Northern Political Albatross By Oga Tom Uhia

The battle line is now drawn while war drums are now beating. The battle is for who would be Nigeria’s next President. The battle ground is on the lawns of the All Progressives Congress, APC. We have not seen or heard any battle cry from the rest of the 85 political parties – only feeble attempts which no-one is bothered about. Infact a number of these parties have already sold out to the APC even when they do not have who would be their flag bearers!
In the APC, the issues wetting the battle ground is candidate to continue for the next four years. There are two grounds: President (General) Muhammadu Buhari, from the Northwest geo-political zone, the incumbent President on one side of the northern divide and past Vice President Atiku Abubakar; the flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The furore over zoning that rocked the nation’s political scene was on retaining the Presidency in the North after Buhari’s first four years. The party has taken the air out of the zoning balloon for now, though the Northern oligarchies are still hell bent on deciding if it is all over! The both strong candidates are from the northern part of the country and are both Fulanis and Muslims from the two strongest geo-political zones of the north; Northeast and Northwest.
Whatever the situation, the choice of a Presidential candidate especially from the North has become an easy task because the both contestants: Atiku Abubakar of PDP and Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. These two have been described as the two Northern Political Albatross who have straddled the political scene and controlled how the North votes in recent years. It is election season in Nigeria. Elections for the presidency and federal legislature are slated for mid-February. In early March, those for the governorship of many of the country’s thirty-six states and others would follow. Naturally, the greatest focus is on the presidential race. And while there are more than fifty contestants for the job, including a few internationally recognised technocrats, all eyes are on two leading presidential candidates.
Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is seeking a second four-year term. His main opponent is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both candidates hail from northern Nigeria, but from different parts of it. President Buhari is from the north-western part of the country, while Mr Abubakar is from the north-eastern part. Whereas the north-western geopolitical zone is quite peaceful, the north-eastern section suffers from insecurity, with terrorists attacking key cities and towns now and then.
Incidentally, the insecurity in that part of the country is why Mr. Buhari beat former President Goodluck Jonathan some four years ago. It also helped his chances that Mr. Jonathan was a Southerner. Northern voters did not have a difficult choice to make. Things are not so straightforward this time around. That is even as Mr. Buhari still enjoys a cult following in the North. Inevitably, a significant portion of Northern voters are likely to pitch their tents with Mr. Abubakar; in the North-East especially.
Mr. Buhari is thus likely to secure most of the votes in Western Nigeria and Mr. Abubakar, the East. Understandably, most forecasts point to a likely close tally. To change the dynamics and perhaps win comfortably, each of the candidates must demonstrate the superiority of his ideas. And in this age of social media, the voting public is able to easily assess them very quickly.
In view of this, the leading candidates have made a big show of their policy documents. Mr. Buhari calls his the “Next Level” while Mr Abubakar’s is “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again”. Nigerians are quite used to these well-packaged plans now. There have been many in the past. But since the problems they were meant to solve continue to endure, they would not be blamed if they are somewhat sceptical about these new ones. Still, what is probably uppermost on minds is prosperity. Put simply: jobs. Both candidates promise as much.
Of course, the incumbent is probably best judged by his administration’s policy document: the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In doing so, it is realised that some gains have been made. And quite a lot remains to be done. In any case, renewed terrorist attacks in the North-East has yet again put security on the front burner. Even so, it is widely believed that poverty is the root cause of insecurity in different parts of the country.
“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90 billion a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalise the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”
Clashes between cattle herders and farmers in the Middle Belt of the country have an economic rationale, for instance. Drought effects, like the drying of the Lake Chad, is believed to be one of the factors behind the relatively high poverty levels and consequent insecurity in the North-East. Thus, it is their economic visions that should matter the most. Does Mr. Buhari plan to do anything differently to improve the economy? And what is Mr. Abubakar proposing to do differently? Three leading analysts were asked for their views:
“So I think what’s really at stake for Nigeria is revenue growth and infrastructure investments – so that’s the paradigm through which I’m analysing their policy documents.”
“My main criticism is that both documents are extremely ambitious (unrealistic perhaps) in their spending plans without much focus on generating revenue to implement those plans. Politically, I can understand why that is the case – talking about collecting or raising taxes isn’t exactly compelling for the general public.”
“I was surprised that Buhari’s document is completely silent on the oil and gas sector – does this mean his administration will not push any reforms in this area? Quite strange to simply ignore such an important sector of the economy.”
“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90 billion a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalise the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”
“We believe Nigeria could have its first presidential election campaign fought on ideological grounds in 2019, with the two major parties campaigning on ideologically opposed sets of policies and programmes.”
