The Buhari Ticket and ANPPís Challenge
The nomination of Muhammad Buhari as presidential flag bearer of the All Nigeria Peopleís Party (ANPP) for the 2007 election at the recent convention of the party in Abuja is a trago-comedy in the political drama that is being staged by our politicians.
That he is being nominated as consensus candidate for the second time is a clear indication of the failure of our politics to develop beyond infancy stage.
By this claim Iím not accusing the ANPP of denouncing democratic principles of freedom of choice. But Iím putting it side by side with the ruling party, PDP that has been so accused by Coalition of Nigerian Political parties (CNPP) of failure to observe rudimentary principles of civil democracy.
My expectations was that the ANPP would try to avoid the pitfalls that denied it victory at the 2003 presidential polls, though to many of its supporters, they believe their party won the presidential elections. After the infamous judgment of the Court of Appeal on that election once expected Buhari and his teeming supporters to take a cursory look at the key issues that led to the rigging of the 2003 presidential elections and why the party lost in that election.
It appears the general perception of ANPP leadership and Buhari himself is that they won the election but the PDP-controlled Federal Government manipulated the results. Taken on its first value, the argument presupposes that the election results did not reflect the voting pattern of Nigerians. This assertion has been corroborated in some states by the Court of Appeal when it cancelled the Presidential election results in Ogun State. But it is not enough to conclude that ANPP won the election, as the court explained.
The allegation of massive rigging with connivance of the police and other security agencies is one issue that has featured prominently in Buhariís suit against Obasanjo and the PDP government though INEC could not produce the authenticated voters register that was used for that election.
I failed to see the ANPP loss from that perspective. I believe the party lost because its leadership was so carried away by the popularity of Buhari in the North that they did not do sufficient campaigning to deal with key issues denigrating the image of Buhari and making his presidency a mirage.
First, there was the issue of religious bigotry, which the south west press has attributed to him. His statement in Sokoto regarding Muslims votes and Sharia was interpreted by the press as a repugnant to Christianity and Christians. It is true that in Nigeria it is quite difficult to correct a wrong impression and make people accept the true position. But there are other ways that Buhari could have tackled the image problem. One of these was for his The Buhari Organization (TBO) to find a suitable platform to launch a series of dialogues across the country to discuss his image problem.
The alternative is for the TBO to engage the Nigerian media, especially the Lagos-Ibadan press which inspired the controversy over the Sokoto story in the first place, in a continuous discussion on Nigerian government and politics. It is not unlikely that the discussions would change the perception of Nigerians, especially those in the south about him.
The media campaign apart, Buhari needs to build bridges across the Niger to make genuine friends among the Yorubas, Igbos, and other southern minorities. Through his networking he can build trust and understanding with other Nigerians who regard him as a bigot and a regionalist. The party has to go extra mile to boost its fortunes in the south through alliances, mergers and personal contacts.
Besides Buhariís image problem, there is also the issue of partyís outlook. For most Nigerians, the ANPP is a northern political party. For the avoidance of doubt, majority of its presidential aspirants were northern Muslims and more than half its key officers are also of northern extraction. With the exception of Right-Honorable Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, there is no other influential Igbo man in the party. The only notable Yoruba at the partyís convention was a Senator who serves as a Secretary. To be candid, when I watched the partyís convention on my television screen, I could not deny the claim that it has a totally northern character.
Due to the persistent crises in its leadership, the party has not been able to penetrate other parts of the country to recruit membership and mobilize them to seek elective offices on its platform. If the party appears too northern to be trusted, the other option would be for the ANPP to go into alliance with a south-based party like Zik did with Ahmadu Bello during the politics of the first republic.
Much as one appreciates the efforts of the party to form an alliance with the Action Congress (AC), there is nothing to suggest that the alliance will work in Buhariís favour. The statement attributed to one of the foundation members of the AC Chief Bisi Akande to the effect that the party will not give the presidential slot to any other party is a clear indication that a consensus candidate of the two allied parties is not conceivable.
