As the 2019 governorship race draws closer, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu and Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan, report on President Muhammadu Buhari’s men with governorship ambitions
FOR President Muhammadu Buhari’s henchmen, battle for control of political power in 2019 will not be limited to Abuja and Aso Villa. It would be extended to the states where they have lined up to take over some strategic Government Houses. From Ekiti to Akwa Ibom and from Abia to … Buhari’s men are putting finishing touches to the grand plot to take over power.
The Nation investigation shows that Buhari’s henchmen who have made concrete moves to back up their governorship ambitions include the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali from Zamfara State, Obong Umana Umana from Akwa Ibom State, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu from Delta State, Nyerere Chinenye Anyim from Abia State and Marcus Gundiri from Adamawa State.
Others are Suleiman Hassan, the Minister of State, Power, Works and Housing; Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communication; Aisha Alhassan, Women Affairs Minister; Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of Solid Minerals Development; Babafemi Ojudu, the Special Adviser to the President; Dakuku Peterside from Rivers State and Isima Ekere, the Managing Director of NDDC. While most of these aspirants are no longer hiding their quests to contest the 2019 governorship elections, we gathered that many other close associates of the president are still consulting stakeholders and may soon join the race. A source at the presidency said Mr. President’s associates interested in governing their states are currently encouraged as it is seen as a good way of campaigning for Buhari’s re-election. “We believe these are the right crop of leaders that share the vision of Mr. President. If we encourage them to become governors in their states, the anti-corruption policy of Buhari will become more nationwide,” the Presidency source said.
The current Minister of Solid Minerals Development is a former Governor of Ekiti State who lost his re-election bid to incumbent Governor Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The minister’s loyalists are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to ensure that their principal returns to the Government House after the September gubernatorial election.
To achieve this, they already had a campaign structure, named JKF Movement, in place as far back as 2016. His supporters argue that they want him back as governor because his development vision and ideals are exactly what Ekiti State needs at this crucial point in time. According to them, Fayemi has what is needed to change the current situation under the PDP administration.
But the race to the ticket will definitely be a tough one for the minister. Apart from the very sharp division of opinions over his ambition, within and outside his party across the state, the contest for the APC ticket is a crowded one with prominent party chieftains jostling for the coveted prize. Thus, Fayemi has the likes of former Governor Segun Oni, Babafemi Ojudu, Bimbo Daramola and others to contend with for the APC ticket.
Already posters of Dr. Fayemi, are all over Ado-Ekiti, the state capital and other towns in Ekiti State, ending months of speculation over whether he will once again seek to govern the state or not. Observers also said recent visits and consultations by the minister within and outside the state are indicative of his determination to return back to his former office by winning the forthcoming governorship election.
Responding to questions about his ambition recently, Fayemi said, “In Ekiti, mothers have a way of force-feeding the sick child blocking his two nostrils, pinning his hands and legs down, before putting the food and drugs in the child’s mouth. Of course, the child will wail and cry as mothers apply this tough love, but ultimately, it is for the good of the child because, if you agree with me that Ekiti is a sick child, I leave you to speculate about the application of tough love on a sick child. As for contest or no contest, we will cross that bridge when we get there.”
While some political observers have wasted no time in declaring the minister as the most sellable among those currently seeking to fly APC’s governorship banner in the state, some analysts say his past brushes with civil servants and other interest groups in the state may make victory against the ruling PDP a difficult task for him as candidate of an opposition party.
But those backing his ambition added that the minister will attract much needed external support from fellow ministers in the South-West as well as from Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun and Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of Ondo, if chosen as the APC flag-bearer. Many of his associates are also banking on the interventions of these prominent party men and women to help the former governor before and during the primary election.
Meanwhile, incumbent Governor Ayo Fayose has a word or two for the APC about Fayemi’s aspiration. The governor said his party, the PDP, would find it easier repeating a resounding victory against the m inister if he is picked as the candidate of the APC. Hear him: “I am waiting for him (Fayemi) and praying that APC picks him. I want to see how the teachers and other people of Ekiti would vote him, we are waiting.”
