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Buhari in the North Myth or reality?
GENERAL Mohammadu Buhari came to the national scene on December 31, 1983, when his name was announced as the Head of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) which overthrew Alhaji Shehu Shagari only after three months of his re-election. The soft-spoken Buhari, backed by his strong deputy, General Tunde Idiagbon, ran a regime which instilled fear into Nigerians.
Though a military regime, it took some populist steps, forcibly opening locked warehouses where food items and the like were hoarded and selling them to the needy populace at prevailing market prices. There was no hiding place for the politicians overthrown by the regime.
Buhari’s regime came on the strength of allegations of corruption against the civilian administration and he did not spare any of the main political actors. Even governors who were believed to have worked for the development of their states were clamped into long detentions and eventually ridiculous jail terms of 60 to 150 years.
The War Against Indiscipline (WAI) programme of the regime was the major tool used to whip everyone into line. There was order, a forced order at the time. Less than one year into his regime, Nigerians were already looking forward to the return of democracy and everywhere Buhari and his deputy, Idiagbon, turned to, they were confronted with the question: ‘When will you kick-start the transition to civil rule programme?’
The excesses of the Buhari-led regime provided the loophole for a palace coup in August 1985, when the then Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Babangida, seized power. Babangida’s coup was ushered in with jubilation among the populace, which had become tired stiff of Buhari’s iron rule. Babangida, who appeared to have taken note of the general thinking in the polity, promptly announced a transition to civil rule programme, though he was to drag on the programme for eight years.
Twenty-six years after he was overthrown in a palace coup, General Buhari has retained his stiff self. Now in civilian politics, the somewhat taciturn general hardly gives much away in negotiations. Those who have worked with him said the Katsina-born general could enter into negotiations with you without placing much on the table. That, according to sources, was responsible for the inability of many of his associates to correctly read his politics.
But Buhari ordinarily appears a man that is not cut out for the wheeling-dealing of politics. He has remained his quiet self since he was overthrown by Babangida in 1985 until he was ‘resurrected’ by the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, who took over power in November 1993.
Abacha set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) to manage a percentage of increase in petroleum products as announced by his government in 1994. The funds to be managed by the PTF were to be devoted to road rehabilitation, construction and health intervention projects. For a government that was generally unpopular, Buhari distinguished himself through the work of the PTF. He constructed roads and stocked hospitals with drugs. Though he was accused of playing sectional politics with the work of the fund by concentrating efforts on parts of Northern Nigeria to the detriment of the South, it was clear that he did some work that stood the test of time.
His Entry Into Politics
Incidentally, Buhari’s entry into politics on April 25, 2002, when he registered as a member of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), was tainted by what was regarded as sectionalism, though the man has come to distance himself from such tendencies in recent years. Insiders in politics revealed that the decision to draft Buhari into politics in 2003 was a result of the thinking among some Northern politicians that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo should not be allowed to get elected for a second term in office. Some governors of the ANPP were said to have beckoned to Buhari, after some Northern leaders had attempted unsuccessfully to lobby Obasanjo out of the second term bid. It was understood that those who projected Buhari believed that he did well for the North when he served as chairman of PTF under the regime of the late General Abacha. He was then robed in the garb of a politician and made to face former President Obasanjo in a fierce electoral contest. At the end of the election, Buhari scored 32 per cent of the votes to come second behind the then president. His party, the ANPP, also trailed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by winning five governorship seats out of the 36 available.
If the 2003 experience was a baptism of fire for Buhari, the former head of state had become his own man in 2007. He confronted the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was then serving as governor of Katsina State. Obasanjo stood solidly behind Yar’Adua and ensured that Buhari was defeated, not only in the states across the country, but also in his state, Katsina. The returns from the election in 2007 was, however, worse than it was in 2003 for Buhari. In 2007, Buhari and the ANPP could only score 18 per cent of the votes. The party also won four governorship seats in that election.
Having been dealt with on two occasions by the PDP machinery, General Buhari appeared frustrated by the ruling party. His own party, the ANPP, was not growing bigger. Indeed, he had started facing challenges in the party as far back as 2006 as his victory in the party’s national convention preceding the 2007 election had to be arranged following stiff competition from younger elements, including the then governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani (Yerima).
