The Odds Against Atiku

The Odds Against Atiku

In this report, PAUL UWADIMA identifies the hurdles before the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, which he has to surmount to pose a threat to the reelection of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari.

The February 16, 2019 presidential election is going to be a two horse race between the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari and the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, despite the fact that there would be over 90 presidential candidates in the ballot, making the race the most contested in the history of Nigeria.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had earlier raised the hope of those fed up with the dominance of the APC and PDP, when he muted the idea of a Third Force to wrest power from the dominant parties, but their hopes was dashed when the so-called Third Force collapsed like a pack of cards, and Obasanjo had to eat the humble pie and went back to his vomit by endorsing the presidential candidate of the PDP, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a man he had in several occasions publicly told Nigerians was not fit to be the President of the country. At a point the former President said that God would not forgive him if he were to support Atiku. So the forth coming presidential election is a race between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

The duo had been the most consistent in seeking the office of the President. President Muhammadu Buhari started gunning for the presidential seat in 2003 under the now defunct APP and was the presidential candidate of the party in that year’s election, where he was defeated by the then incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, in an election that Buhari disputed the outcome and contested it all the way to the Supreme Court. He also lost at the Supreme Court.
Buhari also threw his hat into the ring in the 2007 election, where he was once again the candidate of the ANPP and lost to the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, in an election in which even the winner admitted that the whole process was flawed.

Again Buhari took the matter to the Supreme Court and lost. At the run up to the 2011 presidential election, Buhari formed the CPC, as a new political platform to actualize his presidential ambition and was also defeated by the candidate of the PDP, President Goodluck Jonathan. Like in the previous occasions he protested the outcome and took the matter to the Supreme Court, where he also lost. However, the losses of the past years was turned to victory when in 2015, as the presidential candidate of the APC he defeated the incumbent President Jonathan, the first time in the political history of Nigeria, for an opposition candidate to defeat the incumbent president. That Buhari had always taken the outcome of every election that he contested to the Supreme Court shows his doggedness in the quest for the mandate of Nigerians. He does not give up.

Atiku like Buhari had been consistent in his quest to be the President of Nigeria. In 2007 he was passed over by his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who instead of supporting his vice to succeed him, rather chose the then little known governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Atiku had big fallout with Obasanjo who accused him of several corrupt acts at the strength of which he was indicted by a Panel set up by the government and disqualified from contesting the 2007 presidential election. He took the matter up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favour. Having been denied ticket by the PDP, he pitched his tent with the Action Congress (AC) and emerged as the presidential candidate of the party.

He lost the election to Yar’Adua. By 2011 he had drifted back to the PDP where he challenged President Goodluck Jonathan for the ticket of the party and lost. Atiku was also part of the amalgam of opposition parties that formed the APC to wrest power from the PDP at the run up to the 2015 general elections and contested for the presidential ticket of the APC and was defeated by Muhammadu Buhari.

Atiku left the APC in 2018 to rejoin the PDP in order to pursue his presidential ambition. He eventually emerged the presidential candidate of the party ahead of the 2019 general elections.

These two formidable political gladiators are going to trade tackles next month, but the odd seems to be against the former vice president, as his opponent is a hard nut to crack, as Obasanjo and Jonathan can testify.

It would be recalled that when the duo appeared on the ballot paper in 2007 presidential election, as the presidential candidates of the AC and ANPP respectively, Buhari performed far better than Atiku, especially in the North East where Atiku hails from and the North West where Buhari hails from. Buhari performed better than Atiku, despite the fact that Atiku had better war chest (being in government as Vice President). According to the result of the presidential election in 2007, as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was declared winner having garnered the highest number of votes and the constitutionally required spread across the country with 24, 638, 063 votes, representing 69.82 per cent of the total votes cast.

Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) came second with 6, 605, 299 votes, representing 18.72 per cent of the total votes cast, while Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC) came a distant third with 2, 637, 848 votes representing mere 7.47 per cent of the total votes cast.

