And so the primaries came and went. Last week, the nation’s most visible parties – PDP, ACN, ANPP – chose their Presidential flag-bearers for the upcoming general elections in April 2011. Some not so in-your-face parties – like NCP and SDMP (huh?) – also chose theirs. But ofcourse, everybody knows which primaries we were looking out for, right?
The following day, the ACN picked Ribadu as its presidential candidate, while Shekarau emerged as that of the ANPP the day after. The CPC had previously picked Muhammadu Buhari as its own candidate. Also having emerged as presidential aspirants are Pat Utomi for SDMP and Dele Momodu for NCP. There are definitely other aspirants for other parties (whatever happened to rev. Chris Okotie and his FRESH party?) but for now, these are the most visible. Whether they are serious or not remains to be seen; whether they are the most credible depends on what we make of them.
However, unless the opposition shows some determination in its much-mouthed alliance talks, the PDP looks set to – yet again – pluck the presidency from the hands of desperate Nigerians hoping for change. At the moment, the most viable alliance seems to be that of the ACN and CPC – which, by the way, has been on since forever. And apart from a mutual desire to unseat the PDP, the only other thing that these two parties seem to have in common seems to be mutual distrust for each other, coupled with an ego the size of the African continent. What comes a distant second is the need to ACTUALLY and dispassionately create a strategy devoid of self-aggrandisement in a bid to replace the PDP.
Therein lies the challenge. At the moment, the alliance talks it bogged down by negotiation for which of the two parties should produce the President. Supporters of the two candidates have given various reasons why their principals should be the candidate of the alliance, and at the moment, there seems to be a standoff. Unless this is resolved, I advice the two parties to start crafting their congratulatory notes to the PDP candidate who is sure to reap massively from any perceived crack in the opposition camp(s).
While it is incontrovertible that Buhari’s CPC is spreading like wild fire in the North, it is also true that Ribadu’s (or rather, Tinubu’s) ACN has control of four states in the South-West (and a few state assembly seats scattered all over). So, while Buhari brings mass support in the heavily-populated North (remember that politics is a game of numbers) Tinubu (or should we say Ribadu because he’s the presidential aspirant?) brings four sure states – as well as much-needed finances – to the negotiation table. But that is not all. Both men are seen as incorruptible public officers going by their antecedents – Buhari as a military Head of State, Ribadu as the Chairman of EFCC. Although Buhari was Head of State for 18 months, he, just like Ribadu, is seen as a political neophyte as far as democratic governance is concerned. Many argue that it is in fact his rigid military stance that has dragged the negotiations for this long. However, this, it seems, is where the similarity between both men ends.
Buhari is seen as part of the ‘old school’ politicians (Born December 17, 1942, he is the oldest presidential contender this year) who are responsible for many of Nigeria’s woes, while Nuhu Ribadu is seen as a ‘new school’ politician, (born in November 21, 1960, he is the youngest presidential aspirant) who represent a new beginning. But no matter how ‘old school’ he may be, one cannot deny the fact that Buhari is clearly different from his contemporaries in terms of the corruption that characterised their tenure. Buhari it was, who decreed the ‘War On Indiscipline’. Till today, Buhari’s PTF projects can be seen all over Nigeria. And to date, Buhari is yet to be mentioned in any corruption scandal.
Buhari is the candidate for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The only stain on Buhari’s agbada is unfortunately a very huge one, as it concerns his stand on religion. Back in 2001, he voiced his support for the nation-wide adoption of the Islamic Sharia legal system, this in clear disregard for Nigeria’s preference to being a secular state. Now, since religion is an extremely touchy matter in Nigeria – more people die from religion-blamed fracases in Nigeria than from accidents every year – many Southerners, who are predominantly Christian, fear that as President, Buhari will use the awesome powers of that office to force Nigeria into becoming a religious state. Or burn in rebellion against it. This presents an extremely huge burden to his ambition, and I will advise him to ignore this at his own peril. Atiku’s defeat – partly because of his stance as a Northern, rather than a Nigerian candidate – is a case in point.
On his own part, Ribadu is seen as a younger version of Buhari – only this time without the burden of being a religious zealot. His tenure as the EFCC chairman was characterised by a spirited effort to stifle the growing monster of corruption by public officials that had become a norm in our national life. His EFCC was so feared that for a while, there was a decline in looting of the public treasury by our elected officials. At least, it seemed so. This earned him accolades both home and abroad, and this is one area that has endeared him to Nigerians. His subsequent persecution by the government of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua further lent credence to his claim of having fought corruption so effectively that it fought back hard.
Ribadu is the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Where Ribadu will have some explaining to do however is his relationship with Tinubu whom he had once declared as a ‘looter with international dimension’ in the Senate chambers on the 27th of September, 2006. He will also have to answer the allegations of being a stooge in Obasanjo’s hands, only going after Obasanjo’s perceived political enemies as EFCC Chairman. A third and curious question is his sudden turn around to clear the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, of corruption charges. It was he, who, in 2007 filed corruption charges against the same woman in a Federal High Court in Abuja. These questions are begging for answers, and as soon as he can clear the air, he can go about his campaigning without much distraction. Having said that, nonetheless, Ribadu is seen as a positive force for change by many, especially the youth.
In the coming weeks, the ACN and CPC are expected to have reached an agreement – or not. Whatever they decide, it is important that they know that time is off the essence. According to the new Electoral Act (2010), political parties have up till February 21 to substitute the names of their candidates. That is barely 4 weeks.
But like they say, in politics, 24 hours is a long time. Just ask Atiku!