Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state, who has failed three times in his bid to reach Aso Rock, is once again warming up for the presidential race in 2015. But first, he has to jump the hurdles in his party to clinch the All Progressives Party ticket with his new political strategy
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Oct. 13, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
MUHAMMADU Buhari, a retired major-general and former head of state, is not giving up yet on his ambition to be the president of Nigeria in a democratic setting. But he is also changing his style of politics to make himself more acceptable to voters. From his previous militant tone when he said: “If what happened in 2011 (alleged rigging) should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood,’’ he now speaks more conciliatory when he offered himself for service to his supports on September 30.
Buhari, who said he was happy to offer himself to be elected president, implored his supporters to back whoever wins it. “I intend to offer myself for the position of the president of the republic on the platform of our great party; I intend to make a formal announcement soon. I hope I can count on your continuing support and sacrifice. However, I would like to point out to you that, to be more meaningful, your support must extend beyond my person and always be available to the party and all those that the party puts forward; because it is the party that is the platform,” he said.
Buhari reminded his loyalists that APC is a party with several qualified people for each available position, including that of the president. It is the primaries that will eventually determine who represents the party in which capacity. If I get the party nomination, I expect you will redouble your effort and commitment until we clinch the presidency. But in the event that it happens to be one of the other aspirants who wins, I will expect you as good party men to extend to him your total support. We are a united party and united we shall remain because our strength lies in our unity. My supporters must not engage in any behaviour or conduct that will tarnish the image of any leader or promote division and rancour within the ranks of the party. Whoever does that should know he or she is working for the enemy.”
Buhari’s born again political spirit is salutary and many people will want him to go beyond his party and extend it to the country. Having lost in the previous three presidential elections, he had contested in, Buhari will again on October 8, declare his interest to run for the 2015 presidential elections under the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at the Eagle Square in Abuja. Hence, his new political gimmick which may be winning more supporters for him as was clearly displayed when the APC Support Group identified him as the man who should be allowed to fly the party’s flag on account of his personality, capacity for mass mobilisation, influence and status as an African political icon. The group urged leaders of the party such as Bisi Akande, Bola Tinubu, Ogbonnaya Onu, John Odigie Oyegun and other stakeholders to ensure that Buhari is fielded.
Even if the party leaders may heed this call, the former military leader is facing serious challenges following strong reservations among the major presidential aspirants in the party over the procedure for adopting the 2015 presidential candidate for the party. At the end of a National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting of the party on Saturday, September 27, the party was unable to reach consensus on the issue with associates of the major aspirants reportedly holding on to their positions. Two of the major presidential aspirants, Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president were at the head of the major divisions over the adoption of a consensus candidate or the conduct of primaries. The other major aspirants like Governor Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano State and Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership newspaper are reportedly indifferent.
Realnews learnt that Buhari’s associates in the party were pushing for consensus on the fact that majority of the party positions across board were filled with consensus. The supporters of Buhari are also praying that if the consensus arrangement is jettisoned for any reason that a direct primary involving all 18 million registered members of the party should be held. Their point is being strongly opposed by Atiku’s growing supporters within the party hierarchy who say that a direct primary would be unwieldy and costly.
The Atiku camp has proposed a modified direct primary that would involve about 20,000 delegates choosing the party candidate. That prospect is feared by the Buhari camp who claimed that it would offer opportunity to easily woo or take over delegates hitherto pledged to other aspirants. According to the Buhari supporters, the introduction of full direct primary would limit the prospect of Atiku wooing the delegates unlike a modified primary that could see Atiku and his agents now in the field winning the number of delegates.
Buhari supporters are also protesting the APC demand for N27 million nomination fees for presidential form. Rotimi Fashakin, Buhari’s spokesperson, said the amount was absolutely ludicrous. “N27 million for nomination form? I remember in the Third republic, Dr. Fredrick Fasheun, withdrew his interest in the presidential nomination of the defunct Social Democratic Party because the party, at that time, wanted N500,000 as nomination fee. What the APC is demanding is unreasonable, ludicrous and utterly irresponsible! I suggest the party should simply reverse itself because this is cheap and undemocratic. It is a crude way of prizing the party’s presidential nomination away from those without deep pockets. Whatever this action portends cannot be good for the party,” he said.
“It is a bad joke and as such, the path of honour is the reversal of this decision without any further delay. The NWC cannot just rely on the recommendation of the National Organising Secretary alone. This is about propriety and decency. This one does not show APC as a very honourable alternative to PDP. It is an infernal affront on the sensibilities of the founding fathers, who subsumed their identity for the party’s emergence as a formidable party. This decision is tantamount to submitting APC to the highest bidder. Undoubtedly, this executive shall therefore go down as having submerged the collective hopes and aspirations of Nigerians for the needed change in the Nigerian polity. I cannot, on the life of me, advise anybody to collect nomination at that egregiously unreasonable price. The path of honour is a reversal forthwith,” he said.
