President Muhammadu Buhari recently, in an interview with Channels Television, told Nigerians that the name of the candidate who he would prefer to succeed him in 2023 will be kept secret because the person might be “eliminated” if he mentions the name.
The question now is, why is the president scared for his candidate’s safety? The reason is simple. His choice will be a shocker to the ultra-high class politicians who may have plotted the succession plan based on different interests and agreements that date back years. Some of the presidential decisions in the next few months will simply not add up for them and they will fight.
What they would most likely fail to consider is that the President knows that how history remembers him will be highly dependent on the person who takes over from him. The Buhari presidency is one that has kept Nigerians divided for all its years because of the degeneration that has hit the economy, the insecurity that grew bigger under him and, of course, the anticorruption war that he was so passionate about but which somehow has left Nigerians disappointed.
Despite the criticisms, Buhari and his loyalists somehow believe that a day would come when Nigerians will look back to admit that he was a good president and he knows that the sustenance of the infrastructural development across the country is the surest way to achieve this, being his biggest success story as President. He has been considered a failure on the economy because Nigerians seemed to get poorer since he became president. But truly speaking, regardless of how Nigerians condemn the president, he will go down in history as one of those who invested the most in infrastructure development.
Investing in infrastructure is like sowing in tears and waiting patiently for harvest, one that might take years to come forth. However, you must nurture it to maturity and there comes the continuity that President Buhari seems desperate to secure for his investments.
From road constructions to the mega rail projects and development of local industries, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, is one man that has spearheaded the major successes of the Buhari administration and upon whose shoulders the burden of continuity might be best placed. Asides the fact that he offers Buhari his best hope of sustaining these projects, there are many more political permutations that would make us believe that he might be the president’s candidate.
Just as we all know of the APC leader, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we cannot also dismiss the role Rotimi Amaechi played in making Buhari president; how he fought gallantly and vocally against his former political family – PDP to ensure they were well de-marketed across Nigeria and how he generously supported the Buhari-Osinbajo ticket with huge financial resources.
Tag this one of PMB’s worst kept secrets and you could be right. A lot has been said about how he is the chosen one who needs to tread carefully because of the political gladiators who are already declaring their readiness for the battle ahead and who seem better prepared than him.
Whether or not they keep their plan secret, one reality Mr Ameachi must face is that this is not the Muhammadu Buhari of 2014 whose words were like an unwritten creed for Nigerians. He has been significantly demystified by his inability to solve the same problems he described as basic during the campaigns, as his popularity has waned gradually since 2015. This is why Amaechi must not rely too much on a presidential endorsement to make himself a top contender.
Also, the choice of Amaechi is not going to be a popular one within the All Progressives Congress. Not only is he considered politically orphaned going by the sustained dominance of the PDP in Rivers state, he is also not considered to have the pan-Nigerian acceptance that is expected of a man who will occupy Aso Rock.
But really, is that belief correct about the man? I think he is being underrated by many Nigerians. Since November 2015 till date as Minister of Transport, these are six years traveling across all 36 states in all the geopolitical zones of Nigeria, delivering infrastructural development to the people and growing his own political tentacles.
The people of Oyo state now know Rotimi Amaechi better because of his commitment to the Lagos-Ibadan rail project which he constantly inspected alongside one of Ibadan’s favorite politicians, Senator Soji Akanbi. Today, that project has added immense value to the economy of Oyo state and that is the story of Amaechi in many states across the north and south where he has greatly built his popularity.
On February 5, 2022, this Ikwere man will be turbaned as the Dan Amanar Daura in Katsina state, literally describing him as a noble gentleman and confidant who can be trusted and whose words can be relied upon. After citing the Federal University of Transportation in Daura and taking the $1.8bn railway track that will link Nigeria and Niger Republic through the community, the people cannot ignore him. Even President Buhari had no such grassroots relevance or presence nationally in 2014 before the likes of Tinubu and Amaechi sold him to the rest of Nigeria.
Another irony of underrating Amaechi is that his work as a minister would have also rebuilt is popularity in the south-south. If it can happen in other regions of the country, how much more among his own people? He is theirs and indeed one of the few they can be proud of at the federal level. There is also the argument that the south-south had recently been president with Goodluck Jonathan but hasn’t the southwest been president with Obasanjo? The reality is that those were PDP arrangements and this is a different party. As long as zoning is not in Nigeria’s constitution, eligible citizens will continue to outmaneuver it to aim for the big seat.
Can Rotimi Amaechi be the next president of Nigeria? Why not? Like many other aspirants, he is relatively young and has the capacity, but he needs to sell himself to Nigerians and quickly too. The greatest favour Mr Amaechi can do for the president right now is to make the decision easier for him by taking on the APC’s battle to wrestle some major chunk of the South-south from the PDP. He needs to make himself the face of the ruling party in that region and be less evasive in the scheme of things.
The Rotimi Amaechi we know is fearless, straightforward, dogged, vocal and eloquent by all standards. He spoke so much against the injustices suffered by his administration in Rivers and the Jonathan government’s manipulation of the police, such that the word “impunity” almost started sounding like Amaechi’s linguistic invention.
The current Amaechi, however, is no longer the public delight we enjoyed listening to and whose words we jostled to capture as journalists back then. If this quietness is his strategy not to draw attention to himself because of the impending public endorsement by President Buhari, he needs to review that strategy in order not to make his candidacy even less popular. Being eight years older, I do not expect him to be as confrontational as he was, and as a busy minister, we do not expect him to play to the gallery by campaigning to be president, but it will do some good to have clarity about his identity.
We must learn something from the Tinubu ambition. Since 2021, the frenzy of his presidential ambition had taken over the southwest with several first class monarchs and leaders of strong power blocs already publicly endorsing him, while several support group had started emerging and canvassing for him. All these were achieved without the man making a single public statement about wanting to be president of Nigeria and this is because of the movement called SWAGA – South-West Agenda.
Now that Senator Bola Tinubu has finally declared his interest, he is unarguably the man to beat. And it does not even matter that there are reservations about his age or physical capacity to do the job. To achieve his dream, Mr Amaechi needs to bring back his charismatic personality and strategically push the narratives that resonate with Nigerians in order to invalidate the questions that will be raised regarding his political popularity and capacity to be president of Nigeria in 2023.
It cannot be too early to speculate but then, we must wait for the APC National Convention. The outcome will further show us the direction of the ruling party. The months ahead promise to be as exciting as they will be shocking.
Keni Akintoye is a media & PR strategist and political analyst. Follow him @KeniAkintoye on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook