The All Progressives Congress wants to wrestle power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party by all means, but its plan to contest the presidential election on a Muslim-Muslim ticket may boomerang
| By Olu Ojewale | May 12, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE most ambitious project of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for now, is to dethrone the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the ruling party, at the 2015 presidential election. To achieve its goal, the party has been doing everything possible to discredit the ruling party and by making the President Goodluck Jonathan administration look inept. But the APC needs more than that to win the presidential race in next year’s general elections. It needs a credible and acceptable candidate that can defeat President Jonathan at the polls, should he want a second term in office. But getting that credible and acceptable person to challenge Jonathan or any candidate of the ruling party is one area that is likely to tear the party to shreds as presidential aspirants are juggling for space and support. But the major fear in the party is that it may sponsor a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket.
For now, among prominent names being touted as front-runners in the race for the party’s presidential ticket are Muhammadu Buhari, a retired major-general and former military head of state; Atiku Abubakar, former vice president; Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership newspaper, Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State. Realnews has learnt that the APC wants to pick a candidate from the North to put the party in a better position with northerners and get their votes, while the running mate could come from the south, especially from the South-West. But the policy seems to be unpopular with some members of the party who prefer that the race be thrown open. However, that in itself is said to be causing problems for the party because most of the prominent members are Muslims.
Apart from those who want the party’s presidential ticket, there are also those who are clamouring to get the party’s vice-presidential ticket. Prominent among them are Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and a national leader of the party; Chibuike Amaechi, governor of Rivers State; Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State, and Babatunde Raji Fashola, governor of Lagos State. The calculation in the party, it was learnt, was to have Buhari-Tinubu ticket. But this has not gone down well with some people in and out of the party. Taking a swipe at his critics, Tinubu declared that nobody could stop him from contesting for the post of presidency in 2015 elections if he decides to run. Speaking on Wednesday, April 16, at the APC secretariat in Lagos, Tinubu said he had every right to be the president of Nigeria regardless of his religion and state of origin adding that the APC would field the best candidate in 2015 election, whether the person is a Christian or a Muslim. “We must choose the right person to lead the battle, and nobody, no one under the sun, under the United Nations Human Rights Charter, can stop Bola Tinubu’s ambition… The solution to the suffering of the masses is not about the prayer of a pastor or about the Islamic cleric. What we are talking about is not an election of a vicar or bishop, not of a Muslim Imam or cleric; it is about an individual with the character and the brain and the capacity to govern. If you are a Christian and you are good, you will win our support,” Tinubu said. He advised those opposing his political aspiration to find something else to do.
According to a poll conducted by the APC, the Buhari-Fashola ticket was preferred above that of Buhari and Okorocha; Buhari and Amaechi; Kwankwaso and Fashola; Kwankwaso and Amaechi.
Others that featured in the poll were Abubakar, Lamido Sanusi, suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State. But none of them has, however, declared an interest in any of the elective offices.
The poll was conducted online and via SMS by ‘For The Future Nigeria,’ FTF, a political action committee affiliated with the APC. It was launched a few weeks ago. Thousands of Nigerians from the 36 states and Abuja as well as in the Diaspora voted in the exercise, according to the report by FTF on its website www.forthefuture.ng.
The analyses of the poll show that the duo of Muhammadu Buhari-Babatunde Fashola got 7.2 per cent; Buhari-Rotimi Amaechi ticket 6.53 per cent; Rabi’u Kwankwaso-Fashola ticket 6.17 per cent; Rabi’u Kwankwaso-Rotimi Amaechi ticket 6.09 per cent; and Muhammadu Buhari-Rochas Okorocha ticket 4.47 per cent.
On the choice of the preferred presidential candidate, the analyses show that Buhari got 32 per cent to beat Kwankwaso who secured 21.3 per cent; Fashola 15 per cent; Sanusi 6.4 per cent; and Abubakar five per cent. On the vice-presidential slot, Fashola polled 21.7 per cent to place first while Amaechi got 17.8 per cent. Okorocha 11.7 got per cent; Oby Ezekwesili, former education minister, had 10.8 per cent; and Oshiomhole 7.7 per cent.
But the idea of a Muslim-Muslim ticket has drawn flaks from a number of people in the APC, especially Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of aviation, who recently kicked against it. Fani-Kayode, a member of the PDP, who joined the opposition party last year, argued that if the APC fielded Buhari and Tinubu, as presidential and vice presidential candidates, it would not only offend the Christian community but could cause the APC to lose the election woefully. “Whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that religion plays a major role in our politics today. Our party must have both a Christian and a Muslim on the ticket if we want to be taken seriously,” he said. There are fears in the party that the likes of Fani-Kayode may decide to leave the party on that account.
