When Muhammadu Buhari ran for president in 2011, he made a solemn pledge to Nigerians: “This campaign is the third and last one for me. I will not offer myself again for election into the office of president.” Buhari was persuaded to break this pledge because Bola Tinubu made him an offer he could not refuse. He would merge his ACN party with Buhari’s CPC party. Tinubu’s putative South-West strength would be combined with Buhari’s mythical North-West supremacy. The result of this alchemy would be politically unstoppable: next stop Aso Rock!
However, this plan started to unravel soon after the marriage and the honeymoon. Overwhelmingly, Nigerian public opinion rejected the idea of a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket; effectively short-circuiting all delusions of a dream Buhari/Tinubu ticket. With APC’s nerve-wracking loss in its presumed stronghold of Ekiti, and with it only able to eke out a victory in its Osun backyard, and with Mimiko’s defection in Ondo bringing that state back to the ambit of the PDP, Tinubu’s much-vaunted strength in the South-West became more fiction than fact.
Fourth coming of Buhari
If the door was slammed shut to a possible vice-presidency, Tinubu still has the plan B of nominating a disciple as Buhari’s vice-presidential running-mate. Thus, when Buhari finally declared his candidature for president for a marathon fourth time at Eagle Square, Abuja, Tinubu’s ACN brigadiers were there in full regalia to give him conspicuous moral support. The wily Asiwaju himself was absent, perhaps in order to seem an honest broker among the APC presidential gladiators. Nevertheless, he was suitably represented by his Senator wife, Oluremi Tinubu. Other ACN timber and caliber, including Babatunde Fashola of Lagos, were also in attendance.
However, rather than crate an unstoppable momentum, Buhari’s formal declaration only seemed to have concentrated minds about his chances. The prognosis was inauspicious. There would be no good luck in Buhari’s fourth outing. The man is simply politically unelectable as Nigeria’s president. Some of his turn-coat political allies always feared this. For example, Nasir El-Rufai, who now virtually operates as Buhari’s “chief of staff,” observed just a few years back that Buhari remains “perpetually unelectable” as a result of his “insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus.”
Buhari’s declared candidacy re-awakened old angst about his cynical political antecedents, and it made many reappraise his chances more realistically, now that his candidature was beyond conjecture. The conclusion remains the same. Buhari has die-hard Hausa-Fulani support in the North. But he has even more dyed-in-the-wool opposition in most other parts of the federation. His core Northern support is unlikely to translate yet again to victory at the centre, even with the promissory note of Tinubu’s fading ACN support in the South-West.
Back to the supermarket
Any right-thinking person knows that Buhari is not the type of man to allow Tinubu to become the king behind his presidential throne. Therefore, it did not take long for the Tinubu mafia to start shopping for a new candidate with much less political baggage than Buhari. Indeed, the writing is on the wall that they are now more than likely to ditch Buhari in order to pitch their tent with some other, more malleable, APC presidential hopeful.
One likely choice is embattled Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, who finally announced his divorce from the PDP this month, after committing adultery with the opposition for the better part of four years. Tambuwal had his eyes on the position of Governor of Sokoto State. But in a dramatic turnaround, he has now been persuaded to pick up the nomination form for the APC presidential contest.
Suddenly, the Tinubu brigadiers are now saying Buhari is too old to be president. Indeed, if elected, he would be Nigeria’s oldest president at 73. If he runs successfully for two terms, he would still be president at 81. The question-mark of Buhari’s age was hardly a hidden secret until now. It is just that, in the treacherous terrain of Nigerian politics, it provides a ready-made excuse for ditching him.
Fashola, who was there to support Buhari at his Eagle Square declaration, now says what Nigeria needs are young leaders and not geriatrics: “When 40-year olds are now leading nations and our 40-year olds can’t even get to the Senate, they can’t even become governors. Are we really preparing this generation for the future? Those are the issues really. We cannot point to success in other countries and refuse to do what those people are doing to get things right.” This is a coded way of saying Buhari is now way too old for Aso Rock.
Politics is a treacherous business. Buhari should know this by now. He himself was treacherous in being part of a gang of military officers that seized power illegally from a democratically-elected government through the barrel of a gun. He was then, in turn, treacherously overthrown by his own mates. Buhari should know he is dealing with politicians seasoned in betrayal. Indeed, duplicity is the stuff politics and politicians are made of. In politics, everybody stabs everybody in the back. Therefore, everybody should expect to be stabbed in the back.
Asked if he would back Buhari if Buhari wins the nomination for the APC ticket, Atiku told everyone he would easily stab Buhari in the back; without seeming to realise it. He said: “I think I have proved that I am a pragmatic politician. Recall that in 2010 when I failed to get the PDP ticket against President Jonathan, I and others went to try to bring about an electoral alliance between the CPC and ACN.” Atiku’s “pragmatism” is the stuff of treachery. He failed in the PDP so he promptly switched to create an alliance between two other opposition parties. The bell tolls for the APC.
Nuhu Ribadu, as EFCC chairman, named Bola Tinubu as public enemy number one. But then he turned around to become the anointed presidential candidate of Tinubu’s ACN party. This did not prevent Tinubu from stabbing him in the back. Tinubu entered into a last minute deal with Buhari of the CPC. Then again, he entered into another suspected backroom deal with Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. But there was payback time for Ribadu. Ribadu was part of the APC merger. But then he chose his time to ditch Tinubu and the APC for the PDP.
Some of us have long maintained that Buhari is a political neophyte. We have had cause to warn him that nobody wins the nomination of a political party like the APC, laden with corrupt politicians; by saying he will fight corruption if elected. Buhari’s anti-corruption hyperbole is part of what is responsible for the buyers-remorse his presidential bid is already experiencing.
Without the backing of the Tinubu brigade, Buhari does not have a prayer in getting the APC ticket. His lack of political know-how is going to be a major handicap. He is up against people like Atiku Abubakar; seasoned wheeler-dealer politicians who know how to arm-twist convention delegates. Buhari, on the other hand, has never had to fight to get a party’s nomination. Instead, parties have been formed around his presidential ambitions.
Atiku, in particular, has haggled and wrangled through many nomination conventions since the early 1990s. Moreover, he has a war-chest of naira bank-notes with which to grease the process. But Buhari, the man who claims he had to take a bank loan in order to buy the APC presidential nomination papers, is going to have a difficult time convincing APC delegates to pitch their tent with him without providing pocket infrastructure. Buhari’s approach is not the realistic way to run for president in today’s federal republic of Nigeria.
The imminent ditching of Buhari by Tinubu means the forthcoming APC convention to choose the party’s presidential candidate is going to be a bloodbath. It is really going to be ugly. There will be dead bodies strewn all over the convention floor. Dogs and baboons will surely be soaked in blood. With its do-or-die politicians fighting to finish on the eve of the February elections, the APC will soon provide a textbook case of how not to campaign against an established party like the PDP in Nigeria.
Buhari’s talakawa supporters, who caused mayhem when he lost the last presidential election, will not take kindly to his likely defeat at the APC primaries. If Buhari is rejected, he would be humiliated. It would have been better for him not to have run. Don’t buy all the pious talk that the losers will support the winner; it is not going to happen. Even if Buhari were to decide to be diplomatic about his defeat, his incendiary supporters don’t have the word diplomacy in their vocabulary.
The APC is caught in a Catch-22. If it fields Buhari, it will fail at the polls under the weight of his previous political bag and baggage. If it rejects Buhari, all reliance on his mystical 12 million votes will go up in smoke. Tambuwal, Kwankwaso or Atiku cannot replicate those votes. They have neither Buhari’s hype nor his charisma. With Buhari out of the reckoning, many of his disgruntled supporters would rather riot than vote. The APC itself would implode under the weight of its own internal contradictions. This is the anti-climax to all the hue and cry about the 2015 election that is now in the cards.
The ditching of Buhari would open a clear pathway for Atiku; the politician’s politician and Aminu Tambuwal, the dark horse. Atiku’s dismal performance in previous polls is eloquent testimony that his presidential hopes are a pie in the sky. Tambuwal in the APC ticket would be even worse than the last showing of Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN, who was even better-known nationally than Tambuwal.
Article written by Femi Aribisala
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