to day functions of government to Vice President Thabo Mbeki. He never wavered in that pledge and he handed over to Mbeki after five years. President Buhari too did pledge to serve only one term in office, but that was before he was elected in 2015. Since then he never repeated his 2013 pledge. Even if Buhari is thinking of not running again, he is well advised to delay the announcement because it will transform him into a lame duck president.
Though he dropped some broad hints recently that he might seek a second term, Buhari has not said so categorically. The most decisive step in that direction, the reported reappointment of Rotimi Amaechi as campaign director general, was never announced even though some people said they saw the appointment letter. Though Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha firmly said that Buhari will seek a second term, the president himself told APC governors on four different occasions, including at Daura last week, that he had not made up his mind.
It is this apparent indecision that has opened the possibility to a Maja Maja-like traffic direction. Usually, an incumbent ruler’s mind is made up very early about his desire to seek a second term in office. His aides take this for granted and begin to plan for it from day one. Most policies, programs and appointments are made with an eye to the next campaign. Maybe the culture is different here but there was no American president in the last 60 years who hesitated about seeking a second term in office. President Lyndon Johnson, who opted out in 1968, was actually planning to run again before daily demonstrations by anti-Vietnam War activists forced him to make his famous speech, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”
For now, the main group openly pushing the president to seek another term is APC governors. No group within the party is in a better position than governors to guarantee Buhari victory in the APC primaries, if they are sincere and united, that is. At first it was a small section of APC governors that was doing the urging, but more recently it is all of them that are urging the president to seek a second term. Buhari however knows that their word must be taken with a pinch of salt, not the least because some of them belong to notable party factions that are making other calculations.
First term governors worry more about their own re-election prospects than the president’s. If they calculate that the president is popular in their states, then they will want to clutch on to his political coat tails to a second term. Yahaya Bello, for example, is probably sincere in his desire to see Buhari seek a second term, albeit for his own local reasons. The odds against him in Kogi are so daunting that he needs to grab some coat tails. The first two men to push for a Buhari second term, namely Governor Nasiru el-Rufa’i and Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi, suspiciously have personal motives too. In the case of Amaechi, APC is still not popular in Rivers State and in the South South region so his best chance of remaining relevant politically is in a Buhari second term. As for the Kaduna governor, he has done far too many controversial things to have a smooth sail to a second term. Pushing vigorously for a Buhari second term may have a dual motive. If the president is still popular enough in Kaduna, he could carry El-Rufa’i to a second term. And if Buhari decides not to run again, the governor is positioning himself to take over, if possible.
Other influential APC groups have been studiously silent on this matter. National Assembly members, for example, are visibly lukewarm to the idea of Buhari running again. In fact they are trying to make it more difficult by amending the Electoral Act to make the presidential election to come last. Members of the APC National Working Committee [NWC] are also noticeably quiet, as are state chairmen and secretaries, state MPs, local government chairmen and councillors, and the party’s youth and women wings.
Unlike an opinion poll, this impending consultation promises to be advice without borders. By the time all Nigerians weigh in with their views, the word cacophony will not properly describe the situation. I particularly fear the ensuing debate on social media where internet warriors short of information and logic will instead invoke “insult, invective, imprecation and incivility,” to borrow from Nancy McPhee’s Book of Insults. It could foul the atmosphere so much that by the time Buhari decides one way or another, a lot of damage has been done. Let us therefore not go through with that maja maja option. The president should decide for himself whether or not he will seek a second term.