In the 2011 election in which Atiku lost the PDP ticket to President Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari was the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and despite paucity of funding Buhari posted impressive outing amid allegations of vote rigging by the ruling party. It was also another opportunity to show the cult following of Buhari in the North East and North West. The former vice president must cut into the votes of Buhari in the North East and North West to make any impact in the North and the presidential election in general.

In the said 2011 presidential election, Buhari showed his dominance of the North East and North West geopolitical zones, which between them are the two biggest voting blocks in Nigeria. Buhari won all the North West states and lost only two states in the North East. A glance at the 2011 presidential election results in the North East and North West, state by state showed that in Adamawa State, PDP 508, 314; CPC 344, 526; Bauchi, PDP 258,404, CPC, 1, 315, 209; Borno, PDP 207, 075, CPC, 909,763; Gombe, PDP 290, 376, CPC, 495, 898; Jigawa, PDP 491, 252, CPC 663,994; Kaduna, PDP 1, 190, 179, CPC 1, 334,244; Kano PDP, 440,666, CPC 1, 624, 543; Katsina, PDP 428, 392, CPC 1, 163, 919; Kebbi, PDP 369, 198, CPC 501, 453; Sokoto PDP, 309, 057, CPC 540, 769; Taraba, PDP 451, 354, CPC 257, 986; Yobe PDP 117, 128, CPC 337, 537; and Zamfara PDP, 238, 180, CPC 624, 515.

In total Buhari amassed about 10, 114, 356 votes while the PDP that had incumbent President Jonathan in power got 5, 299, 575 votes. This was despite the massive rigging and voter inducement that the PDP was allegedly notorious for. This massive followership of Buhari in the North East is one of the factors that Atiku must contend with before he can defeat Buhari in 2019 presidential election.

Similarly, the dominance of Buhari in northern politics was put beyond debate as he swept the Northeast and Northwest in the 2015 presidential election in which he defeated the incumbent presidential candidate of the PDP, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, this time extending his reach beyond the two zones to the North-central and South-west. In the 2015 presidential election, Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan with 15, 424, 921, representing 53.96 per cent of the total valid votes cast, while Jonathan got 12, 853, 162 votes representing 44.96 per cent of total valid votes cast.

It is common in law to say that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. That is however not the case when it comes to the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as the man is perceived as being corrupt even when no court of competent jurisdiction has ever convicted him of corruption almost ten years after leaving office.

To further buttress the unusual position that Atiku found himself, his boss, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who Atiku served under as Vice President once said that God will never forgive him if he supports Atiku to be President. His reason was that Atiku is allegedly corrupt. The two men have recently made up and Obasanjo endorsed him for President, yet that perception by many Nigerians that he is allegedly corrupt remains one of the stigmas dogging his campaign. It is a stigma that may continue to haunt him given that he is challenging a man like Buhari who is seen as the embodiment of integrity.

There is also the growing support for Buhari in the Southeast, which is supposed to be the stronghold of the PDP and Atiku. In the 2015 presidential election, this zone gave Buhari the least number of votes in the country, but all that is changing. The Buhari campaign is dangling 2023 presidency to the region, saying if they massively vote for Buhari’s reelection, they stand a chance of producing President of Nigeria in 2023 under the platform of the APC. This carrot is winning hearts and minds for Buhari in the zone, alongside other visible infrastructure projects like the ongoing construction work at the Second Niger Bridge, which the PDP failed to do in 16 years. Buhari has also divided the Southeast governors who are mostly of the PDP stock but who are by night allegedly campaigning for his reelection.

In Anambra State the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) governor, Willy Obiano is alleged to be working for Buhari’s reelection despite the fact that APGA has a presidential candidate for the forthcoming election.
One of Obiano’s aides is claimed to be heading a support group mobilizing votes for Buhari. It would be recalled that Obiano was one of the Igbo leaders who dissociated themselves from the endorsement of Atiku by the Pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation in Enugu, Enugu State, recently.
Like in the Southeast, Buhari is on the verge of taking over key states in the South south, with Akwa Ibom State almost in the pockets of the President. This is a big deal, because aside Rivers State, Akwa Ibom State posts the highest votes in the South south. All the political heavy weights that make things happen in the state, including the former governor of the state and former Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio are now in Buhari’s APC.

