President Muhammadu Buhari is set to square off against former vice president Atiku Abubakar in a race to determine the next Nigeria’s president. Here are the factors that will determine who wins the election
As expected, the road to the 16 February 2019 presidential election has been paved with high drama and tension as the two major candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, who is seeking a second term and his main challenger, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and their supporters engaged in last minute battle to sell their candidacy to Nigerians. It was a battle in which the two main candidates and their supporters are keeping close watch on each other; waiting to exploit the slips, actions and inactions of each other for possible electoral gain.
For one, supporters of the two candidates had in the past few weeks engaged in what can be described as ‘crowd flaunting’ from their various campaign stops on various social media platforms in an obvious move to show that they are having the most support from Nigerians ahead of the election. Atiku and his party were, some weeks ago, accused of ‘weaponising’ the death of Nigerian soldiers for electoral gain. The accusation followed what many described as their unrestrained criticisms of the manner the Buhari administration and the military after the troops suffered a string of reversals in the battle against Boko Haram in North-east Nigeria.
Lately, the opposition party had seized on the 25 Friday January suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria to further justify its argument that the Buhari administration should not remain in office beyond 29 May, 2019. While arguments over the propriety or otherwise of the suspension of the CJN has continued among politicians, lawyers and other interested groups have continued in and outside the courts, Atiku latched into controversies to impugn the integrity of his main opponent in the 2019 president election in a letter he wrote to the Ambassadors of the European Union, United States, European Union and the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Nigeria on Tuesday, 29 January titled: Constitutional Breaches Under Buhari’s Watch, catalogued what he described as instances of President Buhari serial “breaching the provisions of our constitution and undermining organs and institutions of State in order to advance his personal interest.”
The suspension of Onnoghen topped the list of the compilation sent to the representatives of the foreign mission in Nigeria by the PDP presidential candidate who said his action was intended to goad the international community to pile pressure on the Buhari government “to desist from these violations and ensure a level playing field for the general elections that are only a couple of weeks away.” Even then, Atiku’s entreaties in the letter that “The choices facing all of us is either to stand aside and watch Nigerians reelect a president who has been in constant violation of the laws of the land without remorse; or to show him the way out and elect a true democrat,” barely disguised his appeal for support from the foreign envoys in his battle against Buhari.
The APC as well as its national chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, had replied Atiku emphasizing that removal of judges indicted for corruption was a worldwide affair while also affirming that as a sovereign nation; Nigeria will not take order from other countries.
Such spat between Atiku and Buhari will continue between the incumbent president and his major challenger as both men deploy all available means to them to get the support of Nigerians ahead of the presidential election. While the two have continued to grab headlines, Nigerians will have a choice of 72 candidates to choose from when they go to the polls on 16 February, according to a list released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC early this month.
Some of the other presidential candidates in the large field include Dr. Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Peoples Movement of Nigeria (APMN); Mr. Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress (AAC); Mr. Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party (YPP); Mr. Sina Fagbenro-Byron of the KOWA Party; and Mr. Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) Mr. Obadaiah Mailafia of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Tope Fasua of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party ( ANRP).
Going by their profiles, most of the other candidates are younger, more educated and knowledgeable about contemporary social economic development globally than the two now regarded as the main contenders in the election. Some of the candidates like Moghalu, Ezekwesili, Sowore, Fasua have also proffered solutions considered to be refreshing to some of the critical challenges confronting the country.
Still, many Nigerians believe that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eyes of a needle than for any of the candidates to upstage the apple cart to emerge as Nigeria’s president in 2019. This is because many of the parties are not only new, they lacked structure and resources to deploy for campaign across Nigeria.
The lack of visibility of most of the candidates on posters, radio and television advertisements and on campaign rallies about two weeks to the election attest to this fact. Efforts by the aspirants to come up with a consensus candidate that will square up against the two main contenders were unsuccessful before the end of submission of names of presidential candidates to INEC by the political parties. Talks about the possibility of the presidential candidates forming a coalition that will result in only one candidate squaring up against the two main contenders were revived following the withdrawal of Ezewesili from the presidential race.
Analysts, however, said such coalition is belated and will not have any effect on permutations that the 2019 election will mostly be a two-horse race between the candidate of PDP and APC. Indeed, there were talks of a ‘Third Force’ presidential candidate by some activists led by Lagos based lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, just before the kick- off of nominations of candidates for the 2019 general elections. The Third Force coalition arose out of concern that the ruling APC and the opposition PDP which governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015 are out of their depths in terms of proffering solutions to the problems confronting the country. But the brains behind the movement were also realistic enough to know that the two established parties can only be displaced if the over 90 other political parties registered in Nigeria work together.
Reports recently suggested that the coalition had adopted Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim as its presidential candidate to challenge Buhari and Atiku. Olawepo-Hashim who, running on the platform of the People’s Trust (PT), won the party’s presidential ticket following a fusion of over 10 political parties, including Agbakoba-led National Intervention Movement.
But most of the parties in the coalition that adopted Olawepo-Hashim are mere briefcase organisations that are currently not in control of even a ward in any of the local governments in Nigeria, thus may not offer any significant advantage to the PT candidate in the battle against the two main contenders.
But then, Profossor Wole Soyinka, at a programme organised by Citizen Forum in Lagos on Thursday 31 January, insisted that Nigerians should not be intimidated by the enormity of forming a Third Force coalition. ‘‘It is not whether you succeed or not in presenting an alternative in the current situation. That is not the issue; the important thing is to at least plant a seed,’‘ he said.
Atiku , who emerged the presidential candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party following his victory at the presidential primary of the party held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in October 2018 can be described as a man with undying quest to rule Nigeria. The 72-year old who has morphed from a retired Customs officer to one of the most successful, richest Nigerian businessmen has been in politics since 1991 when he unsuccessfully contested for the governorship seat of the defunct Gongola State which is now Adamawa and Taraba States.
While he also failed in his bid to get the presidential ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party in 1993, Atiku contested for and was elected the governor of his home state of Adamawa in 1998 on the platform of PDP following Nigeria’s return to democracy.
He, however, did not assume office as governor as he was later chosen as the running mate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the PDP candidate in 1999 presidential election. He went on to win and was sworn in alongside his boss, a Nigeria’s vice president and president respectively on 29 May, 1999. However, both men fell apart before the end of their first tenure in office, though the crack in relationship became visible at the beginning of their second tenure.
Atiku attributed the twist in their relationship to his refusal to support a constitutional amendment that would have enabled his boss to go for a third term of office. But Obasanjo had alleged that his problem with the vice president has to do with corrupt practices he involved himself in while in office. The former vice president was subsequently forced out of the ruling party by Obasanjo and his cronies. Not one that will be deterred from whatever he set his eyes on, Atiku towards the 2007 presidential election joined the then opposition Action Congress, AC, and got the presidential ticket of the party.
INEC, which was then led by Maurice Iwu, obviously working at the behest of the presidency had, based on a report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, refused to put Atiku on the presidential ballot until it was compelled by a judgment of Supreme Court few days to the election. Atiku came third behind Buhari in the election won by the late Umaru Yar’Adua of PDP which was described as the most brazenly rigged in the history of the country by local and international observers. Yar’Adua got 24 million votes while Buhari and Atiku polled six million and 2.4 million votes respectively in the election. Atiku returned to the PDP soon after the death of Yar’Adua and also unsuccessfully tried to run for the presidency under the platform of the party in the 2011 general election.
Sensing that with the then incumbent President Jonathan’s strong leash on PDP, there was no way for him to contest the 2015 presidency on the platform of the party, Atiku had moved over to APC when the mega coalition was formed ahead of the general election. In the second contest involving him and Buhari, Atiku lost the presidential ticket to the retired General at the APC presidential primary held in Lagos late 2014.
Though the party was victorious in the presidential election, Atiku had become estranged with the party and its presidential candidate few months into office and soon returned to the PDP where he was able to get the presidential ticket which has now pitched him against Buhari. “I have been in politics for some time and I have never hidden my ambition to be president. My motivation is simple: I believe I have the experience and ideas to help Nigeria move in the right direction and achieve its potential,” Atiku said of his quest to govern Nigeria.
President Buhari, the presidential candidate of APC, ended his serial ‘contest and fail’ for the presidency with his victory over former President Goodluck Jonathan in 14 February 2015 presidential election.
It was believed that Buhari’s victory was aided by the fact that he contested on a party that was made a truly national platform through mergers and defection of some PDP governors. Buhari scored 15, 416,221 votes to defeat the then incumbent who got 12, 853, 162 votes in the election. The retired General who was also Nigeria’s military Head of State between 1983 and 1984 began his attempt to return to power as an elected president in 2003 when contested the presidency on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples’ Party, ANPP.
He also contested on the platform of the party in 2007 on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, 2011. CPC merged with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, which had as its stronghold the South-west part of the country, the ANPP with North-east and North- west as its strongholds and a part of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA ahead of the 2015 general election.
Buhari also served as the Military administrator of the defunct North-Eastern State, petroleum minister, member of the Supreme Military Council. He was also Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund, among others.
‘Next Level’ versus ‘Get Nigeria Working Again’
Atiku launched his bid to take over power from President Buhari in November, 2018 through direct address to Nigerians using Facebook and other social media platforms. In the address, the PDP presidential candidate had decried the high unemployment rate among the youths as well as rising incidents of poverty and insecurity across the country. “The most important question in this election is: are you better off than you were four years ago, are you richer or poorer? That is why our primary focus is to get Nigeria working again,” Atiku said.
In his 180-page policy document to ‘Get Nigeria Working Again’, the former vice president said his target is to grow the economy to a gross domestic product of $900bn by 2025 and lift at least 50 million people out of extreme poverty within the same period. In a recent article published on the website of an international television station, the former vice president had elucidated on his plans to tackle problems of extreme poverty, Boko Haram insurgency, out of school children among others in Nigeria. “Fundamental to addressing all these issues is restoring Nigeria’s economic growth. Without a growing economy, firms cannot employ our people. Without jobs, poverty and hunger grow. As poverty and hunger grow, so do the conditions that lead to insecurity,” Atiku said.
He listed examples of policies he will implement immediately if he is elected to ensure the growth of the economy to include establishing of a stable macroeconomic environment which will be brought about through monetary and fiscal policies targeted at ensuring low inflation, stable exchange rate which will be achieved through floating of the naira, low corporate income tax rate and a raft of incentives to encourage the manufacturing sector.
However, the PDP presidential candidate’s revelations that he will liberalise the economy and privatise state enterprises, especially the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and the four refineries have raised red flag among Nigerians. This is in spite of his claim that the proceeds from the sale of the assets will be ploughed into a special fund for the development of education and health.
When he was queried about the potential beneficiaries of his privatization plans at a business summit he had with players in the private sector in Lagos recently, Atiku said, “I am also not going to enrich members of my family, but my friends. Are my friends not entitled to be enriched? As long as there is no element of corruption there. And there was none during our time, when we privatized the banks, when we privatized institutions of the private sector.”
As Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999 to 2007, Atiku was the head of the Economic Council as well as chairman of the National Council on Privatisation. The former VP and his boss were accused of selling Nigeria’s assets to their friends and family members during the period.