Privatization of APP: The Joint Bid of Babangida and Obasanjo
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Babangida has recently become a frequent visitor to Aso Rock. Long ago, he has conceded not to contest 2003 against Obasanjo. He is slated for 2007. Maradona is therefore expected to play his best skill to ensure that Obasanjo is re-elected for a second term. If Obasanjo would perchance fail to win the ticket of the PDP at the primaries, or anything happens contrary to his ambition, then Babangida will go ahead to contest in 2003 under a party most likely other than the PDP.
The result of both scenarios is to ensure that Nigeria remains stuck to these two best friends of the 'international community' that the country ever produced. This essay is about the steps taken so far to make this plan real. Read on and pray that may God save Nigeria.
1 To win a battle, generals believe in complete domination of the field, like in football. That was done in 2003 when Babangida and few others muscled all presidential aspirants, including the winner of the APP primaries in Kaduna, to ensure that the nation did not have any better choice than Obasanjo. It worked, then. After he assumed office, Obasanjo on his part ensured that he has consolidated his power by holding the PDP in firm grip while slowly but steadily weakening the opposition through various means.
However, Obasanjo has turned out to be a disgusting failure. Period. He has failed to perform to the satisfaction of the greatest percentage of Nigerians.
The feeling of dissatisfaction started with the Northerners and it quickly spread to the Southeast and the South-south. He concentrated on his people, the Southwest, for which reason they have now vowed to vote for him if the rest of the country would reject him. In addition, Obasanjo's administration is likely to be the worst in terms of performance. It has not fulfilled any of its promises (do you remember the 250,000 digital land lines per state?). To complicate matters, his regime is most likely to be the winner of the most-corrupt-government gold medal in the history of Nigeria.
The feeling of discontent has now reached undeniable levels of catastrophe. Something has to be done, if he is to return in 2003.
2 Given this record of failure, it is clear that the old bottle in which the beer called Obasanjo was sold is no longer attractive. In fact the bottle has broken. No one will attempt to remind us of his first tenure between 1976 and 1979. That will not sell anymore. No one will also convince Nigerians, as done before, that when elected again he will perform creditably and remain fair to all Nigerians. Finally, no one will tell us that for the continuous peaceful coexistence of our dear nation we need to rotate the Presidency to the South, and especially to the southwest who were denied June 12. We have repaid that debt.
Perhaps it is in consideration of this inadequacy that Obasanjo has tried, in addition to his grip over the PDP and weakening of the opposition, to count on the power of money and the role of INEC in the forthcoming elections. He has been working on the old theory that money can buy Nigerians. (Otherwise, let him tell us what he needs N32billion for).
However, that theory too is faced with a problem.
Many people are learning quickly. The North in particular, for strategic reasons, is acquiring the political skills of the Southwest that collective interest overrides the personal. Thus, as 2003 approaches there are strong feelings that Obasanjo will not make it. The resolve is so strong that northerners even in the PDP have resolved not to vote for him, of course except the few who are unlucky to enjoy his largesse. This is what led the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to resolve that it will ensure that northerners keep their political differences aside and vote for a consensus candidate in place of Obasanjo in 2003. This was a declaration of war against Obasanjo. It must not retreat. Its candidate can be anyone else, but certainly not Obasanjo. This sounded nice to our ears.
3 The Obasanjo camp was quick to realize the loophole in ACF's position. It picked the idea and pinned it on its drawing board, neatly and interestingly so far.
It is known that there cannot be a chance for any northern candidate in the PDP. Forget it, unless if you want to break the party or get Obasanjo to make a 'tactical withdrawal' from his ambition re-election.
The party from which Obasanjo's opponent is logically expected to come from, as of now, is the APP. So the government started to see how they could hijack the APP through the supporters of Babangida in various political associations. Or is it a coincidence? I asked this question because with or without ACF the surest way to the success of Obasanjo, again as it happened in 1999, is to deny the emergence of any credible candidate in the APP especially from the North. That is if any candidate will be permitted at all.
So the move to have an absolute control over APP became imperative. The ACF consensus candidature came in as a convenient device to facilitate the realization of this plan. Let there be a candidate in the ACF from the North, but he must be someone who is too weak to defeat Obasanjo, as we had in 1993 between Tofa and Abiola. Or get the elders of the ACF to work out how the North will support a candidate from the South who will contest against Obasanjo but with little chance of victory, as we had in 1999 between Falae and Obasanjo. The bottom line is that a credible candidate must not be allowed to emerge from the APP, at all cost. Period.
4 Suddenly Buhari joined politics, in the APP. It is something the Obasanjo and the Babangida camps never prayed to happen though they have constantly lived under the fear of its possibility. When they confirmed that he will register in Daura on the April 25, a friend reliably told me that Aso Rock was overcome with fear and consternation. Suddenly, a campaign to write him of started in earnest. Forget the small voices of Iro Dan Musa and Balarabe Musa. Even people in high positions like Vice President Atiku Abubakar descended so low to the level of saying that Buhari is not a democrat by his antecedents (which are not worse than those of Obasanjo, anyway), in spite of his constitutional right to do so. Atiku was instantly rewarded with stones where he made the statement at Kafanchan and later at Kachia. (You can see that the intifadah against Obasanjo-Atiku political tyranny did not start in Kano) With the reality of Buhari in politics it became obvious that the initial plan by the Obasanjo government to control the APP must be pursued seriously and in earnest. This lion must be stopped, they reasoned. Negotiations with Babangida associations like the UNPP (former UNDP) were renewed with vigor. By the time Buhari joined politics a joint committee of the APP and UNPP has already been inaugurated with seven members from both sides. The chairman of the committee came from UNPP.