But the expected exodus from the party may not come to pass if a strategy committee headed by Fashola can have its way. In a two-page document titled “Memo to His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu: 2015, implications of a Muslim-Muslim Ticket and the Burden of APC Presidential candidate,” distributed to select party leaders at a meeting held in Lagos on Saturday, April 26, the committee advised the party to rather “consider working for the emergence of a Muslim presidential candidate of Northern extraction from among the present Northern governors.” The committee argued that a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket could negatively affect the party’s fortunes, especially in the South-West where it currently enjoys maximum support. A Muslim-Muslim ticket, the committee warned in its report, would make it easier for Jonathan and the PDP to secure the support of European countries and the United States.
The report dismissed a reference to the June 12, 1993 presidential election in which the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, fielded the late Moshood Abiola, a business mogul, from Ogun State and Babagana Kingibe from Borno State, both Muslims, noting that the situation now is different because the country is being more polarised religiously. The report, however, berated Fani-Kayode for unnecessarily sensationalising the Muslim-Muslim ticket even when the party had not taken a decision. In any case, the party was yet to formally accept the report.
It may be an uphill task for the Fashola-led Strategy Committee to have its way going by the argument of Sam Ndah-Isaiah, one of the presidential aspirants, who believes that the Muslim-Muslim controversy is a non-issue. In a statement he issued on April 19, the publisher said: “I am aware of the raging controversy but for our campaign, that is not an issue with us at all. Whether some people are working on a Muslim-Muslim ticket or on a Christian-Christian ticket or Muslim-Christian or a Christian-Muslim ticket, I intend to win the APC presidential primary ticket and proceed to defeat President Jonathan because we know how important that is for this country.”
But the Muslim-Muslim ticket is not the only issue that is capable of rocking the APC to its foundation. If the Fashola committee report is accepted, there are strong indications that the APC may not look the way of Buhari and Abubakar for its presidential candidate. The strategy committee is said to have advised the party to jettison the idea of fielding either Buhari or Abubakar. Instead, the committee would want the party to look for a northern Muslim governor to challenge Jonathan, who is likely to emerge as the candidate of the ruling PDP.
According to the committee’s recommendation, Buhari’s chances in a fourth attempt, if not well handled, could be disastrous for the party. The report argued that Buhari was more prone to media attack for his human rights credentials and religious zeal notwithstanding his perceived uprightness and trustworthiness.
Indeed, Buhari has a lot of baggage that may work against him, especially concerning his past. In an interview granted to a newsmagazine last year, Asari Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, NDPVF, told Buhari to forget his presidential ambition for 2015. Dokubo called on those who are trying to polish Buhari’s image as incorruptible as liars. He asked: “How are they going to make us forget about the 2.8 billion dollars? (Apparently referring to the $2.8 billion alleged to have disappeared from Midland Bank when Buhari was minister of petroleum in 1977. The allegation was later found to be false.) How are they going to make us forget the retroactive laws that killed people who committed offences before he came into power or before his draconian decrees were put in place? How are we going to forget about the cronyism that played itself out in PTF?” Dokubo said Nigerians do not trust Buhari because he would disappoint them. According to him, Buhari could change and be their nemesis.
Dokubo is not the only person who has been campaigning against him. There are many Nigerians that have been making reference to how he detained and traumatised Nigerian politicians when he took over as military head of state in 1983. “The way he jailed Lateef Jakande, Jim Nwobodo, Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Ayo Ojewumi on cases that had no foundation and allowed Awwal Ibrahim, the then Niger State governor, who was arrested in Heathrow Airport in London with 14 million pounds sterling and several millions of Naira and dollars to be put only under house arrest is my evidence,” Japhet Okoromadu, managing director and chief executive officer of Jok Biz Concept, said in an online publication. Besides, Alex Ekweme, former vice-president in the President Shehu Shagari government believes that the coup that brought Buhari to power in December 1983 was targeted at him. “Well, I’m sorry, I’m an affected person. So, it is awkward for me to be the one talking about it. But I know that after General Buhari’s coup of December 31, 1983, Umaru Dikko, (minister of transport in the Shagari administration) gave a press conference. And he said at that press conference that the plotting of the coup was to prevent me from becoming president in 1987. That, was the reason they had the coup. So, all this talk about corruption and all that, was neither here nor there,” Ekwueme said in a newsmagazine interview.
Apart from his blows on the politicians whom he removed from office, Nigerians still recall how the Buhari regime’s retroactive laws led to the execution of three young Nigerians found guilty of drug trafficking. Several Nigerian journalists who were made to go through the agony of constantly being under the searchlight of the infamous Decree 4, would not forget the Buhari regime of that period. The saga of imprisonment of Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson of The Guardian, who were jailed under the draconian decree, is still a living memory for a good number of journalists of that time and those who must have heard the story told by their senior colleagues. “He had told the Nigerian journalists then that it did not matter whether the story reported was true or not, if his regime did not like it, the writer would go to jail,” Okoromadu reminisced.
Also in the living memory to haunt Buhari is the controversial 53 suitcases brought in by the then Emir of Gwandu and Tahir Waziri, Buhari’s director of protocol in 1984. It was during the time the Buhari government introduced new currency notes and ordered the closure of all border posts. He directed that every baggage coming into the country must be thoroughly screened to stop people from bringing in old Naira notes stacked outside Nigeria to exchange for the new currency notes. But when the 53 suitcases arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Mustapha Jokolo, then a major and Aide-de-Camp, ADC, to Buhari, got the suitcases out without any security checks. By that incident, the Buhari regime was regarded as operating double standards.
The Buhari regime was also infamous for trying to smuggle Umaru Dikko, former minister of transport in Shagari’s 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 a crate at the airport. This caused a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Britain. This may have also counted against him in the international community where he may represent Nigeria if he eventually becomes the president.
One of the many sins of Buhari was his being part of the infamous regime of the late General Sani Abacha when he served as the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF. An allegation that Buhari has not been able to account for more than N20 billion of the PTF fund continues to dog the 70-year-old general.
But the former military leader has severally tried to disabuse the minds of the Nigerian populace against their negative perception of him. Sometime ago, in an interview on the DITV Kaduna, he said: “Seventy percent of the 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.” And 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. 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.
During his time as military leader, there was no mistaking 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 in him 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.
On Abubakar, the Fashola report said: “There are lots of suspicions on Atiku’s personality as a politician.” And like in Buhari’s case, the report noted that even though Abubakar is believed to have “deep pockets,” there are lots of baggages of suspicions among the political class, with the international community being wary of him.
Abubakar has never hidden his ambition to be president. In fact, he wanted to succeed former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his principal, in 2007. But during the second term of the presidency’ he fell out with Obasanjo. The former president, somewhat, rubbished Abubkar’s presidential ambition last August, when he said: “I wanted someone who would succeed me so I took Atiku. Within a year, I started seeing the type of man Atiku was. And you want me to get him there?”
The former president, who was a guest speaker at the 4th Annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Ibadan, in collaboration with African Sustainable Development Network, was speaking on poor leadership in Africa. Answering questions on issues of poor leadership besetting the country, Obasanjo said the young generation had performed dismally in terms of integrity and probity. Thus, Obasanjo made specific references to Abubakar; Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State; Salisu Buhari, former speaker, House of Representatives; Deprieye Alamiseyeigha, former governor of Bayelsa state, Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State, and James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, as being among the younger generation of leaders with low integrity and probity records. He said during his administration: “We had some people who were under 50 years in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori, where is he today? One of them was Alamieyesiegha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinedion, where is he today? The youngest was the speaker, Buhari, you can still recall what happened to him? You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not anything worse than what Bola Tinubu did.” Of these politicians, only Abubakar has remained focused and assiduously pursing an ambition to lead the country as president.
Surprisingly, Abubakar was level-headed in his response to Obasanjo’s comment about him. A statement from Garba Shehu, his spokesman, simply said: “Yes, ex-President Obasanjo is right. He didn’t know Abubakar well. It was later he got to know him as a fighter for democracy and defender of the constitution.” In effect, Shehu said that the only sin committed by Abubakar while serving under Obasanjo was on the issue of third term in which the former vice-president had joined forces with opponents to stop him. In fact, both Obasanjo and Abubakar’s stories are believable and have elements of truth in them. But what is incontrovertible is that Obasanjo has wittingly provided Abubakar’s opponents some arms and ammunition to nail him if he, indeed, wants to contest for president. Besides, observers say the former president’s statement concerning his former deputy had been taken as a gospel truth in the PDP and this probably led Abubakar to defect from the party to join the APC, having realised that he would not realise his presidential ambition on the party’s platform. Abubakar had challenged President Jonathan for the PDP ticket in 2011 and lost. He, however, contested the 2007 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress, AC, after leaving the PDP a year earlier. He lost the election to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the PDP’s candidate but later returned to the PDP in 2009 believing that he could realise his ambition on the party’s platform.