Buhari, in some submission, painted the nation’s democratic experience since 1999 as a catalogue of betrayals and bungled opportunities. He has also, somewhat, lost faith in the judiciary, which he believed unjustly gave victory to Obasanjo in 2003 and Yar’Adua in 2007.
He had expressed his frustrations in these words: “Our experiences at the polls are supported by credible reports from several independent, local and international observers and showed clearly that those elections were not transparent, credible, free or fair. Nor did they reflect the true will of the people.”
The Katsina-born general carpeted the judiciary for creating the impression that it was taking orders from some quarters, especially after what he described as the “overwhelming” evidence submitted by his party.
Buhari told an interviewer: “In the face of such overwhelming evidence, to the contrary, it hardly conformed to the idea of justice and it creates the common feeling that the judiciary was not acting independently.
“Democracy cannot survive if its operators refuse to play by the rules and those in authority continually conspire to subvert the system.
“Unfortunately, this country witnessed in the 2003 and 2007 elections, massive fraud, unprecedented in electoral exercises in this country.”
Coming of the CPC
Foundation for the formation of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) by The Buhari Organization (TBO) had been laid in 2006. Unlike in 2003, when the ticket of the ANPP was there for the general, he had faced some opposition in 2006. Even when the presidential ticket was granted to him, there were a number of issues relating to the integration of the TBO with the ANPP Campaign Committee. The issues lingered till after the elections and they, indeed, boomeranged after the elections, especially when the party decided to join the Government of National Unity (GNU) set up by the late President Yar’Adua.
Buhari’s running mate in the 2007 election, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, who was the National Chairman of the ANPP, had to abandon the general, following the unsuccessful bid to get him to withdraw the suit he instituted against the 2007 presidential election.
It appeared, at that stage, that the ANPP had abandoned Buhari and that what was left was for the general to set sail on another platform. It was also clear that the general did not enjoy a chummy relationship with the Kano State governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. Ahead of the 2007 election, there were issues on whether Buhari would campaign for Shekarau in Kano or not. The feeling was that if Buhari refused to campaign for the governor in the ancient city, the mass of his followers could use protest votes to oust the governor.
But Shekarau went ahead to win the 2007 election in Kano, notwithstanding Buhari’s support. That immediately set up another front for Buhari as Shekarau also commenced a process of stamping his authority on the party. Thus, Buhari left the ANPP to form the CPC before it was too late. Today, he remained the undisputed leader of the CPC.
Buhari and the 2011 polls
Since he joined the campaign for the 2011 election on the platform of his own party, Buhari has cut an image, especially in the North. It has been said that the CPC started spreading in the states of the North like wild fire. While much of this can be said to have been fuelled by the desire in some quarters that power remains in the North, there is, however, the added version of Buhari’s personal integrity. Whatever his opponents say about him, Buhari still retains the image of an incorruptible leader out of office. He also appeals to the man on the street as a leader who can fight corruption, most probably out of the fierceness his regime fought the overthrown politicians and threw them into long jail terms in 1984.
But Buhari appeared to have allowed the frustrations of the past to get at him this time. His campaign has been much of ‘we’ versus ‘them’ stuff and he was apparently caught off guard recently during a campaign rally in Minna, Niger State, where he admonished his supporters to lynch any opponent who attempted to tamper with election results. He said in Hausa; “ku gama da shi!”
In Gombe on Wednesday, the general had to apologise to the state governor, over the vandalisation of the Secretariat of Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation by his followers. Rather than retain the campaign in the realm of issues, Buhari and members of the opposition parties have been painting the ruling PDP as the enemy that must be destroyed. Somehow, their supporters appear to be imbibing the thinking.
The Buhari thinkers, however, know their limits. The CPC, notwithstanding the feeling of invincibility by its supporters in the North, does not overrate itself. Its leaders are aware that the party is virtually non-existent in the South. Though Buhari does not want to have a repeat of the ANPP experience where he was treated as an outsider, he nonetheless understands the need for alliances and mergers. That set the stage for the talks with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The alliance could, however, not materialise before the April elections drew too close. Even now, close associates of Buhari believe that the talks should be kept aglow since they appeared to have resolved only to challenge the PDP and stall its landslide victory. A member of the CPC/ACN alliance talks, Senator Abu Ibrahim, told the Sunday Tribune recently that the plan by the opposition was to ensure that the PDP did not win at the first ballot and that the opposition plans to keep the alliance discussions alive such that it would be easily reinvented if a rerun election becomes apparent in April.
