This weekend, precisely on February 16, 84 million registered voters in Nigeria will troop out to make one of the most important decisions in the history of the nation – the election of a new President and Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces, who will pilot the affairs of the nation for another four years.
The election, the sixth presidential election since the return of Nigeria to democratic system of government in 1999 is a crucial one given the fact that it is a choice between continuity, which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is canvassing and change, as espoused by the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Aside political parties, Nigerians will also take their destinies in their hands as they choose between President Muhammadu Buhari, the APC candidate and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice-President between 1999 and 2003, who is running on the platform of the PDP. As Bloomberg described it, the election “is a choice between a former dictator and alleged kleptocrat”.
However, not to be ruled out is the threat by other political parties, whose candidates have proven to Nigerians that they are the best alternative to the APC and PDP. These are Kingsley Moghalu, ex- deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of the Young Progressive Party (YPP); Omoyele Sowore, a former student activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters of African Action Congress (AAC); Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); Gbenga Olawepo- Hashim, a former publicity secretary of the PDP, who is running on the platform of the Peoples Trust (PT), the party endorsed by a coalition of Nigeria’s Civil Society Organisations also known as the ‘Third Force’ movement.
Owing to the crisis within its fold, the leadership of Social Democratic Party (SDP) has already pulled out of the race and has adopted President Buhari as its consensus candidate. The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) had also adopted Buhari following the withdrawal of its presidential candidate, Oby Ezekwesili. It is expected that within the week, other political parties will also pitch their tent with either the APC or PDP.
‘Atiku’s Last Chance’
Many political watchers and analysts believe that the 2019 presidential election will be the last chance for Atiku given his age. By February 16, Atiku would have clocked 72. Were he to contest and lose again, he would be 76 by 2023 when another presidential election will hold. If he wins, he may, however, seek reelection in 2023, which is allowed by the constitution.
A veteran politician of repute, Atiku is no stranger to contesting presidential elections. In 1992, he contested the presidential primary on the platform the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but lost out to late Chief MKO Abiola. Following the failure of his boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo to handover to him after the expiration of his tenure, Atiku sought the presidency again in the 2007 general election on the platform of the Action Congress (AC), but came third behind the PDP’s candidate, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, who won the election, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party’s candidate (ANPP), Muhammadu Buhari, who came second.
Undaunted, Atiku contested the PDP presidential primary ticket in 2011 but lost out to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who took over as President following Yar’Adua’s demise.
In December 2014, Atiku, then a member of the APC also contested but lost in the party’s presidential primary to Buhari, who eventually won the presidential election in 2015. Now, he stands a better chance contesting on the platform of the PDP, the nation’s major opposition party, which lost out in 2015 after a 16-year dominance.
Having experienced what the APC can deliver in the last four years, millions Nigerians who felt things were better economically under the PDP government see Atiku as a beacon of hope.
Atiku has not minced words about his chances of defeating Buhari in a free, fair, contest.
“I will definitely beat him this time. He has wasted a lot of his massive goodwill. A lot of people are disgruntled but they are keeping quiet and lying low. Our youths are suffering terribly. They are even now being sold into slavery.
“Everyone knows my track record of inviting and attracting a good team and giving them the opportunity to work professionally. Nigerians are tired of leaders who cannot think big and work big,” he once said.
One of his strongest selling points is his promise that his administration will start the process of restructuring the country within six months of his inauguration. This has won him supports from various groups across the country such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and other pro-restructuring groups.
Buhari’s Next Level On The Spotlight
President Buhari came to office in March 2015 with focus on three key areas namely, revamping the economy, tackling insecurity and war against corruption. Though the President’s media team and supporters of the APC have claimed that he has delivered on his promises, especially in these three key areas, some Nigerians believe the country has been worse off than how it was four years ago.
One of the misgivings Nigerians had against the President was his inability to hit the ground running in the formation of his cabinet. He was also plagued by ill health for a long time, which adversely affected the pace of his government. Now seeking re-election, the President has promised to take governance to the next level.
Recently, the President, while speaking the State House during the presentation of the book, “Nigeria on Firmer Ground, Towards Lasting Peace & Progress,” put together by the Presidential Media Team, declared that his administration has delivered on its promises made to Nigerians in 2015.
According to him, his administration is ready to do more by taking Nigeria to the Next Level of development, prosperity, peace and stability.
He said, “Coming just a week to the commencement of the 2019 general elections, there is no doubt that today’s event is very significant as the electorate is being offered more insights into the achievements of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration since we came to office in 2015.
“From the accounts of all the earlier speakers and what can be gleaned from the book, supported by verifiable facts and figures on projects and programmes implemented in almost every state of the federation, it is clear that our administration has delivered substantially on our campaign promises.
“Riding on the wave of the Change Agenda, which we anchored on making positive impact in the three priority areas of security, economy and fighting corruption, I am convinced that we have made real progress and we are poised to do more by taking Nigeria to the Next Level of development, prosperity, peace and stability”.
Unlike in 2015 when the presidential election was between a southerner represented by Goodluck Jonathan and a northerner (Buhari), the 2019 presidential election will prove to be a very exciting one because it is strictly a ‘Northern affair’. Both Atiku and Buhari are both Muslims with huge following in the North. While Buhari is from the North-West, precisely Katsina State, Atiku hails from Adamawa State in the North- East.
In a recent interview with DAILY INDEPENDENT, Festus Keyamo (SAN), spokesman of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation, said Atiku can never have a share in the number of votes President Buhari had always scored in Northern Nigeria. He said, “ In 2011, we had four presidential candidates from the North. Nuhu Ribadu, Ibrahim Shekarau, Mahmud Waziri and Muhammadu Buhari. Did they divide Buhari’s votes? In fact, that was when he got 12 million votes from the North. Nobody can divide Buhari’s votes in the North”.
However, recent developments in the country did not support Keyamo’s claims. The Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), one of the popular elite pressure groups in the region, which supported Buhari in the 2015 election, recently said that the forum has dumped Buhari for another Northern presidential candidate.
According to the group’s convener, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, “Buhari was dumped because of his failure to fulfil the basic conditions they handed to him in 2015 when they rejected then president Goodluck Jonathan and elected him.
“Two of the conditions we gave Buhari upon his assumption of office were that he should take concrete steps to address the abject poverty and underdevelopment in the North and he has woefully failed to marginally address any of them,” he said.
Aside the North, both candidates will also battle for votes in other regions especially in the South- South and South East. These two zones were originally referred to as the stronghold of the PDP, but the APC in the last four years has made serious incursion which has culminated in the defection of some former PDP heavyweights such as Godswill Akpabio, former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Uduaghan, a former governor of Delta State, Ken Nnamani, a former Senate president and host of others.