Even at the APC, it has become apparent also that he may not have his way on a platter of gold. An unconfirmed story said Buhari recently quarrelled with Abubakar over his overt ambition to pick up the APC ticket. The former head of state was reported to have asked the former vice-president whether his main aim of coming to the APC was to fulfil his presidential ambition. According to sources, Abubakar was to have engaged in an underground manoeuvring, using his enormous resources and connections to get support of some of the APC leaders in various parts of the country. Even when reminded that he had promised to sacrifice his political ambition for the party, Abubakar reportedly said he had no way of stopping his supporters from campaigning for him if they felt he was the best candidate for the party. The former vice-president was quoted during a visit to Sokoto on February 2,that he would sacrifice his ambition for the growth of his new party, the APC, because Nigeria was in dire need of change.
Abubakar made the declaration when he paid a courtesy call on Aliyu Wamakko, the state governor. He said: “All of us are now willing to set aside our individual ambitions so as to build a formidable APC. So, for now, we are not talking about how to pursue our selfish political aspirations. We are collectively working to ensure the growth of the APC.” In January, Abubakar announced the dumping of the PDP for the APC after nationwide consultations with his political associates. He said: “Over 80 percent of my political supporters are in support of my defection to the APC.”
But indications have emerged that Wamakko is supporting Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, currently a member of the PDP, for the APC presidential ticket. Tambuwal is also from Sokoto State and has a good rapport with the governor, which makes his support expected. But because of his sensitive position as speaker of the House, Tambuwal is yet to declare for the opposition party. Nevertheless, sources said that he has been in constant touch with the APC hierarchy to set his presidential ambition rolling. Some political leaders in the north who are not favourably disposed to Buhari’s presidential ambition, are believed to be in Tambuwal’s camp. The thinking among some of his supporters is that he represents what is known as the “new face of Northern politics.” They are said to believe that getting power back to the North will require someone like him who challenged the PDP leadership to win the speakership position despite the party’s mandate that he should not contest. Hence, many of the leaders of the APC who are not comfortable with Buhari running for the president on the party’s ticket are said to be holding clandestine meetings to convince Tambuwal to join the party to contest the presidential election in 2015. Although Tambuwal has been concealing his interest, his political associates said his body language has been encouraging. “The Speaker is a politician and so he has to calculate well before deciding. He has not said yes to the request but from his body language, we know he is not opposed to it,” one of the associates said recently.
Some of the APC chieftains are also said to have started mounting pressure on Buhari, urging him to drop his 2015 presidential ambition. Besides, a member of the APC in the House of Representatives said majority of the members of the House are in support of Tambuwal’s presidential ambition and are ready to sell the idea to other Nigerians. “We have gone far with the Tambuwal Presidential Project, TPP, we have reached virtually all nooks and crannies of this country to seek the support of major stake holders within and outside the APC. We are very comfortable with the response we have received so far. Nigeria and Nigerians would get a better deal if and when we translate the TPP into reality In-Sha-Allah.
“Nigerians must also recall that that the emergence of Tambuwal as speaker of the House of Representatives was not the making of the PDP; rather, we now in the APC made it happen and ever since, the speaker is carrying everybody along irrespective of ethnicity, tribe or religion ,a rare quality a good leader must possess,” the federal lawmaker who hails from the north revealed.
Not many people have been taking Ribadu as a serious candidate even though some party supporters are said to be rooting for him as the party’s flag bearer. The former EFCC boss had contested the 2011 presidential election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which was won by President Jonathan. But some party members who have sympathy for him claimed that he was actually used to make the number and the defunct ACN was not serious about fielding a candidate. That notwithstanding, lack of experience and resources may work against him this time around if he aspires for the party’s ticket.
However, that cannot be said of Kwankwaso one of the five aggrieved PDP governors who defected to the APC last year. The Kano State governor is said to have performed very well in his state and he is seen as one of those being looked upon by some Northern Turks to fly the party’s flag. According to sources, Kwankwaso is believed to be favoured by Obasanjo as the APC candidate. What may count against him is that he joined the party only recently and some of those who had been in the APC ahead of him are said to be uncomfortable with his presidential ambition.
Ndah-Isaiah, the only Christian so far in the race, who is from the Middle Belt, appears to be the least expected to win the ticket. He recently stepped down from his post as chairman of his publication, to contest the presidential ticket. But he does not see his position as a handicap. In fact, he said he could defeat any candidate that the ruling party might present at the 2015 presidential election, including President Jonathan.
Be that as it may, analysts say it is advisable for the party to allow all aspirants to test their popularity at the primaries, but whether the APC hierarchy will allow internal democracy to prevail is another kettle of fish altogether. In the meantime, the electorate will be better advised on the way to vote only when the presidential candidate of the party emerges without any break in its ranks.