The Buhari versus Atiku contest promises to be an interesting one in many ways. They are both Muslims from Northern Nigeria…
The battle line is now clearly drawn. The quest for the country’s leadership in the 2019 presidential election will be a straight fight between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
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Atiku emerged the candidate of the country’s major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at its presidential primaries which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, last week. He defeated all the other candidates with his over 1500 votes, pushing the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, to a distant second position and Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to an even more distant third, with only 371 votes. Atiku’s decisive victory in the primary election is a further confirmation of the vast political experience and following he has garnered over the years on the country’s political turf.
The outcome of the primary should be a lesson to those candidates who had had gargantuan views of their own popularity and chances of becoming the country’s leader, and had actually been trying all the tricks in the book to get the tickets of their parties for the exalted position. Atiku’s emergence has, however, provided cannon fodder for some of his opponents, especially the supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari, who have started pointing out factors which, in their estimation, make him unsuitable for the country’s highest office. So much has been said about ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s rating of Atiku as one who was desperate to supplant him as President as soon as he was named his running rate, prior to the 1999 presidential poll.
A lot has also been said about Atiku’s humongous business empire, and his supposed corruption, for which his former principal, and principal opposer, Obasanjo, could not send him to jail. Yet others have been talking about a supposed problem he has in the United States of America, for which he cannot enter that country again. No one has, however, faulted Atiku’s entrepreneurial dexterity and passion for job creation, his seeming detribalization that is glaring in the way he has worked, and continues to work with Nigerians from all parts of the country, which probably culminated in his victory at this election.
The Buhari versus Atiku contest promises to be an interesting one in many ways. They are both Muslims from Northern Nigeria, thereby taking the sail off the boats of those who would have liked to make an issue of Buhari’s supposed “Northernisation”and “Islamisation” of Nigeria.
This is one reason why Nigerians must move from campaigns over such mundane and divisive issues to the real problems that are confronting the country, and how to address them.
The plethora of childish attacks on Atiku’s candidacy, with even the Buhari Campaign Organisation issuing a funny statement, is not the way to go. The time has come for those seeking political offices to address the core issues of unemployment, insecurity, dilapidated infrastructure, weak institutions and a receding economy.
They should move away from discussing the libido and number of wives of the candidates, and focus on their performance and potential performance in office, not their activities in “the other room”, as long as they do not infringe on the laws of the land.
Certainly, the dynamics which threw up the country’s current leadership are not the same today. If anything, the defeat of the erstwhile president, Goodluck Jonathan, in the 2015 election has shown that an incumbent President can be voted out, although it is possible to say that that feat was achieved because the nation had a Northern/Muslim INEC boss superintending an election where the incumbent was a Christian from a Southern Minority group. What is clear is that the two leading parties have a lot to do to gain the confidence of the people.
While Atiku may be seen as a sound option who could use his wealth of entrepreneurial knowledge and knack for business to grow the economy and create jobs, he has the albatross of the PDP, and its erstwhile reckless handling of public funds, as seen in the mindless looting and sharing of petrodollars superintended by its then oil minister and minister of defence to politicians, marabouts, INEC officials and just about anyone who could help to achieve its objective of remaining in power at all costs.
He will need to convince Nigerians that the former ruling party has changed from its seeming “thieving ways” and its unbridled frittering of public funds for political purposes. The Buhari campaign, on the other hand, while enjoying its power of incumbency and its implications for the electoral agency and processes, has to convince Nigerians that its change mantra has gotten off its drawing board.
Truly, the APC government has effected many positive changes in the management of public finances and enforced a modicum of discipline in the handling of public funds, but it has a herculean task convincing the people that it has achieved the necessary change it promised the people. It not only has to more effectively highlight these changes, but also state how it intends to build on them to give Nigerians the country of their dreams. As President Muhammadu Buhari himself admitted during the last Independence Day celebration, things have not been as easy in the country as they should. The next few months before the elections should, therefore, be devoted to actualizing the promise to make life easier for the people.
Both the APC and the PDP should, therefore, forget the shenanigans and face the real issues. The Atiku camp would also be making a deadly mistake by running a campaign of throwing brickbats at Buhari and his Presidency. The cult like following that the aged President enjoys is unlikely to be won over by any unfair attacks on the President’s person and his achievements.
What may possibly give the Atiku campaign some leeway are the dictates of modern leadership and how a younger (how much younger?) and more dynamic person will be better off leading the country in tackling the issues of these times. In that case, the passage of time and the need for greater firmness and dynamism in leadership may be better campaign topics than any supposed personal failings of the incumbent.
In the final analysis, what Nigerians need is good leadership. It is better attention and funding for education, health, job creation, public infrastructure and general public welfare. These are the same issues on which all parties aspiring to the country’s leadership have campaigned over the years, but a lot more needs to be done to make these desired dividends of democracy a reality in the lives of the people.