Gen. Muhammadu Buhari
As a back-up plan to the current alliance talks between the opposition parties, the presidential flagbearer of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, is seriously considering picking Pastor Tunde Bakare as his running mate in the April elections.
The is even as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) continues with its talks with CPC today with the possibility of reaching an agreement and signing an MoU ahead of the elections. The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) is also a party to the talks.
Although Buhari is said to be strongly pursuing an alliance with ACN with him as the presidential candidate, he is said to be uncomfortable with the idea of a Muslim-Muslim ticket should Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu be presented by ACN as its candidate.
The arrangement being worked upon, THISDAY learnt, is for the ANPP chairman, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, to be the chairman of the alliance, while the CPC will produce the presidential candidate and ACN the vice-presidential candidate.
“Although Nigerians have voted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket before (MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe), Buhari has the disadvantage of being portrayed as a religious extremist so it would be a hard sell, especially with the religious crises up North,” a source familiar with the calculations told THISDAY last night.
However, should Tinubu not be on the ticket, that could be a disincentive to the inner circle of the ACN.
Several political analysts believe that without the alliance with ACN, Buhari’s presidential ambition may not be realisable. Herein lies the dilemma.
The Bakare option is said to be very appealing to the Buhari inner circle as Plan B in the event that the alliance talks do not come to fruition.
Bakare, the Senior Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, is an activist who convened the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) which campaigned vigorously to break the political logjam created by the long absence of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from the country early last year.
However, the pastor told THISDAY on phone last night that he was not yet aware of the plan.
“I will not react to speculations. We have had interactions with many political parties. When they (CPC) reach out to me, I will let you know,” he said.
A source close to the Buhari camp told THISDAY yesterday that the CPC presidential candidate will soon send emissaries to ask Bakare to consider an offer to contest with him.
The source said Buhari's new move came on the heels of the failure of CPC and ACN to reach agreement on which platform to present candidates for the elections.
The calculations being put forward by the choice of Bakare is that the pastor as an influential personality within the Christian fold will help immensely to boost the chances of Buhari in garnering more votes in the South, which has been a major concern of the former head of state.
Negotiations between the two opposition political parties were last Friday suspended over disagreement on which platform to present the presidential candidate.
A member of the negotiating team told THISDAY shortly after the breakdown of talks that the leadership of ACN wanted Buhari to contest on the platform of ACN.
According to him, ACN's position did not go down well with the CPC team led by former speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Bello Masari, which eventually led to suspension of talks.
However, as it turned out, both parties were not ready to sacrifice their party identities for the alliance to sail through and as such the parties decided to call back their representatives at the talks for consultations.
"The alliance talks were deadlocked because ACN is insisting that Buhari accepts to run for the presidency on its platform. This insistence was not acceptable to the CPC and the alliance negotiation was suspended till further notice," he said.
ACN's National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, had said at a recent function at the party's headquarters in Abuja that the party is not in a hurry to go into any alliance that would make it lose its core values.
He said though ACN is under considerable pressure to join forces with other progressive parties in a bid to forge a formidable team that can upstage the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the general election, it will not do so at the expense of its party ideology.
In the meantime, the tripartite talks among the opposition parties continue with a view to post-election merger since, by law, a merger is no longer possible before the April polls because of the six-month requirement.
Should the alliance talks succeed, however, the next challenge would be to manage the expectations of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, both of whom have emerged as the presidential candidates of ANPP and ACN respectively.
“At this stage, the Northern leaders may have to step in as Shekarau still does not see eye-to-eye with Buhari and Ribadu sees himself as a candidate of change,” a source involved in the negotiations said. “Ribadu needs to be persuaded that he can play a strong role in the government if the alliance wins the election.”
An ACN governor told THISDAY: “If in the UK, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who are at opposite ends of ideological spectrum can form government, there is nothing wrong with CPC and ACN forming an alliance in Nigeria.”
In Ilorin at the weekend, Muhammed said the ongoing talks aimed at forming a broad-based alliance would brighten the chances of defeating PDP at the forthcoming polls.
Muhammed told journalists that the alliance has the capacity to lead to victory in April.
He said there was no doubt that if the alliance works as expected, it would deny the PDP chance of returning to power for the first time ever.
According to him, the alliance becomes imperative in view of the lack of confidence the people have in the PDP governments at all levels.
"I want to tell you that the biggest thing PDP is afraid of is the imminent alliance of ACN, CPC, and ANPP. With the alliance, PDP will be squarely defeated at the poll because many people, those who are not even politicians are encouraging this alliance because they said they are tired of the PDP government,” he said.
Muhammed said the ACN was being prevailed upon by the people to go into alliance with other major opposition parties to ensure an end is brought to PDP government.
He said the influence of ACN would allow the alliance to sweep the South-west while those of both the ANPP and CPC will clear the entire votes in the North-east and North-west zones, thereby giving them an edge over the PDP.
Muhammed added that they envisage a situation where the party would lead in most of the North-central states and win some of the states of the South-south and South-east zones.