By HANNATU MUSAWA
One thousand and ninety days to go, the battle for the soul of 2015 has already begun! As we eat up the days in our march towards D-Day, I cannot say enough, within the limited space that I have to write this piece, about the total lack of seriousness of the opposition in their approach to 2015. It was this same lack of seriousness and courageous strategy that led to the series of opposition defeats since the inception of this Fourth Republic.
If doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is indistinguishable from insanity, then, our opposition political parties have totally lost their minds. If the opposition continue to repeat the mistakes of the past elections and expect a different result, then, they would have proven to Nigerians that either they are not interested in taking power or they are party to an increasingly garbled political ritual where politicians become either serial victims or become compromised on principle. If they, however, decide to do what the vast majority of desperate Nigerians expect, and unite under one umbrella and use that umbrella to present a fresh combination of candidates, then, they will be worthy of the privilege to occupy the uppermost space in public office come 2015.
All the opposition parties in Nigeria have several things in common, one of which is that none of them has tasted real power at the centre. But the most glaring of their similarities is the fact that none of them has, thus far, demonstrated a culture of strategy and foresight. Politics of purpose is often what they tell us to be their hymn; it is one that they preach well, but it is also one they have not practised. None has been able to get into the highest office. They say they can, but the fact remains that they have not. Unfortunately, the signs point to an increasing probability that they will never get that privilege unless they shed their ego and get smart about capturing power. If political opposites like the UK Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats can align together in the interest of capturing power from the then ruling Labour party, it is amazing that Nigerian opposition political parties that don’t even have any real ideological differences cannot. If they continue with this dumb political attitude, then, the opposition will eternally be left to wander in the political wilderness. The PDP will make sure that happens.
Contemplating the year 2015 seems such a lifetime away. After all, 2012 started not too long ago. But if anyone was in doubt as to whether it is too early to begin preparing for 2015, he only needs to look at activities within the PDP to know that the race has well and truly begun. With the PDP campaign machinery already set in motion, their spin doctors ferociously spinning, their machete men allegedly influencing court judgements and their publicity mafia planting all sorts of stories in the media, we can just about make out the colour and form that the race within the ruling party will take.
The likely contenders
At the red corner, weighing in with a mighty incumbency advantage, we have President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, 55, the C-in-C himself and the leader of the giant of Africa. At this very stage, after the PDP caricature convention, it should no longer be a secret that President Jonathan might desire to seek re-election as president despite the fact that he had given his party his word to the contrary. The issue with the president presents quite an interesting situation. Apart from the fact that the president will surely cut the silhouette of a man that has no honour, who doesn’t keep his word, the general belief is that he has every right as a Nigerian citizen to contest for a second term. However, there is a school of thought which believes that Jonathan would not be eligible to contest the presidential election again, since he has received the oath of office twice under the 1999 Constitution. But under Section 137(1b), “a person could be disqualified from contesting the office of the president, if he had been elected into that office on two previous occasions”; since the president has technically only been “elected” once as president, he qualifies under this provision. At some point, there may need to be a statutory interpretation of the section in order to fully clear the president. If the president gets the go-ahead and eventually decides to contest, there are no guesses as to the type of tactics he may use to ensure his victory. Between the gung-ho manner in which he stomped on Timipre Sylva and the impenitent way he imposed Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the president has made it clear that he is taking no prisoners – the more reason the opposition should start their own 2015 preparation immediately.
Following closely behind the president is the vice president, Architect Namadi Sambo, 58. Loyal to the president in his capacity as the number two, but not so loyal to the extent that he also appears to be eyeing the same position as his boss come 2015, the VP has an uphill task. In any ordinary global political setting, Vice President Sambo should be reassured in the fact that he would be best positioned to take over from the president come 2015, but… hey, this is Nigeria; and, in Nigeria, we don’t exactly follow the rules or civilized conventions. Already the signs of cracks in the ambition of the vice president are showing, with some alleging that the Court of Appeal judgement which overturned the victory of the CPC and ordered the former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, to be sworn in as the senator representing Kaduna North senatorial district at the National Assembly was part of a grand master plan that puts the former governor back in a position where he could fight the vice president’s ambition from their common base. A further hindrance which the vice president seems unable to conquer is the fact that he has a limited political base, especially in the region he is from. The northern public and leaders seem livid with the VP, with some leaders going as far as to say that “Vice President Sambo has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the plight of the north” or that “the vice president does not have the interest of the north at heart at all”. It probably would be fair to say that, in his ambition to succeed his boss, the VP is going to face monumental obstacles on several fronts.
Quite high up on the probability scale is Senator David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark, 64, the Senate president who, it is alleged, has already flagged off his presidential campaign for 2015. Ideally, this officer and gentleman seems well prepared for the role, but Senator Mark would meet a brick wall if the president insists on seeking re-election. He is said to be an incredibly nice and gentle man, is arguably the most successful Senate president we have ever had, and he remains one of the most respected public officeholders we have at present. He is a brilliant administrator and a very strong leader with vast experience, patience and tenacity. Coming from the north-central zone, he would be a good representative from that area — save that, some believe, he does not have a strong northern political base.
Another possible candidate impossible to overlook is former vice presidentAtiku Abubakar, 66. Some say “the fear of Atiku is the beginning of wisdom…” The former VP is like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Even though his bid in the last election was shot down at the primary stage, the fact that he was able to be nominated out of several northern heavyweights in the northern consensus struggle is a testimony to his political strength. Atiku has also allegedly flagged off his 2015 presidential campaign but his chances in the ruling party are remote. The PDP is not the same one as when he was VP.
Yet another candidate that appears to be warming up for the 2015 race is a man that has a more serious case of “diarrhoea of the mouth” than any other person in government. Ordinarily, as one of the more intelligent shinning lights amongst the governors, Chief Servant Muazu Babangida Aliyu, 57, would be a good candidate to consider. But with statements like, “We thank God that Buhari did not win the presidential election in the country; we would have been goners by now. People like that will not win election because God judges people by their intentions” and several such attributed to him, the Chief Servant is as good as a political pariah to the vast majority of northerners. For the Niger State governor to win a presidential election in Nigeria, even with his brilliance, carriage and pedigree, he would need the kind of mighty leg-up and “heave-ho” characteristic of the PDP in collaboration with INEC. But it may be literal suicide to try any such thing in 2015.
Next possible candidate? In 2009, political pundits had said of him: “He’s a better alternative to Yar’Adua”. In 2011, he said of the north: “Those championing a northern presidency are uncivilised… And if northern opposition to President Jonathan continues, the country should simply be broken up…” In 2012, those who have followed his utterances said of him: “Ah… so he was strategising to run for president all along?” Whatever the reality is, a list of possible contenders for the president from the PDP side cannot be complete without mentioning the name of Alhaji Sule Lamido, 64. Whether he has what it takes to pull the feat off is anyone’s guess, but, in his favour, being at the source of PDP power for such a long time has got to count for something.
Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako (rtd), 70, needs no introduction due to his naval, agricultural and political pedigrees. His passions and achievements in these areas speak volumes about his dedication to success. But for the emergence of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who hails from the same state as him, Governor Nyako would have been a strong contender for the ticket. His age may also be a big negative for him.
A man that once looked like the perfect candidate before events superseded his potential is Senator Bukola Saraki, 50. Coming from the Saraki political dynasty of Kwara State where family members have held top elected offices since the First Republic, he showed political might by edging out his father in 2011 in the scheme of Kwara politics. As he was one of the more outstanding and effective governors during his tenure, the Senate would have been the catalyst that could have catapulted him into the A-list of presidential aspirants. But, instead, his actions left a bitter taste in the mouths of Nigerians when he effectively stuck the dagger in his sister’s back by ferociously blocking her gubernatorial bid, then taking her slot in the Senate in the most Brutus-like manner. “He wanted to put a stop to the unfair Saraki dynasty in Kwara,” people said. “Err, then why is he still in government exactly?” “Pot.., Kettle.., Anyone…?”
Even though in 2009, he spoke in favour of automatic re-election of all political officeholders who exemplified themselves in the discharge of their responsibilities, Governor Gabriel Suswan, 48, of Benue State might now hold the view that the automatic re-election of all political officeholders in the 2015 election is not such a good idea after all. Because if there is going to be any chance for him to fly the PDP flag, President Jonathan cannot be automatically be re-elected as the party’s standard bearer.
