Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and became a republic in 1963, which meant that we removed the Queen of England as our ceremonial head (monarch) and decided for ourselves to choose an indigenous ceremonial leader over the country, thereafter referred to as the Head of State. Although the military coup of January 1966 truncated the first post-independence attempt at democratic self-rule, the country recovered from the civil war between 1967 and 1970 to have a second republic from October 1979 to December 1983; a third republic between 1990 and 1993 and is now in the fourth republic which started in 1999.

As the years gradually go by, we continue to enjoy uninterrupted political engagement under democratically elected governments since 1999, that is 22 years and counting, which is perhaps something to smile about. After all, the longest stretch of military rule in Nigeria from 1984 to 1999 was just 15 years, which has been surpassed by five smooth transitions under civilian administrations, even though some people have argued that, the eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 to 2007) and the six years so far of President Muhammad Buhari (2015 to date) should be seen as disguised extention of rulershipby the “Men-in-khaki” because both of them were retired army Generals and as the saying goes, “once a soldier, always a soldier”.

In the case of Obasanjo, he emerged in 1998 as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at a time when there was a determination to keep the military out of politics permanently. It is also a generally held view that someone from the South-West geo-political region had to be elected in order to pacify the zone for the disappointments of June 12 1993 and that was backed-up by the fact that the main contender, Chief Olu Falae who also hails from the same zone was the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Buhari on the other hand had three unsuccessful attempts at the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011 on two different political platforms ANPP and CPC and had thrown-in the towel after the third failure in 2011. But he was called upon by elder statesmen and stakeholders of the Nigerian project and brought out of political retirement to re-enter the arena and quickly became the presidential candidate of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC). He went on to win the 2015 and 2019 Presidential Elections and his second term will run until May 2023.

Today, retired General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military president in an interview (on Arise TV) isprescribing criteria for Nigeria’s next President in 2023. In his own words: 

I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. He should be a person who travels this country and has friends in every state of the country; a person who is very vast in the economy, a person who is a good politician who is ready to talk to Nigerians. I have seen about three already. The person should be in his 60s and I believe if we get such a person, Nigeria will get it right.

He clearly placed emphasis on age bracket, which some will certainly argued amounts to needless politics of exclusion. Many observers believe that the problem with Nigerian leaders has not been their biological age but the age and maturity of their ideas. In contrast, the United States of America like Nigeria practices the Presidential system of government, produced Bill Clinton as President at 47 years of age and Barack Obama at the age of 48. But after Obama, Americans elected Donald Trump, a 71-year old man and the current President Joe Biden came into office earlier this year aged 78.

We have seen many shortlists of potential presidential candidates in 2023, drawn from various categories including present and former governors and ministers; present and former Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria; prominent Nigerians occupying international appointments; icons in business, commerce and industry, but to mention a few. However, this tailored prescription by the revered elderly statesman IBB, has provoked many reactions amongst political analysts and partially informed the writing of this article. A journey back into Nigerian political history recounts a number of persons who tried to become President, but were either found to be unsuitable for a variety of reasons or were glossed over by the masses. In this regard, some names that immediately spring to mind include – Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Late Chief Moshood Abiola, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Let us take a brief look at each of these men in turn.

Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo GCFR (6 March 1909 – 9 May 1987) who hailed from Ikenne, Western Region, British Nigeria (now Ikenne, Ogun State, Nigeria) was a Nigerian nationalist and statesman who played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement, the Civil War and the First and Second Republics. The son of a Yoruba farmer, he was one of the truly self-made men among his contemporaries in Nigeria.

Awolowo served as Premier of Western Nigeria 1 October 1954 – 1 October 1960; Federal Commissioner for Finance 1967–1971. A journalist, lawyer and politician he was the leader of prominent political parties Action Group (1950–1966) and during the second republic leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (1978–1983) where he contested the Presidential elections of 1979 and 1983. The present Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (grandson-in-law) is related to the late sage. Many years after his death, people say that, “Awolowo was the President that Nigeria deserved, but never had”. His political ambitions came at the wrong time.

Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, also known as M. K. O. Abiola GCFR (24 August 1937 – 7 July 1998) was a Nigerian businessman, publisher, and politician. He was the Aare Ona Kankafo XIV of Yoruba-land and an aristocrat of the Egba clan in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Popularly known as a Business tycoon, Politician,and Philanthropist and nicknamed M.K.O he faced a brick wall in 1983 as a chieftain of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) when he sought to challenge the incumbent President Alhaji Shehu Shagari and was told by his party that there was no vacancy in the Dodan Barracks the then seat of the Presidency. Later in his political sojourn he was the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party for the 12 June 1993 elections. Abiola’s support in the June 1993 presidential election cut across several geo-political zones and religious divisions. He was amongst very few politicians to accomplish such a spread during his time. Abiola’s political message was an optimistic future for Nigeria with slogans such as “Farewell to poverty”, “At last! Our rays of Hope” and the “Burden of Schooling”. Heran for the presidency in 1993, for which the election results were annulled by the then military president Ibrahim Babangida because of allegations that they were corrupt and unfair.

In 1993, when he was believed to have won the Presidential election, MKO was 55. He was also a man who had a great knowledge of the economy having established himself as a global entrepreneur. He was in addition, a Chartered Accountant. He also had friends from all parts of Nigeria and the entire world. No Nigerian before now fits IBB’s criteria better than MKO. Perhaps as the General turns 80, his conscience is beginning to prick him; hence he recommends a future President by 2023 in M.K.O’s image. But IBB is certainly right about the knowledge of economic issues and the need to have a bridge-builder and a nationalist in office by 2023. It is asad that Bashorun MKO Abiola met all the criteria outlined by IBB.

By the time of his death, Abiola had become an unexpected unifying symbol of Democracy. Sadly he died suddenly on 7 July 1998 (aged 60), but Abiola was awarded the honorary title of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR) posthumously on 6 June 2018 (twenty years later) by President Muhammadu Buhari. Consecutively, Nigeria’s Democracy Day was changed from 29 May to June 12 in memory of M.K.O. His political ambitions probably came at the wrong time, not once but twice.

Undoubtedly, we need a mixture of every demographic category to move Nigeria forward from the old order to a new place and perhaps Awolowo and MKO represent the old order which Nigeria did not have the opportunity to enjoy. Another two elder statesmen Alhaji Abubakar Atiku and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu are hovering over thelandscape of political decision makers, jostling andcongregating for a slice of the action in 2023, although they both fall outside the age bracket prescribed by General Babangida. Was that a deliberate move on his part to render both of them redundant?

Alhaji Abubakar Atiku GCON (born 25 November, 1946) is a Nigerian politician and businessman who ran as Governor of Adamawa State in 1990, 1997 and later in 1998, being successfully elected before his elevation to become Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate during the 1999 presidential election and 4 years later re-elected in 2003. He therefore served as the 11th Vice President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007 and was seen by many as a natural heir to the presidency after Chief OlusegunObasanjo, but it wasn’t to be.

At various times he has enjoyed different politicalaffiliations such as Peoples Front of Nigeria (1989); Social Democratic Party (1989–1993); United Nigeria Congress Party (1997–1998); People’s Democratic Party (1998–2006); Action Congress (2006–2007); People’s Democratic Party (2007–2014); All Progressives Congress(2014–2017); People’s Democratic Party (2017–present). Although he is presently a member of the PDP, it is on record that he has left to the party on three occasions and returned.

Since his entry into politics in 1993, Atiku Abubakar has unsuccessfully contested five times for the Office of President of Nigeria in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. In 1993, he contested the Social Democratic Party presidential primaries losing to Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe.

After eight years serving as Vice-President he left the PDP and joined the Action Congress in the 2007 to pursue his ambition where he was their presidential candidate at the presidential election, but ended up coming in third to Umaru Yar’Adua of the PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the ANPP.

Having returned to the PDP he contested the presidential primaries of the People’s Democratic Party during the 2011 presidential election losing out to former President Goodluck Jonathan.

In 2014, he joined the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2015 presidential election and contested the presidential primaries losing to Muhammadu Buhari.

