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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pleasant Surprise

Pleasant Surprise
Dr. Aliyu Tilde

It is four weeks now since we discussed predictions about the presidential primaries of our parties [see Predicting the Primaries ]. We focussed most of our attention on the two biggest ones, i.e. the mighty and incumbent PDP and its major challenger, the ANPP. The primaries are now history. For regular readers of this increasingly becoming less regular page, the outcome did not come as a surprise because we have earlier predicted that Obasanjo and Buhari will be the winners. And they won, the way we predicted through the instruments mentioned. Thanks be to God. For some who are less regular than the column or who do not believe in what its writer says, however, the outcome was surprising. In spite of what we said, which were stark realities as we knew them, such people believed that the sins of Obasanjo were too great to be rewarded with victory while the weakness of Buhari was too much to allow him success. Well, opinions may differ, expectations may vary, as they both did, but reality remains the same. One of those who got it wrong was the seasoned journalist and colleague, Mohammed Haruna, who writes in Daily Trust. Last Wednesday he humbly confessed, saying: “For me personally, events during the period have gone quite contrary to my expectations. For one, I did not expect President Obasanjo to win the PDP presidential ticket for the second term just like I did not expect Major General Muhammadu Buhari to win the ANPP ticket.”

Haruna gave his reasons in each case. As for Obasanjo, the writer said, he clearly lacks the support of people from all geopolitical zones, except the Southwest. So it was natural to expect that if the elections were free and fair, there was no way Obasanjo would have won. It is this belief also, I think, that made the Babangida camp to draft Chief Alex Ekwueme into the race, just a month before the convention. The septuagenarian travelled to Minna and declared, there, his intention to contest based largely on the hope that with the skills of Maradona he will definitely score more goals than Obasanjo. Computations were done assuring Ekwueme that the ocean was not that much deep to drown him. Promises were accordingly made. Maradona kept his words by assisting Ekwueme financially, some media reports said to the tune of N250m, and getting majority of the governors to support him. They honestly gave him their words. With each of them carrying the certificate of his victory at gubernatorial primaries in his briefcase, they felt they could rescind the various promises which they earlier made to Obasanjo without attracting any repercussion. They were wrong.

It was a bad deal because all the three parties have miscalculated. If Ekwueme had read the two articles in this column and reasoned well, he would have withdrawn from the race even on the last day. He would read where we said that Babangida’s power is limited to his tenure and that of Abdulsalami, so far. We did not mean to denigrate him then. It is a fact. Obasanjo has been planning for the day since two years ago. Besides, he has the party machinery at his disposal and one-third of the votes ahead of any contestant, ab initio. How could someone just be brought in a month to the contest and win?

Well, it is now clear, as we predicted, that Obasanjo won the ticket because he was able to compel the governors to support him, after their initial announcement that they would not. Later, after each was shown his dossier, as we reliably learnt, they caved in. With thirteen of them under investigation by the Anticorruption Tribunal, the PDP governors could not help delivering their states to Mr. President. Atiku, who was part of the original deal with Babangida, had to strive hard to save his position as Obasanjo’s briefcase for the next four years. Money was later distributed to delegates, far less than the N1million ‘change’ we said that the president was rich enough to give each of them. He was mean. According to media reports he gave each of them only N110,000.00 while Ekwueme gave N200,000.00.

Then the voting took place and Ekwueme had to face the harsh reality that this column said was awaiting people like him. It was not a defeat alone, but barometer that measured the present political weakness of people who drafted the old man into the race. We were so sure of Ekwueme’s defeat that at a point, as mentioned in the second article on the predictions, we gave credit to the rumour that the contest was an arrangement between Babangida, Obasanjo and Ekwueme himself. But watching the television that day proved the contrary. The bitterness on Ekwueme’s face did vindicate him from such allegation. To expect victory then was actually a sheer miscalculation of the septuagenarian.

The PDP and its primaries will remain forever one of our best examples of the extreme use of incumbency by a corrupt regime to perpetuate its grip on power. Those who underestimated it now know the level of its efficacy.