While all these intrigues and preparations are taking place in the PDP and personalities are being named, the opposition parties are yet again being left behind and are probably waiting for the eleventh-and-a-half hour to start talking with each other on whether a merger, alliance or coalition would be the strategy, and the personalities to be considered for the presidential ticket. It really shouldn’t take a genius for the opposition to be told that facing the 2015 elections separately as individual parties against the PDP is a stupid thing which leaves slim chances of winning the election. Neither is it complicated algebra for them to realise that it would be mandatory for them to form a coalition of the opposition that would leverage their different and disparate strengths. That is the only way the PDP rigging machine can be effectively disabled. Unless the opposition parties are expecting Speedy Gonzales to somehow morph out of their television sets sometime in 2015 to get their coalition going, talks of unifying under one umbrella should have started seriously the very day that the 2011 elections were concluded; it should have started yesterday! When you fail to plan, you plan to fail and that appears to be exactly what the opposition is doing again. They are planning to lose. But they will likely win if they get serious. The PDP can be taken out but only if members of the opposition unite and fight the election as one body and present candidates that the whole of Nigeria will be excited about.
We are at a time now where Nigerians should no longer have to choose from a shallow pool of existing political big-wigs in the PDP or the same old candidates in the opposition. We are at a time where the opposition need to start pointing a magnifying glass towards a deep reservoir of young talented Nigerians capable of winning, and delivering for the opposition and the Nigerian nation. Just like the PDP, there are a number of prospects that the opposition establishment needs to start looking towards. And they must start talking to each other NOW. These names are not in any order of importance and are by no means exhaustive.
The opposition’s best bets
The first potential comes to the fold with an anti-corruption package: Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, 51. Even though he showed a brave effort as the ACN presidential candidate in 2011, he made his name as the pioneer chairman of the EFCC. While some bring up the issue of his performance in 2011, no one can deny that this anti-corruption tsar is, more than ever, a key prospect and a good candidate to consider for the opposition any day. Nuhu is honest, honourable, capable and qualified. Maybe that would explain why the government is always clamouring to have him in the fold sorting out their onerous issues. A Nuhu candidacy would come with an added advantage: the presentation of the most beautiful, smartest, kindest, most presentable, most honourable and most eloquent first lady that this nation would have ever seen.
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something very endearing about the next potential: Governor Peter Obi, 50. Since bursting onto the stage in 2006, he has ruled the wonderful people of Anambra State with pride and, as they say, he has rewritten Nigeria’s political history. By being the first governor to remove an incumbent, regaining his seat after an impeachment and being the one to set the precedent of four years’ tenure for out-rigged governors, Governor Obi has literally written his name in political gold. He would most definitely be a great presidential candidate for any opposition.
It is safe to say that the one name that has been repeatedly mentioned all over the country as a prospective candidate is Governor Babatunde Fashola, 49. As if the whole country has fallen madly in adoration for him, the governor of Lagos seems to have caught the imagination of a country that has had a dearth of good leadership. By literally doing what he was elected to do, transforming the face of Lagos and being very popular, it is a must for Governor Fashola to be on anyone’s list any day. He would be an amazing contender for the opposition if people could overcome the fact that there could be a potential south-west president so soon after Obasanjo’s eight years. An opposition presidential/vice-presidential ticket missing the name of Governor Fashola in 2015 would probably characterise the biggest goof the opposition could make.
Another name that is currently being whispered in several quarters is Sam Nda-Isaiah, 50, chairman of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group, publishers of this newspaper. The no-nonsense and incorruptible straight-shooter gives a new meaning to the term “straight, hard and to the point”. Basically, he says it as it is, no matter who will be offended. As long as it is in the public interest, he always says it as it is! His anti-corruption and pro-good government views mean that he knows how good governments are run. He is well-respected and accepted within the opposition groups. He has been with them from the very beginning, providing intellectual support. A Sam candidacy would be very interesting because it would present an ace in the hole for the opposition due to his unique position of being one of the few people acceptable to the entire Muslim north and Christian north and can also be a bridge between the north and the south. As if channelling the spirit of the late great Sunday Awoniyi, the candidacy of Mr Nda-Isaiah will likely “fix” and have the potential of uniting the north, both Christians and Muslims alike, in the vision of Sardauna’s united Arewa. Even though he is aligned mainly to the CPC, he is also accepted by the ACN; he is an associate of General Muhammadu Buhari, the CPC leader, and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the ACN leader.
Then, there is the man whose qualifications and credentials read as long as the credit section in Aliko Dangote’s bank ledger book, Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, 52. While he is a current chieftain of the CPC, Mallam el-Rufai was once a key minister of the Obasanjo government and one of the most competent ones at that. He is known to be a very hardworking and brilliant man and is accredited as the only FCT minister to have transformed and revolutionised Abuja. “My goodness, how different (in a bad way) the FCT is without him!” Sunday Trustwrote, a couple of days ago, in a story about a prospective 2015 presidential election campaign. There’s no doubt that he would be an incredibly effective candidate, a breath of fresh air and certainly not a personality that the opposition can afford to overlook. He comes with an immense following on the social media and the brains to match any challenge.