In 2017, he returned to the Peoples Democratic Party and in 2018, Abubakar began his presidential campaign and secured the party nomination of the PDP in the presidential primaries held in Port Harcourt on 7 October 2018. He defeated all the other aspirants and got 1,532 votes, as many as 839 more than the runner-up, the Governor of Sokoto State Aminu Tambuwal. But, during the 2019 presidential election, he lost again to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC by over 3 million votes. An election petition challenging the result, which described the election as the “worst in Nigeria’s democratic history” was appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court who eventually affirmed Buhari’s victory.

It remains to be seen whether or not his party the PDP will zone the presidential ticket of their party to the North-East geo-political region, particular as the current president is from the neighbouring North-West zone. If the recent declaration by the PDP Governors, wherein they have said that the party should zone the presidential ticket to one of the three zones in the south, is anything to go by, then Atiku’s ambition of occupying the number one seat may suffer a sixth defeat. It could well be an ambition coming yet again at the wrong time.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu (born 29 March 1952) is a Nigerian politician and a national leader of the All Progressives Congress. He was 12th Governor of Lagos State from 29 May 1999 – 29 May 2007 and was succeeded by Babatunde Fashola who is currently the Minister of Works and Housing. Tinubu’s politicalaffiliations in the last three decades include Social Democratic Party (1992–1993); Alliance for Democracy(1998–2006); Action Congress of Nigeria (2006 to 2013)and All Peoples Congress (2013 to present).

In 2007, following the landslide victory of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the April 2007 elections, Tinubu was active in negotiations to bring together the fragmented opposition parties into a “mega-party” capable of challenging the PDP. It yield positive dividends in February 2013, when Tinubu’s negotiations in creating a “mega opposition” party paid off with the merger of Nigeria’s three biggest opposition parties at the time – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The negotiations further swayed a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the new PDP (nPDP), a faction of serving governors of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party – into the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC).

In 2014, Tinubu supported former military head of state General Muhammadu Buhari, leader of the CPC faction of the APC – who commanded widespread following in Northern Nigeria, and had previously contested in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 presidential elections as apresidential candidate.

Although Tinubu initially wanted to become Buhari’s vice presidential candidate, he later conceded for Prof Yemi Osinbajo, his ally and former commissioner of justice to take up the ticket. In 2015, Buhari rode on the APC platform to victory, ending the sixteen-year rule of the PDP, and marking the first time in the history of Nigeria that an incumbent president lost to an opposition candidate.

Tinubu has gone on to play an important role in the Buhari administration, supporting government policies and holding onto the internal party reins, in lieu of his long-held, albeit rumoured presidential aspiration. In 2019, he supported Buhari’s re-election campaign defeating the PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar in the Presidential elections.

In 2020, following a turbulent internal party crisis which led to the removal of Tinubu-ally and party National Chairman Adams Oshiomole, it is believed the move was to scuttle Tinubu’s presidential prospects ahead of 2023. Reports coming out of the Tinubu camp suggest that the relocation of his political machinery to Abuja in the last two years is directly connected to a 2023-ambition to vie for the office of the President. There is no doubt that Tinubu is a serious contender, but I don’t think he will receive blessings from IBB, the Maradona of Nigerian politics, relying simply on his prescribed format of the ideal candidate in 2023, perhaps for deliberate reasons of exclusion.

There is no doubt that Asiwaju Tinubu has exhibitedexceptional political sagacity and prowess in the last two decades especially during the sixteen years of PDP domination at the national level when he remained steadfast in opposition. Furthermore, it is incontestablethat during those years he has accumulated a diverse collection of friends and allies that span a wide spectrum, I doubt whether his ambition to the exalted office of President isn’t just another one coming at the wrong time.

In conclusion, with Awolowo and M.K.O long gone and since the visible front-runners of the two dominant political parties have been punctured by IBB on grounds of age, are we therefore to anticipate the imminent emergence of a powerful political third force which will focus on selecting a formidable presidential candidate who conforms to the recommended profile of the prescribed M.K.O Abiola image or will it be the case of yet another promising candidate whose laudable ambition has surfaced at the wrong time?

‘Gbenga Akinmoyo (GaRo)

writes from Idanre

10th August 2021.

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