Sunday 30 January 2022


For those who have read some of James Hardley Chase's novels written decades ago, a character named Al Barney would jolt your memories.

Barney was the guy with an ear to the ground,  as Chase described him in the novels he featured Barney. There was no going on in the city that Al Barney didn't know about. If anyone wanted any inside gist on the high and mighty, Barney was the guy to meet. Buy him his drink and some of his favourite burgers and he would spill the beans. 

I have a somewhat polished and educated version of Al Barney in Abuja. A cerebral fellow and from the North West; a former government official and one who has traipsed the corridors of the seat of power in the FCT and other Northern states, in the past two decades. I met him over a decade ago and we have been friends for years, though we rarely communicate. He's a detribalized Nigerian, which is something we share in common apart from his uncanny intellect and he is quite an objective person, blunt and honest. A man with integrity. 

I usually would speak with him once or twice a year in the early years when I got to know him and one of the ways we built our mutual respect was his pleasant surprise when he found out I wouldn't take advantage of his powerful connections to ask for any link to any contract or whatever. I have never till today and he at first found that puzzling but later realised that it is my personal ethos which has worked well for me. Whenever we have a chance to meet and talk, we would argue and debate about the political direction of Nigeria and if he was willing to talk in such meetings, he would let me in on the goings-on in the High and Mighty places. And he has hardly ever been wrong.

In early 2007, he called me and told me matter-of-factly that 'Yar'Adua will be the next President'. At that time, Yar'Adua wasn't even in contention. 

In 2011, he told me 'Jonathan will win but he has to do one term'. In January 2014, when it wasn't clear who was going to run on the PDP platform and in the opposition party, he saw me at Shoprite Supermarket at the Silverbird Galleria in Abuja where I was buying some groceries and after we exchanged pleasantries, he told me then that 'Buhari will be the next President'. I was gobsmacked and told him it was going to be impossible.

 'Buhari wants to run again? How?' I asked him. 

'The Powers-that-be have decided that Jonathan will not win. He's trying to renege on the one term tenure he had with the Northern power brokers. So he won't win. They are bringing up Buhari again and he will win'.

In December  2018, when Atiku was elected as the flag bearer of the PDP for the Presidential Elections for 2019, he told me 'Atiku will optically win the election because Buhari has proven to be a disappointment but he will not get to Aso Rock and won't claim that mandate. Buhari will remain, as sad as it may be'.

I haven't spoken to him in a couple of years and last week, while in Abuja for a seminar, I gave him a call and we had lunch in a restaurant. I asked him jokingly who would be the next President of Nigeria.

His face fell and his voice went solemn. 'My Brother Charles, as at now, I can tell you that nobody knows. 2023 is the first time in decades that we have no idea. See, no one can foist anyone on Nigeria anymore. Things are changing and have changed in that direction. Buhari has disappointed many people and even he cannot foist anyone on Nigerians and he knows it'.

'So it's not Tinubu?' I said lightly.

'They will eat his money; make him spend and spend but he won't be President' he replied.

'What about Osinbajo?'

'A Pastor will be a hardsell to the core North just as an Imam would be a hard sell to the core South if there was one who would be coming out to run for 2023. He won't get it. Besides, he's linked to the woes of this administration'.

'Atiku?' I asked. 

He shook his head. 'Like I told you, at this point, we don't know who but what I can say is that there are two forces within the Powers-that-be right now. The first want to genuinely save Nigeria and reset Nigeria. The alliances being built by the first have options which include coming for a Presidential material from the South East to back in 2023. It's very tough and is difficult right now to sell that agenda to the second group but equity, justice and fair play is what determines this position. Obasanjo was South West. Jonathan was South South. Osinbajo is South West. This means the South West has been in Aso Rock technically for sixteen years combined, if you add Osinbajo's eight years by 2023. So, if we say the Presidency should shift to the South, by natural sense of equity and fair play, it should shift to the South East. That's what the first group is weighing. 

The second group within the Powers-that-be just want a competent Nigerian, irrespective of his tribe and zone. They are looking at the numerical numbers of the North and considering a lot of things but also looking at the advantages of having someone from the South and want a winning combination. Look, my brother, this APC has sunk this country. We have to get it right in 2023. Mark my words, if we don't get it right next year, this country may never recover from what will befall it'.

I have never heard him speak like this before as he has always been an optimistic and jovial person in matters of politics and it made me reflect on his words ever since. 

While one is not ascribing prescient powers of political accuracy to my friend, it's also telling that the road to 2023 is not as clear to him as his previous predictions have been, most of which have been from his ears to the ground amongst the political elite.

That speaks volumes.

And that means Project Nigeria needs the right redemptive measures to reset the nation in 2023.

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