“At first glance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “Next Level” plan appears to be a continuation of his administration’s existing policies and programmes such as social investment schemes, welfare spending on the vulnerable, deficit-financed infrastructure investment and public sector job creation.”
“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”
“On the other hand, candidate Atiku promises reforms and policies to increase private sector participation in the economy, particularly privatisation of underperforming government asset in the oil and gas and transport sectors, liberalisation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, reduction in corporate tax rates, lower regulation, PPP-funded infrastructure investments and promotion of investment friendly policies.”
“In American political parlance, the PDP appears to be more conservative – smaller state, big business and low corporate taxes – while the APC’s plans bear close resemblance to the democratic-party agenda – big state and welfare spending to support the vulnerability. Ultimately, both candidates’ promises are ambitious vis-a-vis current fiscal realities and their policy documents are conspicuously light on revenue generating strategies to create more fiscal space.”
“President Buhari wants to continue the current approach to creating jobs using government subventions and direct employment, a position at odds with increasing revenue pressures, already-high recurrent spending and a bloated CBN balance sheet. Candidate Atiku promised to create three million jobs a year and double Nigeria’s GDP to USD900 billion in four years, which is tall order with little consideration for age-long structural challenges limiting short term growth potential.”
“On the ERGP, we think the implementation is still standing on its first pillar of reforms (restoring macroeconomic stability), and implementation of the other four strategic areas (Economic Diversification and Growth Drivers, Competitiveness, Social Inclusion and Jobs, Governance and Other Enablers) will be further out due to administrative inertia in pushing through important structural reforms.”
“Atiku’s stated aim to double the size of the economy by 2025 would require annual GDP growth rates to jump to 12 per cent. This is highly unrealistic as double-digit growth rates over longer periods are historically unprecedented. While the plan is almost guaranteed to fall short of target, the liberal reform measures suggested are still likely to inject desperately needed new momentum into the economy.”
“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”
Whether any of them clinches the seat or not, these two men have fundamental stranglehold on Nigerian politics. But who are these men?

ATIKU ABUBAKAR: Desperate, Determined but Likely
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (Turakin Adamawa), GCON (born 25 November 1946) was the Vice-President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. He is a native of Jada in Adamawa State, and was an influential member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) until 2006 when he switched affiliation to the Action Congress party; which later became All Progressive Congress, APC and later back to PDP; the mother of all parties. He has abandoned his own party and gone back to the ruling party (PDP) where he wants to contest elections in 2019.
Abubakar came up the ranks of the ruling PDP primarily, due to the pivotal role he played in its formation. He was also an ardent opponent of General Sani Abacha, the late dictator. Atiku’s source of wealth has caused some curiosity among Nigerians but that also goes for many other wealthy Nigerians. He had once said that he made his money, “through wise investments, hard work and sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time”.
Since becoming Vice President in 1999, he presided over the National Council on Privatization during which hundreds of loss-making and poorly managed public enterprises were sold off in a manner that has prompted more questions than answers. There have been wild allegations that Atiku engaged in unwholesome practices during the privatization of some of those previously State-owned parastatals. President Obasanjo’s son, Gbenga, alluded to this allegation in an interview with an internet-based journal, Elendu Reports, where he insinuated that Atiku “sold Pentascope to himself”. These allegations yet again remain unproven, though many political analysts see him, rather sympathetically, as a man who is more prone to cook-ups than conspiracy.
In 2006, Atiku had in a face-off with his direct superior, President Olusegun Obasanjo, due to the latter’s eventual failed attempts to amend certain provisions of the constitution in order to take another shot at the presidency (for the third consecutive time). It is unclear whether Atiku’s opposition to President Obasanjo’s inordinate ambition was altruistic or selfish. Nonetheless, Atiku had never hidden his interest in the coveted post. The debate and acrimony generated by the failed constitutional amendment momentarily caused a rift in the People’s Democratic Party. It also appeared to have irreparably damaged both men’s political and personal relationship, of which, Alh. Abubakar, from all indications, bore the brunt of it, until very recently when his former boss ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo publicly declared his support for him and his ambition to become the Nigerian next president over the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari. Despite the furor, the Nigerian National Assembly eventually voted against any amendments allowing Obasanjo to run for another term. Alh. Atiku Abubakar emerged the hero of democracy.

