As the journey to the 2018 general elections progresses and more presidential aspirants make their intentions known, President Muhammadu Buhari sits in a unique position as an incumbent with a questionable performance but also without a widely accepted personality standing in viable opposition yet. While notable aspirants like Professor Kingsley Moghalu, Mr Omoyele Sowore and Mr Fela Durotoye, among others, appear to be building a following on the fringes, the election for now appears to be Buhari’s to lose.
A few facts and circumstances appear to be helping Buhari’s recovery from the unfavourable of an incumbent entirely out of luck and those who are drawing conclusions about his chances at the 2019 elections need to pay more attention.
This past week, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that monthly inflation rate declined to 11.61 percent in May from 12.48 percent recorded in April. It was the 16th consecutive decline in the rates which had ballooned to 18.7 percent in January 2017 before beginning a steady decline in February 2017. To be clear, these figures do not indicate that prices are no longer rising but rather reflect the fact that prices are no longer as fast as they used to.
Sustained crude oil production at about 2 million barrels per day and crude oil prices staying above $60 which is comfortably higher than the $44.5 crude oil benchmark in the 2017 budget, Nigeria has been able to ramp up its foreign reserves to $47 billion as of June 2018 compared to $30 billion a year before. Buhari’s team ascribes the rise in the external reserves to prudent management of the economy and while this may not exactly be correct, the administration deserves some credit for maintaining the peace in the Niger Delta which has facilitated steady production.
Oil prices are however relatively unpredictable and should they significantly decline, there is bound to be a corresponding impact on the foreign reserves and a consequential effect on the Central Bank’s management of the exchange rates which has been relatively steady of recent. Until these interconnected events occur in distressing fashion however, Buhari and his team can conveniently continue to make some boasts.
The recent victories of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the prosecution of Mr Joseph Nwobike SAN, former Taraba state governor, Jolly Nyame and former Plateau state governor, Joshua Dariye, among others will expectedly also be milked to advance arguments in support of the success of this government’s anti-corruption campaign.
There are a number of other steps that Buhari has taken in recent times which may be helping him regain some lost goodwill in various regions. The commissioning of some infrastructure projects aside, politically correct decisions like honouring the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola and late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN also feed into that stream of recovery.
As rightly argued by those who have questioned the posthumous honours, there are some marginal gains to be possibly derived in that it may strengthen the resolve of some of Buhari’s followers in the South-West and perhaps give them the impetus to preach his desirability to their kinsmen. Whether or not the move can of itself convince members of the Yoruba race who were indifferent about or opposed to the president’s second bid however remains to be seen. After all, members of the race are regularly touted to be so politically sophisticated as to be able to make political decisions with minimal considerations for sentiments. Buhari is nonetheless dangling more carrots in the west and there is plausible reason to argue there is a deliberate political strategy to attract significant number of votes from the region to counter the effect of potentially low returns from the South-East for instance.
Buhari has declared his support for the governorship bid of one of his presumably most notable ministers, Dr Kayode Fayemi who up until recently headed the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. Fayemi has returned to Ekiti to firm up preparations for his second bid for a second term as the state’s governor on 14th July, 2018. In 2014, Fayemi was contesting against Governor Ayodele Fayose who had the backing of the past administration led by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Jonathan administration had hoped to use a victory for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ekiti and Osun governorship polls of that year as a leverage to secure a firm foothold in the South-West ahead of the 2015 presidential election. The PDP won in Ekiti and deployed same tactics in Osun but lost. A similar situation now presents itself before Buhari and he will expectedly be drawing lessons from the past to work for the success of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on 14th July in Ekiti and 22nd September in Osun.
I have heard Buhari’s apology to the Abiola family and the honour conferred on Abiola as well as the June 12 Democracy Day/Public Holiday announcement touted as a Greek gift or Trojan Horse and there is some merit to it but that claim will assume more verity based on the strategy the Buhari/APC team adopt towards winning the polls in Ekiti and Osun. If with the support of ‘federal might’ as it is usually described, Fayemi defeats PDP’s Kolapo Olusola-Eleka who is being backed by Fayose, and the APC goes on to retain Osun state, the party would then be in control of all six states in the south-west before 2019 and with proper mobilisation of their supporters, Buhari would have become more formidable than he was a few months back. It is clearly no time to write Buhari off.