On December 9, 2010, while formally declaring his intention to run for president in the 2011 election, former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari had said he would not contest the result of the election in court if he lost.
Mr. Buhari’s decision was premised on the fact that on two previous occasions, he had approached the court to adjudicate on his petitions challenging his loss in the elections, but was denied justice. He said it would be a waste of time to return there again.
“The common feeling was that the judiciary was not acting independently,” Mr. Buhari, who was then running on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, lamented at a news conference in Abuja.
“Even though we disagreed with the rulings, we accepted them as a decision of the highest court of the land so that people do not lose faith in the overall democratic system. This time we are not going to court. Once bitten…..but in our own case twice bitten.”
A few months later, at the grand finale of his campaign in Abuja Mr. Buhari promised that the 2011 presidential contest would be his last as he would not contest for the position again.
“This campaign is the third and last one for me. I will not offer myself again for election into the office of president,” he said.
Although, he lost to the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan in that election, with 12,214,853 votes to the president’s 22,495,187 votes, Mr. Buhari did not renege on his promise not to go to court. But his party felt otherwise. It filed a suit challenging the declaration by the Independent National Election Commission that Mr. Jonathan won the election.
Both the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal and the Supreme Court, in their rulings, rejected the CPC’s claim that the April 16 election was marred by irregularities and upheld the president’s victory.
In the main, not a few Nigerians had hoped that Mr. Buhari’s lamentation and decision not to go to court as well as his promise not to run again for president would truly marked his exit from the nation’s political terrain. That was not to be.
He had contested twice, but lost. In 2003, the former military strongman contested on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, but lost to the then incumbent, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who ran on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He got 12,710,022 votes representing 32.17 percent to Mr. Obasanjo’s 24,456,140 or 61.94 percent.
In 2007, Mr. Buhari threw his hat into the political ring again on the same party’s platform. Again, the PDP candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua floored him in an election that he (Yar’Adua) even faulted. He polled 6,605,299 or 18.72 percent to Mr. Yar’Adua’s 26,638,063 or 69.82 percent.
The APC leader, who will be 72 in December, is again back in the fray. Two weeks ago, Mr. Buhari, Nigeria’s leader between 1983 and 1985, declared that he would seek the ticket of his party to contest the February 2015 presidential election, the fourth time since he joined politics in 2003.
“With your support, I intend to offer myself for the position of the president of the republic on the platform of our great party. I intend to make a formal announcement soon and I hope I can count on your continuing support and sacrifice,” he announced to about 60 groups of supporters at a forum on September 30.
Buhari changes his mind
In fulfilment of this pledge, Mr. Buhari will, on Wednesday, at Eagles Square, Abuja, formally declare his intention to contest for the office of the president for the fourth time since 2003.
Why did he change his mind to join the presidential race? In a letter to some prominent Nigerians, the former head of state explained that he decided to contest again because he was concerned about the nation’s deteriorating economy and security situation, which he would want to fix if elected.
He also said since he announced his plan not to run again, he came under tremendous pressure from groups asking him to reconsider his stance.
Mr. Buhari said, “Just before the 2011 elections, which I contested, I said publicly, in a fit of pique, that that was my last outing as a presidential candidate. Days after that statement torrents of delegations, starting with one from Niger State led by Alhaji Umar Shu’aibu, then chairman of CPC, including a serving senator, three members of each House of Representatives and Niger Sate Assembly expressing strong opposition to my intentions.
“Another delegation from Kano State, led by General Abdulmalik Jibrin, consisting of delegates from most of the local governments in the state, came to express similar views. Since then, hardly a week passes without a concerned group or individuals visiting me and arguing that I was wrong to leave competitive politics.
“The stock answer I have always given is that we should first build a bigger party, a viable political platform before I could summon the courage to change my mind. In the meantime, all the indices of good government have deteriorated: insecurity, unemployment, power, failures, educational standards, health standards, the justice system etc. Wherever you turn, governance has taken a turn for the worse. Above all, corruption has taken a life of its own eating into every institution and every sector.”
The APC leader also came under pressure from his supporters to join the race. Buhari Vanguard, a group of his supporters organised a rally in Lagos and urged him to run. The leader of the group, Jasper Azuatalam, described Mr. Buhari as the only aspirant who could make a promise and keep it. According to him, Mr. Buhari does not have oil and is therefore not corrupt.
APC leader considers strategies of African opposition leaders
Some disciples of Mr. Buhari’s, citing the example of the 16th American president, Abraham Lincoln, who like Mr. Buhari lost several elections before finally winning the presidential election in 1860, say the retired general can make it this time.
A few weeks ago, the former head of state had asked one of his associates, Femi Olofunmilade to do a study on election strategies he could adopt to defeat Mr. Jonathan.
In the paper, Mr. Olufunmilade, who is the head of department of international relations and strategic studies and sub-dean of the School of Post Graduate Studies and Research of Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, unearthed the strategies eight Africa opposition leaders adopted in defeating the incumbents in the last two decades.
They are Frederick Chiluba (Zambia, 1991); John Kufour (Ghana 2000); Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal, 2000); Mwai Kibaki (Kenya, 2002); Yayi Boni (Benin Republic, 2006); Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone, 2007); Alhassan Quattara (Cote d’Ivoire, 2010); and Peter Mutharika (Malawi, 2014).
The paper said if Mr. Buhari adopts the strategies adopted by these African opposition leaders, Mr. Jonathan, the potential PDP candidate in the 2015 election would be defeated.
As a strategy to brighten his chances in the race for the APC presidential ticket and also broaden his support base, Mr. Buhari has embarked on further consultations on his presidential bid. Last Sunday, the APC leader, accompanied by some stalwarts of the opposition party, visited the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, apparently to seek his support. He is billed to make similar visits to the other APC governors and leaders.
Buhari’s strengths and weaknesses
However, despite the impressive preparations and massive support, Mr. Buhari is certain not to have it smooth. The reasons are not far-fetched. The presence of other formidable aspirants on the platform of the opposition party might be his undoing.
Among the aspirants are a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar; Kano State Governor, Rabi’u Kwankwaso; and Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah.
Others that may likely join the race Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole and an Information Technology consultant, Barnabas Akwenuke.
It is not certain if the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, will quit the ruling PDP to battle for the APC presidential ticket, although his body language is suggesting so.
Also, Mr. Buhari’s financial status might be another obstacle to realizing his ambition. The former Nigerian leader is not as financially buoyant as most of the contenders, particularly Mr. Abubakar. Of a truth, unlike the other contenders, the former Nigerian leader does not have the financial muscle to lobby delegates, who, when they attend the convention, must be settled, accommodated and given pocket money.
The APC leader alluded to this fact two weeks ago. “We may be the most underfunded project in the history of this country, but by the grace of God and your support, we are the greatest crowd puller in the nation today…,” he told his supporters.
Closely related to the above is the disagreement over the procedure for the APC presidential primary. Perhaps because of his financial weakness, Mr. Buhari’s supporters are canvassing the adoption of a consensus candidate or direct primary, which will involve all 18 million registered members of the party. However, Mr. Abubakar’s associates are asking for Modified Direct primary, which would involve about 20,000 delegates.
Yet there is the belief among some members of the party that the former head of state is too old to carry the banner of the opposition party. Mr. Buhari is the oldest among APC presidential contenders. Mr. Abubakar is 68; Kwankwaso 58; Mr. Akwenuke is 57; Nda-Isaiah 52; and Rochas Okorocha 52. Mr. Tambuwal is 48. The age of Mahmood Aliyu, the ABU professor, who also joined the race last week is not immediately known. Mr. Jonathan, the man one of them will challenge will be 57 in November. Although some are wont to say there is no correlation between age and performance, some party members are already kicking against his emergence on this premise.
Besides, Mr. Buhari had run for the office consecutively on three previous occasions. This to some of the party faithful, is a minus for him. As a serial presidential hopeful, some are already asking what new things he would bring to the table that will make a difference in the opposition’s bid to oust the PDP from power. Other say Mr. Buhari’s lacks the political energy to confront Mr. Jonathan who has built political bridges in the last four or so years.
Again, the APC in Mr. Buhari’s home state of Katsina is also in tatters. There is power struggle among the party faithful in the state with members queuing behind certain bigwigs of the party. This is certain to affect the pattern of voting at the convention for Mr. Buhari, who has not used his immense influence to intervene in the crisis bedevilling his local chapter of the party.
However, despite the drawbacks, not a few members and indeed Nigerians believe that only Mr. Buhari can present a formidable opposition to the PDP in the coming presidential election.
First, none of the aspirants can match the former head of state’s popularity across the country. He is believed to have a cult-like followership in the North. The followers are ready to vote Mr. Buhari without being influenced with money.
Another factor in favour of Mr. Buhari is his role in the merger of the parties that merged into the APC. Many of the members say it is payback time for a man who played crucial role in the merger of three opposition parties and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. The members believe the former military strongman should be compensated with the presidential ticket because other contenders such as Messrs. Abubakar and Kwankwaso merely want to reap where they did not sow. Both defected from the PDP.
As Mr. Olufunmilade explained to PREMIUM TIMES, “The whole idea of APC was centred around bringing Buhari to power. The whole ACN went to meet him and negotiated the formation of APC. All the other ones that came later, APGA and others – it was just to get the number and give it a semblance that all the opposition are together.
“When you look at the evolution of APC, it began in 2011 when CPC and ACN tried to have working agreement. Somehow due to intrigues and all the rest of it, that alliance did not work. The PDP tried their best to see that it doesn’t work at that time. Now after the election, we revisited it and concluded the alliance.”
Yet, another factor that might be in Mr. Buhari’s advantage is his alleged discreet backing by another leader of the party and former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, who is not only being suspected to be positioning himself as his (Buhari) running mate, but also aiding him financially to block Mr. Abubakar.
To show that he is truly a “born-again” democrat, the former head of state has pledged to back any one if he does not pick the ticket and has indeed directed his supporters to do so.
Whatever be the case, what is certain is that this is Mr. Buhari’s last chance. If he wins the ticket and the presidential election, he will conclude his four-year tenure at age 77. If he does not, he might be too old to run again in 2019.