Whenever he comes out with his trademark Safari suit and does that trademark bounce up the stairs, it’s as if he is just about ready to run the New York Marathon. One of the more apparent characteristics of Governor Adams Oshiomhole, 58, is that he is an action man of no apology. From his days as the leader of the Nigeria Labour Congress to his current position as governor, Oshiomhole has kept a level and focused head in governance. There is little doubt that this head of one of the most wonderful and interesting states in the country could also be a trump card for the opposition.
A man that has proven himself beyond the shadow of a doubt to be a titan in Nigerian politics is the Asiwaju himself, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 60. By singlehandedly, through sheer political sagacity, turning the whole south-west from PDP into the opposition, Tinubu has shown that he is not a man to be messed with. He is the leader of the ACN and also a pillar of the opposition in Nigeria. And even though some believe that the presidency shouldn’t go back to the south-west so soon after General Obasanjo, it is crystal clear that, whatever happens in the next three years, the Asiwaju is absolutely key to any prospective opposition victory in 2015.
They say that “a woman was taken out of man, not out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled underfoot, but out of his side to be equal to him…” If there is one woman that is equal to the task of matching these men pound for pound, it is Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili. There is no doubt that this brilliant and accomplished chartered accountant is more than suited to carry the reigns of the top job. As a vice president of the World Bank’s Africa Region, Mrs Fantastic would put a huge Cheshire cat smile on the faces of Nigerian women and an even bigger one on the faces of Nigerians, were she to win.
Never in the history of this nation has there ever been a more dapper, suave, sophisticated and eloquent officeholder than the former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, 51. With Donald Duke, it is a case of “what you see on the outside matches the inside”, because, as a brilliant lawyer and administrator, he comes as a complete package. If one had any doubts as to his ability, they need only to glance at his resume where they would see his contributions in urban development, environment, tourism, the creation of Obudu Ranch, the initiation of Tinapa Resort and a record as the only governor in 2006 to be specifically mentioned as “not” under investigation by the EFCC. He would, no doubt, be another winner.
The opposition would be very lucky if a man with the pedigree and prestige ofMallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, 51, were to fly their presidential flag come 2015. When the blue-blooded career banker and Islamic scholar was nominated as the CBN governor in 2009, there was a little fuss because he came from the same zone as the then President Yar’Adua. But all acrimony soon vanished when Nigerians realised the fabric that this Einstein was made of. With his international recognition as an exceptional banker and his radical anti-corruption campaign aimed at the banking sector, Sanusi has everything and more of what an opposition party looking to win an election needs.
From his involvement with one of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, to his exile and persecution by the military junta to his presidential outing in 2011, Chief Dele Momodu, 51, is one man that cannot be left out in a list of prospective opposition flag-bearers. In his career as a publisher and journalist, Dele Momodu has shown that he is always ready to fight for one thing: the rights and freedom of Nigerians. An opposition cannot be a good opposition without a clear conscience and, as the former flag-bearer of the National Conscience Party, he might just be their man.
Anyone who appreciates the delight of baking knows that no dessert cake is complete without rich, sugar-soaked icing. In order to complete and package this beautiful gateau that the opposition have to win the election with, General Muhammadu Buhari has to be included. Indubitably, for any opposition to win an election in Nigeria, the general has to be part of the process. However, in order for the opposition to grow, the time has come for General Buhari to step out as a contestant and step in as an elder statesman and a guiding light for the opposition. If the opposition are to get it right this time, they must recognize that it cannot be done without the visible participation of General Buhari whose leadership between 1983 and 1985 was one of the bright spots in our nation’s history. It is doubtful as to whether there is any other politician in the whole of Nigeria who commands the kind of adulation and crowds that General Buhari does within his region and people. But, even with that adulation, it is crystal clear that there are obstacles which have not been overcome in the last three presidential elections and are likely not to be. With his experience and overt guidance, he has the power to contribute to the success of any opposition by campaigning, asking, telling and urging the tens and tens of millions of his loyal supporters to come out and vote for the opposition candidates in the same way they would have if he were the candidate. He has the power of delivering the vast majority of the north’s votes to the opposition. It is time for a new generation of leaders with a novel approach to move the opposition and our nation forward. With the full support of the general, the opposition will find themselves in the best winning, strategic position that they have ever been.
