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#OtvOPINIONS: Buhari is APC’s best bet

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Today, Wednesday, December 10, 2014, will remain
unforgettable in the annals of opposition politics in
Nigeria for the simple reason that it would signal
whether a golden opportunity to turn Nigeria’s
fortunes for good will be used or not.
Today, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere,
Lagos, the main opposition force in Nigeria – the All
Progressives Congress (APC) – is conducting a
primary election to decide who would fly the party’s
flag in the February 2015 presidential election.
There are five aspirants in the list of contestants,
namely, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), former
Head of State; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice
President; Engr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, Kano
State Governor; Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha,
Imo State Governor; and Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah,
Publisher, Leadership newspaper.
Each of these gentlemen who are achievers in their
respective professions. They are also respected
public figures and there is no tangible reason why
one would imagine that they, individually, are
lacking in what it takes to lead Nigeria. Not even
the seemingly least experienced of the contestants
can be lightly set aside on this score; for, some
great leaders are never discovered until they are
opportune to mount the saddle of leadership.
We don’t need to travel abroad for examples.
Outside the legal profession where he rose to wear
the coveted silk robe, the incumbent Governor of
Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was
unknown to most Nigerians until he was elected
governor in 2007.
Today, he is adjudged an exemplary performer and
a model to his peers in the arena of governance at
state level. Similarly, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was not
so well known to Nigerians and not many could
certify his leadership capability until he was
appointed Minister of the Federal Capital Territory,
Abuja, whereupon he exhibited uncommon
administrative acumen in restoring the almost lost
glory of the Abuja Masterplan.
In corollary, the critical question today is not about
who is competent among the APC’s presidential
hopeful. Rather, it is about who is most likely going
to bring victory to the APC. To answer this question,
I conducted a study the outcome of which is
available to major stakeholders of the APC. The
study is titled, “Opposition victories in Africa: How it
Can Happen in Nigeria”. This study is a comparative
analysis of eight African countries where the
opposition had won presidential elections at
different times. By this we do not mean an intra-
party transfer of the baton of power such as
happened in Nigeria in 2007 when President
Olusegun Obasanjo handed power over to his party
member, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Rather, we
refer to an inter-party change whereby, upon the
defeat of a ruling party’s candidate, power is ceded
to an opposition candidate, as was the case in
Zambia (1991), Ghana (2000), Senegal (2000),
Kenya (2002), Benin Republic (2006), Sierra Leone
(2007), Ivory Coast (2010), and Malawi (2014).
Certain common denominators were found in a
good number of the countries under review. But
before I summarise each of the denominators here, I
should underscore the fact that the greatest lesson
of this study is that incumbency is not such a great
electoral asset to a ruling political party.
Incumbency has been demystified elsewhere in
Africa where the leaders loomed larger than life than
as we have it in Nigeria. And, the addendum to that
lesson is that if the right steps are taken by the
opposition in Nigeria, victory is attainable.
In the study there were five denominators, namely,
“tested candidates”, “coalition strategy,”
“complementary candidates,” “mass
discontentment,” and “international pressure”. For
the present purpose, however, we shall limit
ourselves to the first denominator only, that is,
“tested candidates”.
In at least four of the countries under review, the
candidates that brought victory to the opposition
had previously contested the presidential election a
number of times ranging from one to four. In other
words, they were tested veterans in the rigours and
hassles of presidential election. Abdoulaye Wade of
Senegal in 2000 was contesting for the fifth time
before he won.
Having contested in 1992 and again in 1997, Emilio
Mwai Kibaki of Kenya was in the contest for the
third time in 2002 when he won, while John Kufuor
of Ghana had vied against an incumbent Jerry
Rawlings in 1996 before he emerged victorious in
2000. In Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma had
contested against incumbent president, Tejan
Kabbah, and lost in 2002, before taking a second
shot against Kabbah’s vice president, Solomon
Berewa, which he won in 2007. In Zambia, where
alternative parties had been more or less hindered
till the clamour for multi-party election reached a
crescendo and prevailed in 1991 with Frederick
Chiluba winning, there was nobody of consequence
who had passed through the presidential election
turf as a candidate and strong enough to challenge
Kaunda. Yet, the opposition, realizing the strategic
nature of fielding a tested candidate, made Chiluba
its flagbearer.
The wisdom in this was that, although Chiluba had
never contested a presidential election, he was
nonetheless a nationally renowned labour leader
who had emerged the president of Zambia’s apex
labour union, Zambia Congress of Trade Unions,
through competitive election. Thus, he had a
nationwide campaign structure and ardent
supporters on the labour platform, aside the party
he had formed a year before the 1991 election, the
Movement for Multiparty Democracy. Nobody else,
outside the ruling party, was considered stronger
than Chiluba to wrest power from Kaunda who had
cut the image of a ‘father of the nation’ and was like
a king on the throne.
Looking at the experience of opposition parties that
have attained power in Africa, the APC can be said
to have a “tested presidential hopeful” in terms of
consistency in vying for president, as well as the
percentage of votes secured. The person in
reference is Muhammadu Buhari. He takes the
credit for consistently posing the greatest threat to
the stranglehold of the People’s Democratic Party
(PDP) on power in the current democratic
dispensation. He has contested thrice till date –
2003, 2007, and 2011- and he is the runner-up
candidate each time. In Africa, he is behind
Abdoulaye Wade’s attempts who had tried and
failed four times before winning, and in terms of
frequency till date, he is at par with Emilio Mwai
Kibaki of Kenya who had made three attempts,
albeit winning at the third in 2002.
Coming to the percentage of votes scored, the
32.19% and 31.98% Buhari secured in 2003 and
2011, respectively, fall in the same range with the
votes secured by the leading opposition candidates
in three of the foregoing African cases before the
affected candidates forged coalition arrangements
with other candidates to win the run-off.
The cases are as follows: Abdoulaye Wade, 31.01%
in year 2000; Yayi Boni, 35.78% in 2006; Alassane
Ouattara, 32.07% in 2010. The Buhari’s percentages
are also in the same range with the 36.4% that
brought Peter Mutharika to power in Malawi in the
first round of ballot in May 2014. The 2011 election
was remarkable for Buhari because he had
contested on the platform of a party that was
registered only a couple of months before election:
the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The
point is, then, the party was not the issue. The issue
was Buhari, and like Yayi Boni, he could still have
pulled as much votes as he had then as an
independent candidate if there had been provision
for that in Nigeria’s electoral law. A Buhari
candidacy, undoubtedly, holds the greatest prospect
for an APC victory in 2015
Nevertheless, if Buhari would not be the presidential
candidate of APC it must not happen through
his ,defeat at the primary election. It should be
because Buhari himself steps down today, in which
case, he would, as a matter of good faith and
commitment to the party’s victory, convince and
mobilize his teeming, fanatically-loyal supporters, in
their millions, across Nigeria to give every
necessary support to the party’s flag-bearer. This is
the only way the political weight of Buhari that was
the major attraction for the parties that merged with
the CPC to form the APC can be harnessed for the
2015 election.
One is not implying that Buhari should be seen as
superior to any other aspirant. Rather, one is
arguing that his political weight is crucial to APC’s
victory in 2015 and that reality must be factored into
the emergence of a presidential candidate today at
the Teslim Balogun Stadium.

Written by: ‘Femi Meyungbe-Olufunmilade and published yesterday by Opinions.ng

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