MANSUR DAN ALI
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, a retired Brigadier-General, is also one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s henchmen interested in contesting for the governorship seat of their states in 2019.
Born August 25, 1959, Dan-Ali would be 60 in 2019. Since August 30, 2013, when he retired from the Army, his name has been mentioned severally as a likely contestant for the governorship seat of his state, Zamfara.
Observers said the well-known ambition was given a boost in November 2015, when Buhari appointed him the Minister of Defence, a position considered strategic enough to offer him the needed leverage for future political endeavor.
This is even so as insiders confirmed that Dan-Ali has, since the inception of the current government remained one of the most powerful members of Buhari’s Kitchen Cabinet.
But while Dan-Ali’s choice position made him very influential within the current federal government, his recent utterances, especially his defence of killer Fulani herdsmen has become a source of wide condemnations. It would be recalled that at the height of the killings in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen, Dan-Ali said the killings were provoked by Benue State’s anti-grazing law.
According to him, the massacres took place because “cattle routes were blocked,” adding that “These people are Nigerians and we must learn to live together with each other. Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave. Finish,” he advised.
Coming from the Minister of Defence, the main public official that has the unique responsibility of defending Nigerians from foreign invasion and other attacks, Dan-Ali’s outburst has attracted endless flacks from enraged Nigerians, with some demanding his immediate sack. But while the utterance may have affected his public perception nationally, it is not yet clear how it will affect his governorship ambition in Zamfara State in 2019.
A top source told The Nation that Dan-Ali has the backing of powerful elements to vie for the governorship seat. “This is even so because of the current criticism of his utterances. The feeling now is that it would be easier for him to vie for the governorship seat of APC in Zamfara, than an attempt to re-appoint him for his current position in 2019, considering that some senators may be used to frustrate his appointment. As a result, he has put together a political structure to realise his ambition in the state,” the source said.
He is the Oyo State born Minister of Communications. A long-time ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, Shittu is about the first serving minister to make public his governorship intention. It will also not be his first time to seek the coveted seat having lost out as an aspirant in two previous attempts.
“Today, as Minister of Communication, nobody in Oyo State has the experience I have in utilising ICT to develop the Oyo State economy to the extent that other countries are using the same ICT to develop their countries. They know that with my level of exposure and godliness that I will not steal their money. If you have someone who is ungodly, he will simply steal your state blind,” Shittu said while explaining the rationale behind his gubernatorial aspiration.
The minister, a lawyer who hails from Saki in the Oke Ogun zone of the state, is among other things, hoping to benefit from an unwritten zoning arrangement that may see the governorship leaving the Ibadan zone in 2019. But Shittu’s unending face-off with Governor Abiola Ajimobi and the leadership of the ruling APC in his home state is seen by many as a big obstacle to his aspiration.
The minister’s rivalry with Ajimobi, which precedes the formation of the APC, has heightened in recent times with the governor strongly believed to be opposed to Shittu’s ambition. But the latter says with or without the governor and his supporters, he will emerge as the candidate of the ruling party and go ahead to win the general election in 2019.
“By the grace of God, I will contest for the governorship election in 2019. I don’t want to be handpicked by anybody. I want to contest a primary that if I lose, I will be happy. I can assure you that the primary will be fair. With the national executive of the party that I see and with the symbolic style of President Muhammadu Buhari, it will be transparent. If the President will go through primary, why would others be different,” he queried.
And in a recent petition he wrote to the President and APC leadership, Shittu accused Governor Ajimobi of nepotism, arrogance, creating division within the party in Oyo and disenfranchising members. Shittu also alleged that the governor ordered the demolition of his computer based test centre which was still under construction. He said the governor is miffed over his acceptance of a chieftaincy title from the Olubadan of Ibadan land and his 2019 governorship ambition.