The last convention of the party further exposed the weaknesses of the ANPP. One of such weaknesses that are very critical in determining its fate at the 2007 polls was the manner it managed the entire convention and particularly the nomination crises that ensued when Governor Bukar Abba Ibrahim refused to withdraw from the race as the party leadership requested him to do. The convention was brought to a standstill for a moment before Governor Ibrahim finally succumbed to pressure.
Even as he did, he put up a protest looking Buhari in the face and asking him to incorporate his programmes. What the episode projected of the party was that each of the aspirants has his separate programmes from those that the party outlined for Nigerians, if at all it has any. The confrontational posture of Governor Ibrahim suggested that the party has no leadership. There is growing fear among Nigerians that the ANPP will not be able to manage the country well, if it cannot manage itself.
The manner the consensus candidacy was arrived at portrayed Buhari as someone that abhors competition and wanted the ticket on a platter of gold. At a point I was happy when Chief Pere Ajunwa refused to withdraw and insisted that election must take place. But I was disappointed when he chickened out at the last minute due to pressure from fellow aspirants. The entire process appeared undemocratic and shameful. I thought the ANPP would adopt the face-saving strategy of the Action Congress (AC), and go for an election between Buhari and Ajunwa instead of asking all of its aspirants to step down.
My contention is that the decision was made in error. It was made under the presumption that Buhari won the 2003 presidential elections and can repeat the feat in 2007 if only he is allowed to recontest, and if the process is free and fair. Buhari himself has confirmed my assertion when he told the delegates after his nomination that ANPP would form government in 2007, if a free and fair election were conducted.
It is imperative for Buhari to also consider the big obstacle he faces among the northern minority. The allegation of religious bigotry has damaged his image before the northern minority, especially Christians among them. They have concern that he would not be fair to them and their religion if he becomes president. Even if the fear is not genuine, as it were, the TBO and ANPP should have improved the chances of the party by shopping for the big political fishes in the minority circle.
I know the TBO and other Buhari supporters are working under illusion that they can win the required majority votes in two-third of 36 states without the northern minority votes so long as the party will get majority Muslims votes as well as the Igbo votes. Going by the political equation of past electoral victories, this assertion could be true. But the question is how certain is ANPP that Igbos blocked votes will be delivered? Does Honorable Edwin Ume Ezeoke have the clout to deliver the blocked votes in view of Governor Orji Kaluís presidential candidacy of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA)?
Those that regard the presence of Honorable Ezeoke in the ANPP as a catalyst to Buhariís electoral fortune in the south east should reconsider their stand. My contention is that if Chuba Okadigbo could not assure Buhari Igbos blocked votes in 2003 when he was his running mate, there is no how Ume-Ezeoke will deliver the votes to ANPP. Chances are that the PDP will win majority votes in the south east because the party has much stronger base unless Nigerians of the Igbo extraction in the Diaspora are coming home to campaign for the Buhari presidency and to cast their votes for him in block
The other thing that may scuttle Buhariís chances is his choice of a running mate. I leant from reliable sources that he and the party caucus are considering three Igbos for the number two position. The first take is Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) who was Buhariís defense counsel in the 2003 presidential election suit. The second and third are Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the first executive governor of Abia State and Ken Nnamani the current Senate President.
Though Ken is a good product to sell in view of the enviable role he played in scuttling the third term project and his sterling qualities as a incorruptible and highly principled politician, he belongs to a different political party. Besides, he has not on his own indicated any interest in defecting to another party despite the humiliating defeat he suffered at the just concluded senatorial primaries in his state.
Dr. Onu could be a good choice but he has lost touch with the political base of his state talk less of the entire Igboland. It is not likely that his nomination will bring any dividend to the party. As for Chief Ahamba, he lacks the political exposure to be widely accepted as a standard bearer of Igbo interest in the central government.
The ANPP should search for a seasoned Igbo politician that is not controversial but a performer in his own right, someone that is a core professional and independent-minded. But for the decision of the party leadership to choose his running mate from the south east, I would have recommended to the ANPP that the partyís vice presidential nominee come from the south west while the ANPP zones the position of Senate President to the south east. It is indeed a hard choice to make for Buhari and his party but someone must eventually emerge as vice presidential nominee of the party. My advice is Buhari and his party should do a thorough job at it, if they really want to capture central power in 2007.
I wish them the best of luck.
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