Buhari: A Populist Contestant And His Many Challenges

It is not exactly ‘Uhuru’ yet for the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the question of who becomes its flagbearer in next February presidential election. The North, favoured to produce a consensus candidate for the party, may have, however, pushed closer to achieving that. 

  But the portends are that the Region still has to play its card with prudence, to avoid unduly shutting people out if the party is to light a fire that it could not manage at its presidential primary poll scheduled for December 2 in Abuja.

  Armed with a Northern consensus, the December National Convention would be a mere formality of endorsing the chosen. At a Northern stakeholders’ meeting on Saturday, October 18, at the Assa Pyramid Hotel, Kaduna, the Region pushed closer to achieving that. 

  Although the atmosphere around the favoured choice is being kept strategically dim, the top option is no other than former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), whose assumed candidacy, though ordinarily lethargic by his having contested the presidency and lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011, seems preferred on the logic that “old trees are more beautiful than young ones.” He is again considered as the “best bet” or “best shot” at this time for the North in the 2015 presidential contest. 

  The Kaduna session climaxed various clandestine, multi-faceted discussions and engagements to give needed momentum to a “viable and credible” choice while ensuring that tempers would not flare among other contestants. 

  The political elite of the Region essentially came out formally and more forcefully to weigh in on the presidential contestants, first, to narrow the race down to its “most formidable option,” and importantly, prevent bickering among them.

Many sides of the game

  The North is not strategising on this prong alone. There is a subsisting grievance spearheaded by one Umar Ardo, in which President Goodluck Jonathan’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election is being challenged in court. 

  Fire-eating northern elders and crusaders like Professor Ango Abdullahi and Dr. Junaid Muhammed are reportedly “deeply interested” in the eligibility case. Every effort is being made to pursue the option, including getting necessary briefings from legal minds, among them notable Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), it is said.

  Northern PDP governors are not being left to their individual devices to actually affect their support for Jonathan — which is antithetical to getting power back to the North in 2015. They are under pressure of some leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the political association, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), to re-think their support for Jonathan. 

  “What will they (PDP Northern governors) tell our voters in the North? We are waiting to see the reason they want our voters to vote for Jonathan,” they were quoted as saying.

Will Buhari and Atiku shake hands?

  The Kaduna session did not rule out former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Buhari’s main, formidable rival. Both of them, it was said, were asked to “put heads together, to work it out.” 

  It is not clear how Atiku, the Turaki Adamawa, a long-standing name in Nigeria’s presidential politics, who had built a subsisting structure and network of goodwill with which he weathers storms at each political bend, is responding to the emerging scenarios around the APC presidential gambits.  

  Along with Buhari and Atiku, the other presidential aspirants — Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State, described as “seriously working behind the scenes,” and the usually-mentioned hopeful, Publisher of Leadership, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, were at the Kaduna discussions. 

  Nevertheless, during the speech session, Buhari spoke on behalf of all the presidential aspirants, while Governor Kashim Ibrahim Shettima of Borno State spoke on behalf of Northern governors. This was interpreted, not as an accident, but part of the concerted endeavour to build around Buhari a Northern consensus. 

  However, Atiku, on his side, may have elected to act with characteristic humility by conceding to the former Head of State to speak on their behalf. For, while Kwankwaso and Nda-Isaiah may be essentially opportunistic to jostle more political visibility, Buhari and Atiku are in big fights, with Buhari claiming to be an agent of change and Atiku insisting that he is the one to make a difference.  

  While preparing to contest the presidency under the PDP in 2011, Atiku made a point of visiting his estranged former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to make peace with him. He did not take offence after Obasanjo latched on the private visit to publicly humiliate him some more. 

  And Atiku kept his cool recently when Obasanjo told leaders of the APC, who visit him at his home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, not to allow Atiku pick up their party’s presidential ticket. 

  So, Atiku is adept at playing it cool. But it remains to be seen whether in this race, he will take a shine to Buhari. If the APC fails to achieve consensus presidential candidacy and goes to elective primary, it might prove dicey for the party. The last may not have been heard of defections.

  Last Wednesday, at a meeting of the APC governors in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital city, the idea of consensus candidate was stressed, seemingly giving impetus to the conclusion that the Kaduna meeting had implemented what the party leadership had agreed.  

  As the Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum and Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, put it at Ilorin: “Our forum is full of support for consensus, as one of the ways to produce our presidential candidate or any candidate in the party, as long as it is done with due respect to internal democracy. 

  “There will be no imposition of candidate in our party. Our forum has not adopted any candidate but we shall encourage consensus and dialogue within the leadership of the party and aspirants to see how we come up with a candidate. But where that is not possible, like true progressives, we shall have free and fair primaries.”

A sentiments-burdened runner

THE momentum is obviously on Buhari’s assumed candidacy, but not without some costs. His assumed eventual emergence has received all leverage possible. 

  He wrote letters to prominent Nigerians. He visited key APC governors, particularly Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, acclaimed as arguably the most performing of the 36 State chief executives. 

  This visit led some to speculate that Buhari, who will be 72 years next year, may choose youthful and dynamic Fashola, from the crucial Southwest, as his running mate. But this was also pooh-poohed on the ground that a Muslim-Muslim ticket will not fly in the 2015 presidential election. 

  Buhari went to Rivers State where the governor, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, treated him and his entourage to a carnival-like rally. This visit has sometimes been jokingly interpreted as aimed to “take the fight straight to Jonathan’s bedroom!” 

  Buhari’s visits were huge publicity stunts, almost like the APC full-scale rallies. His formal declaration to run for the presidency was at the Eagle Square, the nation’s ceremonial centre. 

  The Kaduna gathering of Northern elite was said to be largely persuaded that it is Buhari who has managed to build up the broadest coalition between the core North and Southwest, and in effect, better-placed to upstage Jonathan in the 2015 run. 

  In addition to being the silent choice of the APC leaders from the Southwest, what seems to be harvesting preferential treatment for the retired General in his party is the perception of him as incorruptible. 

  While his detractors tag him “a critic without a core,” one whose stock-in-trade is to rubbish the PDP-controlled federal government of President Jonathan rather than he and his party articulating well-thought-out ideas as an alternative agenda to what the PDP is doing; his ardent supporters, especially in the North, hero-worship him as the “least tainted around,” whose personal integrity is the biggest asset the APC has to offer in its bid to take over power from the PDP in 2015. 

Buhari and incorruptibility

  Obasanjo recently described Buhari as incorruptible. But his opponents, on the other hand, rate his persistent cult-following in the North — a major plank of his campaigns — as product, not of the business and traditional class of that society, but by young Turks seeking to ride on his back to win elections. 

  Buhari’s famed frugal lifestyle and cultivated image of incorruptibility has become a subject of much criticism in his obtaining the APC presidential nomination forms, which attracts a staggering N27.5 million levy. Describing the levy as exorbitant, he had claimed to be helpless in getting it reduced.

  “It is a pity,” he said, “I couldn’t influence this amount to be put down as in the case of ladies and the disabled that intend to participate. I always look left and right in our meetings but I could not read sympathy; so, I kept my trap. 

  “But I felt heavily sorry for myself because I don’t want to go to ask somebody to pay for my nomination forms because I always try to pay myself for the nomination.

  “N27.5 million is a big sum; thankfully I have personal relationship with the manager of my bank in Kaduna and I told him that very soon, the forms are coming. So, whether I am in the red, or green, or even black, please; otherwise, I may lose the nomination. 

  “I was about to go to Kaduna this morning and I told the (party) Chairman, but he said, ‘in that case, you better pick your form and keep a straight face.’ That means that there is no excuse.” 

  The APC Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, reportedly told Buhari that the party made the nomination fee costly to “separate the men from the boys.”

  And so, Buhari has elected to play in the big leagues. How he hopes to pay back the loan and, for that matter, the collateral with which he backed his asking, are now issues of much contention in various political circles. 

  Here is partly how one of his critics, Dr. Femi Aribisala, in a Vanguard newspapers of Tuesday, October 21, column titled, “Muhammadu Buhari: Running for President with an anti-corruption bank loan,” looked at it: 

  “A 71-year-old man with Buhari’s experience, who was overthrown in a pre-emptive coup by members of his own government, knows that in Nigeria, nobody gets elected as a President on the platform that he is going to be an anti-corruption crusader when he gets into office.

