Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration to vie for re-election in 2019 on the ticket of All Progressives Congress (APC) and a seeming general consensus by other leading political parties to zone their presidential tickets to the North, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu, examines the most likely top five rivals the president may have in the North

WITH President Muhammadu Buhari’s formal declaration to vie for re-election on the ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the picture of whwt the 2019 Presidential Election would look like is becoming clearer.

Before his declaration, many names were bandied as possible presidential hopefuls even in the APC, as some of them were quoted as saying they would join the race if Buhari is not seeking a re-election. Now that the president is set to fly APC’s ticket, such former hopefuls in APC are no longer in the picture except the situation changes eventually.

Our investigation reveals that as at today, the five likely top rivals of President Buhari include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State; Gombe State Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo; Senator Ahmed Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State and former National Chairman of PDP; and Alhaji Sule Lamido, a former governor of Jigawa.

Atiku Abubakar

A former Vice President for eight years, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is considered as one of the few Nigerians whose ambition to preside over the affairs of Nigeria is no longer a secret.

Unlike other politicians, Atiku never hides his presidential ambition. His interest dates back to 2007, when he contested the presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress (AC) when it became obvious that he could not get the PDP ticket, no thanks to his icy relationship with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. He lost the election but since then, he has never given up as he had participated in the race without exception since then.

Even before his defection in December from APC back to PDP, where he is now jostling for the ticket, observers said “his action, body language and utterances” confirmed his likely contest in 2019 elections. This was even as he suddenly became a voice for restructuring, a move described as a strategy to woo the Southsouth and Southeast, regions in a bid to hit at Buhari’s political fortunes. Besides his new found love and advocacy for restructuring, Atiku is also banking on his campaign for a “power shift” to the Northeast. Since 1999, he has contended that the Northwest has marginalised the Northeast in top political offices.

When these campaigns are added to his very deep pockets and influence across the country since the PDM days, Atiku, who celebrated his 70th birthday recently, is one of the major rivals Buhari will have to contend with in 2019. He is considered desperate since he would be 72 in 2019, and according to his critics, 2019 will therefore be his last chance to contest for Nigeria’s highest office.

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When in March this year, he formally declared his intention to run for president at the 2019 general elections in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, he was quoted as saying since APC came to power about three years ago, it had destroyed all the major sectors, especially education, health and infrastructural sectors through inadequate budgetary allocations and releases.

As he puts it: “Since 2015, we have not seen a 100 kilometres road constructed by the APC federal government anywhere in the country. I have never seen Nigeria so divided along religious, ethnic and regional lines, as a result of the mismanagement of the APC.”

He added that he chose to make his presidential intention to run for president public in Rivers State because he believes Governor Nyesom Wike was the live wire of the party.

Responding, Wike had noted that Atiku was “one aspirant feared by the APC.”

His obvious strengths notwithstanding, Atiku will have to contend with some major forces to win the plum office.

Such forces include handling of his frosty relationship with his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and the yet-to-be proved corruption tag foisted on him during his trouble with his Obasanjo.

Another force he would need to win is to get the ticket of an accepted political party. In PDP today, it still needs to be seen how acceptable an Atiku ticket would be to all stakeholders.

Aside these, Atiku’s major challenge would be how he would handle the Buhari’s popularity in the North.  Even outside the North, advocates of power rotation arrangement between the North and the South are saying that Atiku may not accept a one term presidency. So, for an Atiku to be voted for in 2019 in the Southeast which is eager to produce a president, he may have to convince them that he would be satisfied with one term. “This is what Buhari supporters in the Southeast are preaching,” said Ndubuisi Okoro.

Ibrahim Dankwambo

Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo is another major rival President Buhari may have to contend with in 2019. A former Accountant General of the Federation, he was elected governor of Gombe State in 2011 and was re-elected on the platform of the PDP in 2015. As he serves out his two terms, the governor, as one of the two PDP governors in the North, is being wooed by many, especially PDP governors to contest the presidency.