Perhaps, the coast for electoral collaboration would have been clearer for Buhari, if not for the complications with the ACN itself. Founder of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, had planned to run as the vice presidential candidate to General Buhari. The stage was set for that when the ANPP entered into discussions with the progressives, but Buhari’s decision to go it alone and found the CPC slowed down the talks. Again, Buhari’s refusal to run on the platform of another party also slowed down the agreement. The ACN had agreed to adopt the general on condition that he would fly the flag of ACN. To avoid being caught unawares, the ACN decided to nominate Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential flagbearer, pending the conclusion of the alliance talks with the CPC. But that further complicated the matter. Upon Ribadu’s emergence, certain interests in the party started urging him not to withdraw his candidature even in respect of Buhari. The issues dragged till very late in the day and it became obvious to both parties that alliance or merger was no longer feasible.
Can Buhari pull a strong string in the coming election? Much of the answer would remain in the realm of conjecture, but a careful reading of the opposition strategy seems to point to the fact that they are almost attesting to the superiority of the PDP. Planning to ensure a rerun election, instead of planning to defeat the ruling party at the first ballot, means that the opposition believes that PDP has become too strong for them to defeat.
Again, the assumptions in the opposition circles follow the prescribed pattern of voting among the geopolitical zones in the past years. There is nothing that suggests that the opposition was thinking there could be some paradigm shift in voting pattern this time. And there are indications that point to a possible shift in voting pattern.
The search for free and fair election is one and the insistence of the electoral commission that votes would count could create problems for anyone whose projection is based on the old paradigms. For instance, opposition have calculated that the South West would vote for the ACN, based on the resurgence of the party in the zone of recent, while they also projected that the North West would vote for Buhari. The North West has about 18 million voters, while the South West has 15 million. Thus, the projection is that if the two parties can squeeze out the PDP in the two most populous zones, they would have succeeded in ensuring the inevitability of a rerun election by stopping the PDP from winning 51 per cent of the votes. This, they believe, would afford them the opportunity to actualise the much desired electoral collaboration.
This projection could, however, be hampered by the reality that younger voters would be participating in the next election than in the previous ones. Statistics of voters and the population census indicate that the youth of age 30 and below constitute about 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population. This is a class that may not be easily influenced by recourse to ethnicity and religion or blind party loyalty which formed the fulcrum of the opposition’s projections.
Strengths and weaknesses
General Buhari said on his presidential campaign website: “As I look forward to the road ahead, I am optimistic because I believe Nigeria’s best days are still to come. Our country has a bright future, but we must work together to ensure that our shared prosperity creates new and better opportunities for us.”
He has remained consistent in his resolve to undo the PDP at the next election.
The focal point for Buhari’s campaign is the crowd that follows his campaign trail. It has been said that the former head of state has maintained a close touch with the man on the street, especially in the Northern part of the country. He is fast becoming the new leader of the Talakawa in this era. The burden of that, according to political watchers, is that many of those who constitute the crowd may not be registered voters, while some members of the party who are bent on showcasing the popularity may go all out to ensure the campaign venues are filled to the brim. Outside that, the fact that Buhari does not draw the crowd across the country is also a minus.
The Buhari/Bakare ticket
General Buhari seems to be passing some messages when he announced the choice of Pentecostal pastor, Tunde Bakare, as his running mate. First, he seems to be saying that the political class had betrayed him twice n 2003 and 2007. So, he wishes to go for his own man, who is not necessarily a politician. Secondly, he seems to be passing a message to Christians and others who have the feeling that the general is a religious bigot and an unbending Muslim that he could work with one of them. Whether the two issues in the calculation can yield positive results for Buhari should be left to time. But it appears there are some noticeable burdens in the choice so far.
