Matters Arising from the APC Presidential Campaign in Uyo  

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that the South-south rally to flag off President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign is evidence that Akwa Ibom State is one of the most peaceful states in the country

On December 28, 2018, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, flagged off his 2019 election campaign in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state.

The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, had told journalists a day before that the choice of the South-south sub-region to begin the president’s campaign was “particularly significant.”

Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, thinks it was significant Buhari would flag off his campaign in one of the sub-regions where he’s least popular because, the South-south people “have seen the light.”

When former governor of Akwa Ibom, Senator Godswill Akpabio, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC, his defection was interpreted as an inroad into the South-south by the APC.

Akpabio himself during his defection ceremony on the 8th of August, 2018, said, “This is the end of PDP in the Niger Delta… What I have done today is to take Akwa Ibom State and the South-South to the centre.”

The anticipated flag off was supposed to serve as proof to this assertion, and at the same time test Buhari’s popularity in the South-south. This is why the rally was “particularly significant” for the APC.

It is more so because in 2015, Buhari while representing the APC in the presidential election, had won a meager 58,441 votes of the entire 1,028,551 million votes counted for Akwa Ibom State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); a stark difference from the PDP’s 953,304 votes.

APC strategists had hoped that the rally would be used to prove Buhari’s popularity and acceptability in the South-south. But now the Uyo rally has come and gone, question is, is Buhari popular in the sub-region?

There was mixed perception from several observers who spoke with THISDAY, and judging by the allusions made by the touted “anxious” and “huge crowd” at the rally, the PDP may not have entirely yielded the region. However, there is no doubt that the eminence of some leading politicians in the region who have pitched their tent with the APC has posed a serious challenge to the hitherto total dominance of the PDP in the South-south. Apart from Akpabio in Akwa Ibom, the move of former Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan to the APC has undoubtedly altered the political equation in that state. In Cross River State, the change of political party loyalty of the likes of Senator Victor Ndoma Egba Buhari combined with the authenticity of the campaign of the APC governorship candidate, Senator John Owan Enoh have shaken the foundation on which the PDP pillars are standing in the state. Despite the apparent war of attrition within the leadership of the APC in Rivers State, the party still commands formidable loyalty among members, even if divided in allegiance, either to Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi or Senator Magnus Abe. Only in Bayelsa State does it look like the APC’s known chieftain, Timipre Sylva has gone to sleep.

Oshiomhole had claimed the South-south was “anxious to receive the president” and “hear the message”, but, except for the cheering while Buhari mounted the podium, there were no excitement while he spoke. The reaction from the audience towards the president seemed choreographed. In a statement before the rally, National Publicity Secretary of APC, Lanre Isa-Onilu, said Buhari would use the event to present his administration’s scorecard, especially in the areas of “its three cardinal objectives, which include security, economy and fight against corruption.”

Observers expected that a presentation highlighting the achievement of his government, in such a “particularly significant” event, would be elaborate, but, reminiscent of his campaigns during the 2015 presidential election, Buhari’s speech at the flag off lasted a little over four minutes. One of the most important features of the APC presidential rally in Uyo was that it exposed that Buhari can speak without reading from a prepared text.

As if surprised by the president, the crowd looked enthralled, even forgetting to applaud the highpoints of the presidential address. Many of them expected the president to address his earlier assertion and show that he had repented of the thinking that he could not treat the people of the South-south in the same manner as those who gave him 97 percent votes in the 2015 presidential election.

While he spoke, the intermittent clapping that normally accompanies such speechmaking was missing, a sign of an uninterested crowd. Even after he was done, the only audible clapping was from those on the podium with him, such as Oshiomhole, who seemed to clap for the sake of it.

When he was handed the APC flag there was no excitement from the crowd.

Expectedly, the “huge crowd” was not only sourced from the membership of the APC in Akwa Ibom, according to those in the know, a good number of those at the rally were brought from the rest South-south states.

One of the sore points that may have angered many in the crowd was the president’s claim that Nigeria was now more secure than when he assumed office in 2015. The PDP for instance, in a statement following the rally, said, “apparently miffed by Mr. President’s attempt at yet another false performance claim, the crowd started leaving the venue of the rally.”

Signed by Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, spokesperson of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO), the statement said while Buhari made his claim to a more secure country, “insurgents had taken Baga”, saying “there are killings going on in Zamfara and our soldiers and policemen are being killed by terrorists, due to the neglect of his administration.”

In his speech, Buhari had said regarding his 2015 campaign promise on the fundamental issues of security, economy and fighting corruption, that he had performed and asked anyone to challenge him on those claims.

While claiming that “Insecurity in the North-east has been really defeated,” he promised to “clear them off” (the technically defeated Boko Haram terrorists) for indoctrinating young Nigerians, especially girls.

Critics of the administration argue that credit for peace in certain parts of the country, particularly in Akwa Ibom State should go to state governors like, Udom Emmanuel, who have practically taken up the funding of security agencies in order to put them in top performance gear. Strangely, members of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State are celebrating choice of the state as venue of the APC presidential campaign. Their claim is that this shows that the state is the most peaceful in the South-south region, and arguably in the entire country.

Buhari has become known for parroting the rhetorics of having achieved in fighting corruption, food security and the economy at every public event, even when available statistics point to the contrary.

For example, while he claims that “Insecurity in the North-east has been really defeated”, the Boko Haram terrorist group, are busy ambushing and killing soldiers, taking over their bases, hoisting flags, and sometimes reclaiming communities once liberated by government forces. Even the Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, the president’s home state recently cried out that bandits and other criminals have taken over his state.