But the APC, in a statement signed by its Director of Media and Strategy, Abdul-Azeez Olatunde, described such vituperations by the minister as deliberate falsehood because “his desperation for the governorship of Oyo State is driving him to work at cross purpose with the overall well-being of APC in Oyo State.” Now, it is left to be seen how Minister Shittu will scale all these hurdles and grab the governorship ticket of the APC in Oyo State.
Mama Taraba, as the incumbent Minister of Women Affairs is fondly called by her admirers within and outside her home state of Taraba, contested for governorship seat as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015. She was hailed as Nigeria’s first female elected governor-to-be following initial results of the election but eventually, she lost to Darius Ishaku of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
She was subsequently appointed minister by President Buhari. She is believed to be interested in unseating Ishaku, who will be seeking a second term in office come 2019. Well loved by members and chieftains of her party in the state, Mama Taraba, until recently, was seen as the APC candidate-in-waiting by many observers within and outside the party.
But following the circulation of a video of the minister pledging her loyalty to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential race, tongues have been waging about her political future. And when Atiku finally dumped the APC for the PDP, many expected her to promptly follow him. But she is yet to either resign her ministerial position or announce her defection from the ruling party.
Although her position as the APC leader in the state is now being challenged, especially by loyalists of the President, close aides say her governorship ambition is still on track and her political structures remain activated across the state. She has also continued in her consultations within and outside the party as she works behind the scenes ahead of the 2019 general election.
When he served as the Secretary to the State Government in the Godswill Akpabio-led Akwa Ibom State Government, Obong Umana Umana was so powerful and influential that his admirers concluded he was the undisputed successor to Akpabio. Even Akpabio could not deny in public then, the wide belief that Umana was a major influence to the success of the state government then.
Informed analysts, who portrayed Umana as a favoured future leader in the state, traced his grooming stage to the government of Obong Victor Attah from 1999 when Umana served as the Finance Commissioner. Since then, Umana’s ambition to govern the oil-rich state has been known by all keen observers. He was seen as the scion of the Attah political family that produced both Attah and Akpabio.
However, before the 2015 Governorship Election, the politics of the state took a different dimension as Umana had to dump Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to join the opposition political party, All Progressives Congress (APC) in a bid to realise his ambition.
He became the governorship candidate of APC in a stiff battle with his former political family members.
Although he lost to Akpabio in the election described by some official observers as ‘grossly rigged,’ Umana made a point as a leading figure in the APC, belonging to what insiders described as one of President Buhari’s key men.
An economist of repute and bureaucrat, who rose to the rank of Permanent Secretary in charge of Akwa Ibom State’s Budget Office before his retirement and active roles in the state government, Umana’s appointment as the Managing Director of Oil & Gas Free Zone Authority, by Buhari after the elections has been described as a mere stop gap for the continuation of the quest to govern Akwa Ibom.
It would be recalled that the persistent face-off between him and the former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator John James Akpan Udo-Edehe, has been a source of concern over the fate of APC in 2019.
At the heat of the face-off, even their supporters expressed concern, warning that the resultant factionalisation of the party in the state may be its undoing in the 2019 elections.
Some observers had traced the root cause of the Umana-Edehe quarrels to the emergence of Umana as the 2015 governorship candidate, notwithstanding the fact that until Umana’s defection to APC shortly before the 2015 elections, Edehe, who was the Action Congress governorship candidate, was considered APC’s leader in the state.
A woman leader in the state chapter of APC, who pleaded anonymity explained that the current misunderstanding can be traced to the fact that while he served as the party’s flag bearer in the state for the 2015 governorship election, Umana also took over the leadership of the party in the state, a strategy calculated to secure the ticket for him in 2019. According to the woman leader, this is not taken kindly by supporters of Edehe, who allege that Umana is being imposed by some powerful forces in the presidency.