The fact that the pastor comes from the South West, which has a liberal religious outlook, could make the choice look porous, especially when a son of the area had completed two terms in the Presidency between 1999 and 2007. Perhaps, if the cleric had come from the South East or South South, the liabilities would probably have reduced. Pastor Bakare’s church also does not have branches across the country, thus, making him only rooted in Lagos. Again, it is also debatable whether religion should be made a fundamental campaign issue in 2011Nigeria.
Sultan Abubakar’s charge on religion
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, spoke on Wednesday, when the campaign train of President Goodluck Jonathan berthed in Sokoto. The Sultan’s declaration came on the heels of serial attempts by some forces to give the coming election some religious coloration.
The Sultan said Nigerians ought to relegate issues of religion and ethnicity to the background when going into the April polls.
The monarch said: “God has a reason for making us to live together as different tribes with religious, ethnic and political differences,” adding that Nigerians ought to be seen to elect leaders of their choice for the political growth of the country.
“You must put it in your mind that seeking elective position is not a do-or-die affair,” the Sultan stated.
The declaration by the revered monarch has been hailed as a big boost for the campaign of unity mounted by President Jonathan and his supporters. Some political leaders from the North had insisted that the 2011 election should be contested by the candidate from the North, in line with the dictates of the PDP constitution on zoning. But the PDP had said that the nation’s constitution, which recognises the right of the vice president to step in when a president dies, had empowered Jonathan to succeed his late boss, Alhaji Yar’Adua. The party, therefore, granted Jonathan the go-ahead to contest the 2011 election.
Buhari’s popularity, myth or reality?
General Buhari has been painted as the most popular candidate in the North, followed by Mallam Shekarau of the ANPP and then, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN. Pictures being painted in some quarters indicate that of a Buhari having a clean sweep of the elections in the North.
However, such a claim cannot be sustained in view of the statistics of elections conducted in the current dispensation. In 1999, when the military regime of General Abdusalami Abubakar conducted election, the All Peoples Party (APP), now ANPP, won seven states out of 36. That appears to be the highest the ANPP has got in this era. In 2003, when the party fielded General Buhari, the number depreciated to five states and then, four in 2007. ANPP had ruled in states including Borno, Yobe, Kwara, Kogi, Zamfara, Bauchi and Kano. Right now, what used to be a united ANPP force has been shared between that party and the CPC. The fact that Buhari’s influence has never crossed some states of the North West and two in the North East means that the CPC, a splinter of the ANPP, has a lot to do.
Apart from the division in the ranks, the CPC does not have the financial wherewithal of the PDP. In the twilight of the campaigns in the 2007 election, the party ran out cash and could not muster enough funds to pay party agents in all the 120,000 polling units across the country. A financier of the party was told that there were no funds to pay party agents in the whole of South.
The CPC, which is fashioned after Buhari’s austere lifestyle, could face this type of problem and if that happens, it would be left to rue its chances at the end of the day.
The North West: His strengths weaknesses
As the April presidential election draws nearer, the situation in Kaduna State, pundits have said, is still unpredictable as far as who the people would vote for is concerned. Those who are very visible and have solid campaign structures in the old crocodile state are the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, whose running mate, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, originated from Kaduna State.
Former Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has continued to attract a large followership in the state, especially from the rural areas, while the presence of Ibrahim Shekarau and Nuhu Ribadu of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) respectively is not seriously felt in the state. Others, many have observed, were simply in the race just for the fun of it.
Although the election in this zone is heavily influenced by region and religion, those working for Jonathan in Kaduna have continued to traverse every nook and cranny of the state to project his candidature, oftentimes meeting with Islamic clerics to convince them of the need to vote for Jonathan and the incumbent governor of the state who they claimed are “good friends” of Muslims and have a lot in store for them once they emerge successful in the elections.
But hard as they are trying, some extremely knowledgeable Islamic clerics, especially in villages and hamlets where the masses abound, have continued to preach to their followers that once a non-Muslim becomes president, the Nigerian flag in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries would be flown at half mast, signifying that the country and its people would have no full recognition and respect in the Islamic world. What they did not however say was whether that happened during Obasanjo’s eight years or has happened in the past two years of Jonathan.
