Tuesday, January 15, 2019 3:50 pm
President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are leading the contest to determine the next occupant of Aso Rock villa
For leaders of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the mammoth crowd at their party’s kickoff of its 2019 presidential campaign in Sokoto on Monday, 3 December was another evidence that their dream of regaining the presidency they lost to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015 was realizable after all. For the opposition party, the choice of a city in the Northwest for the beginning of its presidential campaign itself is unarguably a strategic decision designed to test the acceptability of its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in a zone considered to be the main stronghold of Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president who will also run for a second tenure in 2019.
Both men who are regarded as the main contenders for the presidency in the field of 73 candidates that will be on the ballot during February’s presidential poll share ethnic, religious and regional origins, which are crucial factors of identity in Nigerian politics.
But while the PDP presidential candidate is from Adamawa State in the Northeast, President Buhari is from Katsina in the Northwest part of Nigeria. The Northwest region with seven states is the region with the highest number of votes in Nigeria. President Buhari had since he started contesting for the presidency in 2003, won in most of the states of the region, though he didn’t clinch the presidency until 2015. Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is also the spokesperson of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation told this magazine that the 19 million votes in the Northwest are on ‘locked down’ for his principal ahead of the 2019 presidential election when he was asked if APC leaders are jittery over the reception of Atiku in the region.
Indeed, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, believed to be one of the closest APC members to President Buhari, had alleged that most of the people at the PDP rally were Nigeriens. Expectedly, the PDP said the “mammoth crowd of supporters” at the rally was a clear demonstration that “Nigerians, across the board, have reached a consensus to vote Atiku in as the next president of our country,” in a statement by its spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan. “The massive reception expresses the confidence of the North-West in Atiku Abubakar’s proven pro-poor stance; his standing affinity with the down-trodden and his demonstrated competence, capacity and political will to revamp our economy, end starvation, sectional acrimony, human rights abuse and humongous corruption, which the Buhari administration has unleashed on our nation in the last three and half years,” Ologbondiyan said in a statement released few days after the rally.
Further rubbing it in and in response to the ‘Nigeriens’ claim of El-Rufai, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, said the success of the PDP’s North West rally was instilling fear in the minds of his Kaduna State counterpart and his cohorts. The governor described the rally as “the final burial of APC government in the North West and Nigeria in general,” in a statement by his Special Adviser on Public Enlightenment and Mobilisation, Akibu Dalhatu. Tambuwal vowed to defeat APC and deliver the entire North West to PDP in 2019.
Atiku Versus Buhari
For 72-year old Atiku, who was Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007, the 2019 general election will perhaps mark the last attempt in his efforts to lead Nigeria principally on account of his age. The retired officer of the Nigerian Customs Service began his political journey when he contested to become the governor of the defunct Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991. He, however, began his bid to rule Nigeria when he contested for the presidential ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party alongside the late MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the party’s primaries 1993. Atiku came third in the primary. On return of Nigeria to democracy, Atiku contested for and was elected the governor of his home state of Adamawa in 1998 on the platform of PDP.
However, he was chosen as the running mate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the PDP candidate in 1999 presidential election before he could assume office as governor. Obasanjo and Atiku were elected as Nigeria’s president and vice president on 29 May, 1999. But it was generally believed that even as Obasanjo’s deputy, Atiku’s focus was on the presidency. For one, the retired Customs officer has confirmed the rumours that there were pressures on him to break away as vice president to contest for the presidential ticket of PDP against Obasanjo in 2003. Though he did not push it through, the presidential ambition was believed to be at the root of Atiku’s acrimonious relationship with his retired military General boss in the second term of their presidency. Obasanjo subsequently tried to stop his vice president from succeeding him over allegations that he was corrupt.
Atiku will, however, tell anyone who cares to listen that he incurred the wrath of the former President because of his opposition to Obasanjo’s third term agenda. Towards the 2007 presidential election, Atiku defected to the then opposition Action Congress and got the presidential ticket of the party. Nevertheless, an investigative panel set up by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC which was believed to be working at the behest of the President indicted Atiku for corruption and the then Maurice Iwu -led Independent National Electoral Election, INEC subsequently disqualified him.