With this development how can we not discern that APP is not undergoing privatization already? How could there be an equal representation between two partners that are both unequal in status and in number? How can a registered political party with millions of supporters including governors, legislators and local government chairmen accept to stand on equal footing with an association that is there only in name and is yet to be registered and tested on the difficult political terrain of Nigeria? In fact, what merger can take place between the two when UNPP is still insisting on seeking registration with INEC? Why can't its members, including Babangida, join the APP unconditionally? Well, despite lack of adequate answers to these questions, the privatization talks continued, not under el-Rufa'i but people like Augustus Aikhomu, the chairman of the joint committee and former vice-president of Babangida. They gained additional momentum with the entrance of Buhari into politics as we said earlier. I remember that Tuesday night, shortly after he joined politics when a significant breakthrough was reported made in the negotiations at Abuja. The breakthrough was so important that a party was held to celebrate it that very night. I do not know what it was, but I know that the celebration took place. To my utmost disgust, the Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa was there rejoicing with members of the committee.
5 The interest of Bafarawa in the merger and his attendance of the celebration that took place that night really confirmed my fears that the merger is mischievous. Otherwise, how could the same governor who announced the declaration of war against Obasanjo by the North belong to such a group - the Babangida group - that is clearly opposed to the candidature of Buhari? The whole thing became intriguing. I later learnt that the same Bafarawa was against the inclusion of APP members who have independent disposition. And why the celebration at the middle of the night? So as fast as the mind could travel, I started questioning whether or not ACF itself meant well by its declaration. I traveled to Kano, Kaduna and Abuja to confirm the truth or otherwise of my suspicion. I was glad to find out that the intention of ACF was indeed noble but somehow it was hijacked by the Babangida and Obasanjo camps and fitted into the political calculation of Obasanjo tazarce just mentioned above. Bafarawa, I later discovered, is a 'boy' to a close associate of Babangida in the presidency hailing from the former Sokoto State. We should not also forget that he is a governor that has ambition to continue beyond 2003.
I will not hide my gross disappointment with Bafarawa and his ongoing role in the privatization of the APP.
I am sure that the citizens of Sokoto and other northerners are equally disappointed. I have planned to pay him a courtesy call on my visit to Sokoto scheduled to take place soon. With this development I have dropped him from my itinerary. I will rather visit the Sultan and the Hubbare to rejoice in the history that the city was once the seat of social justice during the Shehu and from it the Sardauna hailed. It is shame that its leadership will today be associated with scuttling the interest of social justice. All the same, Sokoto must keep its cool.
There must not be any intifadah.
Or could it be that Bafarawa, a virulent critic of Obasanjo, does not know that the aim of Babangida is to acquire the shares in APP for Obasanjo? I hope he realizes that very soon and retrace his steps.
Otherwise, he will be putting his seat in Sokoto under a strong jeopardy.
6 If the registration of Buhari has revived the interest of Babangida and Obasanjo to purchase the APP, the Kano incident has propelled the transaction to move at rocket speed. On that day both Babangida and Atiku have watched, live before their eyes, the support which, without embarking on a single campaign so far, Buhari has among the people, elite and masses alike.
The impression is now given that the commotion was caused by thugs. This is the tallest lie I have ever heard of. Actually there were two separate types of protests that took place that day, both spontaneously triggered by the arrival of Buhari. The first was carried out right inside the hall where only the elite were present. They booed Atiku to silence. He folded his speech halfway through it, stopped awhile, looking very furious, and went back to his seat. Babangida attempted to come forward. He was shouted at with unprintable words. He complied and quickly retraced his steps back to his seat. I never saw nor heard a general so cowardly retreat. What a pity. What a downfall.
The thugs, if there was any, carried their intifadah outside the hall when Atiku and Governor Kwankwaso were hurriedly leaving the venue. Surprisingly, these were the same thugs who were hired, as Wada Nas narrated, by the Kano State Government to receive the Vice President.
This event has disturbed both Babangida and Atiku.
That evening a colleague who knows Babangida fairly well vowed that Babangida would not sleep the night.
He was right. A week later, I witnessed a supporter of Babangida confirming that his master was highly disturbed with the high level of support he saw given to Buhari in Kano which was beyond his imagination. He revealed that Babangida was planning to join the race.
But the supporter, who was talking to another PDP stalwart in my state, said it is too late for him.
7 A day later, that was last Friday, Buhari visited the national APP secretariat in Abuja to formally introduce himself to the party at the national level.