These are the ‘men of timber and caliber’ that shapes the direction of Akwa Ibom politics for the 20 years and beyond. They were the ones that made Udom Emmanuel the PDP governor of Akwa Ibom State. The governor is watching helplessly as these ‘old soldier’ politicians now in APC are pulling the rug from under his feet. With the governor of Akwa Ibom more concerned about his own reelection, he may be of little help to Atiku in the coming presidential election.
For Atiku to win the coming election, he must win in the South west.

Buhari won the South west in the 2015 elections and his support in the region appeared not to have gone down. Buhari also has the support of the political leaders of the zone and especially the support of the national leader of the APC Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who seems to be the one that points the direction that South west goes in Nigerian politics. Tinubu is also co-chair of the APC Presidential Council and thus has enough reasons to deliver South west for Buhari. He was also instrumental in Buhari’s victory in 2015 in the zone. How Atiku can reduce the influence of Tinubu and win the zone remains to be seen.

There is also the power of incumbency that Buhari enjoys. All over the world no one rules out the incumbent’s ability to use his or her office to further his or her reelection bid. In the United States where Nigeria borrowed the presidential system of government, since 1789, there have been 44 people sworn into office as President of the United States, and 45 presidencies, as Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is counted chronologically as both the 22nd and 24th president. Out of the 44 persons that had been sworn in as Presidents only about 10 of them were one-term presidents. Their incumbency status could not help them but a whopping 34 presidents were reelected. This shows that incumbency matters in elections.

The one-term presidents include George H.W. Bush, 1989-1993; Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981; Gerald Ford, 1974-1977; Herbert Hoover, 1974-1977; William Howard Taft-1909-1913; Benjamin 1889-1893; Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841; John Quincy Adams, 1797-1801; Lyndon Johnson, 1963-1969. It would also be recalled that Goodluck Jonathan was the first incumbent President to be defeated in Nigeria. It would also be observed that even in the states in Nigeria, governors including those in opposition parties have always found a way to be reelected, with few exceptions.

It was also because of the fear of Buhari taking advantage of the incumbency powers at his disposal that every appointment he makes whether in the police, INEC, Judiciary are being closely monitored by the opposition parties and often met with protests.

But the PDP dismissed these fears. Proponents of the party believe that the factors in this election would make Atiku give a strong showing at the polls.
PDP supporters have argued that the outcome of the 2015 general election has demystified the fear of incumbency factor in light of a free and fair election. They also believe that the perception of Atiku being corrupt might not hinder his chances this time since no one has been brave enough to charge him to court despite his repeated denial of anti-graft allegations.

However, reacting to the claims that Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and Southeast governors were working for President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection, the publicity secretary for the PDP in the Southeast, Dr Chijioke Ekwegh, said the BMO was only playing mind games.
A statement by the party after its meeting with party leaders in the zone accused the All Progressives Congress of inciting the people of the region against Ekweremadu and the PDP governors in the zone.

The statement signed by
The PDP said apart from poverty,insecurity,electoral fraud, unemployment, gagging the press, nepotism and corruption, the Buhari administration had not achieved anything tangible since 2015.

The opposition party urged Nigerians to reject Buhari and vote for its candidate Atiku Abubakar in next month’s presidential poll.
The statement partly read, “The attention of the South-east zone of the PDP has been drawn to an amateurish propaganda by the Buhari Media Organisation, a pro-All Progressives Congress group, wherein it claimed that Ike Ekweremadu and South-East PDP governors of PDP were working for APC’s victory in the 2019 presidential election.

“The fact that it came from the BMO clearly shows that it is a lie from the pit of hell meant to divide and disorganise the PDP ahead of the general elections.
“This misadventure by the BMO has, however, helped to expose the source of the lingering attempt to run down our party leaders in the zone, incite the people against them, and create bad blood among Ndigbo. Although we are in an election season, such extreme propaganda and mind games can’t be tolerated.
“The PDP remains one big family and every attempt, such as this, to play on our intelligence cannot stand.”

e reelection of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari.