It’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place

0

Segun James, Vanessa Obioha and Ojo Maduekwe write that having narrowed the choice of president down to the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari and the People’s Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar next year’s presidential election has foreclosed challengers like Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim and Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili

The 2019 presidential election is expected to be a two-horse race between President Muhammadu Buhari, of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar.

Of the over 20 political parties fielding candidates for next year’s presidential election, only the APC and PDP (not the many Third Forces) have the structures, resources and the necessary brand recognition to be able to put up a good showing.

Having narrowed the choice of president down to the APC and PDP, and since he’s the incumbent, next year’s presidential election will mostly be a verdict on Buhari’s first term performance; and judging by the discontent across the country, one expects the majority of Nigerians to vote against him.

While critics consider his first term uninspiring, Buhari thinks otherwise and that he deserves another shot. At the Special Convention to ratify his candidature for a second term, Buhari listed as his achievements: tackling Boko Haram; stabilising the Naira; fighting corruption, and more.

There are those that would argue what Buhari lists for achievements as a show of mediocrity, citing increasing insecurity across the country, official corruption and a comatose economy as proof. Even for the millions of his supporters now turned against him, their disappointment is because it was on these issues of corruption, insecurity and the economy that he won their votes in 2015.

In June, the United States Council on Foreign Relations said in a report that it had documented at least 19,890 deaths in Nigeria since June 2015, and caused by the Boko Haram and Fulani militias. In a similar report, the United Kingdom-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide said Fulani militias in 106 attacks on communities in North central Nigeria, killed 1,061 people in the first quarter of 2018.

It is the view of analysts that Buhari’s alleged tacit support shown through his silence, denial, and indifference to the Fulani militia attacks on Christian farming communities in central Nigeria has not only deepened but further divided Nigerians along the fault-lines of religion and ethnicity.

Rather than prosecute them for rape, genocide, arson and land-grabbing, the federal government seems to have taken sides with the militias against the victims.

Femi Adesina, a spokesperson to Buhari, while making a case for why farming communities must give up their lands to accommodate the federal government’s ranching and colony programme for Fulani herdsmen argued that it was better for communities to give up their lands than die from persisting conflicts.

Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, once told reporters after a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Buhari that the Fulani militia attacks were due to the blockage of grazing routes across the country.

“If you go to Bayelsa or Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?” Dan-Ali said.

Buhari himself has blamed everyone – except the culprits – for the Fulani militia attacks. He’s blamed a shrinking Lake Chad, accused the media of being biased, and the rebels that fought in Libya to oust Muamma Ghadafi. It’s not only on the issue of insecurity that Buhari has shown bias. In his fight against corruption, the opinion of critics is that he’s been selective as well. Under Buhari the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) case file is filled with corruption charges of mostly members of the opposition PDP. However, many have argued that since it was the PDP that held power at the centre for about 16 years, its members were the likely suspects in the corruption cases.

Several ministers and appointees of the president have been allegedly accused of corruption, but a reluctant EFCC has refused to investigate and prosecute them. Even Buhari has been slack in handling some of his appointees caught breaking the law. Observing this trend, Senator Shehu Sani who belongs to Buhari’s ruling party accused him of insincerity in the fight against corruption.

In January 2015 during a campaign rally in Rivers State, Buhari told party supporters that once elected into office he was going to assemble a competent team to efficiently manage the country.

He even described the level of unemployment then as “intolerable.”

Interestingly, in the second quarter of 2015 Buhari met unemployment at a single digit of 8.3%, but presently it stands at over 18%. Also Nigeria’s debt profile at the end of June 2015 was at N12 trillion but the Buhari administration has gone on a borrowing splurge and so it now stands at slightly over N22 trillion.

Buhari’s critics and numerous former supporters think that his performance, even on issues once perceived as his strongpoint, has been abysmal. His administration has been accused of nepotism and providing a hideout for the corrupt.

Surprisingly, it is on these failings that the PDP’s Atiku is believed to be stronger and is expected to outperform Buhari. While Buhari has been accused of acting like a provincial ruler, Atiku on the other hand is seen as having more national appeal and thereby a bridge that would unite a divided Nigeria.

Much of this point was made recently by his former boss and critic, Olusegun Obasanjo: “You are more accessible and less inflexible and more open to all parts of the country in many ways.” The former president then charged him to run an administration “by Nigerians for all Nigerians where merit and performance count more than blood relationship, friendship or kith and kin.”

On the issue of the economy, Obasanjo said he believed Atiku has the capacity to perform better than President Buhari.

Many analysts believe the odds favor Atiku to win the 2019 presidential election, but worry that the ruling APC was gearing up to rig it. Obasanjo too thinks Buhari is going to put up a “tough” and “dirty” campaign to remain president.

But were the election to be free and fair, Buhari many believe will be the second incumbent president to be removed from office via the ballot.

The Odds Favour Abubakar

Ever since Atiku Abubaker emerged the presidential candidate of the PDP, his name has been hugging major news headlines. His political career has been an interesting subject of discourse to political pundits as well as the masses who use his political derivations to predict his outcome in next year’s elections. From his days as the Vice President of the country which saw him at loggerheads with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, though the two seemed to have sheath their swords going by the recent visit by Atiku to Abeokuta to seek the former’s support in his presidential bid, he is often a subject of many controversial discourse.

There have been political calculations on how he would fare in different parts of the country. Dr. Doyin Okupe, the former Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan who was campaigning for Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki in the days leading to the PDP presidential primary, once criticised Atiku’s presidential aspiration. He gave a breakdown on the number of votes Atiku will fetch in the 2019 elections. He earlier projected that the PDP presidential candidate will have more voters in North-east, North-central, South-east and South-south, with a 50-50 possibility in the South West but a loss in North-west.

Ordinarily, such projections about a presidential candidate’s performance in an election is expected. However, Atiku’s case is gaining more traction because of his persistent quest to run for presidency which has been compared to that of the ruling president Muhammadu Buhari.

Like Buhari, Atiku is a septuagenarian and from the northern region. While the vice-president post is the closest Atiku has been to the presidency, Buhari, on the other hand has ruled the country once as a military Head of State, even if his tenure was cut short by former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida. That is not to say that Atiku is entirely new to the game of politics. If anything, the former officer of the Nigeria Customs Serivce is very familiar with the political landscape in Nigeria. His first political foray was when he was invited to canvass votes for Bamanga Tukur, who at that time was Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority in the 80s. However, it was Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who had been second-in-command in the military government that ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979 that drew Atiku in the political sphere. He ensured he was elected a National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria, the political association led by Yar’Adua, to participate in the transition programme initiated by Babangida in 1989. That same year, Atiku won a seat to represent his constituency in the 1989 Constituent Assembly. Twice he entered the gubernatorial race in the then Gongola State, but was unsuccessful, although his second attempt which he won was truncated by Obasanjo who made him his running mate for the 1999 presidential election.

The seeming similarity between these two candidates is in the manner they vied for the post of the Number One citizen of the country. Before realising his presidential dream, Buhari contested on different political platforms. First with the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), the prominent northern party in 2003 but lost to Obasanjo. Still under the same party, he contested in the 2007 elections, this time losing to Umaru Yar’Adua. In 2010, he joined the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which he helped form and picked the founder of the Latter Rain Assembly, Tunde Bakare as his running mate for the 2011 elections to the chagrin of many in Christendom. Not until his party CPC joined forces with ACN and ANPP to form the coalition party, known as APC did his dream materialise. With the end of his first term almost here, Buhari is bidding for a second term to seal his presidential aspiration.

Atiku on the other hand has been through comparable route. In 1982, he made his first presidential bid under the Social Democratic Party but emerged third. Following his fallout with Obasanjo, he defected to the defunct Action Congress where he clinched the presidential ticket but lost to Obasanjo’s preferred candidate, the late Umaru Yar’Adua. Atiku would later return to PDP to contest for a shot at the presidential ticket. Once again, he lost the ticket to Goodluck Jonathan who would later emerged winner of the 2011 elections.

By 2014, Atiku had dumped the PDP for the APC, a party which he helped form with the intent of running for president. With the emergence of Buhari as the president under the party, Atiku once again fled the party and returned to PDP
Despite the grappling challenges, Atiku never took his eyes off his goal. Each election period saw the Adamawa state-born businessman campaigning for the presidency. He suddenly assumed the voice of the people, lending his voice to topical issues that affect the polity while pledging to build a better Nigeria if elected.

As the PDP’s presidential aspirants increased in number in days leading to the party’s National Convention, a desperate Atiku employed all means necessary to galvanize votes. From openly shedding tears in the public to a generous mention of projects he would accomplish if he clinched the ticket. Not many saw his victory coming at the party’s National Convention with the likes of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, put ahead of him, in some calculations.

While his new position is laudable and to an extent inspiring, the battle has just begun for Atiku. Winning the PDP primary is a little feat compared to the main battle ahead. Already, his political character is under great scrutiny, particularly the curious case of his ban from travelling to the United States. There are arguments that his shady integrity will jeopardise his presidential ambition, unlike his main opponent, President Buhari who has been lauded for his fight against corruption.

Perhaps, the most strategic move Atiku has done so far is to make an Igbo man, Peter Obi his running mate. The past governor of Anambra State who was the supposed protege of the late Biafran warlord Odumegwu Ojukwu is expected to win the support of the Ndi Igbo for Atiku. But this may not play out well as Atiku may have calculated. Obi to a large extent is considered an outcast after betraying the party that brought him to prominence-the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) by becoming the South-east campaign director to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 presidential bid.

This act was considered a lost opportunity for the investor to place the Igbo race in a formidable position in Nigerian politics. If the deficit of the control of his home state of Anambra by APGA can be erased by the fact that a majority of the South-east states are controlled by PDP will be seen in the days ahead, even as the APC is poised to make a better showing in the Igbo speaking region, with the legion of heavyweight politicians who have embraced the ruling party.

Again, ethnicity and religion is playing out in the politics of the country. Buhari’s choice of Yemi Osinbajo, a Yoruba man and a Pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) as a running mate at the 2015 election was perceived as a means to blur the conflicting lines of religion. Nevertheless, the lines are getting thicker every day with the incessant religious wars in the northern and middle belt regions.

Buhari might be the only elephant in the room to defeat in the upcoming presidential election, but Atiku should not ignore the little cubs in the race such as former Minister of Education Oby Ezekwesili and businessman, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim who interestingly have an unyielding network of supporters across the country.

Abubakar has never admitted to any wrongdoing. In less than two months, both Atiku and his political party, the (PDP, like the Phoenix, have risen from the ashes of their recent past to a glorious flight.

Abubakar has boldly made it clear that he will be the change that Nigerians are yearning for. Intelligent, bold and audacious, rarely has a politician had more loyalists and enemies as the earnest, purpose driven and strong-willed PDP candidate. If events of the last few days in the polity are anything to go by, he is making a stronger bid this time than any other time to actualise his ambition.

Less than four months to the February 2019, general election, the story of Atiku and the PDP has changed so greatly that they have become a threat to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari who is desirous of a second term.

Until recently, the PDP had been enmeshed in a fratricidal attrition that nearly consumed the party as members left in droves to seek their political fortune elsewhere.

Has the PDP got it right?

After almost four years of hiatus, the PDP has gotten its groove back. The party is not only got back from the edge of extinction, but from all indications, it is going to give the APC a run for its money.

With most of its former members who decamped to the APC at the height of the leadership crisis that rocked the party towards and immediately after the 2015 general election, especially some of the five governors whose departure signalled the gradual decline of the party have made a comeback. However, the great revival of the party will be dependent on what happens in the next few weeks.

So far, the party has achieved a political coup in making Abubakar its presidential candidate. This action has in the last few days triggered the return of many others who see his choice as the right move. To the opposition, this may not be much, but for members of the party, it is indeed the catalyst that is now propelling a rebirth of the party.

For much of the past three years, as Nigeria was plunged into economic recession and political stagnation, the PDP was comatose and unable to play its role as the opposition party in the country. But with a new and rejuvenated leadership, Nigerians now have a choice in the 2019 presidential election.

Also, Atiku’s support for the restructuring of the country has made him very popular among all the nationalities in the country. This indeed is the reason why influential socio-cultural groups like the Afenifere and the Ohaneze have thrown their support his way.

QUICK FACTS:

* Over 20 political parties are fielding candidates for next year’s presidential election, but only the APC and PDP have the structures, resources and the necessary brand recognition to be able to put up a good showing

* The 2019 presidential election is expected to be a two-horse race between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar

*In the second quarter of 2015, Buhari met unemployment at a single digit of 8.3%, but presently it stands at over 18%

*Nigeria’s debt profile at the end of June 2015 was at N12 trillion but the Buhari administration has gone on a borrowing splurge and so it now stands at slightly over N22 trillion

*Many analysts believe the odds favor Atiku to win the 2019 presidential election, but worry that the ruling APC was gearing up to rig it

*Atiku’s case is gaining more traction because of his persistent quest to run for presidency which has been compared to that of the ruling President Muhammadu Buhari

*Like Buhari, Atiku is a septuagenarian and from the northern region

* While the office of the Vice President post is the closest Atiku has been to the presidency, Buhari, on the other hand, has ruled the country as military Head of State, even if his tenure was cut short by former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida

*The seeming similarity between these two candidates is in the manner they vied for the post of the Number One citizen. Both men have been persistent in their quest for office of President of Nigeria. Buhari succeeded in his fourth attempt. The 2019 presidential election will be Atiku’s fifth challenge for the office