The chairman of the party was glad. It was out of his happiness that he informed the Buhari delegation about the ongoing merger talks with UNPP and some other associations like Nigerian Mandate Group of John Nwodo and Reality Organization from Abia State. Curiously, all these associations are undeniably contraptions of Babangida. I respected the chairman for the courage to introduce this matter at the reception visit. I like people with courage.
In reaction, a member of the Buhari delegation, who happened to be a former APP chairman of one of the Northwestern states, revealed that supporters of the party, including himself, do not know anything about the merger. He implored the chairman of the party to explain the rationale and the modalities of the talks and what will be of the party at the end. Even members of the National Executive Council of the party are not in a better position to know what is going on. Trust our lovely sister, Hajiya Naja'atu Muhammed, who is also a member of the National Executive Council of the APP. She joined in interrogating the chairman of the party at the meeting. Luckily for the chairman, she was sick, so she spoke quietly, asking: "How can we return to the grassroots and explain to our supporters that the APP which some of them are already dying for has dissolved into something else, with a different logo and a different name?" May God improve her condition of health.
The chairman's response was far from satisfactory, to be honest, perhaps because he did not want to announce the details prematurely. He only assured members that he has never been a sell out in his life and so he will not be a party to any attempt to sell out the party which he has suffered in the last four years to keep together. Ironically, he conceded that he would allow only a small disruption in the logo and in the name. (I later on learnt that the changes will also include the constitution) He said doing so was necessary to attract the large crowd knocking at the door of the party, including some 80 members of the National Assembly who want to decamp from the PDP! The changes in the party identities will help them 'save their face.' He also assured members of the party at the meeting that whatever agreement has been reached at by the joint merger committee it has to be reported to the National Working Committee which will meet on the 22nd of this month for its consideration.
8 The fear now is that the National Executive Council will go ahead to approve the merger and implement it without reference to the national convention of the party. In fact, even at the convention it has all the power it needs to ensure that delegates and representatives, one way or another, support the merger. Through this means the hopes of the masses that Buhari will win the presidential ticket of the party would be dashed, to the dictate and delight of Babangida and the Presidency.
A week ago I saw a new poster of APP with a Babangida background. It confirmed my suspicion. There were also Babangida posters in Kaduna and Abuja that appeared that week. There is now a strong rumor that Babangida will join the party next month, not to actually contest against Obasanjo in 2003 but to divide the votes that Buhari will get such that a weak southerner will emerge as the presidential candidate of the party in the next elections. On a deeper thought I have dismissed this on the ground that Babangida is a tactician, not a fighter. He cannot risk putting his reputation at stake by competing openly against Buhari, especially after witnessing his support in Kano two weeks ago. If he loses in the contest, which is quite possible, he has broken the myth he created of the most indomitable power broker in the country.
He will rather prefer to remain behind the scenes. I wish he will be brave enough to contest.
So I became more inclined to believe another story that reached me some hours before I wrote this article. Here it is. Our readers will remember that Babangida was scheduled to meet with Buhari two weeks ago for reconciliation talks. He accepted the invitation after Buhari spoke to him personally on phone about the matter. However, he failed to turn up; I thought it was because he was tired from the two preceding nights he spent in Aso Rock. Rather, he gave the excuse that he will prefer the reconciliation to be made not directly between the two of them but through the committee of the ACF that includes Alhaji Maitama Sule and other elders.
However, as my source revealed, the ultimate objective of that committee, after succeeding in the reconciliation, is to persuade Buhari to withdraw from the presidential race in favor of a southern candidate either from the South-south or from the Southeast.
Buhari has been intimated about the move and strongly advised never to listen to that appeal. If he does, the masses will pelt him as they pelted Atiku in Kano.
Reconciliation, yes; withdrawal, NO.
9 So, dear reader, after going this far in our discourse, we have returned to where we started.
Whatever the maneuvers and the intrigues, the goal is that Babangida is working for Obasanjo while he waits for his turn, hopefully, in 2007. To achieve this it is important to ensure that no credible candidate contests the presidency against Obasanjo especially from the North. This can be attained in a number of ways: Suppress all contenders from the PDP; get control of the leadership of the APP; do not register new parties; and now, ensure either by persuasion or by connivance that Buhari has withdrawn or is defeated at the APP primaries.
10 In conclusion I will appeal to APP and ACF leadership to be on the guard. They must not give way to the lures of wealth - for that is all Babangida and the present government possess, neither should they allow their simplicity to be exploited. The Buhari camp must also be on the look out. There is no harm in their effort to mend fences with every one who feels disgruntled, justifiably or not. But that must not be at the expense of Buhari's integrity. He must not withdraw from the race. I strongly believe that he can succeed, with the help of God and the determination of the majority of Nigerians, with or without the support of Babangida.
As for Obasanjo, Babangida, and their supporters, a word is enough: Power belongs to God. If he has willed, in His Mercy, to free this country from the shackles of corruption, deceit and incompetence in governance - things that both the regimes of Obasanjo and Babangida share in common, nothing can stop His Decree - not wealth, not deceit and not a campaign of calumny. Simple. Zakaran da Allah ya nufa da chara, ana muzuru ana shaho, sai ya yi.