If the opposition use foresight, they would realise that this is their chance to break away from the constant chronicle of failures that have characterised their existence since 1999. Any of these fine gentlemen above, backed by the support of General Buhari, would give the men in the PDP a serious run for their money. Given the right combination of any of them, they have the potential of attracting a new generation of voters to the polls and, most importantly, they have the potential of cutting across religious, regional and ethnic divides. The opposition has the tools; now the challenge is to assemble those tools, changing tack, focus and, most importantly, strategy.
With the right combination of strategic candidates flying the flag of one united opposition party and the frustration people are feeling towards the PDP, there is no reason the opposition shouldn’t win the presidency come 2015. In the last 13 years that the PDP has forced itself on Nigerians, the party has caused a lot of pain, anger and anxiety to the masses. With the dwindling economy, the regime of injustice, their disregard for the rule of law and anti-corruption laws, serial bastardization of elections, record-breaking unemployment levels, total lack of healthcare, non-existence of security, stagnant railway system, erratic power supply, increasing poverty, creation of a few billionaires as opposed to 160 million paupers and increasing ethnic tension, Nigerians are sick and tired of being ruled by the same cult, election after election — a cult that has given this country absolutely no development, no hope, no justice and no future.
Time is ticking, folks! The urgency for the opposition parties to be responsible to all Nigerians has arrived. The opposition have got to stop whining about the unfair political arrangement in Nigeria and get their act together. Unlike the past where proposals were bandied about on the measures of a formulation of a single opposition to the PDP, debates were underway and passions stirred, while nothing came of it, this time, it has got to be different. This time, tangible programmes have to be put in place to prove the opposition are ready to respond to this clarion call. The only chance the opposition parties are going to have at scuffling power away from the ruling party will come when they stop paying lip service to unity, and unite.
Nigeria deserves to have a luminous political setting where people are given the best possible options in the leadership contest so that the prospect of better capacity in government can be utilized. But if the quality of choice is limited, it reflects on the voters, as demonstrated in the last election.
Nigerians know what they want, even though they are often somewhat blasé about it. I truly do have faith that, given the right choices, at the right time, they will make the decision likely to steer this country in a direction opposite to the disparaging one we have been dragged on in the last 13 years. And if the opposition gives Nigerians something credible to defend, the populace won’t accept any chimpanzee business once INEC starts monkey-ing around; the march to reverse the removal of fuel subsidy has shown us our people’s might. 2015 has got to be that time — perhaps the last time for a long time — to ensure that the effervescence required to bring Nigerian politics back from the abyss is seized upon.
The task will be daunting but it will not be impossible. The litmus test for the leadership abilities of the Nigerian opposition leaders is their initiative in embracing this challenge. Can Nuhu Ribadu, Peter Obi, Babatunde Fashola, Nasir el-Rufai, Sam Nda-Isaiah, Adams Oshiomhole, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Oby Ezekwesili, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Donald Duke or Dele Momodu heed the opposition’s voice of reason; who scream for unity, who yearn for greater political space, who are desperate for a viable platform where they can choose a capable leader to carry the flag in 2015? I honestly, really do think that, given that platform and backed by the “overt” support of General Muhammadu Buhari, any of these fine, upstanding persons are up to the challenge, should they wish to take it. The Nigerian constituency has made the call for the opposition to present a united front and competent candidates. The call is loud, and the message is clear: the opposition must unite. No longer should the Nigerian leadership be auctioned to the highest bidder by the few that refuse to live up to the declaration of democracy, transparency, term limits, patriotism, honour and good governance.
2015 is not just about who gets to move into the Aso Rock address; it goes to the very base of how we want to continue as a nation and how we want to continue practising our democracy. This year is the most crucial period for the opposition. It will be a time that will call into question their internal governance design, integrity, commitment, tolerance, public spiritedness and seriousness. We only want our votes to count for a candidate that can stand up and represent, and a candidate can only be victorious when the voters can count on him. Can we count on the opposition to unite and give life to this challenge by uniting and emerging with exciting, new viable candidates that have been unanimously endorsed? If the opposition cannot do this, if they cannot unite against the PDP behemoth, would there be any reason for the voters to have faith in them winning the election or of running the country for that matter?
Ladies and gentlemen, there is approximately 1,090 days to go for the soul of Nigeria 2015… Let the battle begin!