However, the Supreme Court ordered the electoral commission to restore Abubakar’s name onto the presidential ballot. Atiku therefore contes, therefore, platform of AC, but lost the election, placing third after Umaru Yar’Adua, the candidate of PDP who was the winner of the election and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. Following the death of Yar’Adua in office and subsequent taking over of power by Goodluck Jonathan, the deceased’s vice president, Atiku returned to PDP. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempt to snatch the presidential ticket of the party for the 2011 presidential election.
The Waziri Adamawa moved over to the APC when the mega coalition was formed ahead of the 2015 general election. Just like in 2011, he lost the presidential ticket to the incumbent president. The former vice president returned to PDP in November 2017. He gave many reasons, including the claim that his former party failed to live up to expectations of the people as well as growing “arbitrariness and unconstitutionality’’ within the APC and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Atiku’s latest run for the presidency followed his victory at the PDP National Convention in October 2018. The retired Customs officer had at the presidential primaries described as the most competitive to be organized by the PDP, garnered 1,532 of the 3,274 votes from party delegates to defeat Sokoto governor Aminu Tambuwal who came a distant second with 693 votes and Senate president Bukola Saraki who came third with 317 votes.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to return the PDP to power. We’ve enumerated the challenges faced by the country over and over. What we need to do is to proffer solutions. That is what will make us different from the clueless government,” Atiku told his party members after he was declared the winner of the presidential ticket.
“The PDP Standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar, has changed parties so many times and collected so many membership cards. He could build a house of the party membership cards he has accumulated,” Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and a national leader of APC said recently on the seeming perpetual ambition of Atiku to rule Nigeria.
But Buhari, Atiku’s main opponent has also been part of Nigeria’s since the mid 70S when he was appointed the military administrator of the defunct North Eastern State. He had also served as Nigeria’s petroleum minister, member of Supreme Military Council and Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund among others.
Buhari who was also Nigeria’s military Head of State between 1983 and 1984 began his attempt to rule Nigeria as an elected leader in 2003. He contested the presidency on the platform of the defunct ANPP against former President Obasanjo in 2003. But he lost the election to the PDP candidate, scoring 32.17 per cent of the total votes. His other attempts in 2007 against Yar’Adua and against Jonathan, now on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC ended in the same way. Ahead of the 2015 general election, President Buhari’s CPC had merged with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, which had as its stronghold, the Southwest part of the country, the ANPP and a part of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
The merger, which for the first time gave the retired General a truly national platform to contest a presidential election and defection of some PDP governors helped Buhari to defeat the sitting President Jonathan with 15, 416,221 votes to the then incumbent’s 12, 853, 162 votes. To win the election, Buhari had promised to end the maladministration of PDP’s 16 years government. Specifically, he identified insecurity, unemployment and corruption as areas his administration would concentrate upon.
So, what’s the difference between the two candidates? This may depend on who is asked the question. Generally, PDP supporters have described Atiku as urbane, pro –business, having been a very successful and wealthy businessman himself, a nationalist with friends across the country. While they may fall short of describing him as a policy wonk, they will however say the retired Customs officer has the ability to spot talents and is in tune with contemporary social economic developments in Nigeria and around the world. They also believed that with his career as a retired Customs officer and eight years as presidency, Atiku is prepared for the task of leading Nigeria.
However, members of APC will not waste time to point to series of corruption allegation against the former Vice President by his former boss as well as alleged indictment in a U.S Corruption case if you asked them to characterize the PDP presidential candidate. With his choice of Peter Obi as his running mate, PDP members argued that Atiku will provide a credible and experienced leadership capable of rescuing Nigeria from the economic and political doldrums it has been thrown into by the Buhari administration. “Atiku is experienced enough. He has demonstrated clearly in his personal life and his business life, that he has the capacity to bring this country to one, and make sure that our economy grows so that all of us will have something to eat,” former President Jonathan said at the Sokoto rally of PDP. While bemoaning what he described as the deteriorating socio economic situation in the country at the rally, Senate President Bukola Saraki said: “There is no security, there is no food, there is hunger. Atiku is the man that can fight insecurity, hunger and unite Nigerians.”
