The emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress has set the stage for an epic political battle between him and President Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent and presidential flag bearer of the ruling People’s Democratic Party for the February 14, 2015 presidential poll
By Olisemeka Obeche
After a keenly contested presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos from December 10 to 11, General Muhammadu Buhari, former Head of State emerged as the flag bearer of the party for the February 14, 2015 presidential election.
It was indeed a landslide victory for Buhari as he polled 3430 votes, about 58 percent of the 5932 valid votes cast to pick the prized APC presidential ticket. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, governor of Kano State came second with 974 votes , Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President came third with 954 votes, Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State took the fourth position with 624 votes while Sam Nda-Isaiah, Publisher of Leadership Newspaper took the rear with 10 solitary votes.
Following the declaration of Buhari as the winner of the primary by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, chairman of the convention organizing committee, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of APC commended all the aspirants for putting up a good fight. He described all of them as winners and urged them to work as a team with the party’s candidate to guarantee victory for APC in the 2015 presidential poll. He explained that following the successful presidential primary, APC has shown that it was ready to drive change in Nigeria.
The other four aspirants exhibited a true spirit of sportsmanship by accepting the outcome of the primary and expressed their preparedness to give their unflinching support to Buhari to bring the change Nigerians have been yearning for. They said they were confident that Buhari would provide the needed leadership to turn the country around.
Buhari’s rescue mission
In his acceptance speech, Buhari said the outcome of the presidential primary was a demonstration of democracy in action. “What has just happened is not about winning or losing, but about the triumph of liberty, freedom of choice, of association which is the hallmark of democracy,” he said. He commended the other aspirants for their vigorous campaigns in the build-up to the primary and their courage in accepting the outcome of the convention and agreeing to support him. He said: “My dear fellow country men and women, it is with a deep sense of humility that I stand before you to accept the nomination of my party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be its candidate and flag bearer in the 2015 Presidential election. My nomination is not because I am better than any of the other contestants. But, we should all prepare to join hands together to rescue our dear country Nigeria from those who have led us into the current state of insecurity, poverty, sectarian divide and hopelessness among our people.”
He pledged to build a new Nigeria where insecurity, corruption and ethnicity will have no place if given the mandate to serve as the president of Nigeria. He also pledged to govern the country honestly, in accordance with the constitution. His words: “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. We will tolerate no religious, regional, ethnic or gender bias in our government. We will turn Nigeria into a position of international respect, through patriotic foreign policy. We will use the best Nigerians for the right jobs.” Continuing, he assured: “Our government will equally stand for the cause of the common man whether you are a Christian from Bayelsa State or Muslim from Kaduna State. You are first and foremost a Nigerian in my eyes. I shall treat you equally as my people, as my family, brother and my sister. There can be no genuine love in our country without meeting all these people in our diversity.”
The horse race
Although Buhari secured a landslide victory, it did not come on a platter of gold. The other contestants fought relentlessly by reaching out to the delegates canvassing for votes. Unlike his previous attempts where he secured the presidential tickets of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) without much hassles, Buhari faced five equally credible opponents in the APC primary. The contestants gave him a tough challenge by spending much of the last few months criss-crossing the length and breadth of Nigeria mobilizing and selling their candidature to party faithful. The inability of the party top hierarchy to arrive at a consensus candidate meant that the five aspirants were determined to test their popularity and political might at the poll. And they did.
The build-up to the maiden APC presidential primary witnessed frenzied political calculations and predictions. While most analysts viewed Buhari as the candidate to beat in the race, Atiku was equally tipped to pull a major upset. Bookmakers believed with his enormous war-chest and wide political network, the former vice president would give Buhari a tough battle. To these political pundits, Atiku, who first showed interest in the country’s top political office as far back as 1993 during the aborted ‘Third Republic,’ remained the most sophisticated player in the race.
Other contenders such as Kwankwaso, Okorocha and Nda-Isaiah were not considered as strong as Atiku and Buhari in the race as analysts viewed them as pretenders.
However, signs that the pendulum of victory will swing in the direction of Buhari began to emerge during the early hours of the D-Day when 12 APC governors met and reportedly reached a deal to back the former military head of state. The meeting held in Victoria Island, Lagos at the instance of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the de facto APC leader, triggered speculation that some of the aspirants had stepped down for Buhari. Though the rumour was quickly dismissed, with all the aspirants engaging in desperate last minute behind-the-scene attempts to woo delegates, it soon became obvious that the battle would be won and lost at the ballot, not through a brokered deal.
