By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Up to the time Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was announcing the results of the March 28 presidential election on Wednesday, fear of uncertainty engulfed the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari.
However, it was not a fear occasioned by any conceivable loss of the election because with the result already trickling in the previous day, the camp knew the APC was coasting home to victory. But it was the uncertainty that President Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election, would reject the results and invoke a military intervention to stop Buhari from ascending to the presidency.
The otherwise, after all, smacked a big surprise to APC, Buhari and his campaign organization.
And for conceding defeat and subsequently calling to congratulate the president-elect even before the last result was officially announced, Jonathan did not only carve a niche for himself but also launched into the community of patriots and statesmen.
These were thoughts expressed by the Director, Media and Publicity Directorate of the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organization, APCPCO, Mallam Garba Shehu, in Abuja.
Speaking with Sunday Vanguard, Shehu, who was central to the election of Buhari by way of information dissemination and management, said that the campaign was the fiercest he had ever witnessed since he debuted into partisan politics.
He said: “I can say that the President acted with grace. He surprised us because we never expected that they would accept defeat. In fact, the sense everyone had was that they probably had plan A, B, C or D. And in any case, with the kind of thing that Mr. Orubebe did at the collation center, you knew that even when the President had grace, given the chance with the community of people around him, they could have threatened this democracy.
“Look, I have been involved in presidential campaigns about three or four times in the past, the difference is that this is the most fearful campaign that I have ever experienced. This is the most life threatening campaign because we were dealing with opponents we thought would stop at nothing because they were throwing everything into it.
“So, we were not taking anything for granted. It affected our lives. Would you see me in a night club? You couldn’t risk it because you didn’t even know who was trailing you. And it came as a huge relief.
“Again, we were getting security reports from our own sources. Until the President said ‘I concede’ and congratulated Buhari, we felt every minute that something wrong would happen. There was a clear and discernible threat to democracy as a system of government.
“Look, everyone felt concerned because, what if, God forbid, he declared a coup? These scenarios had been laid before Nigerians. Mr. Okupe, the Special Adviser to the President, was he not on Youtube, recorded on video, saying that Buhari will never become President? What do you take that for? It means that Buhari would win and they will take it away from him.
“This careless talk, arrogant display of power, it had come from the Villa. Many sources with linkages to power: Asari-Dokubo, Chief E.K. Clark and all of them, were they not sounding words to the President? They had said it that they would take away their part of the country from Nigeria if Buhari won.
“But for the President to have come and say ‘I accept accept defeat as the leader of the country’; that had an effect of really calming things down. And that’s why, whether they like it or not, President Jonathan has written his name in gold in so far as this is concerned.”
Shehu assured that the president-elect would not avenge the attacks on his person by the allies of Jonathan, saying there was enough work to do to meet the aspirations of Nigerians than pursuing mundane things.
Excerpts from interview:
Your camp alleged hate campaign and messages from the other camp. How were you able to weather it?
The starting point is that the presidential candidate himself laid down the rule from day one. General Buhari said ‘don’t abuse anybody’. ‘Don’t beat or attack anybody because of this campaign’. He set the rule that we must not abuse or insult anyone. So, we were guided by that. But let me tell you this also without meaning to be boastful. Coming from some professional background, you know that the most important thing in a campaign is the message. Insult, abuses and throwing of muds don’t win elections anywhere. If those things win elections, they would have won it for President Jonathan because they threw everything at us. Look, let me tell you, we didn’t do one documentary that was negative on Jonathan. We isolated the issues.
We knew that the country is concerned about security, the economy and the effect of joblessness and corruption. And you know, the presidential candidate led the way. He said at every rally, people were attacking him for saying too little. He has a load of agenda for the country and he isolated them to be these three things. He called them the tripod of evil upon which every wrong doing in Nigeria rested whether it is Boko Haram, kidnapping, or anything you can think of. Because, if you have young people gainfully employed, corruption –
free country, economy that is thriving and doing well and people are living in a secure environment; who is that person who is going to create trouble? So, we had a message and the message was successfully taken to the people. If you ask me, was it easy staying on the message, I would say no, it wasn’t easy. Because all of these people; the party supporters, the low level masses don’t understand the game that played out. If they see Fani-Kayode on the television throwing insults at Buhari, your phone will begin to ring. ‘You, what are you doing? What are you doing? You are not answering this man. Why won’t you respond?’