On the other hand, APC supporters say Buhari is honest, disciplined and not given to vices like ostentation and avarice associated with Nigerian politicians. Keyamo told this magazine that the only difference between Buhari and his closest challenger for the presidency was the issue of integrity. However, PDP members say in the last three and a half years he has been in power, Buhari has demonstrated that he remains a narrow minded, parochial man, given to nepotism and unable to rise up to the challenges of uniting Nigeria. They will easily point to the alleged lopsidedness of the appointments made by Buhari since 2015 to back up their claims. They have also described Buhari as clueless individuals who lacked the required knowledge to drive the economy.
Kassim Afegbua, one of the spokespersons for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council said events in the three years of Buhari in power showed that the President’s supporters are only dressing him up in false robes. He noted that contrary to expectations, the administration of Buhari has been characterized by corruption, nepotism, while the President has failed to fulfill any of the electoral promises of his party, including the promise to restructure Nigeria. As the campaign progresses, it is obvious that supporters of the two candidates will continue to search out for the vilest adjectives they can find to describe the presidential candidates.
The Classic Ronald Reagan Question
In the 1980 US presidential debate against the incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, the candidate of the Republican Party had asked to contemplate their situations and decide if they wanted to continue with the government in power and by answering a simple question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago? When Reagan asked the rhetorical question 52 Americans were being held hostage in Iran, the American economy was in a very poor state with inflation on the rise. Analysts believed that the question helped to tip the scale in favour of Reagan who went on to defeat Carter in the presidential election.
Now, in deciding who to vote for in 2019, the PDP is asking Nigerians to ask themselves the same question, especially on APC promise of security, anti-corruption and unemployment in 2015. Echoing this at the Sokoto rally, Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of House of Representatives who was part of the APC campaign for change in 2015 said the 2019 election is an opportunity to revisit promises made by the ruling party before it assumed power. The lawmaker argued that the election is not between Buhari and Atiku, but between the incumbent president and every Nigerian citizen who is suffering ‘untold hardship’ on account of lack of good leadership
PDP leaders and members have been answering the question in the negative during their campaigns. While emphasizing that the Buhari administration has reversed the strides recorded by the country when their party was in power, leaders of the opposition party will readily point to negative economic indices like rise in inflation rate, the falling in value of the naira, increased unemployment and poverty among Nigerians to prove their point. They will also point to claims that much more Nigerians are being killed now by Boko Haram insurgents and through various clashes between farmers and herdsmen in some parts of the country. The PDP also claimed there is more corruption now than when they were in power.
But APC members have been arguing that the PDP leaders are ‘only shooting themselves in the foot’ through such arguments. They argued that Buhari has been busy clearing up the mess of PDP administration since 2015 as the former ruling party handed over an economy that is already about to go into recession to APC. Members of the ruling party said all the negative indices being complained about were the consequences of maladministration of PDP’s 16- year rule during which it earned humongous amounts of funds from sale of crude oil but failed to invest or complete any critical infrastructure that could have served as the backbone for the country’s economic development.
And contrary to the situation under PDP, APC leaders argued that the Buhari administration, even with limited funds in its coffers as a result of the fall in price of oil has been completing critical projects left behind by its predecessors in the rail, power and transportation sectors while initiating new ones to put Nigeria on a solid infrastructure footing necessary for attracting investments.
In arguing for the continuation of Buhari in office, APC also argued that contrary to the argument of PDP, the President through series of initiatives have been able to reduce grand corruption in Nigeria and is implementing the National Social Investment Programme designed to take care of the unemployed and other vulnerable groups in the society, among others.
Between Taking Nigeria To The Next Level And Getting Nigeria To Work Again
Buhari’s achievements in the area of security, agriculture, transportation, economy, power and social investment among others were highlighted in presentations by some ministers and presidential aides during the launch of the President’s 2019 campaign document tagged Next Level at Aso Rock presidential villa on Sunday, 18 November.
The President said he is seeking re-election to take those achievements in the different sectors to a higher level. The document sets out the targets that the administration will aim for in the various areas as well as new policies and initiatives that the APC government will pursue in the area of economy, wealth creation, social investment, infrastructure development, digital economy among others if it gets a fresh mandate in 2019.
Since Atiku and his supporters believe that the country has been comatose under Buhari, it was not a surprise that the PDP presidential candidate said his campaign document, presented on Monday, 19 November was to get Nigeria working again. The presidential candidate said the document which was prepared with the help of the best experts Nigeria has to offer contains “policies and plans that when implemented will get Nigeria going in the right direction again.” In coming up with the policy, the former vice president quoted the International Monetary Fund as saying that poor leadership and the failure of the Buhari government to have a coherent and comprehensive set of policies was responsible for the negative turn of the Nigerian economy under the administration.
The former Vice President also assured Nigerians of his capability to deliver on his promises, citing what he described as his various achievements as chairman of the National Economic Council. Atiku claimed that NEC, under him gave Nigeria her highest and most consistent GDP growth of over 6% per annum while the administration in which he was the number two man also paid off Nigeria’s entire foreign debt and introduced the GSM revolution.
He promised that his plans will deliver to workers a living wage, youth, a world-class education, empower women, reduce maternal mortality , cater for the elderly, lead to investments in infrastructure and help create jobs and lead to a restructured Nigeria among others. Both parties have been selling their plans to the electorate even as critics have been looking through their promises and projections to point out areas that seem far- fetched or designed to hoodwink the electorate.
Fake News and Propaganda
Early this year, the Federal Government set up an in-house committee to investigate allegations that a British public relations consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica worked with PDP in 2007 and 2015 to manipulate information that will portray Buhari, the candidate of the opposition as a leader who would enforce Sharia Law in Nigeria.
This was with the intention of swaying the minds of millions of Nigerians and to vote for the PDP candidate. To do its work, the British firm was said to have illegally targeted Nigerians with data mined from the social media. The report of that probe has not been released. But facts are already emerging that manipulation of public opinion and sentiments with fake or grossly distorted information will also be a key weapon in the battle to win the support of Nigerians by the two parties in presidential electhe tion.
Thousands of social media influencers ( those with social media accounts with large following) have been recruited by both parties in the social media war and they have been busy churning out falsehoods and deliberately manipulated facts intended at hoodwinking mostly young voters ahead of the election. Social media aides of elected and appointed political leaders have also been indicted in the odious practice.
Thus, a wicked rumour that the present occupant of Aso Rock villa is either a cloned version of Buhari or one Jubril from Sudan started by on-the-run leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu has continued to gain traction. This was in spite of the fact that President Buhari, in a response to a question from a Nigerian in Poland last Sunday not only pointed out the stupidity in the claim that he is the cloned version of himself or it is his body double that has been ruling Nigeria, but also revealed the intentions of those behind the rumours. Media aides of key political office holders have also been caught sharing fake pictures and reports intended to make their principals look good or make the opposition look bad on the social media. The media aides of the political parties have also not been left out of the information war.
For example, the claim by Kola Ologbondiyan, the spokesperson of the PDP that bank accounts of the party’s vice presidential candidate have been frozen remain unconfirmed two days after as he could not name the specific agency responsible for the action. Obi himself has not confirmed if his bank account was indeed frozen while all the security agencies denied the claim. However, the good news is that Nigerians are getting wiser while some media groups, organisations and individuals have set up initiatives and structures for fact-checking to limit the influence of fake news on the election.
