Nigerian politicians and personal aides of the country’s President, Muhammadu Buhari interested in contesting the 2023 general elections have been asked by the leader to work harder at wooing the electorate as he won’t allow his name to be used to perpetrate any electoral fraud.
“All those that are going to succeed in the National Assembly and the Presidency have to work very hard because I will make sure, using the law enforcement agencies, that elections are free and fair,” the bespectacled Nigerian leader told shocked aides who were at his Aso Rock residence on Tuesday to celebrate his 77th birthday.
President Buhari is known for his bluntness on national issues especially those related to corruption, sharp practices, bribery and favouritism common with the Nigerian political class.
Buhari’s popularity, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, is legendary despite the anguish faced by many citizens who cannot afford a dollar or two a day due to dwindling economic fortunes as a result of low oil sales that have been facing the country since his assumption to power in 2015 and re-election in 2019.
In his usual anti-corruption rhetoric and promise of credibility in his dealings while in government, the Nigerian leader promised free and fair elections that would guarantee lasting stability since the country returned to democratic rule 20 years ago.
“What I want to promise Nigerians is that I will work very hard on free and fair elections,” a smiling and confident Buhari told his personal aides and presidential villa staff.
As it is usual with Nigerian politicians, including those under his administration who use incumbency powers to whittle down the opposition, President Buhari, however, promised level-grounds for a fair electoral contest in 2023.
“Nobody will use his office or resources to force himself on his constituencies,” Buhari assured.
Party leaders may find Buhari’s comments troubling.
But the Nigerian President’s comments will be deeply troubling to many of his allies and top officials of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who in recent elections have shown that old habits die hard as they had in last month’s governorship elections in two states and separate regions used incumbency factors and what is popularly known as “federal might” to upstage the opposition in Bayelsa state and retain an unpopular candidate in Kogi state.
Buhari’s top political allies such as the southern bulwark and major party leader, Bola Tinubu who is hoping to benefit from a likely power shift to the South of the country will find it hard to believe that the president will not make available federal resources to ensure that he, Tinubu benefits or at least the APC benefits and retains power at the centre after initially playing opposition politics for sixteen years.
Previously, outgoing Nigerian presidents often had overwhelming influences on the party processes for electing a flagbearer that will succeed them after the general election.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 used his incumbency might to ensure that his protégé, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became the flagbearer of then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and eventual successor as president.
It didn’t take long, though, before they started antagonising each other upon Yar’Adua’s assumption of office. The latter died in office after a prolonged health condition that Obasanjo was accused of knowing before foisting Yar’Adua on Nigerians.
This was the first and only time that a civilian president had succeeded another civilian president since the country began practising democracy.
President Buhari had at the APC’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting a few weeks ago asked members to begin preparation for the next party primaries in the next 18 months ahead of the 2023 general election.
“I want you to accept that you are now in charge, I am the President but APC is in charge. Please, I’d like to carry you along to make sure that APC becomes a permanent body, he told a gathering of the top leaders of the party.
He went ahead to allay initial fears rife within political circles that he was planning to alter the constitution to seek a third term. “You should read the constitution because I’m not going to make a mistake of attempting to run a third term or whatever term. Besides the age, I swore by the holy book I believe in that I will go by the constitution and the constitution said two terms.
“I can afford to be reckless because I am not going to ask for anybody’s vote,” Buhari added in his classical smile while addressing the APC’s hierarchy.
The Nigerian leader went ahead and charged party members to dominate their constituencies, taunting the 16 senators who defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prior to the 2019 general election for failing to secure a re-election, except for one, Senator Dino Melaye who, in a recent rerun, eventually lost to the candidate of the ruling APC.