Even though the CPC leader and presidential flag bearer in the 2011 elections, Muhammadu Buhari, had announced his retirement from future presidential contests after 2011, recent developments seem to point to the fact that the ex-General may not have really bade farewell to the presidency and may in fact present himself again in 2015.
By Chinedu OPARA
Rotimi Fashakin, National Publicity Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, recently opened another flask in the gradually snowballing debates and controversies of 2015 Nigeria’s presidential election. The CPC spokesman was reported to have said that the party would throw its full weight behind Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, its leader and presidential candidate in the 2011 presidential poll, if he decides to contest the plum position again in 2015.
Fashakin’s utterance, analysts say, seemed well delivered and scored exactly the intended goal. First, it has introduced Buhari once again into the front burner of national conscience and consequent debate as a potential contender in 2015. CPC, it seems, wants to use the ensuing debate to test the waters with regard to the acceptability and popularity or otherwise of its leader. If at the end it is adjudged favourable, then it is fait accompli that Buhari would throw his hat into the ring once again. On the other hand, if the response is on the negative side, then it would be goodbye to presidential contests.
Now, one inevitable fallout of the CPC declaration is the question of whether or not Buhari will gun for the number one position in 2015. From Lagos to Kaduna, Adamawa to Owerri, Uyo to Minna, the question popping out of people’s mouth now is: Will Buhari run in 2015? Indications emerging from CPC and even Buhari himself seem to suggest the three-time presidential candidate is ready to try his luck once again, contrary to his widely published pronouncement on the eve of 2011 elections that he will not run for presidency again.
Apart from Fashakin’s position, the man in the eye of the storm himself has recently too spoken in a manner suggesting that he is keen on coming off his retirement to play at the highest level once more. A classical instance of this is his recent fire-spitting speech in Kaduna on the occasion of the launch of poverty alleviation programme of the party’s House of Representatives member representing Kaduna North, Alhaji Usman Bawa. Apart from pouring venom on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which he predicted would be consumed by a revolution in 2015, the Buhari made striking remarks about 2015, a good pointer that he may have made up his mind to run again. Besides, unlike IBB and OBJ, two other political juggernauts who on several occasions in the past few months have repeatedly re-echoed their decisions to now become passive political onlookers rather than active players, Buhari was very silent on the issue of whether he is coming back to mainstream politicking or otherwise. Analysts insist that the action is a concrete proof that the Katsina-born opposition strongman is on the road to another round of presidential race declaration of interest. Similarly, they opine that his caustic criticism of ruling PDP, even to the extent of envisaging a revolution in 2015, speaks volumes about the mindset with which he and his team would approach the task ahead.
About 2015, Buhari had said: “What I am advocating is for local government election and 2015 general election to be free and fair…. You must make sure your vote counts.” Regarding the issue of the way and manner his party would take on the ruling party in the 2015 election, the fearless leader had said: “The question of PDP and its leadership, they don’t accept social justice. If there is no social justice, in a question of time there will be revolution one form or the other. After the last general election, we went as far as to the Supreme Court.” He added: “But what happened in Kogi, Adamawa and Sokoto States and the bye-elections made us believe that PDP leadership is not prepared for real democracy and social justice. And I hope they will be strong enough to go through the consequences of their injustice.”
Imo State secretary of CPC, Mr. Chikaodi Ogu, also told this magazine that the state chapter would support Buhari if the party chooses him as presidential candidate. “If our party gives him the ticket, then we will have no option than to support him. We have National Working Committee, we have National Executive Committee; so, if the procedure is followed and Gen. Buhari comes out, CPC Imo State would work to deliver him,” Ogu stated.
On the issue of whether his accepting to run is not likely to tarnish his reputation and integrity, the party scribe insisted that no such thing would happen since the decision to run again must definitely emanate from the people’s clarion call. “Buhari coming out again, you must be sure it is not going to be a personal decision. It must be a clarion call from Nigerians, and a good leader must listen to the voice of his people,” Ogu concluded.
To be sure, only those not conversant with the country’s military and political history would one way or the other nurse doubts, or even dismiss Buhari’s intimidating credentials. The man, to all intents and purposes, has got all it takes to call the shots from the nation’s seat of power. He has the experience, track record, character, capacity and towering personality –qualities that pre-suppose he will hit the ground running if elected.
