Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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At the end of the of last Saturdays convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in Port Harcourt on 7th October, 2018, Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President emerged as the candidate of the party in next year’s Presidential elections.
A day earlier President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was by popular acclamation declared the candidate of the party.
This brings to a close the wide speculations as to who would square up with President Buhari in the elections widely considered as very crucial to the survival of democracy in Nigeria.
While Buhari was the sole candidate of the APC, Atiku the former Vice President defeated 11 other political bigwigs in the party.
The other PDP candiates include Senator Bukola Saraki who came third with 317 votes while Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto polled 693 votes; Jonah Jang: 19 Datti Baba-Ahmed: 05 David Mark: 35 Kabiru Tanimu Turaki: 65 Sule Lamido: 96 Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa: 48 Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo: 111 Ahmed Makarfi: 74 Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso: 158 Bukola Saraki: 317 Aminu Tambuwal: 693 Atiku Abubakar: 1532 Void votes: 68.
Atiku Abubakar served as Nigeria’s 11th Vice President between 29th May 199 – 29th May 2007 on the ticket of the PDP with President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Born on 25th November 1946, he hails from Jada in Adamawa State of North Eastern Nigeria.
Before his venture into politics, he was a Deputy Director in the Nigerian Customs Servicewhere he worked for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Director, as the second highest position in the Service was then known. He retired in April 1989 and took up full-time business and politics. He ran for the office of governor in the Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991, and for the Presidency in 1993, placing third after MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) primaries. The elections were considered inconclusive and there was a rerun. Atiku stepped down for Abiola who won the primaries and went ahead to win the election itself which was annulled by the Military government.
His second attempt at the Presidency came in 2006 when he contested on the ticket of the Action Congress. Initially disqualified by the independent Electoral Commission, he fought his way to the Supreme Court which ruled that he should be put on the ballot. He contested the elections but lost, coming third to Umaru Yar’adua of the PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the ANPP.
His third attempt at the Presidency was in 2011 after he returned to the PDP in 2010. He contested the primaries but lost to incumbent President Jonathan. He again contested the primaries in 2014 on the ticket of the APC but lost coming third with Muhammadu Buhari in the lead and Rabiu Kwankwaso second.
The current presidential run in which he won the primaries on the ticket of the PDP for the first time is his fifth attempt.
Atiku’s major contender in next year’s election is incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari who was elected into office in office in 2015. He retired from the Nigerian Army as a Major General and previously served as the nation’s Head of State from 31 December 1983 to 27 August 1985, after taking power in a coup against an elected President, Shehu Shagari.
He is also a veteran of Presidential contests who unsuccessfully ran for the office of President of Nigeria in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 general elections. In December 2014, he emerged as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress for the March 2015 elections. Buhari won the election, defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. This marked the first time in the history of Nigeria that an incumbent president lost to an opposition candidate in a general election. He was sworn in on 29 May 2015.
It is going to be a rough fight. In 2015, Buhari had a good advantage over Goodluck Jonathan because of the perception by northerners who have a wide advantage of voters that Jonathan, a southerner, was an impostor, taking undue advantage of the death of his predecessor Umar Yar’adua to enjoy the presidential slot meant for the north. In the current contest, both Buhari and Atiku are northerners so that advantage is gone.
Additionally, most Nigerians who are feeling the pangs of economic hardship may find it difficult to give Buhari another four years as President. To such people, the sustained efforts by Buhari to bring about a truly viable economy after years of stealing and squandermania does not matter. They have a set goal. They perceive him as a reclining president who is very slow to respond to urgent issues of national significance. And they have refused to ask the vital question about those who said they are fast, where have they taken the country to in the last decades? They also blame him on his health. In his first tenure in office, he has spent months out of Nigeria on vacation attending to his personal health. The nature of his illness has never been disclosed. Some say it was inflicted.
On the other hand, Atiku is perceived as a more warm and urbane politician with links across the country. His advocacy of restructuring of Nigeria has gained for him substantial support from south, particularly from the south east and south/south. His extensive national and international business experience is perceived as an additional advantage to attend to Nigeria’s economic challenges. Although there are questions in the public space about fences he needs to mend locally and internationally.
Still, Buhari enjoys the advantage of incumbency. Additionally, he has a cult like followership particularly in the North West zone of the country with a massive voter strength. These are issues that Atiku can ignore only at his own peril. And in a region where illiteracy and religious and ethnic sentiments becloud real issues, Buhari is still a candidate that should not be written off.
It is going to be a tough fight – a battle of titans in 2019.