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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why Buhari may win the 2015 presidential election

Why Buhari may win the 2015 presidential election OCTOBER 21, 2014 BY NIYI AKINNASO “We are all aware that Nigerians are tired of the present situation in the country, with poor leadership. We should not allow what is happening in the country to continue in the next four years again. We must be ready to join hands with our people to salvage the nation.” – Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) at the APC stakeholders’ meeting on October 18, 2014 We must not fight over political offices within the party. We must not allow our aspirations as individuals to jeopardise our collective resolve to salvage the country. We have the number and we are in the position to make or break the future of the generation yet unborn in this country.” – Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, at the APC stakeholders’ meeting on Saturday, October 18, 2014 Not too long ago, at the height of the popularity of the All Progressives Congress, everyone thought that the 2015 presidential election was for the party to lose. That popularity was boosted by the defection of several Peoples Democratic Party stalwarts, including former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a number of governors and ex-governors, and many members of the House of Representatives. Fear even gripped the PDP for a while as the APC temporarily had, or seemed to have, the majority in the House of Representatives. However, the momentum fizzled as the APC seemed to lose focus, bickered over who gets what position, and failed to produce a manifesto to counter President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. As I indicated last week, APC’s lackluster preparations for the 2015 presidential election cannot but provide a boost to Jonathan’s chances of winning re-election. Nevertheless, a week or two could be a long time in presidential politics, not to speak of four months. Just a few days ago, the APC gained some momentum, following the declaration of former Head of State, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to vie for the presidency in 2015. Although three other APC aspirants, Atiku Abubakar, Kano State Governor, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, and the publisher of Leadership Newspapers, Chief Sam Nda Isaiah, have also declared their intention to vie for the same ticket, there are indications that Buhari would emerge as the party’s candidate, most likely by consensus in order to avoid a fractious primary battle. Not only is Buhari the silent choice of the APC party leaders, especially from the South, a concerted effort was also made at the weekend by many Northern leaders of the party towards his emergence as the APC’s consensus candidate. The statements by Buhari and Shettima at the beginning of this essay were made at the meeting of the Northern stakeholders. Going by the contents of their full speeches at the meeting, it was not by accident that Buhari spoke on behalf of all the presidential aspirants, while Shettima spoke on behalf of Northern governors. The hidden transcript of their speeches and the mood of the meeting point to the emergence of Buhari as the consensus candidate. I will treat him as such in the remainder of this essay. The first major factor in Buhari’s favour at winning the 2015 presidential election is the perceived weak leadership provided by President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the perceived poor performance of his administration. Buhari and other APC leaders have been hammering away at these shortcomings. I use the word “perceived” advisedly. It is not the case that Jonathan has done nothing. His record on the rehabilitation and (re)construction of federal highways arguably surpasses that of his predecessors since 1999. So are his attempts at improving power supply and the education, agriculture, and aviation sectors. True, the Nigeria’s rising economic profile may have to do with oil exploitation and the expanding market for goods and services, no President will fail to claim credit for it. But Jonathan has a poor perception problem due to recognisable failures in fighting terrorism, curbing corruption, controlling leakages in the oil industry, including pipeline vandalism, and saying/doing the right thing at the right time. A long pile of records of his notable achievements may not be able to erase this negative perception in less than four months. In order for Buhari to take full advantage of the perceived failings of Jonathan’s, the APC must not only tell us what is wrong with the man as a leader, they must convince us about what is right about Buhari as a leader, especially in a constitutional democracy. Even more importantly, it must provide correctives for the much touted failings of the Jonathan administration. Not just by word of mouth, but by concrete, verifiable, and workable policy proposals and project outlines. This leads to the second major factor in Buhari’s favour: He has a salable pedigree and rising profile as a presidential candidate. Here’s a former military Head of State, like former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Besides, this would be his fourth run for the presidency since 2003. He inched closer each time he ran, and hopes to coast home to victory this time round. The third factor in his favour comes from the glimpse we had of him during his two-year stint as the Head of State. He was perceived as a frugal leader and a strong disciplinarian, who provided a needed antidote to the corrupt and undisciplined civilian administration he ousted. With hindsight, Buhari’s sandwiched position between “share gari” and “maradona” cannot but highlight Buhari’s austere mien and fiscal discipline. His frugality shows today in his lean purse, which led him to borrow money, as he claimed, for his nomination form. It is this quality that inspired Obasanjo to describe Buhari as incorruptible, while warning against Atiku’s candidacy. It is the same quality that many APC leaders find necessary for their candidate to have in order to provide the much needed corrective to the endemic corruption that has eaten deep into the national fabric. The fourth major factor in Buhari’s favour is the broad and varied coalition that makes up his supporters. More than any Northern candidate, Buhari’s appeal cuts across classes, particularly the sarakuna and the talakawa, thus reflecting the broad and varied coalition that makes up the APC as we have it today. True, there is continuous membership switching between the APC and the PDP, the APC appears to be the underdog for which there is much public sympathy, if only its leaders could get their act together and make it the only party of choice for those who are unhappy with their parties and with the situation of the country. It must be admitted, however, that some major shortcomings come with Buhari’s strengths. His disciplinary outlook is punctured by his abuse of human rights, retroactive decrees, and uneven punishment for similar offences while he was the head of state. True, he was a military leader operating under a suspended constitution, the scars of those abuses remain. So is the perception of his religious fundamentalism, which led a number of people to even associate him with Boko Haram, an association not unconnected with the rampaging post-election violence that followed his defeat in the 2011 presidential election. Ironically, the South-West, where the APC has the widest influence in the South is also the locus of many a critic of Buhari’s failings as a military leader. The APC must convince such critics that Buhari will be a successful leader in a constitutional democracy.