By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In a rather unexciting case of choosing between two septuagenarians, two Muslims, two Northerners and two people who have been on the scene for over 30 years and can be said to have passed their prime—we call such people spent forces—Nigerians will pick between President Muhammadu Buhari and his closest challenger, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar on Saturday as president of Nigeria for another four years. As impressive as the resumes and outing of relatively young, smart, intelligent and idealistic people such as Kingsley Moghalu, Tope Fasua, Omoyele Sowore and Datti Ahmed are, Nigeria’s peculiar political arrangement has since shut them out of the race somehow. Therefore, like it or not, it is either Atiku or Buhari on Saturday.
Unlike in 2015, when there was a clear regional and religious divide, mercifully such age-long contentious issues capable of tearing us apart have no place this time around. And despite the fact of his incumbency, by this time four years ago, Jonathan had already seen the hand-writing on the wall—possibility of a defeat, and the Buhari tsunami was on a firm footing. This time around, it is a clear two-horse race—every antic is on the table and every issue is at play, thus making it impossible for even crystal ball gazers and pundits to predict a clear permutation.
Although the blind support that Buhari had has waned considerably, his traditional structure and sentimental attachment to his person still remain. For many of these fanatical followers, Buhari can do no wrong; he is deified more or less. He is given credit for the good deeds done by others in his government such as the sacking of former DSS boss, Lawal Daura, after the invasion of the National Assembly and the nomination of the embattled CJN Walter Onnoghen, while the cabal or his appointees are blamed for all the misdemeanours of his government. Such is Buhari’s cult-following, that for some he is a demi-god.
The power of incumbency is in the president’s favour. Although Jonathan, with the same power was demystified in 2015, Buhari’s is a different ball-game, undiluted and perhaps beyond politics. Besides, Buhari and his supporters are desperate, running from pillar to post and ready to jettison the principles of integrity and incorruptibility Buhari was said to have stood for over the years for a pot of porridge, as against Jonathan who made it clear from day one that his ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. With this in mind, Buhari’s supporters do not want to accept the fact that he has now been tried and tested again; people have seen through him and now know that he is just like any typical Nigerian leader or worse, owing to his age.
Another thing going for the president is availability of funds. Contrary to his claim that government money should not be used for election, the reality is that there is a lot of slush funds from MDAs and government contractors going into the president’s re-election bid. Money is spent to mobilise supporters, for advert and to buy bigwigs back to the APC fold. The presidential fleet which the president uses to campaign venues are owned by government, so how else does the president determine what is for and not for government.
The two candidates may be running neck to neck, but Atiku is already digging into Buhari’s strongholds. An example is the Atiku Kano rally that held last Sunday. Meanwhile, as we have seen so far, it is now about “my crowd is larger than yours”, a competition for the minds and souls of the Nigerian people with subtle symbols like large crowds and outdoing one another on the social media. There are other bad examples giving Buhari’s government a bad name, and which the opposition has taken advantage of to lampoon the APC government. Kogi state is an example of how the APC government of Buhari lost grip of things. How about Governor Yahaya Bello’s notoriety, his endless verification exercise that left civil servants and pensioners in misery and penury and his lavish lifestyle. Whereas all entreaties to Buhari to intervene fell on deaf years. Yet, the governor looks on to him as a father and benefactor. With such an APC ambassador in Kogi state, there are doubts if the people of the state will agree to re-enact their support for Buhari and his godson again.
The presidency and the National Assembly have been at logger-heads in almost four years. This war without end detracted so much from Buhari’s support base that the Senate President and the Speaker had to decamp to their former party. Atiku became the biggest beneficiary of that squabble. Today, Kwara state is facing the most competitive election in history, theotoge (enough is enough) group is working hard to scuttle Saraki’s come-back bid. Even if Saraki loses his senatorial election, a win for his principal—Atiku – will make Buhari the biggest loser of the National Assembly-Presidency feud. Importantly, there will be no bloc votes for Buhari as it were in 2015.
There are other factors at play in this election that were near absent before. There appears to be an international support for the opposition playing up loudly. The US ambassador’s visit to Governor Nyeson Wike of Rivers state, France’s ambassador’s visit to Atiku earlier in the day, and Atiku’s visit to the US after over 10 years (it was a campaign weapon for the APC government) are all pointers to the fact that the international community may have turned their back on the government of the day.
The utterances of major actors in this government do not help their cause; the recent one being El-Rufai’s body-bag comment, his divisive and combative attitude, and the mistreatment of a serving governor in the person of Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state. One individual former governor, Bola Tinubu, decreed Ambode out of the race and so it was. That too has put a dent on the ruling party’s image. The party also made a mess of their primaries; the effects still linger up till now, as the party has no candidate in Rivers and that of Zamfara is still pending, while Imo and Ogun states governors’ governorship candidates differ from their party’s. The president watched the circus show and could not make a truce among the warrying factions.
The polls may be too close to call and there are factors in favour of one or the other that may help determine their chances. Note that all the card-carrying members of the leading parties, if any, are insignificant and not enough to give victory to the candidates in comparison with the electorate. It is therefore imperative for the electorate to own the process, devoid of sentiments, and vote for a candidate they prefer in a fair and square race.
By Zainab Suleiman Okino