Two days later, from the ANPP another shocker came to those who were ever ready to dismiss the political strength of Muhammadu Buhari. On Buhari, Haruna had this to say: “Indeed, I had rated Buhari’s chances lower than Obasanjo’s for the obvious reasons that (1) he did not have the incumbency factor behind him, (2) seasoned civilian leaders of ANPP like Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, the Marafan Sokoto, were expressing serious objections to the domination of our politics by retired generals, (3) the general seemed incapable of living down his contempt for politics and politicians and (4) his image – as opposed to his substance – as an Islamic fundamentalist was unlikely to endear him to the non-Muslim politicians of the party.”

It is really surprising that Haruna would qualify the above reasons as “obvious” or even allow them to shape his expectations of the ANPP primaries. But he was not alone. The presidency in fact never for once thought that Buhari would win the ticket. Atiku and his associates, for example, used to laugh whenever Buhari’s name featured in their private discussions. This is no allegation, because Atiku could not even hide it in public. The BBC Hausa Service once asked him about the chances of Buhari, just about a month after the latter joined politics. Atiku laughed lightly before giving an answer. Around the same time, he publicly dismissed Buhari, saying, “He should know that politics is not for the novice.” As God would have it, and as we always emphasized, He alone has power over things. I doubt very much if Atiku and his men are laughing now. Even the ANPP leadership did not expect Buhari to win. In a recent interview with Musa Umar Kazaure, Bafarawa described Buhari’s victory as “God ordained.”

Even on empirical grounds, because we are human, many times we allow our judgements to be obscured by non-objective considerations. We sometimes prefer to close our eyes and declare that it is dark when it is broad daylight. In the end, such blindness does not prevent the truth from overwhelming us. I will forgive Atiku for this misjudgement because power breeds illusion, to the extent that, as Imam Shafi’i once put it, “the ruler would feel that the stars are located (not in heavens, but) beneath his feet.”

However, for the same mistake, I will not forgive my brother, Haruna. He is not in power and he lives in public. I wonder how he failed to see the scenario that unfolded in the victory of Buhari at the primaries months before it happened. Otherwise, look at his reasons: one, who among the contestants needed incumbency to win the ANPP ticket? None of the contestant was an incumbent. So incumbency was irrelevant, though the nation now knows that the Presidency was behind many of the candidates and the boycott they staged on the convention ground. Two, what has the view of Shinkafi and other seasoned politicians got to do with the primaries where over 80% of the delegates might have never read Shinkafi’s interviews. Surprisingly, it was the honourable Shinkafi that gracefully withdrew to improve the chances of Buhari.

Three, who is not contemptuous of politics and politicians in Nigeria with their habit of backstabbing, intrigues, dishonesty, and so on? The politicians are the most contemptuous of their conduct than newcomers like Buhari? Four, I thought Haruna was able to know that the ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ in Buhari is largely the fiction of the southern press. Up here in the North, it is difficult to come across writers who emphasize this point. Surprisingly, only Haruna does so consistently. However, as it was proved during the ANPP presidential primary, religion had no effect at all on the delegates.

Skeptics of Buhari’s victory were carried by another impression that is largely wrong. That he was not in the good books of the power brokers in the ANPP can hardly be doubted. In his last article, Haruna was thus right when he said, “Buhari emerged as ANPP candidate in spite of the party’s leadership, which probably had other plans.” But I strongly object to the list of Emirs that he purported General Buhari was not possibly in their good books. For the sensitivity of the matter and the implication it might have on the image of such Emirs among their wards, I wished Haruna had stuck to the “certain” and avoided the “possible.”

I am happy that he vindicated me in what was the bone of contention between the two of us some months ago when he said, “Certainly, he (Buhari) was not in the good books of the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo…” But I think he was wrong on where the loyalty of the Emirs of Kano, Ilorin and the Etsu of Nupe lied. At no time, to my knowledge, has the three, and even Emir of Zaria, showed any resentment to Buhari. The first three I know warmly received Buhari in their palaces during his nationwide tours last year and I have never heard Buhari or any of his associates mentioning anything bad about them regarding his candidature. In The Buhari Organization, these Emirs are held in high esteem.

