Nigeria’s general elections are here again and the entire country appears to be on tenterhooks regarding the polls outcome as well as the possible reaction of the winners and the losers. Although there are over 70 presidential candidates, the contest is basically between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
I have read and re-read a number of permutations predicting who will win the 16th February, 2019 presidential election. A couple of national newspapers have made projections on who will win and where. The Economist, a United Kingdom magazine, is of the firm belief that Atiku will win the election. The Economist assumes that “with the vote likely to be split in the North, Abubakar will find it easier to garner support from the country’s South, which has traditionally been a safe haven for the PDP.”
To my mind, this presidential contest, more than any other in our brief democratic experiment, is the sharpest and most contrastable in terms of the APC and PDP manifestoes, background and records of service of the aspirants as well as their visions for the country.
Although both Buhari and Atiku are no strangers to Nigerian politics, it is important to highlight the incompatible track records of the presidential aspirants of APC and the PDP. Buhari had joined the Nigerian army and fought in the civil war, he served as a military governor of North East State, comprising the current North East geo-political, as petroleum minister, Head of state as well as chairman of the former Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
In contrast, Atiku Abubakar’s most notable public service was as a former Customs officer from where he reportedly leapt into wealth and bought Intels, a logistics company. For millions of Northerners, the Atiku phenomenon is both unusual and questionable. Many of them are not impressed by this simple and easy path to wealth. Whereas Buhari has a very long history of selfless service spanning more than half a century, his opponent’s record is not so distinguished.
Back in 1992, Atiku had participated in leadership contest on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party and in 1999 was elected governor of Adamawa state. Thereafter, he served as Vice President of Nigeria under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2007, Atiku had also contested for the presidency on the platform of Action Congress (AC).
On the other hand, President Muhammadu Buhari has always had a solid political base, dating back to 2003 when he joined partisan politics and contested for the presidency on the platform of All Peoples Party. Recall also that ahead of the 2011 election, Buhari had quit the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and formed his own political party called the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Although Buhari lost that election in questionable circumstances, he was able to establish a firm grip on 12 million voters, mostly from the North. This in itself presents a contrast, because unlike Atiku Abubakar, Buhari had had the nerve to form a party and command the loyalty of millions of the Northern Talakawa and indeed Nigerians. This is what is usually referred to as Buhari’s vote bank.
Coupled with this are the world views and visions of the two. Buhari refused the many opportunities his career afforded him to be rich. He has remained not only austere but an epitome of probity. Most people who know Buhari, at home and abroad, agree that he is a man of integrity.
Accordingly, the projection by The Economist that Atiku will split the vote in the North and out rightly win in the South is mistaken. The vote in the North will not be split and the country’s South is not safe for PDP. Neither the North nor the South of this country is monolithic, politically or otherwise. There is nothing to show that the South or anywhere in Nigeria is safe for PDP. In the nearly four years since Buhari has been the President, people in Southern Nigeria, particularly the South West, have repeatedly thumbed down the record of PDP.
To be sure, there is “frustration over the rise in joblessness and poverty” as The Economist posited, but the masses in the North don’t believe that Atiku Abubakar is capable of doing anything about it. The Talakawa of the North West in particular do not connect with Atiku, they see him as a very rich person that mocks them. The story had been told of how Atiku said that God does not answer the prayers of poor people. Other than make new promises, Atiku has nothing to show the people of this part of the country for all the eight years he served as Vice President and so they can’t split their votes because of him.
The economy has since come out of recession; the foreign reserves are up and have remained above $40 billion since last year. The inflation rate is stable, as are the prices of food; the country has shown improvement in the ease of doing business and balance of trade is increasingly in our favour.
Atiku, however, craves foreign investment as about the only path to develop the economy. Atiku’s economic philosophy comes with a number of red flags. For example, he said he would risk his life to sell off 90% of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). For many Buhari supporters, this is bizarre. When Atiku says he will privatise 90% of NNPC, the strong belief is that he is not addressing Nigerians but foreign interests. What is the total value of NNPC? How much is 90% of it? How much is Atiku going to sell this huge percentage and to whom? Nobody is asking these questions. Yet Atiku must be interrogated on these matters because we were there before. We cannot forget that
President Muhammadu Buhari hold the trophy for the fiercest and most result-oriented anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria. No matter how imperfect this anti-corruption fight is, President Buhari has remained the only Nigerian leader alive to have tackled hitherto untouchable persons by not only prosecuting them but also disgorging their loot. He did this in army uniform in 1984 and is doing it now. The recovery of humongous amount of N800 billion, hundreds of belongings and convictions achieved in the current fight against corruption is impressive.
Unlike the Obasanjo/Atiku administration, the Buhari government is undertaking the most ambitious infrastructural development since the administration of General Yakubu Gowon. The number of bridges, roads, railways and power projects being actualised by this government is unprecedented. The Buhari government has just inaugurated a modern train service that runs from Lagos to Abeokuta, the hometown of country’s most duplicitous former president.
Additionally, Buhari himself has gained the support of many big politicians elsewhere in the South South. For example, in Akwa Ibom state, the President enjoys the support of Senator Godswill Akpabio, former Governor Victor Attah, former Minister of Petroleum, Don Etiebet, Nsima Ekere, Akpandoedehe and so on. The governor of Cross River state is also his friend. Edo state is firmly in the grip of APC and the citizens have a favourable opinion of Governor Obaseki.
In the South East itself, the governors are not so enamoured with the Atiku/Obi ticket. Imo state is in the hands of APC. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state, the home state of Obi, the running mate of Atiku, has a cold approach to the PDP presidential ticket. Besides the efforts of another party stalwart, the humble Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who was a former governor himself; Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi is Buhari’s friend and although they are in different political parties, there is no doubt he will push to ensure that the APC gets a sizable share of the vote in the state. In fact, there is no South East governor that is at loggerheads with President Buhari. All the governors express varying levels of support for the President, no matter how muted. In Enugu state, he is supported by Senators Ken Nnamani, Ayogu Eze, etc. It is safe to say that President Buhari has penetrated these states in the “PDP stronghold.” Actually, the only governors in the South that are hostile to President Buhari are Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa and Nyesom Wike of Rivers states. Both are PDP governors and they are the most partisan.
Buhari has his imperfections as a leader, but it is unthinkable to believe that Nigerians will vote for a manifestly corrupt party like PDP and its morally damaged presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. The congregation of ethnic champions, Obasanjo repertoire and other anti-Buhari forces deviously ranged against him appear to be incapable of having this election their way. Short of a monumental revelation that may shatter his integrity, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC is, God willing, firmly on the road to victory this 16th February.
– Najakku writes from 17, Kofar Kola, Birnin Kebbi.