Although he has been a political associate of the President for many years before 2015, and has worked tirelessly as one of the arrowheads of both Buhari and the APC before, during and after the last general election, he was only appointed a Minister in July 2017, after the slot of Gombe State in the federal cabinet became vacant following the exit of Amina Mohammed, who resigned upon her appointment as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.
Hassan, who was the pioneer chairman of Buhari’s defunct party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), was made the Minister of State in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. Talks about his governorship aspiration were rife even before his appointment into the federal cabinet. His close associates say he has always been interested in the governorship and only sacrificed his ambition in 2015 in the interest of the then new party, the APC.
His ambition is also being fuelled by the desire of the CPC bloc within the APC in Gombe State, to produce the next governorship candidate of the party in 2019. According to reliable party sources, there are two strong blocs within the party, namely the CPC bloc, led by Hassan and the Goje bloc under the leadership of former Governor Danjuma Goje.
“Goje’s people produced the last candidate in 2015 and the APC lost the election to PDP. Now it is the turn of the CPC bloc to produce the candidate in the interest of peace. The minister is the undisputed leader of that group and he is the one they are pushing forward for the job. Already, his men are all over the place talking to party leaders and members to give him the ticket,” a party official told The Nation.
Although the rivalry between the two groups within the party is no doubt one hurdle the minister faces in his quest to govern the state, party sources say given the strength of the CPC bloc in the party and Hassan’s grip hold on many party structures, it may not be too difficult for him to beat other aspirants to the governorship ticket of the APC in Gombe State.
Nyerere Anyim from Abia State began as a student union activist and later joined party politics. A founding member of PDP, he was Abia South PDP Senatorial Candidate in 2007 before joining forces with other progressive elements in today’s APC.
As the APC governorship candidate for the February 28, 2015 elections in Abia State and the National Vice-Chairman, South East APC, he was the leader of the party in the state then.
But since then, so much has happened to Abia State APC and many heavyweights like former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and Uche Ogah have joined the party.
Notwithstanding the re-activation of his Divine Agenda political initiative, some insiders said unlike what happened in 2015, it may not be so easy for Anyim to pick the ticket for 2019 elections given the increased powerful stakeholders in the state to appease. But Anyim’s supporters said he is favoured by the zoning formula in Abia since he is from Abia South. It remains to be seen how far that claim will lead him.
Ekere is the incumbent Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). While he is still being appealed to by various groups within and outside the APC to officially launch his aspiration for the job of governing the state, it was gathered that several of his political associates and their foot-soldiers are traversing the length and breadth of the state to canvass support for Ekere’s governorship project.
So much has the message of his ambition spread that many pundits are already predicting that the 2019 governorship race in Akwa Ibom State would be a straight fight between him and the incumbent governor, Udom Emmanuel, who is seeking to be re-elected for a second term in office. And within the opposition APC in the state, his supporters keep growing by the day, even as he said his concern for now is to focus on delivering on the core mandate of his current assignment.
Those pushing for his candidacy say by his superlative performance as the helmsman of the NDDC, he “has won the hearts of Akwa Ibom people and he stands a clear chance of flooring the incumbent governor should he hearken to the clarion call by well-meaning people of the state on him to consider running for the governorship of the state come 2019.
But to get the plum job, Ekere must first snatch the ticket of his party, the APC from the claws of former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and APC’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Obong Umana O. Umana, who is also interested in running again on the platform of the party. Already, the party is divided into two camps of those who desire to have Umana run again and those who don’t.
While Ekere and Umana carry on as if there is no rivalry between them, their supporters are already exhibiting signs of how fierce the struggle for the ticket will turn as the election draws nearer. Sources also added that the obvious preference of party leaders for one of the two gladiators is already heating up the atmosphere within the opposition party.
In Adamawa State APC, Marcus Gundiri’s name rings a bell. This is even so after the exit of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from the party, when Engr. Gundiri, was quoted as saying that the party “is waxing stronger in his home state after the exit of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.” He added that “no Nigerian could run against President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.”
