In a country where people are too lazy to verify things, perception, rather than reality, would dominate the political space.
The emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) makes the 2019 presidential election most interesting. The two candidates are Muslims. They are from the North, although from different geopolitical zones. And they are both touted as Fulani. With this, Nigerians are making a choice between two brothers, as it were, but who have different momentum and tendencies.
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It is also interesting that Atiku shares some similarities with Buhari. Just as President Buhari sought for the presidency four times, before getting elected, Atiku has, over the years, made a bid at the presidency without success. He was the candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in 2007, against the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Buhari. He lost the election, coming a distant third. He sought for the PDP presidential ticket in 2011 and lost to former President Goodluck Jonathan, even after being presented as consensus candidate of the North. He contested for the presidential ticket of the APC in 2015 and lost to President Buhari. Also, he sought for the presidential ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992 against the late Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe and came third in the first ballot that did not produce a winner.
In an electoral battle between Atiku and President Buhari in the 2019 election, it does appear that history is repeating itself. A candidate, who had serially vied for the presidency is now running against an incumbent, who is no longer the favourite of many, just like in 2015. Some optimists are already saying that, if Buhari could clinch the presidency at the fourth attempt, Atiku could also come from the ashes of despair and frustration he saw in past contests to actualise his dream. But that is just optimism. In politics, optimism could just be a motivating force but it does not win elections.
With Atiku and Buhari contesting as major candidates, the polarisation of the country along ethnic and religious lines, as seen in 2015, would not be. The malicious campaign in worship centres, telling adherents not to vote for a candidate of the other faith, would not be experienced. However, in a country where people are too lazy to verify things, perception, rather than reality, would dominate the political space. Also, sentiments would be on the front burner.
Already, what Nigerians would see in the electioneering is being unveiled. The APC is already appealing to sentiment. Despite the fact that its national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, said the political party would look at the antecedent and past achievements of the PDP candidate, its officials are throwing darts. APC had first dismissed Atiku, but later delved into name-calling. The party accused the PDP candidate of vote buying at the primary in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, alleging that he also did
the same in the contest against Buhari in 2015. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as those who followed the presidential primary of the APC in 2014 know what transpired. President Buhari was not involved in the horse-trading, quite all right, but we know how the delegates were swayed in his favour and who did.
The APC is trying to push the old mantra that Atiku is corrupt and trying to force it down the throats of Nigerians. It is an old tactic aimed at pushing perception forward, without anything tangible to support it. This would not work as only evidence will convince Nigerians. And they will demand it.
Nigerians would also demand robust engagement based on issues, antecedents, achievements, programmes and manifestoes. They would want to know who among the two candidates has contributed most in the socio-economic and political development of the country, both in elective office and personal capacity. They would also want to know who among them has the capacity to serve them better.
Under Buhari as President, have Nigerians fared better than they were before he came to office? Has corruption really reduced under his watch, in the true sense of it? Are Nigerians, irrespective of where they come from, getting their fair share in his government? Will Nigerians benefit more from Buhari’s re-election?
For Atiku, what were his contributions as Vice President? Was he a nominal deputy or did he play an active role in government for the good of Nigeria? Outside government, what has he done to uplift Nigeria and Nigerians? Will Atiku’s presidency change the fortunes of Nigerians.
Aside from these, Nigerians would still interrogate Atiku and Buhari on critical issues in the country, like restructuring, for instance. We know that Atiku stands for restructuring, but does he know that it cannot be done by executive fiat but through the instrumentality of the legislature? How is he going to engage the National Assembly and, indeed, the state Houses of Assembly to get this done? Buhari does not want restructuring. What alternative is he offering for the better functioning of the country?
To address these issues, Nigerians would want Atiku and Buhari to explain themselves in a debate. Shunning a debate or delegating such assignment to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, as APC earlier touted, would be unacceptable.
All said, Nigerians would demand that the Federal Government conducts credible elections, wherein their votes would determine the winner. The fears that the 2019 elections would not be free and fair, following the outcome of the Osun governorship election, must be addressed. And the claim that about 14 million people voted for President Buhari in APC’s direct presidential election gives the impression that the ruling party is setting up a fait accompli for the 2019 presidency.