From 1963 when he joined the military, and throughout his twenty-five years sojourn in that profession, the Daura, Katsina state-born leader never left any one in doubt about his innate leadership qualities. No wonder he rose through the ranks to retire at the peak of the military career. While in the military, the soft-spoken gentleman officer never let any opportunity of service to the nation go without some legacies some of which are still around with us today. These achievements include the restructuring of the former Nigeria National Oil Corporation, NNOC, into Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC; the construction of 20 oil depots involving over 3200 kilometres of pipelines; construction of Kaduna and Warri refineries; as well as drawing up of the blueprint for the country’s Petro-Chemical and Liquefied Natural Gas Programme. As Nigeria’s military head of state, Buhari introduced the attitudinal transformation campaign christened War Against Indiscipline which, till this moment, many still argue worked wonders in the Nigerian polity.
Since formally joining partisan politics on April 25, 2002 on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Buhari the politician has equally tried to bequeath legacies that would live long after he is done with the game of politics. Using the ANPP platform, he contested for presidency in 2003 and 2007, losing on both occasions, first to PDP’s Olusegun Obasanjo, and later to his Katsina kinsman, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. However, political analysts say of all his shots at the nation’s hot seat, the 2011 attempt on the platform of CPC, founded late 2009, stands out as the most audacious and closest to the actualization of his long-held ambition of ruling the country a second time.
As it turned out, the 12,214,853 votes garnered by his party placed Buhari distant second to PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan who polled 22,495,187 votes. Paired by fiery Lagos pastor, Tunde Bakare, the duo ran a campaign anchored on the party’s ideology of social change and federalism. The team also paraded a beautiful manifesto which was adjudged as good enough to tackle the challenges of development holding the country at the jugular since independence. For implementability, the CPC candidates condensed their agenda into a five-pronged document, with politics and governance and economy and infrastructure base topping the list. Other areas of interest were the environment, security and conflict resolution, and society and human capital development.
Although Buhari/Bakare could not win the exhausting and nerve-wrecking ding-dong race to Aso Rock, the 2011 election generally could be considered a very fair beginning for their party, taking into consideration the fact that it came into being on the eve of the elections, so to speak. The party managed to trail the leading opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, grabbing six senate seats, 21 House of Reps seats, plus a governorship seat.
Nigerian OrientNews findings show that despite Buhari’s and CPS’s promising showing on the nation’s political turf, there still exits a myriad of political deficits that would, on the day of reckoning, stand between him and his dream destination. Top on the list is the issue of religion. Many Nigerians, especially those from the Christian-dominated south, perceive Buhari as a religious fanatic who holds extreme religious views. Those holding this perception always make reference to his widely publicized utterance made in the year 2000 in Sokoto as proof of this condition. Newspaper report had quoted Buhari as saying then that come 2003 polls, Muslims should vote Muslims and Christians should vote Christians. Although he has repeatedly denied the statement, it has stubbornly refused to go away, and always resurfaces in the thick of presidential election campaign to haunt him. In fact, the perception seems to have acquired a permanent position in the minds of those living with it, forcing the CPC presidential candidate to publicly say that he has left the whole episode to fate and God to resolve. This he made open in an interview he granted the press in February 2011, just two months to the general election.
When asked to comment on the statement he reportedly made in Sokoto about Muslims voting their brethren and Christians voting Christians, Buhari had replied: “How can I say Muslims should not vote for Christians? Then do I expect Christians to vote for me, a Muslim?” Also, sensing that the ugly perception has now come to stay in the minds of those holding it, he had expressed surprise that it still lingered up till 2011, saying there was nothing he could do about the situation except to continue clarifying himself as occasion demands: “But I am still very surprised that the perception remains. So, there is nothing I can do about it, but I will continue to explain my position.” He then fired at those he perceived as stoking the fire for cheap political gains: “I have the belief that whosoever is still bringing that case up, for whatever reason, will definitely fail in a free and fair election. The question of being a Sharia advocate and a hater of Christians had never happened and it will certainly fail.”