At any rate, the results proved the contrary. And I must congratulate Haruna for identifying the exact reason why Buhari won – grassroots support. I must go a bit further to say that few people even in the ANPP believed him when he emphasized his preference for grassroots politics over politics at the beginning. I remember very well where he first made this point: at the party secretariat in April when he paid his first visit. Few people there took him seriously given the recent history of our politics.

In the history of Nigerian politics, few presidential candidates went as far as Buhari did to prove the relevance of the masses. The tradition has been to concentrate on politicking within the party, forging alliances and securing positions such that when the primaries come the aspirants have a clear advantage over others. It was only after the aspirant has won the ticket that he goes out to face the public at rallies and other avenues. With the guide of God, Buhari reversed that tradition. He knew most of the politicians would be sceptical about his success in a game which they mastered its rules. So he left them and went down to their constituencies, meeting people in the street and visiting party and community leaders there, as if he was already a presidential candidate. The masses accepted him and thronged the routes he followed and the palaces he visited. This is what in his organization is called ‘heating the pot from the bottom.’

Within a short time, the perception of his colleagues in the ANPP began to change. Some supported him because they saw in him the potential that will bring success to the party at various levels. Others feared opposing him at the convention will certainly create difficulties for them in their constituencies. In the end, they all agreed that he was the aspirant who would give the party the best hope for winning the forthcoming elections. This strategy is a credit we think should be acknowledged and commended by all democrats. What else could be a victory for democracy other than for the people to see their champion emerge a winner? For the first time, the masses have forced the political class into accepting their choice. If the party will hold on to this during the forthcoming elections it will certainly record more success than it did in 1999.

It was clear even to other aspirants in the ANPP that none of them was a match to Buhari. One wonders really, if most of them were not trapped in the myth of promises similar to the ones given to Alex Ekwueme. Did Haruna expect people like Rochas and Nwodo to defeat Buhari? Kai, Kai. I know a lot of legwork was done to sell Nwodo to the North – the ACF, the Emirs and influential politicians in the region – by the camp that believes an Igbo candidate is the best for the North. But that effort was doomed because it was not based on the proper assessment of the political temperament of the region. Rochas added money to the equation. Members of the party from officials to delegates accepted his offer but failed to deliver their promise. As such, none of the delegates walked out along with the five aspirants who boycotted the convention.

As we said earlier, the error arose from the thought that money and intrigue are still the most important factors in politics of primary elections in Nigeria. Now another is added: massive grassroots support.

I am glad that part of the dividends of Buhari’s victory in the primaries is the ongoing reconciliation effort with Babangida. I read with interest the statement signed by Babangida’s Special Assistant, Alhaji Ibrahim Ismail, as reported in the Daily Trust of 22 January 2003 and the promise of an exclusive interview that Babangida himself gave the newspaper.

I support the reconciliation and salute this level of commitment, especially when it was coming from a person that is notoriously known to avoid committing himself on matters of politics. He made a good judgement, I believe, going by the political realities of the last three weeks. It is never late.

After the primaries, the southern press has continued in a more vigorous manner to underrate the chances of Buhari. They are doing for the general elections the same thing they did for the primary, in addition to their campaign of calumny. Well, let them continue. They are in for another surprise. However, it will, God willing, be a pleasant one to all Nigerians who want governance to be guided by a good measure of transparency, dedication and fairness to all.

I agree with my brother Mohammed Haruna that Nigerians will be faced with the hardest election choices since independence because, except in their military background, Buhari and Obasanjo, represents diametrically different characters, institutions, cultures, worldviews, and so on. Another colleague correctly called it a ‘brutal divide.’ Nevertheless, the country should be proud that both are Nigerians. This signifies the richness in our composition. The choice definitely allows little or no room at all for manoeuvre. But when the time comes, I believe it will be easy for us to decide which direction to take. God willing, it will be a fulfilment of an expectation for most of us, and a pleasant surprise to many. Together, we will join hands in building a better Nigeria.

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