I’ve spent a large part of my career working in Nigeria, with both Northerners and Southerners, and have watched the country careen from one crisis to the next. It is now deeply saddening to have one of the first honest presidents come at a time of a global glut in oil prices, and then be hit with unknown illness.
Despite these difficult conditions, I think many outsiders would be very surprised by the country’s resilience, as well as the quality of the culture there for tolerance and national unity despite the overtones of hostility so often drummed up by the local and foreign media. So it is with an inevitable sense of déjà vu to see yet another Nigerian president indisposed by illness while his party fractures under tribal pressure.
I don’t agree with all the characterizations in Max Siollun’s story in Foreign Policy, but I do think it is worth a read for those seeking to understand how the informal power swapping pact is coming under pressure. Just an excerpt below:
If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.
There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.