Mr. Ken Amadi, a veteran journalist, told this magazine tSouth hat the problem of religion would play even a greater role in the next presidential election against the backdrop of the havoc caused Christians by Boko Haram which many say sprouted out of North’s frustration at losing the 2011 presidential poll. Noting that most families who lost their beloved ones, especially those killed in the riots that broke out in the aftermath of the announcement of the presidential results, still hold Buhari and CPC responsible for their loss, Amadi said 2015 would give them the opportunity to recall these grisly events in pictures and words to dent his presidential ambition. “2015 is, to my mind, even going to be more religious than 2011. See how Boko Haram is killing Christians like chickens, and don’t forget that many still hold CPC and Buhari responsible for Boko Haram because the riots that sparked off when Jonathan won later led to Boko Haram,” Amadi argued, adding, “I don’t think those that lost their loved ones over 2011 will be happy to vote him in 2015.”
Indeed, one does not need to search far to come to terms with the fact that Boko Haram insurgency would be a hot button issue in the next presidential election. Surely, the politicians would try to leverage on the killing of defenceless and innocent Nigerians in their desperate bid to grab power. Naturally too, families and communities that have been hard hit by the massacre unleashed by the sect would as well relive the pains and grief occasioned by the death of their loved ones. Without doubt, the highly emotional killing of corps members deployed for ad hoc election jobs by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Bauchi, the bombing of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla on December 25, 2011, as well as the gruesome murder of twelve indigenes of Adazi Nnukwu (Anambra State) in Mubi, Adamawa State are bound to prove hard nuts to crack for Northerners who would jostle for the votes of the electorate.
However, for Femi Ogunsanwo, the issue of Boko Haram did not start with 2011 election and has nothing to do with Buhari and, therefore, will in no way affect his presidential foray. Writing under the caption “Transmutation of A Military Ruler”, Ogunsanwo argued: “We all knew from record that Boko Haram was formed since 2002, but the militancy and spate of bombings escalated when Muhammad Yusuf, self-styled leader of the sect, was killed extra-judicially in 2009. Why anyone will now blame General Muhammadu Buhari for the sect activities beats the imagination.”
Definitely too, the ethnic card would be played to the hilt against Gen. Buhari by his opponents. During the last election, the ruling PDP latched on the CPC candidate’s lackadaisical campaign in the South, especially in the South-East, to brand him an ethnic warlord. As it turned out, that error weighed heavily against his ambition as he lost grievously in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones. Up till this moment, the CPC and its presidential candidate still insist that the results posted by the ruling PDP in these areas were fraudulently fabricated by the party and INEC.
Barr Kissinger Ikoku, a human rights activist, told this magazine that he thinks Buhari, once he is able to correct the mistakes of 2011, can win the 2015 presidency if he runs. One of the mistakes, he posited, was Buhari’s ignoring of the South-East zone in his programmes in 2011. “I think Buhari could win the presidency if he gets his house in order now. Nigeria is inclined to change and this could be the time. Yes, the ethnic card was played against him in 2011 but he worsened things by ignoring the South, especially South-East. If he makes the necessary correction, he can win come 2015,” Ikoku said.
Nigerians have also shown the open tendency to be wary of ex-military men turned politicians. There exists a long-standing grouse against them because majority of people hold them responsible for the mess the country is in at the moment. That is the reason the era of the military in governance is referred to as the years of the locust. Gen. Buhari, according to history, had been part and parcel of the system. Though it could be argued that he made reasonable positive impact in the various capacities he served while in uniform, yet his 1983 coup which cut short the democratic experience of the 2nd Republic still sticks out as a sore thumb that stubbornly refuses to heal. Although a school of thought argues that Buhari acted to save the country from going into extinction, given the mind-boggling corruption and official thievery of that ill-fated period, those opposed to the argument usually dismiss it with a wave of the hand. Their question has always been: What if some military officers had truncated the present democracy, would Buhari still be talking about being a democrat, about contesting and rigging elections? The answer, of course, is a big no.
The big debate about 2015, no doubt, has started in earnest. Nigerians are surely going to be treated to the theatre of the absurd and other forms of political theatrics that would in no way address the serious issues of the development facing the country. But whether Buhari’s contesting in 2015 would bring a new face to campaigns in the country would sooner or later unfold as the days go