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President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari with other chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during election campaign
President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari with other chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during election campaign

General Muhammadu Buhari, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) rides on the crest of ‘CHANGE’ to defeat the incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 28 presidential election. Buhari’s triumph against Jonathan is significant as it is the first time in Nigeria’s political history that a sitting president would lose election to an opposition candidate. But it did not come on a platter of gold. Olisemeka Obeche takes a cursory look at the hurdles the former Head of State navigated en route to becoming the sixth democratically elected president of Nigeria in his fourth contest.

After a keenly contested election, General Muhammadu Buhari, former Head of State and presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), defied the odds to emerge victorious in the March 28, 2015 presidential poll. He defeated the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who is the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and twelve other contestants for the epic presidential election to become Nigeria’s sixth democratically elected President.

It was indeed a landmark victory for General Buhari as he polled 15,424,921 votes, about 53.95 percent of the 28,587,564 total valid votes cast across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to defeat President Jonathan who polled 12,853,162 which is 44.96 percent of the total votes cast.

Professor Attahiru Jega, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who announced the result in the early hours of Wednesday, April 1 after days of nearly 48 hours of painstaking result collation process declared that Buhari emerged the ultimate winner having garnered the highest votes cast as well as securing at least 25 percent of votes in 27 states. “Muhammadu Buhari, of the APC, having satisfied the requirement for the law and scored the highest number of votes is hereby declared the winner and is returned elected,” Jega declared.

The president-elect won the contest in 21 of the 36 states and achieved 25 per cent of the votes in another three states, all of them in the North and the South-West, whereas the incumbent candidate won in 15 states, including all the South-East, South-South states, Ekiti in the South-West, Taraba and Plateau in the North and the Federal Capital Territory. (See details of voting pattern and other statistics). Although the total votes cast were 29,432,083, General Buhari won the election by 2.57 million votes.

It is quite remarkable that President Jonathan exhibited a high spirit of statesmanship when he conceded defeat and congratulated Buhari with only the result of Borno State left to be collated and announced by INEC. In conceding defeat, Jonathan said: “As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else. I congratulate all Nigerians for successfully going through the process of the March 28th General Elections with the commendable enthusiasm and commitment that was demonstrated nationwide. I also commend the Security Services for their role in ensuring that the elections were mostly peaceful and violence-free…I have conveyed my best wishes to General Muhammadu Buhari.”

The official declaration of the results and President Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat in the poll brought General Buhari’s fourth and toughest presidential bid to a glorious climax. In his acceptance speech after collecting his Certificate of Return from the INEC chairman, Buhari promised that his administration will serve Nigerians faithfully. He said: “Today, history has been made, and change has finally come. Your votes have changed our national destiny for the good of all Nigerians. INEC has announced that I, Muhammadu Buhari, shall be your next president. My team and I shall faithfully serve you. There shall no longer be a ruling party again: APC will be your governing party. We shall faithfully serve you. We shall never rule over the people as if they were subservient to government. Our long night has passed and the daylight of new democratic governance has broken across the land.”

The President-elect said that his election should not be seen as victory for one man or even one party but victory for Nigeria and all Nigerians. He also vowed to tackle all the challenges facing the country and emphasized that his administration will not tolerate corruption. He pledged to tackle the insurgency of Boko Haram. “I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid the nation of terror and bring back peace and normalcy to affected areas,” he said.

To reciprocate President Jonathan’s gesture in accepting defeat and congratulating him, Buhari exhibited a large and generous spirit in victory by extending his hand of fellowship to him. He said: “I want all Nigerians to join me in congratulating and accepting Mr. President for his statesmanship. President Jonathan was a worthy opponent. I extend my hand of fellowship to him…He will receive nothing but cooperation and understanding from me.”

Buhari’s road to victory has been tortuous.  However, his eventual triumphant march to Aso Rock kicked-off on October 15, 2014 with the purchase of the APC presidential nomination forms at the cost of N27.5 million followed by formal declaration of his bid at the national secretariat.

