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Segun Olanipekun: APC Presidential Primaries, The Odds Against General Buhari

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Many opposition party members, including numerous other Nigerians, seem to have the erroneous notion that the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential ticket is just for the picking by General Muhammadu Buhari. Many politicians, partisans and pundits have said this much; repeatedly, they have reinforced the impression in the media that GMB, to use his acronym, is a towering leader in the opposition party, who was one of the founding fathers of the APC in February last year when ACN, CPC, ANPP and a faction of APGA morphed into the new party. Another factor, they often cite to buttress this claim about his invincibility at the forthcoming APC primary election is the fact that he was able to garner more than 12 million votes in the 2011 presidential election, during his third attempt, in addition to a cult-like following in the northern part of the country. But how correct are these permutations and calculations in the face of the present Nigerian political situation? Could these veteran politicians and pundits be wrong in view of the fluid nature of politics and politicking, especially in this clime?

Before advancing reasons for such probable wrong-headedness, it is important to pose this caveat: that this article is neither intended to lampoon GMB’s foibles nor is it about judging his tenure as a former military head of state; an argument many have used against him to claim that as a former dictator he does not fit into the present democratic framework. However, this is a commentary about the seeming naivety of his present campaign which is largely hinged on the projection of his Spartan and puritanical persona; and about him being the only aspirant with the wand that can solve Nigeria’s problems through mere proclamations. This approach is not only politically self-serving but ignores the dynamics of the Nigerian political vortex along with its dexterously enlightened practitioners. These constituents cannot be taken for granted. They are clever, tricky and discerning and need to be properly understood for any aspiring politician to succeed.

All this put in context, my wager is that GMB loyalists should brace up for an outcome that may not be pleasant, a likelihood that their principal, GMB, may be on the verge of defeat at the primary; albeit not because he is not loved by party members or that the APC leadership is wont to betray or dump him. No! The essential reason for this imminent failure can be factored into GMB, the candidate, himself. How? This article will answer this question by examining three critical factors that may eventually determine who gets the APC presidential nomination and why GMB may not be the nominee, however, unpleasant it may sound to his admirers. Politics is pragmatic, not dogmatic.

For instance, it is politically suicidal, as widely reported in the media, that it only dawned on GMB as recent as November 19, 2014, less than 20 days to the convention during which delegates will pick APC presidential candidate, for him to be convinced of the need to set up a committee to raise fund for his campaign. This is an awkward joke in this highly monetized political clime and particularly in a contest where there are other competent aspirants fiercely gunning for the nomination. Though unfortunate, the truth is that aspirants fund members and parties in Nigeria, not the other way round. Money, plenty of it, is an integral part of our politics. Thus, this belated effort of GMB to raise campaign fund, coupled with the tales of his proverbial lean wallet would only reinforce the perception that the retired general is a ‘perpetual broker’. Translation: If he cannot fund his primary campaign, who the hell will unlock his or her vault for his general election campaign? This is the number one count against him. So, his numerous supporters should know that their hero scores zero in the first critical political game called war chest, notwithstanding that he was once an army general.

The second important point to note, and which is also crucial is the lack of the intense interactive and personal cultivation of relationship between GMB and the delegates to the convention. The GMB group celebrates the fact that their principal has a cult-like crowd of supporters, which many people claim is consigned to the northern part of the country, but the truth remains that this crowd is not the delegates. The delegates are just a few thousand elected and appointed members from all the 36 states and the FCT that need to be courted, convinced and persuaded to buy into the candidature of any of the aspirants.

Unfortunately, the GMB campaign machine has not covered much ground in this critical turf. The campaign has failed to move its principal around to meet, mix and mingle with these key members of the convention electorate scattered all over the country. This issue goes beyond making press releases; or setting up delegates to meet with GMB’s proxies, it requires GMB himself, the aspirant to personally engage the delegates in face-to-face meetings, articulating his positions on issues of national and local importance, knowing the likes and dislikes of delegates, understanding the programme priority of their constituencies and at times knowing them by their first names. That is to say there is a need to cultivate rapport, intimacy and goodwill with them.

Is GMB doing this? Has he ever done this? Reports say he is not that chummy and that he is not personally reaching out to this critical convention category. May be he is not used to this political habit of camaraderie. For example, during his three previous outings as presidential candidate in 2003, 2007 and 2011 he had the tickets given to him without going through any primary. So, again, his score sheet in the second critical political campaign test called, connecting with delegates is in the red.

What pundits and analysts should note is that this relationship building is of significance in the APC today than ever as the party has no block of governors influential enough to compel delegates from their respective states to vote en masse one way or the other at the convention. The convention is billed to provide a level plain field for all aspirants, a soft phrase for a free-for-all contest; a veritable ground for political horse-trade.

The third problem facing his campaign team is the lack of a well-articulated policy document on how to identify and proffer solutions to Nigeria’s myriad problems. Often, what are churned out by members of his campaign team are copious excerpts from the manifesto of the APC which in itself is not a bad idea. But a serious contender needs to go further by drawing up a distinct policy framework of his own vision, though embedded in the ideological spectrum of his party, as an indication of his preparedness to solve priority problems facing the nation that is presently enmeshed in disorder and chaos. Perhaps, to fill this gap, the GMB team has turned his acclaimed zeal to end corruption into a boring campaign refrain, always recalling his ‘no-nonsense’ war-against indiscipline (WAI) to cow the population when he was a military head of state between 1983 and 1985.

But the GMB team should be reminded that this is a different political climate demanding dexterity and not decrees. A democratic, 21st Nigeria definitely should have no place for such ancient governance template. It would have been more relevant if Nigerians are told about his plans to waddle through the complex and complicated political waters of Nigeria. No one from his team, not even GMB himself, has clearly and succinctly given good answer to this recurring issue. By now and from experience, GMB ought to know that putting forward a well-defined, thoughtful and comprehensive policy programme on such issues as infrastructure, power; unemployment, corruption, insecurity and numerous others, is a demand of serious leadership. Such a document has to be GMB’s contract with Nigeria. So, the GMB campaign has not done well in the third crucial political campaign game called social contract with the Nigerian people, or with the APC convention delegates. This is like a case of a student enrolled for a test but fails to turn in his paper at the end of the examination. What does the teacher grade? Nothing!

If all these factors are carefully weighed by the delegates, which many of them are wont to do, the result of the APC presidential primary may at the end be a landslide for the former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar. The fact is that the former number two man may not enjoy the rabble-rousing prowess of GMB but on the three critical counts above, Atiku towers head and shoulders above GMB, both of who are the main contenders for the APC presidential ticket.

For instance, among all the APC presidential aspirants, Atiku is the only one that has the financial muscle to competently match incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, the obvious PDP candidate during the general election. Atiku has over the years through uncommon entrepreneurial investing accumulated abundant wealth to be able to deploy adequate war chest for the election. Secondly, Atiku is a seasoned pro in presidential primaries. He has been in the game since the early 1990s. He was an active participant in the days of SDP and NRC. He is on a familiar home ground and for a person of his knack for building relationships and budding friendships the intrigues of primary politics is not new.

Hear Atiku on this critical issue in a recent interview he granted The Cable online newspaper: “As of today, among the five of us who are going to participate in the primaries I am the only one who is running around the country. Nobody else is doing that. Nowadays delegates have become more enlightened than before. Most of them are very educated and most of them want to engage their candidates in discussions on what is it they have for them, for the electorate and for party. If they have not seen you, not to talk of interacting with you, how would they vote for you?”
On the third factor of having a social contract with the electorate, Atiku is also miles ahead of others. He has shown that he is someone who is prepared to lead, someone who has done his homework. As at today, he is the only APC aspirant who has prepared a comprehensive policy document on how to bring about the needed change in the polity. This policy document has been subjected to public scrutiny, debated and dissected by experts at a summit held at the Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta between October 27 and 28, 2014.

The gathering attracted more than 50 experts; its opening ceremony was open to the media, and the summit itself was presided over by the Director General of the 2015 Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation, Professor Babalola Borishade, himself an acclaimed political master strategist. The policy document meticulously identified eight priority areas namely, employment generation and wealth creation, infrastructure and power development, human and capital development, security and social cohesion and citizens and governance. Others are agriculture and food security, re-integration and regeneration of disadvantaged areas (this is especially for Delta and North-east regions) and anti-corruption and accountability. No wonder Atiku has been described by his peers, politicians from different political tendencies and pundits as the most prepared aspirant among the lot, including the incumbent, who came to power following the unfortunate death of his boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Ádua.

To be fair to others, Sam Nda-Isaiah also an APC presidential aspirant has articulated a prosaic memo on his vision for Nigeria, but it is more of fluff than stuff; a document far less profound and comprehensive than what Atiku has done. As for the time a comprehensive GMB policy paper will be available for public discourse, my hunch is, it is still like waiting for Godot, to use the title of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play.

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Segun Olanipekun is a former political editor of NAN

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