In 2015, serial presidential contestant, Muhammadu Buhari, emerged victorious through the instrumentality of enclave politics to which the north adroitly resorted in the face of plans by Goodluck Jonathan to ensconce himself in power for another four years. Had Jonathan succeeded, the north, barring any unforeseen circumstances, would have been out of presidential power for ten unbroken years following the demise of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
That cold fact apparently nudged the north to throw everything into the mix of 2015 presidential power politics. Many key northern elements in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) deployed political brinkmanship, dismantled loyalty that characteristically underpins leadership-followership construction, betrayed trust and deceived Jonathan in the utilisation of campaign and election funds in order to ensure the defeat of a sitting president, for the first time, in the annals of Nigeria’s presidential election.
Obviously, the absence of an alternative to Buhari in the north had left the northern collective with a fait accompli in the Daura-born general. If there had been a northern alternative on the PDP platform, as it happened in 2007 when Yar’Adua beat Buhari silly in that year’s presidential election by 24 million to 6 million votes, there could have been a repeat of the 2007 election debacle for Buhari.
But the PDP goaded itself into an egregious strategic blunder when it could not rein in Jonathan to show fidelity to the gentleman’s agreement he allegedly reached with some leaders of the party that, having completed the unexpired term of the late President Yar’Adua in 2011 and another four years in office up until 2015, he would not afterward seek re-election in 2015.
Jonathan locked down the presidential ticket of the party and set up a two-horse race with Buhari, whose candidature had been appropriated by the north in the bid to reclaim presidential power. Had PDP leaders, including Olusegun Obasanjo at the time, succeeded in propping up a trump card in Sule Lamido, who was rounding off his second term in office as Jigawa governor, as the presidential candidate, the story could, today, have been different.
Jonathan’s aspiration ran contrary to the plan by the northern hegemony to clinch power in 2015. That was PDP’s faux pas. The lesson to draw from this is simple: if, as a result of wrong political calculations and strategic untidiness, Jonathan lost election as an incumbent, it means that Buhari, as an incumbent, can also lose election if his political and electoral strategies are dissimilar to the pragmatic approaches that can ensure victory, especially in a strangulating political economy that Nigeria has become under his leadership.
Is Buhari in a pole position to win re-election in 2019? It is difficult to impassively answer in the affirmative. The scenario will understandably be different. Since the APC and the PDP have resolved to field northern presidential candidates, there is no doubt that anything can happen. If Buhari contests, there are good chances that he can be defeated. If that happens, it would be a tragic personal loss and not something for which to unsettle Nigeria since power would still have, in any case, remained in the north.
Apart from the scenario that I have painted above, it would interest you to know that there was a miniature electoral battle that took place recently in Katsina, the home state of Buhari, which outcome, I strongly believe, has implications for the president’s re-election in 2019; that is, if he seeks re-election. The APC and the PDP did battle in the by-election for Mashi-Dutsi federal constituency seat in the House of Representatives.
What is interesting about the by-election was the amount of effort, resources and intimidation that the ruling APC in the state allegedly invested in it and still struggled to secure controversial victory. With the state government’s machinery, supported by the Aviation Minister, Hadi Srika, one would have thought the APC would have put the PDP to rout.
But, alas, the APC posted controversial figures that presented PDP as a very formidable opposition in Katsina. After the forward and backward movements to the tribunal and the conduct of a supplementary rerun in some fifteen polling units cancelled by the tribunal for some irregularities, the APC candidate, Mansur Ali Mashi, cumulatively scored 30,719 votes while the PDP candidate, Nazifi Ayuba, scored 22,610 votes.
The lesson to draw from the small corner of Katsina state within the context of a nationwide presidential election involving Buhari is that if the president and his foot soldiers could face this kind of stubborn opposition in his Katsina home state, one can imagine the dimensions of opposition the president may have to contend with in other parts of the northern states where he would be locked in vote-seeking battle with other formidable northern candidates, not to talk of the southern states. Hello, are you with me? Candidate Buhari is beatable.
In the southern part of the country, the narratives from there cannot sustain the kind of popular sentiments that ensured Buhari’s victory over Jonathan, for instance, in the southwest in 2015. The southwest has become tentative. The leadership of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu that galvanised the zone’s support for Buhari has been put under intense pressure. Tinubu’s sense of longing and belonging has arguably been assaulted and diminished.
Back to the Katsina experience: it bears historical nexus with a promise during the electioneering for PDP’s leadership positions at its December 9, 2017 national convention. Senator Umaru Tsauri, a prominent son of Katsina state, who emerged as the national secretary, had boasted that the PDP would ensure the defeat of Buhari in the state in 2019. I had shrugged off his swank as mere sloganeering that cannot happen. My belief had always been that Buhari and his party, at least in Katsina, would always record landslide over other political parties.
The Tsauri-led oppositional tsunami, which is thriving on the power of articulation and enlightenment of the people to reject the status quo that has mindlessly impoverished them and increased the hunger and anguish in the land, is a classic example of the series of internal contradictions to APC’s bludgeoning mantra of change that has unraveled as a historic scam, portraying the Buhari administration as incompetent in the overall appreciation of its episodic failures.
Those who delusionally think that it would be difficult to defeat Buhari in the 2019 presidential election in the event he decides to throw his hat in the ring should, therefore, perish the thought. PMB is, in fact, beatable in a free and fair election, notwithstanding his power of incumbency. The prognosis may appear sacrilegious to them, but therein is the possibility of a silent revolution that a vast majority of Nigerians can bring about through their power of choice.
In 2015, about 15 million electorate checkmated Jonathan’s re-election gambit with their voter cards and he accepted the people’s verdict. Buhari will do well to build on that new tradition in a similar circumstance in 2019. That is how to build institutions and democratic ethos. It should not be about Buhari’s ego. It should also not be about the mindset and desire of the horde of his fanatical supporters. It should be about national interest and survival.
Postscript: In the jostle for the presidency in 2019, I urge for restraint and equanimity, not the gory pictures of baboons and dogs being soaked in their blood. I urge parties and their presidential standard bearers to emphasise, in their electioneering, issues that will conduce to the rebuilding of citizens’ confidence in our federation, strengthening of peace, harmony and national unity, and not nepotism-driven political considerations, ethno-religious chauvinism and divisive mantra. God bless Nigeria!
Ojeifo writes from Abuja via [email protected]