The National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, yesterday said it was too early to debate which zone of the country should produce the next president, cautioning that such a debate would negatively impact governance and undermine efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. Essentially, Tinubu, who spoke to State House correspondents after a closed-door meeting with President Buhari at Aso Villa, Abuja, said discussing 2023 presidency now would distract the administration from executing its development agenda.
Fielding a question on his perception about the clamor by some northern politicians to retain presidency in the North at the expiration of Buhari’s term in 2023, Tinubu said: “That time is not now. We have just finished one election and Mr. President is busy sorting out the budget, working for the people of this country. Of course, restlessness of politics is going to be there, but any lover of this country will not talk about the succession plan yet. That’s the truth. Concentrate on working for the country; help the president to help the country. There’s nothing more than that,” he added.
The APC national leader urged politicians to concentrate on working to help President Buhari to govern the country well. “We cannot use 360 days out of the 365 days in a year to work on politics. It is not possible. Anybody talking about that now is just completely restless and not focused on the agenda of nation building and development of our country.” Apparently reacting to insinuations by Femi Falana (SAN) and others of a subliminal plan by Buhari to perpetuate himself in office beyond 2023 via a third term agenda, the former Lagos State governor said any reasonable politician, who had worked with President Buhari would know that he would not tamper with the constitution.
“Distractors are always suspicious and will make accusations, but I was in the trenches, in the struggle for democracy. I was in the opposition with Buhari, till the third term agenda of a former leader of this country failed. I know he (Buhari) will never. He has the courage and the character to refuse such a temptation even if offered to him. I believe in him and I believe Nigerians should also believe in him. He doesn’t need to say it to me, I’ll argue it in the corner and everywhere they bring such a thing up. However, it’s very good to hear it from him,” Tinubu noted.
Tinubu’s declaration came on the heels of a call by the Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, formerly known as the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, that President Buhari should begin a succession plan ahead of 2023. Bakare’s call for a succession plan came about a week after he visited Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, for a 40-minute meeting. The details of the closed-door meeting were not disclosed and he declined to speak with State House correspondents after the session with Buhari. The cleric had, in a state of the nation address on Sunday, urged Buhari not to allow those he described as “looters” to take over the reins of power in 2023, adding that doing so would mean that the anti-corruption war of the current administration would have been in vain.
He said: “As the government of President Muhammadu Buhari ushers us into the second decade of the 21st century, the third pivotal objective of governance should be to build a strong post-Buhari legacy facilitated by accurate succession… Therefore, even as we build institutions of democratic governance, a key responsibility that history has bestowed on President Muhammadu Buhari at this turning point in our journey to nationhood is to institutionalise systems of accurate succession that will build and sustain the Nigeria we desire. This is a task that must be done.”
Bakare, a former running mate to Buhari when he contested the presidential poll in 2011 on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), said there were other leaders across Asia and Africa, who had a succession plan. Last September, Bakare announced to his congregation that he would be Nigeria’s next president in 2023, describing himself as one born to be President. “Take it to the mountain top if you have never heard it before. I am saying it to you this morning, in the scheme of things, as far as politics of Nigeria is concerned, President Buhari is number 15 and yours sincerely is number 16. I never said that to you before; I want to let you know it this morning; nothing can change it, in the name of Jesus. He (Buhari) is number 15; I am number 16,” Bakare told the congregation.
But the presidency said on Monday that the question of who will succeed Buhari would be best answered by Nigerians who would freely make the choice through the ballot box; insisting Buhari would not “impose” his successor on the country, but would rather allow the democratic process to produce the next president. Presidential Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, who spoke on a live television interview on Monday, noted that much as Buhari would love to sustain his legacies after exiting office in 2023, he would not interfere with the democratic process by insisting on a particular individual to succeed him.
“The president will not pick a successor; we know him, he is not somebody like that. Will he be interested in the process? Yes, he will. He will ensure that there is a free, fair and credible election; that nobody will come to use money and resources to bamboozle his way into the leadership of the country. It will not happen. The president will ensure a free, fair and credible process, but to handpick a successor? No, he will not do that.”
Adesina added that Buhari held his achievements dearly to his heart and would have ordinarily not allowed a system that would erase them succeed him, but clarified that the decision on his successor was not Buhari’s to take. “The president will ensure that Nigeria is in safe hands. There is no point having worked, having made gains, having made advancement from 2015 to 2023, to hand Nigeria over to those who will take her back or hand Nigeria over to looters once again, or allow looters to allow stolen funds to work for them to seize power. No, that will not happen.
“The president will be interested that much in who succeeds him, but he is not going to impose anybody. Nigerians are then going to determine who the next president should be,” he stated. Buhari, in his New Year letter to Nigerians on January 1, had also said that he would stand down in 2023.
In a reaction to Tinubu’s comments, the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, and a group, Southeast for President 2023 Movement (SEFORP) cautioned politicians to be mindful of their utterances on electioneering, especially on 2023 politics. They said it was unfortunate that Tinubu could make such calls after he had allegedly ignited the campaigns to succeed Buhari in office in 2023, even before the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Okorie argued that there was nothing wrong in political parties using the election- free period to sell the manifesto to the public and shop for membership. He said he would be worried if the government should be distracted under the guise that politicians and political parties were aligning and realigning for 2023 politics.
“Our political leaders must learn to be sincere in their political utterances, especially when issues like 2023 are at stake. Sincerity demands that somebody like Tinubu should lead by example. The 2023 politics was kick-started by his camp. His campaign posters are everywhere. I do not see anything wrong with politicians positioning themselves for the contest at the moment. There is no way you can strategise if you do not start early. By law, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is supposed to issue the timetable for the election a year ahead, and for this we expect their timetable. Nobody is asking for votes or shopping for candidates. It is unfortunate for a person whose antecedents have been known over 2023 to begin to take this posture. It is misleading because his political agenda has been known before now.”
The National Coordinator of SEFORP, Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, stated that there was nothing wrong with the advocacy the group had embarked on over the 2023 presidency. According to him, the group’s interest is to ensure that every Nigerian, including Tinubu, does what is right by according the Igbo the opportunity to produce a president for Nigeria for the first time after Buhari in the interest of fairness, justice and unity.
Obioha stated that Nigerians would have been eager to obey Tinubu’s calls if he had not started the campaigns early. “Leaders should live what they preach and not try to play to the gallery for cheap gains.” The SEFORP boss reiterated that jostling for the office or 2023 would not have been possible at this period if fairness had prevailed in the way things are done.
Meanwhile, Disciples Of Jagaban (DOJ) has maintained that Northern elders are still in support of Tinubu, to emerge as the next president. Addressing a joint press conference in Kaduna yesterday, DOJ national coordinator, Abdulhakeem Adegoke, and the national youth leader, Haruna Adaraushe, described Tinubu as the bridge between the north and the south and the reason Nigeria still remains as a united country.
Reminded that his call for Tinubu’s presidency bid was coming at a time some northern elders were clamoring for the north to retain power beyond 2023, Alawuje said: “We know those who are elders in the north, and there must be opposition. If Asiwaju (Tinubu) is coming out without opposition, it is not politics. Are the opposition (elements) representing the interest of the north or doing it for their own selfish interest? That is an important question we need to ask. “We need a competent and charismatic leader, which is Asiwaju. He contributed immensely to the success of APC. President Buhari had tried severally to led the country, but to no avail until Asiwaju’s support in 2015.”