  “That is a sure signal for all politicians in all parties to gang-up against him and make sure he never makes it. If you really want to be anti-corruption, you have to keep your mouth shut about your plans until you get elected and then catch your corrupt colleagues by surprise. You must also have resolved not to seek re-election for a second term. 

  “It is not only the populace, but the politicians in particular, who insist on ‘stomach infrastructure.’ But if you are talking anti-corruption while still seeking the nomination of your party, it must be because it is well-known to your corrupt colleagues that your anti-corruption stance is merely for public consumption.”

Buhari, Atiku and Kwankwaso

IT is said that were Buhari to decide not to run and align with Kwankwaso, the Kano State governor’s aspiration would receive a great leap, based on the thinking that the broad coalition built with the APC between Northwest and Southwest, backed by Buhari’s sweeping support in the North, is all he needs to make it. 

  Kwankwaso said recently that he is not under any pressure to step down for Buhari and Atiku in the presidential contest. According to him: “I’m not under any pressure to step down for anybody. In fact, nobody asked me to step down for anybody, and doing that will not be good for the party. 

  “You see, many people are used to either small parties or let me say medium-sized parties where people sit down and choose somebody in the room. Now, we are talking about APC mega-party, which is not ANPP, CPC, APGA or ACN. It is a collection of all and we always tell people to look at the example of PDP. From 1999 to 2011, each election, they had to go for primary elections, not arranged elections but real elections.”

  Besides Buhari and Atiku, Kwankwaso gets mentioned in the press in connection with the presidential race almost more than all other schemers. Should Buhari and Atiku quit, he could receive a boost, especially if Buhari were to endorse him. But that is now most unlikely to happen. 

  If the APC runs primaries, Kwankwaso is more likely to support Buhari. He is believed to have a strong voice among the APC governors, especially those of them who initially felt that the party’s interest would be better served if the presidential, as well as running mate tickets jointly went to younger elements. 

  Kwankwaso courts the image of a frontal and open politician who has nothing to hide. His government publishes monthly verbatim reports of EXCO meetings. His government releases financial statements on cash flow to the state, assets and liabilities, revenues and capital developments.

  The governor often raises alarm where he perceives the North’s interest is in jeopardy. For example, he accused the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee of seeking to create a new state under the table. He named Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the committee chairman, as the brain behind the move.

  Citing population figures from the 1963 census, he said the Southeast, the only zone in the country with five states, does not deserve a new state neither must the South be elevated on equality of states with the North. 

  The 2014 National Conference creation of one state in the Southeast was offensive to Kwankwaso. “As far as we concerned, if you have to go for constitution amendment, all issues must be on the table,” he said. “We do not want a situation where state creation should be a matter of yes or man-know-man or I have this or I have that... 

  “They (Southeast) should not have five in my opinion. What is the population of the South East? I am saying this with a sense of responsibility; I am not playing any regional or ethnic politics. I am not representing a state now. 

  “I will not allow anybody to go and make nonsense of what we have. If you want to create your state, go and create; do not call Kano anyhow...”

PDP awaits Buhari, instead of Atiku

  The PDP seems to dread Atiku and not Buhari. Atiku had played both in and against the PDP right from the party’s inception. 

  Essentially an outsider in the Nigerian political establishment, Buhari started off as a harsh dictator, contemptuous of politics, politicians and even democratic rule. 

  Although he has managed to recreate himself in the garb of a political game changer, he has never succeeded in making a headway against PDP’s exploits. On three successive presidential elections, PDP-sponsored candidates had defeated him. The PDP had also always won elections in Katsina, Buhari’s home base.

  While the PDP also controls Atiku’s Adamawa home base, Atiku knows the party, as Buhari could never hope to. The former Vice President, whose old PDM network, a formidable caucus within the PDP before things went awry, leading to many of his associates spreading everywhere, still has goodwill and tentacles at various levels of the ruling party to cause more trouble for them than Buhari.

  The PDP, this time, can be expected to launch blitzkrieg against Buhari. Buhari has already drawn the line of battle by saying, “if what happened in 2011 (alleged rigging) should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and baboon would be soaked in blood.” 

  The statement has been widely interpreted as “painting Nigeria as that of a hound and a monkey engaged in a battle for survival.” 

  Thus, the PDP seems set to bring out Buhari’s statements and use them to campaign against him.


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