Addressing a crowd of cheering supporters who thronged Eagle Square to witness the kick-off of his fourth  attempt in the presidential race, Buhari described  himself as the much awaited political messiah to rescue Nigeria from socio-economic and political slide.“Since 1999 PDP has presided over our country’s decline. Nigeria in my experience has never been so divided, so polarized by an unthinking government hell bent on ruling and stealing forever whatever befalls the country. We in APC are resolved to stop them in their tracks and rescue Nigeria from the stranglehold of PDP,” he said.

The APC ticket hurdle

Unlike his previous failed presidential bids under the political platforms of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007 and the Congress for Political Change (CPC) where he contested as his party’s consensus candidate in 2011, Buhari’s 2015 Presidential aspiration faced its first acid test in primary election.In a keenly-contest APC presidential primaries held in Lagos on December 10, 2011, the Duara-born ex-general defeated formidable aspirants like Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President, Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, Imo State Governor and Sam Ndah-Isaiah, publisher of the Leadership newspaper to clinch the ticket.

Although Buhari who is widely known to be incorruptible did not have the power, his integrity and strong character endeared him to party members, hence he emerged the APC flag-bearer when he squared up against opponents with sufficient financial war-chest to bankroll prized presidential ticket.

And shortly after receiving the party’s certificate as its presidential flag-bearer, Buhari wasted no time in setting agenda for his fourth presidential quest. “We will strive to secure the country and efficiently manage our economy. We will strive to attack poverty through enhanced economic growth and attack corruption through impartial application of the law,” he declared.

Muhammadu Buhari in handshake with President Goodluck Jonathan, while Emeka Anyaoku (middle) and Kofi Anan watch
Muhammadu Buhari in handshake with President Goodluck Jonathan, while Emeka Anyaoku (middle) and Kofi Anan watch

Epic two-horse race

Shortly after Buhari picked the APC presidential ticket, pundits had begun to predict a tough two-horse race between him and President Jonathan. To most observers, it would be the first time since 1999 the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) would be in danger of losing the coveted presidential seat to the opposition.

Although, about 12 other aspirants were equally cleared by INEC to contest the presidential election, it was clear from the onset that the poll would be a two-horse race between Buhari and Jonathan. “You can see that General Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence as presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress last December became the first decisive step towards ending President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP reign at Aso-Rock,” declared Dr. Biyi Oyetade, a lecturer at the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTEC).

“Anybody who closely monitored the campaign trails knows that only two out of the 14 candidates were actually in position to win the post; and that it was a Buhari, Jonathan showdown,” Paulinus Offozor, a political analyst said.

And many expected a tough battle. Unlike the April 2011 presidential election which Jonathan won over 50 percent of valid votes with his campaign gig of ‘Breadth of fresh air’, the incumbent candidate was squaring up against a Buhari that is flying the flag of a formidable opposition party with nationwide support base. And most analysts viewed the APC factor as a major dynamic in the power-shift ahead of the poll.

“One interesting factor in this presidential election is that unlike 2011 election which saw most opposition parties like CPC, ACN and ANPP compete for votes against the PDP, this time around they have managed to come under one umbrella to battle the ruling party and that could cause upset at the end of the day,” Dr. Jomo Oguegbuna-Okwenu, a senior lecturer at the Polytechnic Calabar said.

But soon after kick-starting his presidential campaign, Buhari came under attack on many fronts by the PDP and its propagandists. The APC candidate’s age, health and academic qualification became major issues in the electioneering campaign.

The ruling party had earlier in January alleged that the APC candidate was not qualified to contest the presidential election because he did not possess the minimum academic requirement for the post.

But APC dismissed the allegations against Buhari, insisting that the ruling party was merely trying to divert attention from urgent national security challenges. “The issue of certificate of General Buhari is a non-issue, as everyone knows that Buhari is a product of Daura Primary School, Katsina, Provisional Secondary School (now Government College, Katsina), and the Nigerian Military Training College. This is in addition to several other courses he attended at home and abroad,” APC campaign council said in a statement by its Directorate of Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

 Postponement Plot

Nigerians and international political spectators watched in awe last February as a controversial six-week postponement of the presidential election from February 14 to March 28 was announced by INEC with just a few days to the presidential election. It marked a terrible anti-climax and set the stage for a nerve-wrecking finale to a long-drawn political showdown between the PDP and the APC.

