Cracks Grow in Nigerian Ruling Party Over Buhari's Plans

Updated on
  • Cabinet minister vows to resign if president seeks re-election
  • Buhari’s medical care raises doubts over second-term bid

With doubts growing that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will seek a second term because of lingering health issues, cracks are emerging in the ruling All Progressives Congress as key politicians jostle to succeed him.

Women Affairs Minister Aisha Alhassan appeared in an online video last week declaring support for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to become leader in 2019, when Buhari’s term ends. Alhassan confirmed the recording to the British Broadcasting Corp., saying she would quit the government if Buhari, 74, decided to seek re-election and back Abubakar, whom she referred to as her “godfather.”

Muhammadu Buhari

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

“It’s an open rebellion; it’s an indication that many do not believe he will run in 2019,” said Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at Lagos-based advisory company SBM Intelligence. “It’s also an indication that even if he does run they don’t think he has the political machinery to pull off a return.”

Buhari won the presidency of Africa’s biggest oil producer two years ago by building a coalition that included disaffected members of the former ruling People’s Democratic Party and three other opposition groups. A plunge in revenue caused by lower output and prices for oil, the country’s main export, saw the economy suffer its worst slump in 25 years and undermined Buhari’s ability to meet his campaign promises, such as rebuilding infrastructure and revitalizing the power industry and strengthening the naira.

Oil Crash

Nigeria began to tighten currency controls soon after prices crashed in 2014. Analysts blamed the move, which Buhari backed when he came to power, for creating a severe shortage of foreign exchange that hammered importers and deterred investors. The central bank has eased some restrictions this year, but still maintains a tight grip on the naira’s value.

Buhari made two visits to London this year to receive treatment for an undisclosed ailment, spending 103 days during the last trip, raising questions about his ability to complete his four-year tenure.

In his remaining two years in office, Buhari is focusing on economic recovery, ending the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the northeast and curbing widespread corruption before deciding on seeking another term, according to APC Chairman John Oyegun.

“At the proper time, he will decide, and at the proper time, the APC will decide and the public will know,” Oyegun told reporters Sept. 7 in the southern city of Benin.

Coalition Fissures

Yet some analysts say the ruling party now appears to be breaking into the same components that came together to build it.

Abubakar, the 70-year-old former vice president, and Senate President Bukola Saraki, led a faction of the former ruling party into the coalition. Also part was Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos, the commercial capital, who brought the vital block vote of the Yoruba people, one of the country’s biggest ethnic groups, to the APC.

“The APC has not been able to transform from a coalition of interest groups that formed a merger to a party,” said Idayat Hassan, executive director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. “This doesn’t bode well for the party ahead of the 2019 elections.”

The party has failed to hold regular executive council meetings and a national convention this year as required by its constitution because of factional disputes, according to Hassan.

Femi Adesina, a presidency spokesman, declined to comment when contacted for a response. Alhassan didn’t answer two calls to her mobile phone nor respond to a message requesting comment. Abubakar’s spokesman, Paul Obi, declined to comment when contacted by phone.

Negative Outlook

Eurasia Group downgraded Nigeria’s long-term outlook in July to negative “on the expectation that intense political jockeying will impede policy making and encourage new militant attacks on oil infrastructure as the 2019 presidential election approaches,” analyst Amaka Anku said in a note to clients.

So far, no politician in the party has publicly indicated their intention to run, although several, including Abubakar and Saraki, have tried in the past. Other politicians in the party including state governors Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto, Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Kashim Shettima of Borno are said to be gearing up, according to Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre.

“With less than 18 months to the next elections you would expect contenders to begin to emerge,” he said. “It won’t be surprising if they begin to emerge now.”

While Alhassan has declared her position openly, she’s probably not the only member of Buhari’s government seeking political realignment, according to Nwanze.

“There are people making overtures to the Saraki camp and there are people trying to pitch their tent back in the Tinubu camp,” he said. “The APC has fractured into many groups.”

— With assistance by Elisha Bala-Gbogbo

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