@SimonKolawole : Who is afraid of Buhari ?

by Simon Kolawole

The moment millions of Nigerians have been waiting for is finally within touching distance. You know it: that moment when the opponent of President Goodluck Jonathan in the February 14, 2015 presidential election will be known. And that candidate has to come from the All Progressives Congress (APC), the biggest opposition party in the history of our democracy  – judging by the number of states controlled and the legislative seats occupied. I expect one of the toughest presidential elections ever. I pray for an election that is very competitive and credible, hopefully in continuation of the tradition that we have established since 2011.

Although Jonathan has not officially declared his intention, I can bet my wristwatch on it that he will seek re-election. As far as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is concerned, Jonathan’s candidacy is settled. It is the APC that has a heavyweight battle in its hands, with Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar eyeing the ticket. Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano is also interested. Senator Bukola Saraki may be interested. I am not ready to discuss Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal until I see a broom in his hand.

It would appear the strongest candidate in the APC is Buhari. Without disrespect to other aspirants, Buhari easily stands out for many reasons. No one has successfully maligned his integrity. His lifestyle exudes discipline and modesty. President Olusegun Obasanjo put this to the test when he probed the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund headed by Buhari from 1994-1999. Nothing was found on him. The first panel found nothing. Dissatisfied, Obasanjo set up another panel. The result still came out negative.

In public service experience, Buhari has it more than any other APC member. He was a military governor of what are today six states; he was minister of petroleum resources; he was military head of state; and he was PTF chairman. That is a rich pedigree. In 2003, he won 12 million votes virtually all by himself. In 2011, he also won 12 million votes without a discernible political structure beyond the street appeal. I don’t see any APC aspirant who has a more seductive CV. In Buhari, APC has a man of character, experience and significant street following. I say this without prejudice to the qualities and pedigrees of the other APC aspirants.

If Buhari’s uniqueness is so obvious, why are the APC kingmakers not too enthusiastic about him? An APC chieftain told me recently: “We cannot win with Buhari  -and we cannot win without him.” To strip that statement naked, he was simply saying the party needs Buhari’s support base to win but Buhari himself cannot win as a candidate. Several arguments have been developed against Buhari, notably about his age, the perception of him as a religious extremist, his failures at the poll at three previous attempts, the need for young blood in a hi-tech world, and his promise not to run again after the 2011 poll  -for which some are now calling his integrity to question.

In truth, there are some fears that are not openly expressed. There is a latent fear among the political elite that a Buhari presidency would endanger them. He may choose to prosecute the very persons who helped him to power  -if only to prove a point that he cannot tolerate corruption. Many Nigerians are already questioning the company Buhari is keeping, believing that his character risks contamination. Traditional rulers are afraid that the goodies that flow uninvited into their palaces may cease, while the political class cannot imagine how miserable their lives could be under Buhari. They don’t say that openly, though.

In the South-west, which could make a Buhari presidency possible, the unspoken word is that a vice-presidential slot, even though attractive, may end up meaning nothing. Some think the North simply wants power back  -every other position is irrelevant. It is feared by some politicians that if Buhari becomes president, it is one of this trusted associates that will be running the show, no matter who is vice-president. References are often made to the Second Republic when Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a minister, was effectively an alternate president to Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

The fear of a perceived aggressive and vindictive “northernisation agenda” is also being raised in hushed tones by many Yoruba leaders, with frequent references to how former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua filled the most important positions in his government with appointees from the Katsina-Kano axis, and how he stopped picking Obasanjo’s calls three months after assuming office. There is a fear that Buhari may “cage” Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as soon as he gets to Aso Rock. All these things are being whispered, of course. But the fear is real.

Meanwhile, in Jonathan’s circle, Buhari is also feared. But the fear is not so much about Buhari defeating the president in the contest  -they think, rightly or wrongly, that they have mastered a way of defeating him. They believe the best moment for Buhari was in 2011 and having failed, he has lost the momentum. A minister told me last week that the greatest worry about a Buhari candidacy is post-election violence. “Buhari’s supporters are one-dimensional and fanatical. The only thing they want to hear is that their man has won, if not there will be trouble,” he said.

In the APC, those who don’t want Buhari are secretly wishing that he would make his “crowd” available to whoever is picked as the party’s candidate. That means, for instance, that if Atiku picks the ticket, Buhari should hop on his campaign train and market him to his supporters across the Northern states. Interesting. If his supporters are indeed one-dimensional, then Buhari raising anyone else’s hands will not pacify them. To them, it is Buhari or nothing. It is also feared that if Buhari does not get the ticket, he may defect to another party to run. If that happens, the opposition should officially declare Jonathan as the run-away winner of the 2015 poll.

I am excited, as a journalist and analyst, watching the 2015 intrigues unfold day by day. I am eagerly awaiting the twists and the turns. I want to witness all the drama, hopefully without any tragic subplot. With PDP and its allies likely to control 22 states heading into 2015  -leaving APC with just 14 states  -the opposition should be clear about one thing: they are not going into the elections as favourites. It is going to be titanic battle. Their performance will rely heavily on how they manage the presidential primary and its fall-outs. APC came out of their June national convention a bit fractured.

Going forward, APC should know that it is in their interest to realistically manage their Buhari fears. Any misstep will be their doom. Meanwhile, PDP seems to be in rude health, and they too will be watching the Buhari scenario with a combination of anxiety and amusement. Let the game begin!

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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