In August, 2005 Abubakar surfaced in a report by the BBC World Service, as the intended recipient of a bribe as part of a scheme involving United States Congressman Bill Jefferson to promote Nigeria’s adoption of internet technology from the American firm iGate, Inc. According to the FBI, Jefferson allegedly told an informant that he would need to give Abubakar $500,000 “as a motivating factor” for business contracts, but there is no evidence that Abubakar received nor sought such a bribe, which makes some skeptics think that Atiku may have been a target of a witch-hunt, which the APC is now using today as campaign point. Jefferson had allegedly collected $100,000 from a business partner to give to Atiku, but $90,000 of the marked money was later found in the Congressman’s house wrapped in a foil and neatly tucked away in a freezer. In August 2009, the court clarified that the former vice-president did not receive any bribe from Bill Jefferson. Alh. Atiku said he had consistently maintained that he had no improper relation with Bill Jefferson. Alh. Atiku also insisted that “it is now clear that the plot was hatched at the highest level of the Nigerian government then, in collusion with foreign agencies. The plot was not just to stop me from running for the Presidency; it was aimed at denying the Nigerian people the right to choose their own leader”. However, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar recently took a trip to the United States of America to the amazement of his opponents in the APC and most Nigerians without being arrested.

Presidential Runs
On 25 November 2006 Abubakar had announced that he would run for President; he did not announce immediately which party he would represent, although he inaugurated a presidential campaign committee.
On 20 December 2006, he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC).
On 15 March 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the final list of 24 aspirants for the 21 April presidential election. Abubakar’s name was conspicuously missing even though he was seen by many as the only ‘credible’ opposition candidate to the powerful ruling PDP party in the election.
In a statement released by INEC, it stated that Abubakar’s name was missing because he was on a list of officials indicted for corruption by a panel set up by the ruling government. Abubakar headed for the courts on 16 March to get his disqualification overturned despite a statement from the INEC chairman which says it will be impossible for him to contest even if he gets a judgement in his favour as it will be logistically impossible to reprint ballot papers and distribute them round the country before the April polls.
The Supreme Court eventually unanimously ruled on 16 April that INEC has no power to disqualify candidates. The ruling allowed Abubakar to contest the election, although there were concerns that it may not have been possible to provide ballots with Abubakar’s name by 21 April, the date of the election. On 17 April, a spokesman for INEC said that Abubakar would be on the ballot.
According to official results, Abubakar took third place, behind PDP candidate Umaru Yar’Adua and ANPP candidate Muhammadu Buhari, with about 7% of the vote (about 2.6 million votes). He rejected the election and said that it should be cancelled and held again, describing it as Nigeria’s “worst election ever”.
He did not attend late President Yar’Adua’s inauguration on 29 May due to his view that the election was not credible, saying that he did not want to “dignify such a hollow ritual with my presence”.
When he ran under the opposition Action Congress ticket, Alh. Abubakar had to contend with the forces the ANPP’s Muhammadu Buhari to compete in April’s elections after an electoral pact between the two parties.
Alh. Abubakar had been solidly behind the campaign for “power shift” – the idea that it is the north’s turn to continue to hold power after the death President Yar’Adua who was there for only three years as against the full term of 8 years. He sees himself as “the symbol of democracy in Nigeria” because of his public opposition to attempts to change the constitution to let President Obasanjo stand for a third term in office.
That stance has put Alh. Abubakar in the good books of many Nigerians, but could not translate to votes in February 16, 2019 because some felt he was mainly motivated by a desire to take Obasanjo’s job then.
However, Alh. Abubakar’s feud with President Obasanjo became a sort of David and Goliath story with many would-be voters empathizing with the vice-president whom they saw as a persecuted man in 2007.
And if money alone and political good will can win votes – and it does tend to win votes in Nigeria – then Mr Abubakar may well be the most likely and suitable President so far from the North in 2019 contesting against the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

MUHAMMADU BUHARI: The President that May Never Leave
On December 31, 1983, the military seized power once again, primarily because there was virtually no confidence in the civilian regime. The fraudulent election was used as an excuse for the takeover, although the military was in fact closely associated with the ousted government.
The leader of the coup d’état was Major General Muhammadu Buhari from Katsina State, whose background and political loyalties tied him closely to the Muslim North and the deposed government. Buhari had been director of supply and services in the early 1970s, military governor of Northeast State at the time it was divided into three states and federal commissioner for petroleum and mines (1976-78) during the height of the oil boom when he was also alleged to have diverted $2.8bn into his account in London. For many, this was the main reason Buhari seized power to cover up. At the time of the coup, he was commander of the Third Armored Division in Jos.
Buhari tried to restore public accountability and to re-establish a dynamic economy without altering the basic power structure of the country. The military had become impatient with the civilian government. Corruption in particular was at its zenith, and the fraudulent election had been too obvious. Because the civilians in the NPN could not control the situation, the military had to try its hand.
