By Ali Abare Abubakar
To even the most vitriolic critic of former Head of state and national leader of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen Muhammadu Buhari, the crowd that gathered penultimate Wednesday at the Eagle Square in Abuja to witness his declaration to gun for the ticket of the APC to enable him challenge incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, was indeed a source of worry and apprehension to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The crowd, pulsating, tumultuous and enthusiastic flooded into Abuja from across every part of the country, locking down the capital city as all headed for the Eagle Square, a move that many agreed might have ruffled not a few feathers among the echelon of the ruling party.
For many, the crowd that came to witness Buhari make known his intention to contest for the presidency for the fourth time, was unprecedented in the political history of the country, with his supporters thronging the venue in droves, conveyed in all manner of vehicles from every part of the country in a manner quite unlike the hired crowd usually associated with similar events.
Similarly, to even the most acerbic critic of President Goodluck Jonathan, it is unlikely that any person could rule Nigeria for almost six years without contributing in some way to the development of the country. It could be possible that Jonathan’s best may not have been enough for the country but certainly the president has done his bit to further the cause of nation building.
They came on their own, Buhari’s supporters, with nearly all perceiving their hero as the messiah the country so much needed to put things back on track, with one supporter from Jigawa State lamenting that “Babangida, Dangote, T. Y Danjuma and their likes are the only people standing in the way of Buhari, they don’t want him to rule because they are scared of what he could do to them. Let them allow him this time so that we can see how far he can go.”
For this supporter and many others, Babangida represented the establishment, the elites in power who would do everything possible to keep the status quo, not minding the wish of the ordinary people who all along desired change, perceived that change in the carriage and mien of Buhari but are at the same time apprehensive whether their yearnings could still be dashed like previously on the altar of greed and self centeredness.
They swarmed to the Eagle Square that Wednesday, like moths drawn to light, instantly setting up economic activities at the venue as businessmen cashed on the popularity of Buhari to produce souvenirs depicting a smiling Buhari, with supporters using personal funds to buy a calendar, a ring, a wristband, etc to take back home. Quite unlike the effort of the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) to sell the candidature of President Jonathan by distributing free souvenirs to unwilling supporters along Nyanya-Mararaba axis a few days back.
A supporter seated in the midst of a contingent from Zamfara bought over a hundred Buhari calendars, asking the vendor to distribute same to those seated and a look of satisfaction creased his face as he rejoiced in no small measure in helping in his own way in forwarding the cause of his principal.
“Go and bring more!” he instructed the vendor who removed his GSM handset to place more orders having run out of supply.
Rising corruption in the country, with Nigeria sliding further down in the corruption perception index, with the country ranked 144th out of 177 nations, as released by the German-based Transparency International in its December 2013 reports, coupled with insecurity across the country particularly the northern part of the country where activities of the Boko Haram have continued to ravage communities, resulting in the death of several people, the destruction of economic lives of residents, leading to scores fleeing the affected areas to seek refuge, combined to portray the PDP leadership as not only ineffectual but is perceived to be the most insensitive administrations in recent times.
The Oduahgate, the Malibu oil scandal where $1.1 bn was allegedly shared among cronies of the president, the missing $20 bn as alleged by former CBN governor now Emir of Kano, Sunusi Lamido Sunusi and the arms for cash deals which recently saw South Africa seizing almost $15m from the Nigerian government, the raising impunity and open disregard for the rule of law, with PDP supporters allegedly beating up a judge while the court was in session in Ekiti State, remained indelible pointers to how low governance has reached, in effect dwarfing any modicum of achievements recorded by the ruling party under President Jonathan.
With the country again ranked third among world’s ten countries with extreme poor citizens, as released by the World Bank in its 2014 report, where it stated that 70 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million population live in extreme poverty, living on $1.25 (N200) or even less per day, furthermore dealing a blow to the government’s much hyped rebasing of the country’s economy, it is no wonder that the ordinary people feeling emasculated under the present arrangement, desperately yearn for a change in the status quo.
Also, Nigeria was rated one of the worst governed countries in Africa based on the 2014 Mo Ibrahim index of African Governance, with the country rated 45.8 percent lower than the African average of 51.5 percent and ranked 37th out of 52 in the overall governance scale. The report maintained that governance and service delivery was at its lowest ebb in the history of the country.
From available record, no other political party is better poised to reap bountifully from the raising discontent and near disillusionment among the citizenry with the ruling party than the APC, which birth was not only phenomenal but unprecedented in the political history of the country, like the crowd during the Buhari declaration.
For the first time, rival political parties willingly gave up their identities to fuse into a formidable opposition to challenge the so-called largest party in Africa, with the APC presently controlling 14 out of the 36 states in the country, with strong representations at both chambers of the national assembly.
With Buhari’s crowd and several other factors going in the way of the party ahead of the 2015 general election, it is however still not yet uhuru for the APC if the party is not able to cash on Buhari’s mass followership and to turn such into a winning streak.
Unlike previous times when Buhari emerged the presidential candidate of the APP, ANPP and CPC, when consensus was the norm and he remained unchallenged, the APC presently have about four major aspirants who may not necessarily agree to a consensus arrangement and may seek for the presidential primaries to hold.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, a political heavy weight, who many believed has the zeal and determination to upset the status quo and to chase the ruling PDP away from the mantle of power, reports indicated, told his supporters that party primaries is the best form of consensus.
On his part, Gen Buhari while addressing youths from across the country under the auspices of the Buhari Network Centres, informed that he was willing to work with any of the aspirants that may emerge victorious during the party’s national convention, urging his supporters to transfer their loyalty to the party which he said was the platform.
However, the crowd that turned up that last Wednesday at the Eagle Square and several others from across the country that were not able to come to the venue, have eyes and ears only for Buhari, a man they staunchly believed could rescue the people and the country from the obvious decline and restore hope back.
Their loyalty and veneration for their principal was unquestionable and unmatched, with many fearing that denying Buhari the APC presidential ticket could as well spell doom for the party but with him as presidential candidate, many are of the view that half the battle has already being won.
A supporter among many others, calling back home to update a relation that was not able to make the journey, put his phone on speaker as soon as Buhari began his address, eyes glazed from veneration.
“Can you hear him speak? Sai Mai Gaskiya!” the supporter hollered.
When he last contested against President Jonathan in 2011, under the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), a party that came into existence barely six months before the election, Buhari garnered over 12m votes.