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The Nation gathered that Dankwambo’s interest is largely predicated on the zoning of the PDP’s Presidential ticket to the North and the campaign that Nigeria needs a professional and youth. His promoters for PDP ticket are banking on the support of Nigerian governors who have always endorsed one of their own for the presidential slot to actualize his ambition.

His critics however said he may not have the financial wherewithal and the political clout to slug it out with Buhari. Such fear aside, observers said youths, who are rooting for fresh blood may prefer him at a time like this.

Rabiu Kwankwaso

Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, a former governor of Kano State and now the senator representing Kano Central is one of the few presidential aspirants, whose ambition became public knowledge long ago.

It would be recalled that he aspired to the Presidency under the APC in 2015 alongside President Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar and chairman of Leadership Newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda Isaiah. His political strength even then can be adduced from the fact that he came second in the party’s primary election held in Lagos while Atiku and Isaiah emerged third and forth in the race respectively.

As the leader of Kwankwasiya Movement, the former Kano State governor is very influential and the largely populated Kano State. But his influence outside the state and the North remains to be seen. It is also not clear if he has the financial resources to contend with a ruling party except his political party is strong enough.

It is however rumoured that the much publicized Third Force may be interested in sponsoring him against Buhari.  If this materializes, he would be a force to reckon with in 2019.

Ahmed Makarfi

Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who served as the governor of Kaduna State for eight years, from 1999 to 2007, is one of the likely top contenders for PDP’s presidential ticket. His scope of political influence expanded greatly when he served as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Since then, there have been reports of a grand plot to allow him fly the presidential ticket of the party in 2019.

His supporters said that within the eight years that he was governor of Kaduna State “he was credited with the ability to mitigate religious and ethnic violence in the state and has, through that feat, projected himself as an objective and fair-minded leader.”

They insist it was his “performance in the state’s infrastructural development with his focus on rural roads, rural water and rural electrification that shot him into national limelight.

An aide, who confirmed to The Nation that his preparation for the topmost office has been a long project said he made important friends across the country when he as a senator between 2007 and 2015.

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When he lost his bid to return to the Red Chamber for the third term in 2015, his opponents thought the end of his political career had come to an end. But instead, his profile rose tremendously then because it was at that point that PDP governors and party members appointed him Chairman of the party at the Port Harcourt convention.

For long, he battled for the position with former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, before the Supreme Court ruled in his favour.

He handed over the chairmanship to Uche Secondus even as his candidature for the party’s presidential ticket, which was zoned to the North, has remained a major issue among stakeholders.

His experience and wide network notwithstanding, it is argued by his opponents that he may not have the clout to defeat Buhari in the North. But if he has the firm support of governors, as is being speculated in some quarters, he will be a strong candidate, especially because PDP is a leading party.

Sule Lamido

Another major rival to Buhari in the North today is Alhaji Sule Lamido, a former two-term governor of Jigawa State. He probably commenced campaign for the PDP ticket ahead of 2019 earlier than any other aspirant. This was when he reportedly told newsmen in his village, Bamaina in Birnin Kudu Local Government Area of the State that, “If my party finds me worthy of the party’s presidential ticket to serve Nigeria, I will thank God and oblige.”

He did it in style, barely two weeks after he was released on bail from prison over allegations of incitement preferred against him by the Jigawa State Government. It was at a dinner for the 36 state chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held in Abuja that Lamido unveiled his 2019 presidential bid.

One of the things that will go for Lamidi is experience. He was a prominent PRP member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic and also served as a leading member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Third Republic. He was also Obasanjo’s Foreign Affairs Minister between 1999 and 2003.

Analysts said he, as governor of Jigawa, “earned admiration for executing many worthwhile infrastructural projects including roads, airport and a state university.”

But it is not clear if he also has the clout and the financial muscle to match Buhari. PDP is however a very formidable political party.

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