Free and Fair Election
Key PDP members say while they are confident of winning the election, they are however apprehensive about the possibility of the ruling party rigging the poll in its favour. They have accused the Police and INEC of pandering to the interests of the Buhari administration ahead of the poll. The PDP had also recently asked the Inspector General of Police and the Chairman of INEC to resign over allegations of partisanship after a meeting of its National Executive Committee some weeks ago. PDP leaders are hanging their latest fears that the 2019 election may be compromised on the refusal of the President to sign the 2018 Electoral Bill into law.
They argued that with the refusal of the President to sign the Bill, usage of card readers which would have guaranteed the credibility of the election have been sabotaged. But Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria said the assumption is wrong. He argued that an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 to the effect that voting at an election shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the INEC which was signed by President Jonathan on March 20, 2015 has taken care of the problem. “Pursuant to that amendment INEC has used the card reader for all elections conducted in the country since 2015. Being part of the procedure legally determined by INEC the use of card reader to accredit voters, card reader has not been questioned or impugned in all the election petitions that have been decided by all election petition tribunals and the courts,” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said. The President is an honest man, he will conduct a free and fair election, Keyamo said while describing the fears of PDP as unfounded.
Analysts say the 2019 election is crucial for the survival of PDP and the APC as the two leading Nigerian political parties. According to them, any of the party on the losing side in the election may find it difficult to keep its members together for another election. This is even more so for the two candidates who are both in their 70s. For Buhari, the struggle is not to end up as a ‘one term president’ after contesting for four times before getting elected while Atiku may be too old to attempt another run for the presidency in 2023. Atiku supporters said everything is working in favour of the former Vice President in the current election season.
They cited the defections of Senate President Abubakar Saraki, Governor AminuTambuwal, Dogara, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and other former APC leaders to the PDP as an indication that Atiku cannot be stopped in 2019. “These are all the people who worked for Buhari’s election in 2015 and they are now with Atiku,” Afegbua told this magazine.
Many leading Christian clerics have interpreted the clashes between the pastoral herders who are mostly of Fulani ethnic stock and farmers, who mostly belonged to the indigenous tribes especially in North Central Nigeria as attempts by Muslims to subjugate Christians and deprive them of their land resources. Those Christian leaders in and outside of the Northern part of the country also believe that Buhari has failed to take decisive action to end the attacks because he belonged to the same ethnic stock with the herdsmen.
While the Presidency has consistently described such accusations as unfounded, some religious leaders have since many months ago been campaigning against the president in their churches based on this allegation. Such campaign, according to analysts may work against the President in the North Central and other Christian dominated parts of the country in 2019.
In addition, they argued that if Nigerians will truthfully answer the questions on if their social economic circumstances have improved since improved or worsened since the election of APC into government in 2015, they would have no choice but to vote for Atiku. Also, the former vice president seem to have succeeded in rallying key ethnic and social political groups across the Southern parts of the country behind his ambition with his promise of restructuring.
Also, his promise to spend only one year in office was believed to be targeted at assuring the Igbo of the South-east that they will have a chance of producing Nigeria’s next president in the next four years if they support him in 2019. There are speculations that former Nigeria’s military leaders who are disappointed by the turn the country is taking under Buhari are also rooting for Atiku to take over.
But to Keyamo what appeared like a ‘gang up’ against Buhari ahead of the election will fail. “The Nigerian people are standing solidly behind the President,” he said.
The APC Presidential campaign spokesperson added that the 15 million people who voted for Buhari is 2015 are still very much alive. Beyond this, APC is also counting on its total control of the South West and greater number of states it controls in the Northern part of the country to return Buhari to power. No doubt the prediction of victory for Buhari by influential British magazine, The Economist in its edition, “The World in 2019” will be an added boost to the confidence of APC. The magazine in a country appraisal for Nigeria under “The world in numbers” had said: “The president, Muhammadu Buhari, will win re-election in February, as a new opposition coalition may collapse before the vote.”
There will surely be many twists and turns in the political firmament that will eventually decide the winner of the presidential election as the campaign progresses.
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