By Hamza Danjuma
The above question was asked by The Cable, the new but increasingly popular online newspaper in its analysis of the different aspirants on September 1, 2014, and I expected that the analysis will go all the way to answer the question.
Perhaps the first question should be: Does the APC really want to win the presidential election next year? If they want to win, then, they must do their homework. As it appears today, there is nothing to suggest that they want to win. Any party that wants to choose a consensus candidate among several aspirants must use certain objective criteria devoid of selfish interests. To do so, the APC must ponder what the key issues are right now that are likely going to influence the direction of voting next year. In my opinion, there are four key issues today:
1.Nigeria has become dangerously polarized on the issue of religion caused directly by the Boko Haram phenomenon and President Jonathan’s divisive actions along those lines. This appears to be PDP’s main strategy for 2015 as the party’s big wigs continue to associate the APC with Boko Haram without bordering to back up their assertion with any evidence. It would also appear that the PDP has enlisted the SSS in this dangerous strategy considering the fact that Marilyn Ogar, the spokesperson of the SSS has started echoing that line too recently. The PDP has continuously referred to the APC as an Islamic party from the first day it was established.
2. Beating a sitting president has so far not been possible in Nigeria no matter how unpopular he is. To defeat particularly this one will require the mobilization of the entire country, in order to neutralize the rigging machine.
3. Jonathan has currently been roundly branded, and rightly so, as incompetent and unfit to govern, and therefore extremely unpopular but because of (1) above, that does not necessarily mean any APC candidate can defeat him.
4. The unity of the north shall also be key as this will determine whether a northern candidate can win in 2015. To defeat Jonathan in 2015, APC must field a candidate who has the capacity to unite the whole north and who can be supported by all the contending and power centres within the party. The credential of that candidate must also be such as to be able to neutralize Jonathan and PDP’s strategy of balkanizing the nation along petty religious lines in the 2015 election.
So in determining which of the APC presidential aspirants comes closest to qualifying as a consensus candidate using these criteria, let us re-examine the names mentioned by TheCable viz Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Aminu Tambuwal and Sam Nda-Isaiah.
I will also examine the prospects of Rochas Okorocha and Bukola Saraki
• Muhammadu Buhari: Buhari is a very well-respected former head of state. He is straight as an arrow. His greatest strength is that he is very popular among the masses of the far North. But history has shown that politicians with such massive following among their people are held in suspicion in other parts of the country. Consequently, such people usually cannot garner the national appeal to become president. Very popular politicians of old who fall into that category and never became president include Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mallam Aminu Kano and Dr. Joseph Tarka. That is the real reason Buhari lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011 and will lose again in 2015 if fielded by APC as its presidential candidate. Buhari’s case has also been worsened by the fact that his opponents have successfully branded him as a fundamentalist. Even though there is no evidence to support this, the perception has stuck. It does not matter who Buhari’s running mate is, that perception will stick. That is why in spite of Pastor Tunde Bakare,
a well-known Christian clergy, being his running mate in 2011, he lost almost all of the Christian votes in Nigeria. Buhari’s supporters always brandish his over 12 million votes in the 2011 presidential election as the strongest reason he should be APC’s candidate, but they forget that of this more than 12 million votes, less than 250,000 votes came from the entire 17 states of the South and probably even less from the Christian North. This is what has led several to conclude that no structure can deliver Buhari to the presidency. With Buhari flying the APC flag, the APC would be playing directly into the hands of Jonathan and PDP. Buhari will get his traditional votes but will lose the Christian North and the Christian South. Jonathan will coast to victory easily with Buhari as APC’s presidential candidate. (There are other reasons Buhari may not even get the 12 million votes again. There is the Buhari fatigue. After contesting in 2003, 2007 and 2011, many people think he should not be contesting in 2015 ag
ain. Many also believe that a 70-year old should not be contesting to be president especially for a man that was head of state 30 years ago, and there are still many others who think that Buhari, having publicly declared that he would not be contesting in 2015, has fallen short of his own standard of integrity to go back on his word. In spite of Buhari’s intimidating CV and anti-corruption credentials, he is far from being the ideal consensus candidate for the APC. Buhari’s APC candidacy will immediately polarize the APC and the party would have lost even before the race begins. But even though Buhari may not be able to win the presidency, he remains the biggest asset to the APC.
• Atiku Abubakar: Atiku’s strongest point is the tons of money at his disposal to buy up the APC presidential primary, but if that happens, then the election would have been concluded for Jonathan. The President will defeat Atiku without even having to rig the election. Not many people both within the APC and outside think Atiku should be the APC presidential candidate. Buhari and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu are unlikely to find it in their hearts to campaign for Atiku as the APC presidential candidate considering their past relationship.
• Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso: Kwankwaso has done well as the governor of Kano State. He is one of the PDP governors who crossed over to the APC because Jonathan will not be keeping his promise of not seeking a second term and therefore would be denied the party’s ticket. But it will show the APC as an extremely unserious party to give its ticket to a politician, no matter how good, who simply crossed over into the party to get the ticket. If Kwankwaso gets the ticket, then the 2015 presidential election will be between PDP and New PDP. Even the PDP will laugh at the APC. And many original opposition politicians will remind themselves that in 2003, they had to virtually wrestle Kwankwaso to the ground in order to replace him as the governor of Kano State. Buhari and his followers in Kano will be reminded that in the 2003 governorship election, Kwankwaso, together with Obasanjo, tried to use the military to alter the peoples’ will. Kwankwaso will most certainly be a good president but giving him the ticket can break the party. He is also far from being the ideal consensus candidate.
• Aminu Tambuwal: There haves been rumours of Speaker Aminu Tambuwal decamping from the PDP to the APC and contesting for the APC presidential ticket almost immediately. As The Cable said, his candidacy could satisfy the yearnings of a large section of the country for a generational shift, but it will simply be laughable for the Speaker, or anyone for that matter to officially decamp from the PDP to the APC tomorrow and the day after, he becomes the party’s presidential candidate. The Speaker cannot be a consensus candidate by any stretch of the imagination.
• Sam Nda-Isaiah: As The Cable said, Sam Nda-Isaiah, the publisher of Leadership newspapers, is not a political heavyweight. He has never contested any election and has never occupied any public office, so no one knows how he might behave in public office. But his campaigners say that also makes him the only real face of change among all the aspirants since “change” is the APC’s slogan. It is probably true that no other APC aspirant can really claim to represent change as Sam. At 52, he is also one of the youngest aspirants and therefore a representative of the school of generational shift. As The Cable itself analyzed, being a Christian minority from the North could eliminate Jonathan’s key and pivotal support in the Christian North. Because of the activities of Boko Haram and President Jonathan’s divisive politics, no Muslim candidate would be able to receive northern Christian support. But Sam also has another critical advantage. Northern Muslims feel very comfortable with him in a way that they do not wit
h some other Christian northerners such as Professor Jerry Gana, for instance. So Sam’s candidacy, in spite of his scanty political CV (according to The Cable), has the potential of uniting the entire North. His fresh face in politics with little political baggage and a popular South-west Muslim running mate can also deprive Jonathan of the entire south-west votes, since his candidacy can also neutralize Jonathan’s South-west Christian vote advantage. And the Muslims of the South-west will definitely not vote for Jonathan in 2015. Unfortunately the South-west which used to be insensitive to religion has changed. That is why for the first time there is a clamour for a Christian governor in Lagos State. The almost entirely Christian South-east zone will be turned into battleground states by both Sam and Jonathan with each picking up what they can. Ditto for the South-south even though Jonathan should be expected to win in his South-south zone in spite of Governors Amaechi and Oshiomhole. Sam’s major problem is that he does not appear to posses the campaign war-chest like the other aspirants.( Sam also has another vital edge over all the rest. It will be almost impossible for Buhari to support Atiku and other PDP entrants into the APC if they emerge candidates, but as Buhari’s “boy” and a member of the same tendency, it will not be difficult for Buhari to support Sam. It is public knowledge that the Leadership publisher has been one of the boldest and most consistent supporters of the former head of state since he joined partisan politics in 2002. In fact, he once joked during a media interview recently that he is the “original Buhari person, not all the current PDP people that now surround him and who had rigged elections against us in the past”. Atiku, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal and the APC governors would also have no problem backing Sam.
• Bukola Saraki: The former governor of Kwara State also has age on his side and will also represent those with the thought of generational shift. He also did well as a governor so can be counted to be a good president. But he is hampered by a couple of issues. First, like Atiku, Kwankwaso and Tambuwal, he is of the PDP stock. In fact, in 2011, Atiku and Saraki were presidential aspirants on the platform of the PDP. The second is that he is currently under investigation by the EFCC. Even though the EFCC issue is clearly a tool of victimization of the Jonathan government against him, the APC cannot field a candidate with this unresolved problem.
• Rochas Okorocha: The main issue against Rochas at this time is that the APC has technically zoned the presidency to the North in 2015.
* Danjuma is resident in Hotoro Quarters, Kano.