Today (Wednesday), no fewer than 8,000 delegates of the All Progressives Congress [APC} will gather in Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos to pick the party’s flag-bearer for the February 14 presidential election.
The delegates, both elected and statutory, drawn from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, will choose from the five aspirants who are asking to be elected as the party’s candidate for a presidential election that bookmakers believe might be the most competitive since 1999, when Nigeria transited from military dictatorship to representative democracy. Whoever of the five is selected at the primaries will slug it out with President Goodluck Jonathan, who is being ratified later today in Abuja as the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP].
The APC presidential aspirants are (in alphabetical order) a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; a former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari; governor of Kano State, Rabi’u Kwankwaso; his Imo State counterpart, Rochas Okorocha and the founder of Leadership newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah.
The sixth aspirant, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, who late in October left the PDP for the party, has since withdrawn from the race soon after some of his friends and colleagues in the House bought for him the Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms worth N27.5 million.
He opted instead to run for the governorship of his home state of Sokoto, and he won the party’s ticket Thursday.
In the last three months, Messrs Atiku, Buhari, Kwankwaso, Okorocha and Nsa-Isaiah have traversed the country selling their programmes to party faithful ahead of today’s presidential primary. So far, their campaigns have been decent, apparently in adherence to the party’s stern directive asking them not to engage in mudslinging and character assassination.
Discreet attempts by some party leaders to pick a consensus candidate among the aspirants were unsuccessful. All five contenders preferred to go into today’s contest, believing they could secure victory in a credible primary.
According to the Chairman of the 24-member National Convention Committee, Kayode Fayemi, the party’s candidate will emerge by secret ballot. He also said the five aspirants signed an undertaken to abide by the outcome of the primary.
Part of the agreements was that the losers in today’s contest will not only strongly back the winner that emerges, but will also not defect from the party.
“We use all sorts of names for these things – undertaking, consensus, understanding and so on. The important thing to us and the aspirants, which they have demonstrated, is that we don’t want to play into the hands of our opponents who are just waiting to see the collapse of the party,” Mr. Fayemi, a former governor of Ekiti State, said.
“That would shock Nigerians if we played into their hands. Nigerians want a credible alternative, they want this democracy to endure and the only way it will endure is if there is a fair competition and not a one-sided one.”
How The Candidates Stand
Atiku Abubakar: The former vice president, and one of Nigeria’s smoothest political operators, is not new to presidential contest.
In 2007, he ran for the first time for the nation’s topmost political job on the platform of the defunct Action Congress, AC, but came a distant third, behind the then Governor of Katsina state, Umaru Yar’Adua and Mr. Buhari.
In 2011, shortly after he returned the PDP, the party on whose ticket he was VP, he ran against Mr. Jonathan at the primary election, but lost.
He had much earlier, in 1992, showed interest in running the country on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, in the Third Republic. He came third in the presidential primary of the SDP at the time.
While formally declaring his fresh presidential bid to run on September 24, Atiku said one of the reasons he never gave up on Nigeria was because Nigerians had never succumbed to despair and hopelessness amidst difficulties and growing anxiety.
“This never-say-die attitude gives me immense hope and it is one of the reasons why I can never give up on Nigeria,” he said.
He lamented the poor state of the nation’s economy even as he recalled that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, under which he served, successfully reformed some critical sectors of the economy such as telecommunications and the capital market.
Atiku, 62, prides himself as one of the most experienced in the race going by his credentials as vice president for eight years, a successful businessman and a retired civil servant.
With a largely successful political career spanning about 24 years, Atiku has clearly built bridges and political structures which he could deploy to dislodge Mr. Jonathan from power next year.
Among the presidential aspirants, the former vice president appears to be the best prepared for the job. Recently he organised policy retreat aimed at fashioning a blueprint on how he would run the country if elected president.
During the retreat held at Obasanjo’s Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, sometimes in October, about 50 experts drawn from diverse backgrounds and competences analysed his policy document that will form the bedrock of his regime.
Again, with a deep pocket, the APC delegates might be swayed to his side. Not a few party faithful believe that if he gets the ticket, Atiku could single-handedly fund his campaign without looking at the direction of the party.
Although he does not enjoy the kind of followership in the North as Mr. Buhari, he is sure to share the northern votes this time at the APC convention with Messrs. Buhari, Kwankwaso and Nda-Isaiah.
Although bold and courageous, a major drawback could be his persistence defection from one party to another.
Some members of the party also see him as someone who is desperate to occupy the presidential seat. To these party members, the former vice president could be extremely independent-minded and would not be easily controlled by the party hierarchy, if he becomes president.
Perception is important in politics. During his fierce disagreement with then President Obasanjo in 2006, he was portrayed as corrupt, and repeatedly investigated. The allegations have remained largely unproved and he has never been tried for corruption. However, it has remained difficult for Atiku to convince Nigerians that he came into politics already fully made and that he acquired his vast wealth through legitimate means.
Muhammadu Buhari: He is a retired major general, who ruled Nigeria between 1983 and 1985. He declared his renewed bid to rule Nigeria again on the APC platform at a well-attended rally on October 15, in Abuja.
He has contested for the office of president in three previous elections. His first outing on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, was in 2003 when he was beaten to second position by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who got 24,456,140 votes. Mr. Buhari had just 12,710,022 votes.
Mr. Buhari tested his popularity once again in 2007, but was beaten by the then governor of his home state of Katsina, Umaru Yar’Adua. While Mr. Yar’Adua polled 26,638,063 votes, Mr. Buhari, who also ran in that election on the ANPP ticket came a distant second with 6,605, 299 votes.
In 2011, the retired general was on the march again. But at this time, he had fallen out with the ANPP and he and his supporters had floated the defunct Congress for Progressives Change [CPC]. It was on that platform that he ran against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in that year’s election. He lost to the president by 12,214,853 to 22, 495, 187 votes.
Although, Mr. Buhari had pledged not to run again after that election, he recently changed his mind claiming in a letter to some prominent Nigerians that he was concerned about the deteriorating economic and security situation in the country and would want to help address them.
On another occasion in Kaduna last month, the former head of state revealed how a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, prompted him to enter the presidential race again.
Regardless of how he joined the race this time, Mr. Buhari is optimistic he could fix Nigeria. He told a crowd of cheering supporters when he formally declared his plan to contest that he would place priority on protection of lives and property, pursue economic policies for shared prosperity and immediate attention on youth employment, provide quality education for development, modernity and social mobility; pursue agricultural productivity for taking millions out of poverty and ensuring food security while also reviving industries to generate employment.
He also promised to develop solid minerals exploitation, restore honour and integrity, tackle corruption and respect constitutional separation of powers between the arms of government.
But how far can he go in today’s primary election? Undoubtedly, the former head of state is one of the front runners in election. He parades impressive credentials, which includes experience in governance. He was a military governor and minister.
Having contested on three previous occasions, Mr. Buhari has built structures across the country, which would likely play in his favour.
What might sway the votes to him today is the cult-like followership he enjoys in the North of Nigeria. Delegates might prefer to invest in him believing his popularity might help the APC to defeat Mr. Jonathan in February. Indeed, not a few Nigerians believe that he stands a better chance of posing a threat to the PDP candidate in the North.
The delegates might also be influenced by Mr. Buhari’s acclaimed incorruptible disposition. For some party members, he might be the best option, especially in these times when the incumbent federal administration is perceived to be looking the other way in the face of massive and widespread corruption in the country.
Mr. Buhari also appears to be enjoying huge support from some party chieftains who could influence delegates to his side. For instance, it is speculated that he enjoys the support of another national leader of the party and former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu.
Mr. Buhari’s consistency in the opposition could also be a plus. Seen by his loyalists as a “born-again” democrat, the former military strongman, who terminated the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari in 1983, unlike the average Nigerian politician, never for once broached the idea of leaving the opposition despite losing elections three successive times.
However, the former head of state might face serious financial challenge in pushing his ambition through at the primary, which is why some of his supporters reportedly canvassed the idea of consensus candidacy which they believe might place him above the rest.
Besides, some party members are said to be tired of Mr. Buhari showing interest in every presidential race in the past three elections and would want him to retire from politics.
Another odd against the retired general is his age. He is 72, thus making him the oldest among the five contenders for the ticket. Some are already suggesting that he should give way to younger elements to try their hands in the presidential contest.
Rabi’u Kwankwaso: Alhough an engineer with a doctorate degree, Mr. Kwankwaso has had a progressive political career since 1991 when he quit the civil service voluntarily.
The Kano State governor, who leaves office in May, next year was Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the botched Third Republic.
He ran Kano State as governor between 1999 and 2003 on the PDP platform, but lost his re-election bid to the incumbent Education Minister, Ibrahim Shekarau. He returned as governor in 2011, but before then, had held the portfolio of Defence Minister during Mr. Obasanjo’s second presidential term.
Mr. Kwankwaso, 57, is arguably a frontline runner for the presidential ticket of the APC, a party he joined last year.
His performance as governor has drawn followers to him in the last few years and he believes he can replicate same at the national level. He has repeatedly stated so at every opportunity he has to showcase his achievements.
Recently, the governor said he had been studying the problems facing the country over the years and had come to the conclusion that he had the requisite experience and expertise to tackle the issues and give Nigerians and Nigeria a new lease of life.
He said he is particularly worried about the nation’s security challenges. According to him, the inability of the Jonathan administration to tackle the situation is not acceptable because millions of Nigerians had been driven into some neighbouring countries.
“The situation is so bad that apart from those displaced by the insurgents, many other Nigerians have been hospitalised while others have gone into hiding just to save their lives, while the system continues to give assurance of victory,” he said.
“So many Nigerians have also been displaced in Chibok, Gwoza and Bama as well as other places in the country. This is not a good thing for Nigeria and we need to rise up and find a lasting solution to the problem, which is not beyond us.
“A situation whereby Nigeria’s leadership is encouraging division is not good for the unity of Nigeria. We should stop abusing the very people we are supposed to protect and give them a sense of hope and dignity.”
But will his performance in Kano be the only selling point?
Apart from his performance credentials, some see him as a bold and dogged fighter who could brace all odds in governance.
Also, analysts say pairing him with the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, as running mate, could threaten the PDP during the February presidential outing.
However, analysts believe that unlike Messrs Buhari and Abubakar, Mr. Kwankwaso does not have a national appeal that could give the APC an edge over Mr. Jonathan.
Also, his radical views on some national issues might be a minus for him, especially among party members in some parts of the South.
As things stand, he might not be able to match Messrs Atiku and Buhari in today’s primary election. But politics could be unpredictable at times, and he might just spring a surprise.
Rochas Okorocha: Mr. Okorocha, 52, the outgoing governor of Imo State, is the only southerner in the race for the APC ticket.
He was elected governor on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, but led his supporters and government officials to the APC during the merger talks between the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.
He had shown interest in the office of president in the past both on the platform of the PDP and the defunct ANPP. He had, however, never contested in the main election.
This time, he said he wants to be president because he can fix Nigeria and that he has a better performance credential than the other four as well as Mr. Jonathan to do so.
He added, “I want to be president because I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that I can fix Nigeria. I am not in this race for primitive accumulation of wealth, but for service.
“Even if PDP, is given another 100 years, PDP will not perform, because they will remain what they are; so I depend on you and your vote to effect the needed change for a better Nigeria of our dream.”
As businessman and philanthropist, Mr. Okorocha, has built political bridges in the North, West and the East, his home region. He holds traditional titles even in the Muslim-dominated North. This confers great advantage on him.
Besides, his performance as governor since 2011 when he assumed office has become a reference point, particularly in that part of the country. But there are those who challenge his claim to have performed, saying some of his projects were cosmetic.
However, Mr. Okorocha’s hide and seek game over his political future is a minus. He is believed to be keeping the governorship slot to himself as a fall back position, even as he contests the presidential primary. Some say he is eyeing the vice presidential slot and that if he fails to pick it, he would revert to the governorship contest in his state.
Again, what may count against him at the primary is the belief by some party members that the presidential slot should go to the North.
As things are, it would be a huge upset if Mr. Okorocha prevails at today’s primary. That seems a distant possibility.
Sam Nda-Isaiah: This founder of the Leadership newspaper is a pharmacist by profession but his father, who died recently, was a journalist.
The 52-year old man has made a success in the media world and this success his supporters believe could be extended to governance.
“I want to be President to change the course of history of this country,” he once said. “I did not leave what I was doing which I was enjoying to come and get harassed simply because I want to feel good about it.”
Mr. Nda-Isaiah said he was not only coming with big ideas, he would be tough on corruption, which he accused the incumbent federal administration of condoning.
He argued that President Jonathan’s carriage does not indicate his willingness to fight the menace, saying, “from your body language, people will decide whether to be corrupt or not. If your idea is to suspend the Central Bank governor for raising alarm about corruption, are you now surprise that there is corruption in the land?”
However, a drawback for the newspaper man is his inexperience, politically. Though successful in the media world, among the contenders for the APC ticket, he is the least experienced. He is new in politics. He is not known to have occupied any political position in the past, which may be a minus for him. He is therefore seen as someone who is not strong enough to withstand Mr. Jonathan in the political battle.
Analysts have consistently argued that Mr. Nda-Isaiah should have tried his hands in lesser political offices, including a National Assembly seat before aiming at the biggest one. But many others have dismissed that suggestion, saying in his writings, he has demonstrated that he has what it takes to fix Nigeria.
Nevertheless, it was learnt that his frustration with the current state of affairs brought him into the race and that even if he loses, he would be comfortable with joining hands with an APC government in his state and in the centre in the task of rebuilding Nigeria.
Those close to him also say his current political adventure is a way of positioning himself for a plum job in case the APC forms the government at the centre in 2015, and ultimately to run for the office of the president in the near future.
An hour is a long time in politics. Anything can still happen before actual voting begins. The party might try once again to explore the possibility of throwing up a consensus candidate.
But talking to party leaders across the states and at the federal level, our analysts came to the conclusion that today’s primary election appears more a two-horse race between Messrs Atiku and Buhari, although the other contenders will definitely give them a run for their money.
Any of the two can carry the day.