Barely twelve months to the 2023 general elections in the country, there is high-level strategic lobbying by ambitious politicians, especially those touted to be close allies of President Muhammadu Buhari and with the strong desire to succeed him as Nigeria’s next President.
The development has led to maneuvering, intrigues, eye service and hero worshiping as those eyeing the presidential seat lobby the high brass and the political cabals and their agents that decide who occupies the coveted number one seat of the land after Buhari.
Of late, the seat of power, otherwise known as the Aso Rock, has become a Mecca of sort as those angling to become the next President have been coming to court Buhari for his blessings if not to be adopted as the anointed candidate.
It was reliably gathered that the death of the immediate past Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, has thrown the race open.
A source close to the late ‘Power House of the Villa’ had claimed that Kyari’s demise has, in a way, changed the political equation.
The source said that the thinking then was that the race for the presidential seat in 2023 will be arrangement between the North-East and the South-East as they are the two geopolitical zones that have yet to occupy the seat.
Under the arrangement, the former Chief of Staff was being positioned to take over from his principal while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, a bosom friend of Kyari, was supposed to be the running mate and, after eight years, power will go to the South-East.
However, that arrangement, if at all it existed as claimed, has become a thing of the past.
The question on the lips of many appointees of the President and some of the staff in the State House is, who will ‘Baba’ anoint as his successor?
The question is pertinent against the backdrop of the fact that Buhari should ordinarily be interested in who succeeds him for the sake of continuity of government programmes.
While some of the appointees have been put under suspense on whom to pitch their tent with because the body language of the President has not given any green light on the direction to go, some persons who are close to Buhari have claimed that, going by his nature, he may not anoint anyone as he would prefer that all the aspirants pass through the democratic process in which the people will choose whoever they want.
To support this claim, the people said that the President has told whoever cares to listen to him to carry his cross as he attempted to be elected President for three times without success only to succeed at the fourth time in 2015.
Meanwhile, on January 10, 2022, the All Progressives Congress, APC, National Leader and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, opened the floodgate of consultations as he met with Buhari to inform him of his aspiration to contest for the presidential election slated for February 2023 by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Some have also said that the visit was to ask for the President’s support even though some power brokers within the Presidency have argued that the APC National Leader should continue to play the role of a kingmaker and not to throw his hat in the ring.
It was rumoured that some elements in the ruling APC are working hard to ensure the enthronement of the Lagos politician as the next President.
He had said that it has been his life ambition to be President.
Less than 24 hours after Tinubu’s visit, the governor of Ebonyi State, Mr Dave Umahi, also went to meet the President to inform him of his intention to contest for the presidency in 2023 on the platform of the APC.
Umahi was elected as governor in 2015 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and re-elected on the same platform in 2019, but he dumped the party for the APC in November 2020, claiming that PDP had not been fair to the South-East.
The Ebonyi governor said that despite the support the South-East had given to the PDP, it was against natural justice that the party should contemplate zoning its presidential ticket outside the region.
Some people have suggested that Umahi was propelled to visit Buhari a day after the APC National Leader made his ambition known to Mr. President.
It was gathered that the Ebonyi governor is in the good books of some persons in the Presidency and it is expected that he will be among those to be presented to Buhari for consideration.
APC stalwart and one of the founding members of the APC, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, is another aspirant who has presented his 2023 presidential ambition to Buhari.
The immediate past governor of Imo State and current senator representing Imo West visited the seat of power last week to tell the President that he is interested in taking over from him next year. Okorocha, like President Buhari, has been a regular aspirant and it is not certain yet whether he has a lobby group that will convince the President on why he should be considered as his (successor).
The ‘iberiberism’ proponent has friends from the North but is in fierce battle with his successor, Governor Hope Uzodimma, over who controls the APC structure in the state.
Also in contention is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who is being projected by some APC elements to succeed his boss.
Although he hasn’t publicly declared his interest in the job, some have argued that the law professor and Pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, has the necessary prerequisite to take over from his boss having undergone tutelage for eight years.
It was gathered that some powerful forces from the North, including a former Director General of a Federal Government agency, are at the forefront of the Osinbajo for President project.
Whereas the body language of President has never suggested that he is supporting anybody, some people have said that Buhari may be comfortable to handover to his Vice President.
But it is not clear yet whether Osinbajo will contest the 2023 presidency or not despite the ongoing consultations organized by various support groups urging him to run.
A report last week that the Vice President will declare his ambition to contest for the presidential election after the APC’s Convention was quickly dismissed by his spokesperson, saying the law professor has never made any pronouncement on when he is going to declare his ambition.
Some people have even alleged that there is a cold war going on between Osinbajo’s supporters and those of Tinubu.
Recall that it was Tinubu who nominated Osinbajo as Buhari’s running mate in 2015 after it became clear that he (Tinubu) couldn’t run with then presidential candidate of the APC (Buhari) because of the widespread opposition to Muslim-Muslim ticket.
For now it has not been made public whether Osinbajo, like other aspirants, has informed Buhari of nursing any ambition but sources in the Villa told Sunday Vanguard that his promoters have apparently been making a case for him.
The slightest hint yet that the VP could be preparing to take a shot at the 2023 presidency is the public declaration of a close aide that he would not support Tinubu’s presidential bid.
Equally believed to be nursing presidential bid ahead of 2023 is a friend of the Villa and the first family, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. Unconfirmed report say Bello ascended the Kogi governorship throne on the instrumentality of the first family.
Some have further contended that some of his loyalists have taken his ambition to the Presidency.
It is not yet made public whether his aspiration has gotten the blessing of the President but he is not relenting in ensuring a fait accompli for the project. For now, he has not officially visited to announce his ambition at the State House.
Senator Chris Ngige, a serving Minister of Labour and Employment, is among cabinet members some persons within the Presidency believe have performed well.
His access to Buhari has made political pundits to conclude that he is very close to the President.
The former Anambra State governor and medical doctor by training has declared that he would make his presidential ambition known in April after consultations with his political friends and associates.
Most of his meetings with Buhari are held behind closed-doors, so, it has not been made public whether he may be the anointed candidate the President mentioned about when he granted television interview recently. Recall that Buhari had declined to mention his preferred candidate, saying that revealing the identity of the person might lead to the person’s elimination.
However, within the labour circle, some leaders have extolled the sterling qualities of the Anambra APC leader.
Some of the labour leaders urged Ngige to contest for the presidency in 2023.
A former governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, has been rumoured in some quarters as the President’s preferred candidate, in fact the anointed candidate to take over from him in 2023.
Although there has not been any display from the President to that effect, sources within the Presidency claim that the odds appear to favour him.
Only last weekend, he was conferred with a chieftaincy title (Dan Amanar Daura, meaning Trusted Son of Daura) by the Daura Emirate of Katsina State, the President home town.
The title has been interpreted in different quarters to mean, ‘The Preferred’, ‘The Trustworthy’ and ‘The Face of Nigeria’s Future’.
This has increased the speculation that Amaechi is the APC anointed candidate in the 2023 presidential election.
Again, Amaechi, who was Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, when he was governor, was hosted by the First Lady, Dr. Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, after the conferment of the Daura chieftaincy title on him. The Minister was accompanied by his wife, Judith Amaechi, during the First Lady’s visit.
Also in reckoning as a potential successor to Buhari is the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. The minister is said to be among those that get Mr. President’s attention at any given time. A Presidency source said that if the President has the sole right to appoint his successor, Fashola will be one of those to be considered. However, the former Lagos State governor has not openly indicated interest in the presidential race.
Another person that appears to be admired by the President is the governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. The former Minister of Mines and Steel Development, some analysts claim, has the aura and potentials to take over from Buhari. Even though the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum is always spotted with the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee and governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, the Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum and governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu and the governor of Jigawa state, Mohammed Badaru, he has not formally declared whether he has the ambition to contest the presidential poll next year. Incidentally Fayemi has few months to complete his second term in office.
As the lobby continues, the President is keeping his followers and party members in suspense on whoever is likely going to succeed him.
But one thing is certain: May 29, 2023 is the exit date for him and someone, possibly one of those mentioned in this report, will succeed him.