Right now it looks as if the 2019 presidential election is a straight contest between incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. But please remember the phrase “right now”. A week is a long time in politics. The conventional wisdom was once that the advantages of incumbency would return Buhari to power despite his weak performance. Then the gale of defections from APC to the PDP left the APC looking weak and defensive. Much will yet happen between now and the polls in mid-February. Contrary to conventional wisdom today, the PDP will not win the 2019 presidential election.
I am not clairvoyant. But a deeper analysis of the presidential politics of 2019 that goes beyond the “obvious” wisdom and the (already fading) “atikulation” bounce Atiku has enjoyed after emerging the PDP flagbearer tells me that the 2019 presidential election will be won by an “alternative candidate” outside of Nigeria’s two main political parties. That candidate will most likely be Professor Kingsley Moghalu, the presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP). I am not the first person to make this analytical prediction. Femi Aribisala, the influential columnist did so several months ago while endorsing Moghalu for President. In fact, Aribisala concluded that Moghalu will emerge as President after an unprecedented run-off election for the presidency.
A former United Nations official and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governor who led the controversial reforms of the banking system initiated by then CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now the Emir of Kano), Moghalu was an international star that Sanusi helped bring back home and into national reckoning when he discharged his leadership responsibilities at the CBN with professional distinction. After his tenure in the CBN from 2009 to 2014, the central banker was appointed Professor of Practice in international Business and Economic Policy at Tufts University’s prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Many of the world’s top diplomats, national politicians, spies, leaders of global business corporations and military generals are alumna of The Fletcher School. It is achievement enough for an African to attend such an institution as Moghalu did. But to be made a full professor in such a hallowed institution, as he also was, is a rare distinction.
Today, Kingsley Moghalu is seen as the leading alternative candidate to Buhari and Atiku. The alternative candidate universe is a crowded one that includes former Cross River State Governor Donald Duke, former Education Minister and World Bank Vice-President Oby Ezekwesili, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore, and motivational speaker Fela Durotoye. Both the APC and the PDP are nervous about the unlikely traction Moghalu has gained since entering the presidential race in February and embarking on nation-wide town hall tours to create awareness of his message and candidacy. The PDP is more worried about Moghalu’s potential to rob the mega-party of votes in Nigeria’s southern regions especially the Southeast, and many top party leaders believed that the former central banker, had he pitched his tent with the PDP, would have been a superior choice as vice-presidential mate to Atiku than the latter’s eventual choice of Peter Obi, the former Anambra State Governor. But Moghalu stuck to his vision of a paradigm shift rather play second fiddle in the ranks of Nigeria’s recycled, corrupt political elite. He joined the YPP, which until he did was a little known new-generation party, and won the party’s presidential primary in September. That’s principles based politics, not the stomach-oriented sort.
The odds against Moghalu and other alternative candidates would appear insurmountable at first sight. APC and PDP, for all the present and past failures, are counting on electorate that is largely poor and susceptible to vote-buying. These voters, mainly rural peasants, have been intimidated by the hardy mystique of the two parties and their large financial war chests of largely stolen public funds they deploy to maintain their hold on power. Many Nigerians have long voted for political parties and not their candidates, and the APC and the PDP have the kind of name and brand recognition across the country that newer parties such as YPP can only dream of.
Buhari’s popularity has sharply declined to a point where it is obvious he can’t win the elections if the polls are free and fair. His government’s failure to manage the economy well and the rampaging killings by Fulani herdsmen across the country especially in the Middle Belt have weakened him politically, not to speak of the roiling internal crises inside the APC. But he remains popular among many in the core North. Many among those opposed to a Buhari second term, including our still-influential former generals like Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdulsalami Abubakar and T.Y. Danjuma are believed to be backing Atiku because he is seen as the only opposition candidate with a financial war chest to match and defeat the Buhari political machine. It does not help the likes of Moghalu that the youth vote is divided among the various alternative candidates, although he appears to have a large part of that vote behind him. And there is a widespread belief that the presidency is still the “turn” of the North for another four years.
But these are all surface factors. If money was everything in politics Atiku would already have become president in his previous outings years ago. There are deeper currents at work, and the game is likely to change as we get closer to the elections in February. The most important factor at play is that Nigeria’s masses are broadly tired of the old politicians like Atiku and Buhari. Both men are in their mid-seventies. In a country with a high and still-rising youth population, many view the two leading gladiators as relics of a by-gone era. Both men are Fulanis, and will split northern votes that went heavily for Buhari in 2015. These factors, together with existential issues like high poverty and youth unemployment rates, will play to Moghalu’s advantage as the campaign progresses. The former central banker is charismatic, eloquent, and has visionary appeal to millions of potential voters impressed by his command of policy details and issue-based messaging in television interviews, social media and grassroots town hall events across the country. That Moghalu has already made an impact in the race to 2019 is beyond question.
In addition, there will be millions of new voters who registered to vote precisely because they are tired of the status quo and will therefore gravitate towards a new generation candidate with substantive solutions to national problems. Most of these voters are young people, and Moghalu enjoys a large following in this demographic. Unlike other “youth candidates” such as Sowore and Durotoye, Moghalu’s gravitas and his impressive track record in national and international service give him cross-over appeal to older citizens as well.
Even in the morass of Nigerian politics in which ethnicity plays a large part, that Moghalu is from the politically marginalized Southeast Igbo region might help his chances in a paradoxical manner. The former CBN Deputy Governor is a detribalized technocrat and has not been part of the Igbo political elite. Unlike other major tribes in Nigeria, the Igbo have not produced a head of government, with the exception of Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s short-lived six months as head of state in 1966. An urbane, pan-Nigerian of Igbo origin might just be what the doctor ordered to heal our country’s wounds and achieve real national reconciliation.
Moghalu is already seen as “the best” candidate by many Nigerians who also wonder, in a loss of self-confidence inflicted on them by career politicians, whether a good candidate for the presidency can navigate to a win in the muddy waters of Nigerian politics. A combination of effective messaging and possibly unanticipated events in the polity will likely help this intellectual from Nnewi North Local Government Area in Anambra State come from behind to win a surprise victory in 2019. A man comfortable at home and in the world abroad, Moghalu was described by the British Sky Television presenter Ian King as “the most intriguing candidate” for the Nigerian presidency in an opinion article in The Times of London in which King endorsed the YPP presidential flagbearer. Nigeria seems ripe for political disruption. It is also in need of a world-class visionary and transformative leader in the mould of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.
Olagunji is a public affairs analyst and writes from Abuja. He writes via firstname.lastname@example.org