President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and General Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state who is contesting on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, are going to slug it out yet again in the Nigerian presidential election next February. Olu Ojewale reports form Lagos
Nigeria is on the march again to elect a new president on February 14, 2015. The main combatants in the presidential duel are President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and General Muhammadu Buhari, a former head of state, on the platform of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). The two candidates are familiar foes, having contested the previous presidential election held in April 2011. Jonathan won the contest with 58.89 percent of the votes cast, while Buhari came second, scoring 31.98 percent and Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, coming distant third with 5.41 percent of the votes cast.
Buhari had contested on the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), while Ribadu contested on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN). This time, the retired general is taking another shot at the presidency on the platform of the APC, a merger of the CPC, the ACN and the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, with a splinter of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, which came together in February 2013. With the APC ticket Buhari appears to now have a wider reach and a better chance of winning.
Unlike the previous election when the defunct ACN asked its supporters to vote for President Jonathan, the APC is solidly behind Buhari. This election is very important to the general because it is likely to be his last. At 72, Buhari is unlikely to make another attempt – his fourth. In 2003, he had faced former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was the PDP candidate. Then, Buhari was the flag bearer of the defunct ANPP, the main opposition party. In 2007, his opponent was the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, protégé of the then incumbent President Obasanjo. And, in 2011, he had President Jonathan to contend with. Analysts are saying this could be the opportune time for the retired general because of the mood in the country for which are asking for a change. More so, because the ruling party is perceived to have failed to deliver on the many electoral promises it made to Nigerians.
Indeed, when Jonathan contested the presidential election in 2011, the issue of security was on the card because Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, which has become a terror group, was just gaining ground. But its activities seem to have intensified – rampaging and destabilising large swathes of north-Eastern Nigeria. Ogbonnaya Onu, former governor of Abia State and a chieftain of the APC, said in an interview that Buhari would be elected next year because Jonathan had failed to address the nation’s problems. ‘We all have seen that President Jonathan has failed on all fronts. Innocent Nigerians are losing their lives every day, corruption is on the increase, government is at the lowest ebb and we are in horrible times. Looking at all these, there is no way Nigerians will cast their votes for the same man is responsible for all their woes,’ Onu said.
Little wonder, the opposition is hinging its campaign slogan on one word: change. Change in the Nigerian context means that the ruling party that has been in power enough and should give way for another party to try and solve the nation’s numerous problems.
Apart from failing to fix the security issue, President Jonathan, who campaigned with promises to fix the erratic power supply, build refineries so that Nigeria would no longer depend on importation of fuel, fight corruption among others, is believed to have failed. Since his administration came to office, the level of power generation and distribution has not gone up to 4,000mw despite the sale of the sector to private operators and, despite more than $2bn government investment in the sector, Nigerians are yet to enjoy adequate, uninterrupted power supply. In fact, in the first half of December, thousands of homes in Lagos and several other states have been without electricity.
On corruption, the Jonathan administration is equally believed to have failed. Since the inception of the administration, the fight against corruption has been tepid at best. There has been no conviction of any corrupt government official. According to former President Obasanjo, Jonathan’s performance is below average. ‘I will not accept responsibility for his performance. There is nobody that gets such a position without being helped,’ he said.
Juliet Akura, a business woman based in Benue State, a middle belt state in Nigeria, agrees with the former president. ‘Jonathan should just go. We are tired of him and his party. They are just stealing Nigeria’s money without leaving anything for the common man to enjoy.’ Akura said she would be voting for Buhari.
But Udenta O. Udenta, director of Transformation Agenda of Nigeria (TAN), a group that is campaigning for Jonathan’s re-election, said the president had done enough to merit another term in office. Listing the achievements of President Jonathan sector by sector, Udenta said they included oil/gas, roads, agriculture, power, sports, railway, women/youth empowerment, housing, port reforms, electoral reforms, aviation, automobile industry and the National Conference, among others. The TAN boss said he was worried about what he described as ‘the almost near absence of coverage of President Jonathan’s very many achievements nationwide.’
The president, in his acceptance speech to members of the PDP after his nomination on December 11, warned that the opposition was desperate and was employing every means, including intimidation and false accusations, to get to power but he appealed to the party members to remain focused on the mission at hand to secure the country’s future. ‘Let me emphasise again that nobody’s political ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. We must eschew violence even in the face of the most outrageous act of desperation. We must make sure our supporters have their voter cards or get them motivated and eager to make their mark for our children, for a stronger economy and for the security of the country’s future,’ he said.
Despite the harsh economic condition, the president insisted that his government was capable of managing the economy. He disclosed that his capable economic team had already mapped out strategies to manage the current oil price drop and its adverse impact on the economy. President Jonathan also used the opportunity to highlight his government’s achievements in various sectors of the economy. He assured Nigerians the fight against corruption was on course and would be won.
Buhari also has a big hurdle to scale. He is infamously remembered as the one who overthrew a democratic government in 1983. May Ubeki, a Jonathan supporter, said Buhari does not deserve the presidency. ‘Unblessed are those that forgive Buhari who truncated our democracy in 1983. Remember, we didn’t get back this democracy until 1999. That is 15 years,’ Ubeki said. In the same vein, Femi Fani-Kayode, former aviation minister, said Buhari could not be trusted with the fortunes of Nigeria because of his antecedents and utterances on the state of the nation. ‘A Buhari presidency would be a disaster for our country,’ Fani-Kayode said.
Indeed, there are a number of people who may find it hard to forgive Buhari for what his administration did in 1980s, when it jailed some politicians and journalists for doing their legitimate duties. Time, as the saying says, heals wounds. Tijani Musa, a former editor of Triumph newspaper in Kano, said he was ready to vote for Buhari because the nation would need the change. ‘I am now in support of Buhari. The PDP has taken us for a ride for so long so we need a change,’ he said.
Shortly after he was elected as the APC presidential candidate on December 11, Buhari declared, ‘We will govern Nigeria honestly in accordance to the constitution of the country.’ He assured the nation that his government would secure the territorial integrity of the country, tackle corruption and see that no one is discriminated against on the basis of religion or gender, among others. ‘I need your support, I need your help to become president of Nigeria, so that government may come to serve you, so that it may bring relief to the broken and weary among us and so that we may usher in a new Nigeria meant for us all. A Nigeria which is a birthright of everyone with exclusive position of no one,’ he said.
According to observers, the 2015 would be fiercely and keenly contested. But Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos State, warned that the aftermath of the presidential election would be critical unless handled with utmost care. ‘If Buhari wins, the Niger Delta people will go to the creek to disrupt operations because their kinsman did not get a second term. If Jonathan wins, there will be trouble in the North because the late Yar’Adua did not complete one term in office before he died. So, there will be trouble because the North feels that it was their turn to produce a president when Jonathan was elected in 2011. So, whoever wins among the two candidates is not going to be easy in 2015,’ Ubani said.
Be that as it may Nigeria is on the march again, looking for a president!