Although it was clear to political pundits that the Federal Government compelled INEC to postpone the elections because it dawned on the PDP that the APC was highly favoured to win the election, Jega said he agreed to postpone the polls based on security reports. “The risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility,” Jega explained.

He shrugged off suggestion that logistics challenges were responsible for the shift of the polls: “The commission’s preparations are not yet perfect or fully accomplished. But our level of preparedness, despite a few challenges, is sufficient to conduct free, fair and credible elections as scheduled on February 14th and February 28th,” he added.

Unlike the April 2, 2011 poll shift that originated from the electoral umpire, the controversial February 14 shift was reportedly engineered by the Presidency and the ruling party. Though, Jega cited the need to dislodge the rampaging Boko Haram sects to ensure incidents-free elections in the insurgency-affected parts of the North-eastern Nigeria, critics dubbed it a last-ditch attempt to buy the incumbent president time to do damage control on his re-election bid.

According to the APC, shifting the election became the last card for the Presidency as it was clear to the PDP that it faced imminent defeat on February 14. The party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said the postponement was “clearly a major setback for Nigerian democracy.” He, however, insisted that the PDP was merely postponing the imminent defeat of its presidential candidate at the polls.

Curiously, while APC rued the shift as a major set-back, the PDP described it as a welcome development that would deepen democracy in the country. A statement issued by the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation and signed by its director of media and publicity, Femi Fani-Kayode stated: “INEC has, by the decision, ensured that no one will be disenfranchised and has helped to guarantee the safety and security of every single one of our citizens during the course of the elections.”

Soon after INEC announced the postponement of the election, there was a new conspiracy theory that the poll shift was a tactical move by the ruling party and the Presidency to avert an imminent and embarrassing defeat by the APC. “What is clear to all serious analysts is that certain powers within the ruling People’s Democratic Party circles were very frightened about the likely outcome of the presidential election. That fear has been expressed in the enormous pressure brought to bear upon INEC to postpone the elections,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a professor of international relations at the Babcock University said.

Apart from initiating the postponement of the election to re-strategize, Jibrin stressed that Jonathan’s campaign team used the period of postponement to launch ferocious attacks on the INEC Chairman, its logistics plans and the APC candidate.  “It has also been expressed in flying kites that could have led to the removal of the INEC chairman, and the numerous court cases by different party surrogates to remove the presidential candidate of the APC from the ballot or stop the use of the permanent voters’ cards (PVC) or the card-reader machines,” he claimed.

But APC cautioned that any attempt to use all these last-minute political manouvres to scuttle the presidential bid of its candidate would have unpleasant consequences for the country. “Anyone who will disqualify a presidential candidate on the eve of an election can only have one and only one purpose for that: to trigger chaos and pandemonium across the country”, the party said through its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed.

However, Buhari’s final reprieve came when a Federal High Court in Abuja adjourned the case seeking disqualification of the APC candidate to April 22 and 23, 2015. The court, headed by Justice Adeniyi Ademola, also dismissed the application filed by two other parties, Ebunoluwa Adegoruwa, a human rights activists and Chukwuma Ochu seeking to be joined in the suit. Justice Ademola declared that “the applicants are no more than meddlesome interlopers seeking to waste the time of the court and as such their applications are frivolous and is thereby struck out”.

While the court ruling provided a fillip in the camp of APC, there were apprehension in some quarters that with so much energy and resources already spent on fending off allegations and court cases and PDP spending much of the period of recess in extensive reach out to various stakeholders including doling out monies, Buhari and Professor Yemi Osibajo, his running mate may not survive the final battle at the poll.

Dawn of new era

However, on the day of the election, the Nigerian electorate used their votes to tell the PDP that the time for the much desired ‘change’ has come as Buhari rode on his doggedness, integrity and strong character to become Nigeria’s sixth democratically elected President. With his victory, Buhari has become the symbol of change that the country needs badly and for many analysts, it is the dawn of a new era in Nigeria.

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