It was gathered that one of the factors that worked in favour of Buhari was that many leaders of the party, across the country, who more than ever, determined to wrest power from President Goodluck Jonathan, had evaluated that he who enjoys massive support from the downtrodden in the north would be easier to market to Nigerians. Buhari was seen as a man of integrity who has not been tainted by corruption.
There was also concern that Atiku may not be as attractive as Buhari in the North-west, which is one of APC’s strongholds and officially the most populous geo-political zone in the country. The decision of 12 APC governors to rally behind Buhari was indeed a masterstroke in political brinksmanship, as it had the desired effect of influencing how the delegates voted.
This was reflected in the voting pattern. Indeed, investigations by The Economy revealed that Buhari garnered more votes mainly from North-west, South-west and the South-south delegates. In the South-East, Abia State delegates also massively voted for him.
Buhari, Jonathan set for a rematch
Following Buhari’s emergence as the APC presidential candidate and PDP’s ratification of President Jonathan as its consensus presidential flag bearer, the two political leaders have been set up for a rematch in the February 14 presidential poll. The two candidates had confronted each other at the polls during the 2011 presidential election which was won by Jonathan while Buhari who vied on the platform of the CPC came second. With the emergence of APC as a formidable opposition party, it is widely believed that Buhari will give Jonathan a good fight. Already, there are indications that Buhari’s emergence as the APC candidate has unsettled the PDP.
Although the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, has issued a statement welcoming the Buhari challenge and declaring President Jonathan as “the best”, sources said that the party was uncomfortable with the outcome of the APC presidential primary. This is because PDP learnt that Buhari’s campaign team has mapped out strategies to dislodge the ruling party and ensure victory for the opposition party. The PDP is also not comfortable with the cult-like followership that Buhari attracts, particularly among the masses in the North-west and the North-east geo-political zones, and now that APC is like a national movement, Buhari will likely secure substantial votes from the South-west and the South-south when the chips are down. It was learnt that since the emergence of Buhari as APC’s presidential candidate, the PDP leaders have been holding series of meetings to review their strategies for the battle ahead.
With the conclusion of the primaries, it is expected that the two major political parties who have elected their presidential candidates will now embark on vigorous electioneering campaigns for the 2015 presidential election which is barely two months away.
Buhari’s political antecedents
General Buhari, head of the military government from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985, endured unsuccessful quests to become a democratically elected president since joining politics prior to 2003 elections. Squaring up on his debut against the incumbent president and a more formidable ruling PDP under the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) considered a northern political front in 2003; Buhari was defeated by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
But when Obasanjo failed in his third term bid and hand-picked Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, then Katsina State governor as the presidential candidate of the PDP for the 2007 presidential election and Buhari, also from Katsina, got nominated as the consensus candidate of ANPP in December 2006, many thought the opportunity had come for the ex-general to snatch the coveted position from the PDP. However, the pendulum of victory eventually swung in the direction of the PDP, although Yar’Adua later acknowledged that the election that produced him as president was flawed.
Buhari was still contesting the validity of the controversial poll when the leadership of the ANPP under the late Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke agreed to join Yar’Adua’s controversial ‘Unity Government’, thus rendering the Daura-born leader a political orphan before losing the electoral appeal case at the Supreme Court through a split vote. The leadership crisis that spewed from the incident culminated in Buhari’s exit from the ANPP in March 2010 for the newly formed CPC, a party that he had helped to found.
Buhari emerged as CPC presidential candidate for the April 2011 election and squared up against incumbent President Jonathan of the PDP, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP. Just like his previous bids, Buhari’s 2011 aspiration earned him another second spot with 12,214,853 votes, behind the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP, who polled 22,495,187 votes to emerge winner.
Despite suffering defeats in his previous presidential bids, there is a growing optimism in Buhari’s camp that with the merger of the leading opposition parties into the APC, he now has a credible platform to actualize his dream of wrestling power from the PDP. To some political observers, Buhari’s fourth-straight Presidential bid may as well be the much anticipated trump-card needed by the hard-fighting APC to defeat the PDP in the presidential election and end its 16 years reign in Nigeria. The tonic to this optimism is that the political map of Nigeria appears to have changed.