Win or lose in next Saturday's presidential election, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) has between 4-8 years to exert a strong influence on the Nigerian political landscape. If he wins the elections on Saturday, he may look forward to at least four years in power as President and if he is lucky, he might even be there for the next 8 years.
However, if he loses, he will have to consider relinquishing his leadership of the CPC in favour of a younger and more vibrant candidate. Taking a close look at Buhari's support base, one finds that he is supported more by the down-trodden and poor in the North. Their support for him is predicated on the belief that he is not one of the region's corrupt elite who have maintained a stranglehold on the region's resources and by extension that of the entire country as well.
Now, the question is: who is best positioned to inherit Buhari's support base after he retires from active politics? Two major contenders appear to me to be well-placed to take Buhari's place in the heart of his supporters. Ironically, both of them are not currently members of his party.
The first is Nasir El-Rufai, the former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. He is currently a member of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) but he has pitched his tent with Buhari for Saturday's election. This is a politically astute move because he stands to benefit if Buhari wins with a senior position open to him in the new government that would be formed.
However, if Buhari losses, he will have succeeded in getting a landing pad for himself in the CPC considering his current travails with the PDP. He can then sell himself as the new face of the North; relatively young, highly educated and dynamic for future elections.
The other person who seems to be well-positioned to inherit Buhari's legacy is the Action Congress of Nigeria's (ACN) presidential candidate Nuhu Ribadu. He has been brandishing is anti-corruption efforts as the former head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as one of his key selling points to become President. This will also go down well with many Buhari supporters in the long term.
Ironically, Ribadu and Buhari are currently discussing a possible alliance for next Saturday's presidential election. Ribadu seems convinced that Buhari should step-down for him. However, any astute political observer would realize that Ribadu has no pulling power in the North which because of its relative hegemony is the most import region of the country when it comes to presidential elections in Nigeria.
If Ribadu were to step-down for Buhari to run it would be in his long-term interest because the CPC/ACN coalition would have a very strong chance of winning the election at the first round of voting. Not only that, he would get a very senior position in the government that would be formed allowing him to gain more experience and earn the trust of more Nigerians with 2015 and 2019 in mind as years in which he may actually have a great chance of winning presidential elections.
Perhaps more importantly, he would be Buhari's political heir inheriting a strong support base in the North, strong enough to challenge the oligarchs holding the region to ransom at the moment and can truly become a key player in Nigerian politics for the next 10-20 years. This would still be true if the proposed CPC/ACN alliance fails to win next Saturday's presidential election.