For a state with powerful stakeholders like former Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF) BD. Lawal, Nuhu Ribadu, Senator Abdulaziz Nyako, Gen. Buba Marwa, the current SGF Boss Mustapha and the Principal Private Secretary to President Buhari, Alh. Sarki Abba, Gundiri’s governorship ambition may however be threatened by the diverse interests which became further highlighted by the current crisis in the state chapter of the party.
“Gundiri is popular, but we all know that he belonged to one of the two major factions involved in the alleged crisis. So, unless the crisis is resolved quickly, the stakeholders in the other faction will fight against him,” the source, an APC chieftain in the state, confided.
Although the All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State during the 2015 General Elections, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, keep saying the decision to run or not in the 2019 election would be made by his party. Sources within the same party say he remains one of the aspirants to beat in the race for the governorship ticket of the party ahead of the next governorship election.
Peterside, who is the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), according to checks by The Nation, still enjoys the confidence and support of major leaders and stakeholders within the APC in Rivers State in spite of losing the last governorship election to incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP.
Already, the state chapter of the APC is feeling the heat being generated by gubernatorial ambitions of both Peterside and the Senator representing Rivers South East Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe. Party sources say there is urgent need to manage the rivalry between supporters of the two aspirants in the interest of the APC.
But Dakuku, who says the race is not a do-or-die one for him, explained happenings in the party thus; “What is going on in the APC in Rivers State is very usual in large families where you have vibrant young people. Where you have people who trade on ideas, there will be conflict of ideas from time to time. But that has nothing to do with the objective and the mission to uproot the mis-governance going on in Rivers State and install a government that represents the wishes and aspirations of Rivers people. We are all together on that.”
Believed to also enjoy the backing of Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who is the party leader in the state, Peterside also benefits from unending agitation for power shift in the state. Being from the riverine part of the oil producing state, the zoning arrangement within the party, as Amaechi and other leaders insist, will favour him once more.
Agitation for Ojudu to contest the next governorship election in Ekiti State assumed a new dimension recently when dozens of youth groups gathered in Ado Ekiti, the state capital, to call on the Presidential Adviser to run as governor. According to the youths, they want a leader of Ojudu’s mold for the mission to salvage Ekiti from its present abyss. Responding, Ojudu promised to yield their call to service.
“I have never shied away from service whenever I see things going wrong. This is my state. My parents are from Ekiti State. Ekiti people have a tradition of decency, humility and intelligence. We are gradually losing all that to bad leadership and sincerely, something has to be done to rescue our state from this path to perdition. I will offer myself to serve you. We have no business with poverty. We have arable land that can grow any crop. We will work on our youths and improve their standard of living. We will fix all the loosing ends and present a better state we all can be proud of at the end of service,” Ojudu assured.
But like Fayemi, Ojudu who was once a senator representing the state at the National Assembly, will have a number of party big-wigs to wrestle with politically if he desires to clinch the ticket of the APC in Ekiti State. How easy this will be for him is now a topic of discussion within and outside the opposition APC which is seeking to unseat the Fayose-led PDP administration.
Pundits say Ojudu may have to look beyond the support he enjoys among the young elements within the party and seek the support of party big-wigs across the state ahead of the primary election. “It is when he gets the support of all stakeholders that he can be assured of a good showing at the primary election. He is contesting against a number of heavyweights and he needs all the helps he can get,” a party official said.
Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, is, according to sources, one of the most respected Buhari men being encouraged from Aso Villa to contest the governorship in their states.
As former Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and now Minister of State for the strategic ministry, Kachukwu is considered experienced enough and powerful enough to make impact.
His international exposure as President of OPEC is considered an added advantage.
These apart, sources said the minister has not done much to confirm interest in the governorship race in 2019. “He does not have visible and tangible political structure at the local government level to back up the so-called powerful support,” the source said.
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