Nonetheless, there are indications in the party that other presidential aspirants in the All Progressives Congress may be asked to step down and support Buhari as the party’s consensus candidate. Realnews investigations revealed that this was the position of many leaders of the party including Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, who is arguably the party’s most influential leader. Although the party has maintained that it will conduct a transparent presidential primary election, which would give all the aspirants a level-playing field, some of its leaders said they are currently considering choosing the candidate via consensus to avoid bitter conflicts that may arise from a keenly contested primary.
Besides, Buhari has the shadow of his past to deal with. Some of those he had wronged when he was head of state appear to be unprepared to either forget or forgive. Perhaps another thing that may work against Buhari’s candidature is age. By the time the 2015 elections hold, the former military officer would be more than 72 years old. Some analysts say he would find the rigour of electioneering campaigns very tiring to contemplate.
If that does not convince Buhari that he has a herculean task ahead, perhaps the position of some members of the APC will. It is believed that some members of the party are not favourably disposed to his presidential ambition. This was said to have prompted them to ask the leadership of the party to prevail on Buhari not to run so as not to jeopardise the party’s chances in the next election. They argued that for the APC to be more acceptable, another candidate should be found within or outside the party to contest the presidential election. In the past, he has severally tried to disabuse the minds of the Nigerian populace against their negative perception of him as a religious fundamentalist. In the DITV recently, he said: “Seventy percent of soldiers in Nigeria when I was in the service were Christians and those under my platoon never accused me of discriminating against them on religious and tribal basis.” Again, in a newspaper interview, Buhari defended his record as military head of state, saying he never took any unilateral action in his decisions.
According to him, “There was nothing like 53 suitcases. What happened was that there was my chief of protocol; he is now late. He had three wives, and I think about 12 children. He was in Saudi Arabia as Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He was in Libya before, as ambassador and later, he was posted to Saudi Arabia. And then, I appointed him as my chief of protocol and he was coming back… And then, by some coincidence, the late Emir of Gwandu, the father of Jokolo, who was my ADC then, was coming back with the same flight…Atiku (Abubakar) then was the Commandant of Customs at the Murtala Muhammed Airport. And that day, we were playing squash. Jokolo, my ADC, and I. At some point, I said to him, ‘Mustapha, is your father not coming back today again?’ He said, ‘yes, sir, he is coming.’ I said, ‘what are you doing here? Why can’t you go and meet your father?’ He said yes, sir. He went to wash in order to go and meet his father. I am telling you, there were no 53 bags or suitcases. It was a bloody lie. It was a bloody mischief.”
On the issue of retroactive law which led to the killing of three drug barons caught for using the country as a transit point for cocaine trade, Buhari said he did not make the law alone. He said based on recommendations, the Supreme Military Council agreed to make a retroactive law to deal with the deadly issue at hand. “There was no dissenting voice in the sense that majority of the members agreed that this thing, this cocaine, this hard drug was earning Nigeria so much bad name in the international community because Nigeria was not producing it, but Nigerians that wanted to make money didn’t mind destroying Nigerians and other youths in other countries just to make money. So, we didn’t need them. We didn’t need them,” he said. Buhari said he did not listen to pleas by eminent Nigerians and international outcry over the decision to kill the drug offenders, because they had insisted that laws must be obeyed. He added: “Pleas, pleas; those that they destroyed did they listen to their pleas for them not to make hard drug available to destroy their children and their communities?” he asked.
The former head of state said that the infamous Decree 4 became necessary because the press was embarrassing civil servants in their publications. “What we did was that you must not embarrass those civil servants. If you have got evidence that somebody was corrupt, the courts were there. Take the evidence to the court; the court will not spare whoever it was. But you don’t just go and write articles that were embarrassing… Those who did it, the editors, the reporters, we jailed them. But we never closed a whole institution, as others did. We investigated and prosecuted according to the laws, because shutting down a newspaper, it is an institution and we lose thousands of jobs.” he said. In all his actions during his military regime, Buhari expressed no regret, insisting that all the regime’s actions were based on the laws by the Supreme Military Council which he headed.
Buhari became the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983. Buhari, who was then head of the Third Armoured Division Nigeria Army, Jos, said he did not participate in the coup and never heard about it until it was carried out. The late Tunde Idiagbon, then a brigadier, was appointed Chief of General Staff, Supreme Headquarters and the de facto number two in the administration. His regime introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI, which aimed at eliminating some social ills in the country. Some aspects of the WAI campaign included public humiliation of civil servants who arrived late for work, while military armed guards could whip people into line at bus stops to ensure orderliness.
The Buhari/Idiagbon administration, as the government was christened, was also infamous for trying to smuggle Umaru Dikko, former minister of transport in the Shagari regime, out of Britain in a crate marked for shipment to Nigeria in 1984. Through a tip-off to the British police, Dikko was found drugged in the crate at the airport. This caused a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Britain.
During his time as military leader, there was no mistaken the fact that Buhari hated politicians with passion. But having become one himself, thanks to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the military radicalism seems to have mellowed. But whether the ghosts of what he had done or failed to do as head of state will stop haunting him is another story. The road looks long, and the journey to 2015, is even longer if, indeed, Buhari wants to go to Aso Rock.