The masses want you to respond in like manner. But we understood what was playing out. They wanted to take us off the message. They didn’t want us to talk about corruption or insecurity. So, we had to fight. As it I said, it was not easy for our supporters. Some of them did not understand us. They felt like we were conspirators inside. That we had come to undermine the campaign because here is somebody who is throwing insults, abuses and why are you not replying him? Mr. Kayode even declared when he took up the job that he would go after the personal life of General Buhari. And we maintained that we would not join issues with him and you can see that all efforts for us to stand side-by-side with him in a TV debate failed. I can’t stand with somebody whose stock in trade is to throw mud, insults and abuses on people. So, that’s how we managed it.
There were speculations that APC campaign also hired its own experts to sharpen its campaign messages. How do you respond?
Where is the US expert? You know this breed. If you have a US expert, where is he hiding? The man should make a contribution from morning to sundown. We didn’t have them. The Presidential Campaign Council, PCC, did not have any foreign specialist. If we had one with us, you would have seen him. But we had wished we had because, you know, some of them can bring value to your campaign. There are those who had had presidential campaigns in 40 countries. You need that kind of experience to help you. But then, we were here and we did all by ourselves.
But are you not surprised that most of the perceived hate speech campaigners turned around to congratulate your presidential candidate immediately he was declared the winner of the election?
No, I wasn’t surprised because if one says one is surprised, then one does not really know Nigerians. There will be bandwagon. People will ride on the bandwagon train. They would like it. And it tells you that the people who were doing all of that didn’t even believe in the kind of things that were going on. They were just led to it. Basically, they had gone there to fight and there was plenty of food and money for them, otherwise why was it that they couldn’t defend the positions? They couldn’t defend anything because they never believed in it. So, for us, we are very happy about it.
The other day, one security man was saying ‘Oga, NTA and AIT people were at the door, we must stop them with your permission’. I said no. If we do that, then we are not graceful. We have won this election, we must show grace. In any case, the president-elect has said that he will be president for all Nigerians. And I can assure you that it is the same way he said that President Jonathan will have nothing to fear. That speech has been closed as far as we are concerned. Those guys have done their own part and we still believe that a good number of them still have things to contribute positively to the new administration because this is their own country. They have no other country than this one.
The campaign was time consuming. Did that have any impact on your family life? How do you also describe your joy having won the election?
Obviously, it had impact because it took you away from them. But that was expected having being a journalist, an editor yourself. I know an editor, after seven years somewhere, he said that if he walked the street of his town, most people will not recognise him because he would have left home when everybody had gone to work. By the time he comes back, everybody would have slept off, even his children. So, most times, no time for socialising. So, having been editor and all of that, you are used to all that with your family. Look, I have been involved in presidential campaigns about three or four times in the past, the difference is that this is the most fearful campaign that I have ever experienced.
This is the most life-threatening campaign because we were dealing with opponents we thought would stop at nothing because they were throwing everything into it. So, we were not taking anything for granted. It affected our lives. Would you see me in a night club? You couldn’t risk it because you didn’t even know who was trailing you. And it came as a huge relief. Again, we were getting security reports from our own sources. Until the President said ‘I concede’ and congratulated Buhari, we felt at every minute that something wrong would happen. There was a clear and discernible threat to democracy as a system of government. I can say that the President acted with grace. He surprised us because we never expected that they would accept defeat. In fact, the sense everyone had was that they probably had plan A, B, C or D. And, in any case, with the kind of thing that Mr. Orubebe did at the collation center, you knew that even when the President had grace, given the chance with the community of people around him, they could have threatened this democracy.
Your party did say that the President’s action helped to douse any conceivable post-election crisis. Did you share that perspective?
Absolutely. Look, everyone had felt concerned because, what if, God forbid, he declared a coup? These scenarios had been laid before Nigerians. Mr. Okupe, the Special Adviser to the President, was he not on Youtube, recorded on video, saying that Buhari will never become President? What do you take that for? It means that Buhari would win and they will take it away from him. This careless talk, arrogant display of power, it had come from the Villa. Many sources with linkages to power: Asari-Dokubo, Chief E.K. Clark and all of them, were they not sounding words to the President? They said it that they would take away their part of the country from Nigeria if Buhari won. But for the President to have come and say ‘I accept accept defeat as the leader of the country’; that had an effect of really calming things down. And that’s why, whether they like it or not, President Jonathan has written his name in gold in so far as this is concerned.
But people may say that those statements were mere politics, that there was a time to play politics and they did play politics irrespective of what was said. Don’t you see it as that?
Let me tell you that even politics has norms. There is a bottom line. It should be said of somebody that this person cannot go beyond a given point. This is the most horrible campaign anybody could have run. It wasn’t politics. It was enmity. We saw it. It was hatred. And that was why when we took our case to the ICC, they were very quick to understand the import of our petition.
Now that politics is over, would the president-elect embrace everyone or would there be some temptation to…?