The urgent task before the government was to salvage the country’s economy, which suffered from the mismanagement of the Second Republic and from the rapid drop in the price of crude oil. Nigeria had become heavily indebted to several foreign monetary agencies, and the price of crude oil had begun to slide. Buhari believed that urgent economic problems required equally urgent solutions. He also thought that it was not a pressing issue to prepare to hand power over to civilians; in fact, all of Nigeria’s military regimes have ruled without the benefit of democratic checks and balances.
The Buhari government investigated and detained the top political leaders of the Second Republic, holding them responsible for economic excesses of the previous regime. Constraints were placed on various groups, including the Nigerian Medical Association, which was outlawed, and the National Association of Nigerian Students, and it promulgated two decrees that restricted freedom of the press and suppressed criticism of the government. Decree Number 4 forbade any journalist from reporting information consideration embarrassing to any government official. Two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were convicted under the decree. Decree Number 2 gave the chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters the power to detain for up to six months without trial anyone considered a security risk. Special military tribunals increasingly replaced law courts while the state security agency, the National Security Organization, was given greater powers.
Buhari’s controls also extended to his efforts to deal with the problems of “indiscipline” in the areas of environmental sanitation, public decorum, corruption, smuggling, and disloyalty to national symbols such as the flag and the anthem. He declared a War Against Indiscipline and specified acceptable forms of public behavior, and due process. The main concern, however, remained the economy. The government introduced a comprehensive package of austerity measures. It closed the country’s land borders for a period to identify and expel illegal alien workers and placed severe restrictions on imports and heavy penalties on smuggling and foreign exchanged offenses. The austerity measures made it difficult for local industries to procure essential imported raw materials, leading many of them to close or to operate at greatly reduced capacity. Many workers were laid off, and government itself retrenched many workers to increase its “cost effectiveness.” All of these actions were accompanied by high inflation. The price of basic food items rose, and life became increasingly difficult, even for the affluent.
Despite the increased efficiency with which Buhari and his associates tackled the multifaceted national crises, the regime’s inflexibility caused discontent. The latter was the main justification given for the overthrow of Buhari by General Babangida in a palace coup on August 27, 1985, although the personal ambition of Babangida was an important contributing factor.
Buhari’s biggest problem was how to end Nigeria’s foreign debt. Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dragged on, and in the end efforts to reschedule the debt failed. Although Buhari was committed to austerity, the IMF insisted on even more drastic measures to cut spending, devalue the currency, and otherwise restructure the economy more than most Nigerians were willing to accept. Buhari had to accede to the strong and vocal opposition to the IMF terms. Nigerian nationalism won over economic necessity, at least in the short run. Furthermore, by the end of 1985 there was considerable frustration within the army. The army had been reduced in size steadily since the end of the civil war, from a total of about 275,000 in 1969 to about 80,000 by the end of the 1980s. The economic crisis, the campaign against corruption, and civilian criticism of the military undermined Buhari’s position, and in August 1985 a group of officers under Major General Ibrahim Babangida removed Buhari from power.
After he was ousted by Babangida, General Buhari kept a low profile until he was appointed chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund by General Abacha. He stooped down to accept the role and worked assiduously to change the conditions of the country in line with the mandate given him. Roads, hospitals, educational facilities and other spheres of the economy were positively affected by the PTF under Buhari.
At the turn of events leading to civilian and democratic rule, Buhari offered himself as presidential candidate. He believed his antecedent as a corruption-fighter and his success at the Petroleum Trust Fund would make waves for him. This did not materialize. He was undeterred and was encouraged by his belief that he has something strong to contribute and change Nigerian for the better. Since 1999, Buhari has contested 3 times and contested to sustain his struggle until April, 2015 when he won the presidential election against the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.
What may have been his strongest obstacle? Many believed it is his inflexibility.
Buhari does not seem to be in full control of his position at any time. He has always abandoned his responsibilities to his aides who in fragrant recklessness always abused the offices. As a military Head of State, Gen. Idiagbon ruled while he reigned. As PTF Chairman, Salhijo Ahmed was in control. And today as the president, the cabal consisting of Abba Kyari, Mamman Daura and co. are ruling.
He has tried to allay some of these fears. He has tried to stand tall as a man of integrity despite the failures he had encountered. But a man’s integrity should be total and have today been dispelled. Such stance had won him many admirers, absolute.
Whatever the position, President Muhammadu Buhari has a lot of hurdles to scale if he is to be re-elected. Until he is able to do so, he may as well remain the worst President that Nigeria has ever had.

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