Even in the cities, Kaduna for example, the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria was said to have, at a meeting it held with ulamas from across the country, chided the Jonathan-led administration for allegedly being insensitive to the plight of Muslims, citing the president’s failure to take drastic action against the authorities in Plateau and Borno States as issues that must be considered before electing the next president.
Furthermore, the kind of crowd that converged on Kaduna penultimate weekend to witness the flag off of Buhari’s presidential campaign must have sent shivers down the spine of his political opponents.
But the PDP must be given the credit of good organisation in Kaduna State and the strategy it has taken to reconcile warring factions within it seems to be working. Senator Ahmed Makarfi, for instance, many have reasoned, has the political structure and appeal to woo the people to Jonathan’s side, no matter where they are or which religion they belong to. He was said to have done this before and could do it again with a genuine support and encouragement from the camp of the incumbent vice president.
In the words of an analyst, Jonathan would, all things been equal, get massive support from Southern Kaduna, while Buhari would no doubt, clinch the votes in Northern Kaduna in a clean contest. Kaduna Central, based on its cosmopolitan nature, would be shared.
In this state, two presidential candidates are expected to get the majority of the votes in April. These are Jonathan and Buhari. President Jonathan’s chances in the state is boosted by the fact that it is predominantly controlled by the ruling PDP. This is besides the love the people have for him in the state as a result of his loyalty and support for late President Umaru Yar’Adua when they were together.
Before he became president, Yar’Adua had established a strong political base which had made the PDP to become a force to be reckoned with, overshadowing several opposition parties, including the ANPP which used to be the major opposition in the state.
It was in this atmosphere of dominance that the party produced the incumbent governor, Ibrahim Shema, who is today President Jonathan’s campaign coordinator for the North West zone. So, it goes without saying that the dominance of the party and its strong financial base are added advantages which would go long way in making Jonathan’s re-election bid a success in the state.
However, Katsina is home for Buhari. He hails from Daura Local Government Area of the state. He also has substantial support base just like his counterpart in the PDP.
It would be difficult to pinpoint where ANPP’s Ibrahim Shekarau’s chances stand as his party, which was once the major opposition, is anything but formidable in the state’s political arena. Most prominent members of the party are either in the CPC or in the ruling PDP, including two of its former governorship aspirants, Senator Abu Ibrahim and Mr. Nura Khalil, who are in the CPC and PDP respectively. Even its intended gubernatorial aspirant, Honourable Ahmed Funtua, who was thought to be making efforts to reunite the party, made a U-turn when he secured the senatorial ticket of the ACN.
The influence of former university don and ACN’s gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Usman Bugaje, raises Nuhu Ribadu’s chances of getting some votes in the state during the coming elections. In terms of popularity and support base, ACN is third in the state after the PDP and the CPC, a development that makes Ribadu’s chances as bright as that of any of the aforementioned candidates. It is said that the party has the financial resources to put together the necessary machinery to reach the electorate as well as a strong support base which has recently been shored up as a result of the party’s rising profile in the state.
Other parties also have some form of presence in the state and are said to be working for their presidential candidates, but the aforementioned parties have so far, stolen the show.
Zamfara, Sokoto and Jigawa
In these states, the story might be different for Jonathan as Buhari’s popularity has risen to an unprecedented level in recent times. Although the PDP, in these states, has a solid structure and could win elections at all levels, feelers from these states indicated that the people are so passionate about a Muslim president. Remarks coming from the likes of Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, in recent times have affected the popularity of his favorite presidential candidate in the state and beyond. The truth, however, is that Jigawa is almost certainly safe for Jonathan because of the hold and performance of Sule Lamido on the politics of the state.
Here, the PDP and the CPC will share spoils because the former governor, Senator Adamu Aliero is in CPC while the incumbent governor, Dakingari, is in PDP.
Politics in Kano cannot be predicted. However, going by the unfolding political scenario, three presidential candidates, Jonathan, Buhari and Ribadu, have supporters in Kano State.
Shekarau, who now is the presidential candidate of the ANPP, as a result of his immense contribution to the socio-economic development of the state in the past eight years, leads in popularity. He will, certainly, get majority of the votes in Kano, while Jonathan and others would scramble for the remnants, if there would be any.
Additional report from Hassan Ibrahim, Northern Bureau Chief