Also the president’s claim to be fighting corruption has on many occasions been punctured by corrupt acts allegedly committed by some members of his party and cabinet.

Experts are of the believe the APC is scrambling to build its voters base because the popularity and touted integrity of its candidate, has waned. They claim it is for this reason APC is trying hard to woo the South-south and South-east, regions that Buhari had once said shouldn’t expect same treatment as those that gave him “97 percent” of votes in 2015. Another factor is that

Following former vice president, Atiku Abubakar’s election as the PDP’s presidential flag bearer for the 2019 election, the APC now feels threatened in its bid to retain the presidency for another term. Because Buhari and Atiku are from the same Fulani ethnic group and share the same religion. This fact, along with other political calculations, has thrust the APC in an uncomfortable position. The stark reality facing the party is that the president can no longer count on the kind of mass followership he previously commanded in the 19 northern states. This has informed the quest to make a good impression in the South-south and the South-east regions.

Before Atiku’s emergence, the idea that he was the “only” candidate for the north gave Buhari a sense of invincibility; not anymore.

For the northern intelligentsia, the prospect of an Atiku candidate and the chances that that might gift the region another eight years, could be a deal worth considering.

Buhari’s expressed bias towards the Fulani herdsmen in the North-central sub-region, where nomadic herdsmen continue to pillage Christian farming communities, has decreased his popularity in the north.

As it stands, experts postulate that the votes from the north would be evenly split between Buhari and Atiku. For the southern region, except for the South-west, the South-east and South-south are traditionally PDP states, and not supporters of Buhari, or the APC. This scenario is what the APC is working very hard to upturn. That is why the APC is making efforts at promoting Buhari there.

On why the APC chose Akwa Ibom (a PDP state) for the South-south rally, rather than Edo state where the governor is a member of the party, and so one can claim Edo to be an APC state, observers attribute it to the patriotism of Akwa Ibomites, known to place state above self.

An incident that illustrates this characteristic of Akwa Ibom people as patriotic was the disagreement between the PDP and APC on the choice of the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium as venue for the rally.

In planning the rally, the APC in the state had made their intention of using the stadium known, but the PDP-controlled government had on technical grounds initially refused to approve the use of the venue. While this made the news, observers say the u-turn of the state government in allowing the APC to use the venue, lay credence to the people’s love for peace.

Unlike the more stubborn states such as Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta, observers believe the APC chose to flex its federal might in Akwa Ibom since they know that because of the people’s love for peace, they can get away with anything; just like they did when on two occasions their members illegally invaded the state’s assembly premises.

But, unlike Akwa Ibom, campaigning, including winning elections in states like Rivers and Bayelsa have been a tough nut for the APC to crack. Probably worried, and not wanting to take chances with Akwa Ibom, the PDP has sounded a note of warning to the APC not to misinterpret Akwa Ibom people’s peaceful demeanor as a sign of weakness.

Another spokesperson for the PPCO, Umar Sani, told THISDAY, “The South-south is a politically independent and opinionated zone and not a respecter of individuals or personalities. It is a wholly PDP enclave and any attempt by anyone to move against the tide will be swallowed by the sea.”

According to Sani, the claim by the ruling APC that the South-south was considering a political alignment was baseless. “There is neither empirical nor convincing practical evidence suggesting that the South-south is considering or contemplating aligning with the APC.”

In projecting a picture of a growing membership with the defection of ‘bigwigs’, the APC continues to throw everything in the ring, knowing a win in the South-south could prove to be a major decider.

QUICK FACTS:

  • The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, flagged off his 2019 election campaign in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state
  • When former governor of Akwa Ibom, Senator Godswill Akpabio, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the APC, his defection was interpreted as an inroad into the South-south by the APC
  • In 2015, Buhari while representing the APC in the presidential election, had won a meager 58,441 votes of the entire 1,028,551 million votes counted for Akwa Ibom State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); a stark difference from the PDP’s 953,304 votes
  • The eminence of some leading politicians in the region who have pitched their tent with the APC has posed a serious challenge to the hitherto total dominance of the PDP in the South-south
  • Reminiscent of his campaigns during the 2015 presidential election, Buhari’s speech at the flag off lasted a little over four minutes
  • One of the sore points that may have angered many in the crowd was the president’s claim that Nigeria was now more secure than when he assumed office in 2015
  • Strangely, members of the PDP in Akwa Ibom State are celebrating choice of the state as venue of the APC presidential campaign. Their claim is that this shows that the state is the most peaceful in the South-south region, and arguably in the entire country
  • Many of them expected the president to address his earlier assertion and show that he had repented of the thinking that he could not treat the people of the South-south in the same manner as those who gave him 97 percent votes in the 2015 presidential election
  • The stark reality facing the party is that the president can no longer count on the kind of mass followership he previously commanded in the 19 northern states. This has informed the quest to make a good impression in the South-south and the South-east regions
  • For the southern region, except for the South-west, the South-east and South-south are traditionally PDP states, and not supporters of Buhari, or the APC. This scenario is what the APC is working very hard to upturn. That is why the APC is making efforts at promoting Buhari there.
  • The patriotism of Akwa Ibomites is legendary. They are known to place state above self. An incident that illustrates this characteristic of Akwa Ibom people as patriotic was the disagreement between the PDP and APC on the choice of the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium as venue for the rally. In planning the rally, the APC in the state had made their intention of using the stadium known, but the PDP-controlled government had on technical grounds initially refused to approve the use of the venue. While this made the news, observers say the u-turn of the state government in allowing the APC to use the venue, lay credence to the people’s love for peace