No. Don’t even ask this question. There will be no temptation to go after anyone. There is no time for witch-hunt. He has said it. The enormity of the challenges ahead of him is such that he doesn’t need to spend one minute looking back to what has happened. There is enough to do looking forward. He has extended his hand of fellowship to all Nigerians and please take note of this: it includes Fani-Kayode, Governor Fayose, Chief Clark, Asari-Dokubo, all of them. Those outrageous people, he has extended his hands of fellowship. He will embrace them and they should be prepared to play their role in the reinvigoration of this country. That is my understanding of what he has said.
Now, assuming the election went the other way, would you have accepted it the way President Jonathan has done?
With the credibility all across, let me tell you one thing, APC, in accepting all of the results, I believe you will agree with me that we have blind-sided all of the outrageous things that happened. You know that in Imo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers States, no elections took place because two things happened: they sabotaged the card reader technology, insisted on the use of voters register for accreditation and that took the election back to the PDP’s manner of doing things. And that’s how those numbers came. It is incredible that all House of Reps seats, all senatorial seats in Rivers, they have been taken. They will go to court I believe and they will recover their seats. But you know that the card reader worked in the North, South-West and this is why elections were credible in those parts. In some parts of the South East, it did work. But in Imo State, it didn’t. But I am saying that, for us, we have chosen to show grace because by accepting those numbers from Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, you could see that it only narrowed our margin. It didn’t stop us. So, what else do you want? You have won the elections fair and square. So, what do you want again? You know that kind of thing. Otherwise, there is a real case to be made with all of things that happened there. And it had a substantial effect on our margin. We knew we were going to win the election. It was clear between 65 to 75 percent.
How do you mean, “you knew you were going to win the election”, even before the election?
No, not before the election. Even from the numbers we got. Look, we had polling agents in the 150,000 polling units across the country except in the places where they were chased away. So, before INEC announced their results, we had our numbers upstairs. We had a situation room where we collected all the results and I am telling you that the accuracy with which we recorded our numbers was such that except in Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers and Imo states, every result that came here seemed to be confirming the results. As Professor Jega was reading the numbers, our people were saying “yes, yes, yes”. So, we didn’t get it wrong.
Some people also complained of a litany of underaged voters especially in the North.
No. If they have evidence, they should produce it. And how do you know if those were not historical pictures? Let me tell, the card reader technology worked in the North and South-West. It didn’t work in the South East and South-South.
But it didn’t dictate age?
Well, people had a responsibility. If anybody was voting with under aged children, everybody was represented by an agent. It is not like in Port Harcourt where some ex-militants came with guns and chased them away. They had representatives there. I don’t want to believe what you saw. I don’t believe it happened.
Unlike in the past contests, the love Nigerians showed to General Buhari this time around was unprecedented. Would you attribute that to the coming together of the legacy parties to form APC?
Yes, that is one of the factors. Of course, another one is also the fact that this country has been mismanaged by the PDP in the last 16 years and the environment was ripe for change. Let’s give it to Nigerians. Number three is the integrity factor of General Buhari. Nigerians, at this time, are looking for someone they could trust. So, it won it for him. Yes, the opposition parties have the majority than the ruling party. They came together with their number and won the election. I think it is an important lesson Nigerians have come to teach the rest of the world and African countries that atomization of the parties is unhelpful. This one gets five percent, that one gets 10 percent. But by the time you bring it together, you will see that you can defeat the ruling party and it has worked this time around.
Transition will soon take place. What do you think both the outgoing and incoming governments should do to meet the aspirations of Nigerians?
No. This should be made very clear. Even our supporters should know that this country must have only one President at a time. And between now and May 29, Dr. Jonathan remains the President of Nigeria and he calls the shots. So, don’t expect General Buhari or his team to interfere in any way, trying to influence this or that. No. One thing has been assured: Full cooperation to Mr. Jonathan by our team and also the fact that he would be given his full regards. We will respect him. So, whatever Buhari has by way of a plan, this must wait until May 29 and beyond.
There is speculation that General has said that as soon as he is sworn in, Boko Haram would be a thing of the past. How do you react?
We have just reported that General Buhari never said that. We have circulated all the speeches, the interviews he did on CNN, BBC, never did he say that. Yes, he did promise quickest end to Boko Haram, saying that we will show them the strength of the will of the people of this country. What is he saying? He is saying that some appreciable progress has been made by the outgoing administration. We will bring it to full completion and eradication as soon as we can. How can he promise two weeks or two months? He hasn’t even sat down with the army commanders. He hasn’t seen the number of troops we have, the weaponry available to the army. What more do they need? There must be calculations based on facts and he needs to get in there, receive the intelligence, the knowledge and information that is needed to make this decision.