GUEST COLUMNIST By Sufuyan Ojeifo
In the race to the presidency in 2019, it is a settled political assumption that presidential power should remain in the north for another term of four years. On May 29, next year, President Muhammadu Buhari would have completed his first term in office; and, the February 16 presidential election would have determined whether or not he would be vested with a second term mandate.
Although, the north, by the principle of power rotation, is entitled to a second term of four years that would be completed in 2023, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is sponsoring former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to secure the people’s mandate to complete the north’s second term instead of Buhari.
Therefore, global attention is on the north to produce, anyhow, the winner of the forthcoming presidential election. The north has the number and the determination to preserve its rights to presidential power. Indeed, the north occupies the moral high ground in the quest for encore of presidential exertions and approbation.
Besides, the region boasts of some adroitness in the domain of presidential power politics. In fact, it was that capacity that it deployed to upstage the presidential applecart of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 poll. Therefore, against the backdrop of the political reality that the north is in apple pie order to produce the president in 2019, many strong parties had, understandably, picked their presidential candidates from the northern region.
But, some political parties have apparently run against the tides of the settled political assumption by producing presidential candidates of southern extraction. Knowing full well that the north has yet another term to hug presidential power, the question as to what motivates these parties and their southern presidential candidates to toe the path of deliberate disruption arises.
But for the presence of astute political gladiators like former governors of Cross River and Ondo states, Mr. Donald Duke and Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, respectively, in the list of southern presidential candidates, their effort could have been quite easily dismissed as impotent in the race for the soul of Nigeria.
Indeed, Duke and Mimiko are by all standards formidable presidential materials. They have proved their mettles in their various fields of human endeavour, most especially in government and governance. While Duke’s imprimaturs in the governance landscape of Cross River are indelible, Mimiko’s trajectory through public office, starting as commissioner in the ill-fated Third Republic, Secretary to the State Government, minister and then governor in the Fourth Republic, is remarkably enduring.
Both of them have nationwide appeal, having made friends across the Niger. It is on the crest of that network of friendship, reciprocal political loyalties and a very clear understanding of the workings of Nigeria that they have ridden to emerge very forcefully as formidable presidential candidates whose missions and visions, in the event they get the massive buy-in of Nigerians, can somewhat disrupt the settled political assumption of north’s right to another four year term. .
How far they go in the actualisation of the objective of their disruptive politics would depend on how well they manage the growing sentiments in the polity towards the necessity and workability of a third force that can serve as an alternative platform to challenge the hegemonic tendencies of the power-mongering All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Duke and Mimiko have the pedigrees, antecedents and political gravitas around which other southern presidential candidates can rally for a formidable consensus candidate that can unsettle and, in fact, disrupt a number of electoral calculations that the governing party and the leading opposition PDP may be perfecting in their strategy rooms and sessions.
Whereas, Duke had already demonstrated the beauty of disruptive politics in his Social Democratic Party, SDP, presidential primary election wherein he upset a leading northern aspirant and former minister of information, Professor Jerry Gana, whose candidature would have fitted perfectly into the settled political assumption of northern region’s right to a second term of presidential power; the looming challenge is of countrywide dimension.
By defeating Gana, Duke had simply passed across a statement about the magnitude of his politics and focus in the unfolding popular battle to rescue Nigeria. That feat can, in some agreeable fashion, be selflessly built upon prelude to the February 16 presidential election. Either he or Mimiko who has also picked the presidential ticket of his Zenith Labour Party, ZLP, can be the arrow head or the battle axe for the coalition of parties that should approximate the real third force.
Conversely, a formidable northern candidate in any of the parties that comprise the third force can be adopted and deployed. That will further strengthen the dynamics of the third force platform as a strategic game changer. While a northern formidable candidate, not necessarily as formidable as President Buhari and former vice president Atiku, can moderately eat into the northern voters, a well-mobilized southern region by the third force can, overall, provide sufficient votes to disrupt the shape and outcome of the 2019 presidential poll.
Although, the disruptive tendencies of the coalition politics may not swing victory to the third force in pragmatic terms, the votes they may discount from the APC and the PDP support bases may just be considerable enough to diminish the clear winning margin of victory by either the APC or the PDP. This could be a clear possibility with the coalition in the fray with a single-minded focus and objective.
Indeed, if Duke and Mimiko, acting in concert with others like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Obadiah Mailafia, Kingsley Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoyele Sowore, Alistair Soyede, et al, who are presidential candidates of their respective parties, sign up for a consensus candidate or a candidate of their coalition for the election to whom votes should be directed, they may just take the election beyond the first ballot into a rerun poll for the emergence of a clear winner.
That will certainly send an emphatic message to the world that Nigerians are now much more enlightened and interested in contextualizing and interrogating candidates and their parties on the bases of their antecedents, pedigrees, missions, visions, ideological persuasions, philosophical orientations and the capacity to demonstrate integrity and fidelity in government to the electoral promises to reclaim, redirect and redefine Nigeria.
Surely, the process will help to purify and beautify the forthcoming 2019 presidential election and subsequent polls as well as rebuild public confidence in the government that emerges from the process.
Mr. Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes firstname.lastname@example.org