The rivalry between General Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, over who gets the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress heats up as both political heavyweights deploy everything in their arsenal to outgun each other
| By Olu Ojewale | Aug. 18, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
NOBODY requires a crystal ball or soothsayer to know that they both harbour the same ambition — to clinch the ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for next year’s presidential race. Since the party has tactically zoned its presidential ticket to the North, it is not surprising that the rivalry between Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, is gaining momentum as time draws near for political parties to elect their candidates for various elections next year. Ahead of the appointed time, supporters of the two political heavyweights are at work trying to upstage their opponents.
A few days ago, supporters of Abubakar seemed to have set the tone for the rivalry when they asked Buhari to step aside for their man. A group under the umbrella of Northern Youth Voters Forum, NYVF, appealed to Buhari to drop his presidential ambition and support Abubakar. The group said Abubakar had the political muscle and capacity to chase the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, out of government in next general elections.
The northern youths cited the role the former vice president played under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, by reportedly standing his ground and kicking against the third term ambition of Obasanjo. The group said only such a personality could wrest power from any presidential candidate in 2015.
It also noted that since Buhari had contested the presidency three consecutive times and was not successful, it was not wise to give him another opportunity for fear that it might not favour him and his numerous supporters. Addressing newsmen on Sunday, August 3, Idris Ibrahim, national coordinator of the group, repeatedly said only Abubakar had the political ability to defeat any candidate the PDP might put forward to contest the forthcoming presidential election. Ibrahim, with members of the youth group, wore shirts and caps with the picture of Abubakar printed on them, said the group unanimously endorsed the candidature of the former vice president as their presidential flag bearer on the APC platform. “We are using the opportunity to appeal and request the pleasure of our humble leader with honesty and sincerity, General Muhammadu Buhari, to kindly join Turakin’s movement in making Nigeria one of the best. We need your support, we need your cooperation and we need your contribution to save Nigeria of its security and economic challenges.
“We have agreed to endorse Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as our presidential aspirant in the forthcoming 2015 general elections. We are using this opportunity to urge the aspirants to give their total support and acknowledge the movement of making Atiku, Turakin Adamawa, the president of Nigeria in 2015. Our presidential aspirant knows the PDP’s manoeuvres more than any other presidential aspirant and knowing your enemy is a key factor in successfully knocking him down; Turakin will knock down the PDP in 2015,” the group stated.
The NYVF is not the only group rooting for Abubakar to contest the 2015 presidential election. On Monday, July 28, a group known as Atiku Abubakar Restore Nigeria, made a similar call on Abubakar, to declare his intention to contest the 2015 Presidential election. Oluwasegun Ola-Jones, leader of the group, said in a statement issued in Abuja, that Abubakar should contest on the platform of the APC. According to Ola-Jones, the only hope left for the restoration of human dignity and the abolition of poverty in Nigeria was for Abubakar to take over from President Goodluck Jonathan.
The group claimed that his emergence as president would restore hope for the common man and provide jobs for the youths. It therefore, pledged to start a sit-in campaign at the Atiku Abubakar Centre henceforth to drive home its demand.
But it is also common knowledge that Buhari is also bent on contesting for the APC presidential ticket at the party’s national convention scheduled for December. Sources said both Buhari and Abubakar along with other notable aspirants have started clandestine moves aimed at mobilising support from every segment of the party. According to party sources, only the Ramadan festivities that slowed down most of the key political gladiators from going full circle in unfolding their bid for the party’s presidential ticket.
Nevertheless, other aspirants also said to be nursing a presidential ambition in the party are Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso of Kano State; Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Bukola Saraki, a serving senator and former governor of Kwara State, as well as Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership newspaper.
According to a close aide, Abubakar was said to have planned to unfold his political agenda immediately after his return from the Ramadan holidays, but had to postpone it because of the gubernatorial election in Osun State. But he assured that the former vice president would gun for the APC ticket notwithstanding the fact that Buhari is also interested in the race and his presumed popularity within the party.
The aide disclosed that Abubakar had been mobilising support from party stakeholders and fine-tuning his existing political structures across the country since joining the APC. “Abubakar will definitely make himself available to run for the presidency on the platform of the APC. Every candidate has his own game plan. Without taking anything away from Buhari, when it comes to the political game and ability to mobilise support across board, I do not think he is at par with Abubakar,” the source said. He also alluded to the feat of the former vice president when he defeated supposed political heavy weights like General Ibrahim Babangida, Bukola Saraki, a serving senator and Mohammed Gusau, minister of defence when they all contested for the PDP ticket ahead of the 2011 presidential race.
He claimed that Abubakar was already making serious in-roads even in the South-West, where he expected some of the governors to support his presidential bid. “Definitely, Abubakar is in the race to win. He has been in politics for a long time and there was never a time he took a break or was out of touch with his political structures. So, everything is in intact. He has not come this far for him to step down for anybody,” he said.
The former vice president also has ‘The Turaki Vanguard’ which is similarly is in the forefront of the groups drumming up support for his political ambition. The TTV group, led by N’dua Wakado, earlier last month, enunciated Abubakar’s sterling qualities and qualification for the plum job. “He is a detribalised, visionary, courageous and also an unrivalled philanthropist. He deserves the ticket of the party and the exalted seat of the president,” the group said in a statement.
But Osita Okechukwu, an APC chieftain from the South-East, holds \the belief that Buhari has an edge over other eminently qualified presidential aspirants in the party and would, indeed, be the de-facto candidate of the opposition party for the 2015 election. He said if the party adopted direct primary election, Buhari would most likely emerge victorious because of his large followership in Kano that registered 2.6 million members, the highest for the APC.
“It will be difficult under consensus to tell Buhari to step down for any person if a free and fair presidential primary is conducted in the APC,” Okechukwu said. Many close associates of the former head of state in the party have expressed confidence that the former military head of state would again run for the presidency on the platform of the APC in 2015. They claim that Buhari remains a viable candidate for the highest office in the land. “Buhari will run for the presidency in 2015, take my words,” one the party leaders was quoted as saying in the media. Extolling some of the virtues of Buhari, he said: “He is a gentle and approachable leader. You can argue with Buhari, because he is humble. I mean he is approachable. May be now that there was an attempt on his life that security around him would have been tightened.”
Perhaps, to demonstrate his seriousness, Buhari is said to have already opened campaign offices in more than 20 states evenly spread in the six geo-political zones. Although Buhari is considered as a strong candidate for the APC ambition to wrest power from President Jonathan, his burgeoning relationship with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, which is seen largely as a move towards having a Muslim/Muslim ticket, is causing a lot of frictions and suspicions in the party. The resultant disharmony is said to be responsible for the defection to the ruling party of Alli Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State and Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation.
Both Buhari and Tinubu were said to have reached a pact which paved the way for a smooth conduct of the party’s recent national convention in which most of Tinubu’s candidates were elected into different national offices. The idea was that the elected executive officers would help to enhance Buhari’s presidential ambition at the expense of other contenders within the party. “He did not raise his finger against Tinubu’s imposition of officers. The duo also conspired to zone offices including elective positions to the zones in a way that would favour them. The fact that Buhari began opening offices and doing subtle campaign when others were yet to recover from the ripple effects of the convention is another pointer to their well-heeled plot,” a source was quoted as saying in a national newspaper.
Perhaps, to underscore the fact that the APC ticket would not be a do-or-die issue, Buhari once said: “Whoever thinks he has got a better chance, let him come out because the more the merrier. I will be ready to step down if there is a formidable and better candidate. It is not about me, but for the survival of the party. The APC is about ensuring internal democracy. Whoever emerges is the person I will support. Yes, I will be ready to step down.” Efforts to reach Buhari’s campaign office for comments were unsuccessful.
Garba Shehu, spokesman of Abubakar, told Realnews that his principal would not like to comment on the issue at the moment. However, in an interview with a daily newspaper, Shehu was quoted as saying that his principal had never hidden his presidential ambition and he intended to pursue it notwithstanding the number of opposition. “Turakin has never left politics. There are always politicians around him. I don’t know if that is what people are referring to as consultations. On the issue of campaign offices, we only have an APC support office in Yola. I am not aware that there are other offices in other states,” Shehu said.
The former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors also described Abubakar’s purported campaign posters, pairing him with Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, which have adorned some major streets in Abuja, Yola and Port-Harcourt as the handiwork of “mischievous people”. He said: “You know, sometimes people do some of these things to achieve certain selfish ends. If posters are to be printed, my office will see to it, and as I am talking to you now, we have not printed any.”
Many supporters of Abubakar are unfazed by the rumoured Buhari/Tinubu pact which may tip the scale of the presidential ticket in favour of the former military general. The general belief is that if the former vice president could upstage the likes of Buhari, Babangida and Gusau to emerge as the Northern consensus candidate ahead of the 2011 presidential race, he is capable of repeating the feat. There is also the perception that as an astute politician, he has what it takes to give President Jonathan and the PDP a run their money. But whether the APC members will agree is left to be seen in view of the fact that the likes of Kwankwaso and Nda-Isaiah who may serve as spoilers to any chance that the two gladiators may have, are waiting in the wings. They are said to have a good command of a sizeable followership in the party.
Besides, Kwankwaso has recently stepped up his consultative base by reaching out to influential power brokers within and outside the party. As part of his strategic manoeuvre, he recently floated a survey poll to assess his popularity and chance of clinching the party’s ticket. Added to that is his relentless attacks on Jonathan and the PDP to shore up his popularity in the party. But it remains unclear if his strategies are working as the race still appears to be a two-man race between Buhari and Abubakar. Down south, Kwankwaso has a big problem. According to media reports, some of those who would have loved to join him to win the party’s presidential ticket were already complaining about his strong anti-South views.
Unlike Kwankwaso, Nda-Isaiah is relatively unknown in a shrewd political business but he would want everyone to believe that he is the candidate to beat. “I told him (Buhari) tactically that I am in the race. And he said it was politically correct. I went round all those close to him. I have gone far into the race. So, if he decides to contest, I’m going to contest. I will contest against him. I will try everything to make sure that the relationship remains the same. But I wish it would not happen,” Nda-Isaiah said sometimes ago before he joined the race.
Without any doubt, Buhari and Abubakar are for now the front runners for the APC presidential ticket, but who among them is going to emerge as the party’s flag bearer is, for now, a matter of conjecture. It is, however, noteworthy to say that both candidates are formidable in their own right. May the better candidate among the duo win.