With the emergence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State last Sunday of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Abuja affirmation of incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari as the standard bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) same day, it is clear that next year’s presidential contest would be a two-horse race.
Atiku, a veteran politician who has been throwing his hat into the rings of presidential contest since 1992 and who has built a formidable political, business and personal structure across the country, surprised many bookmakers who had hedged their bet on either Senate President Bukola Saraki or Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, to win, by almost a landslide, the presidential ticket of the major opposition party.
Like it was done for former President Goodluck Jonathan but with added innovations, the APC process was skewed in favour of Buhari, who garnered an unprecedented 14.8 million votes as endorsements in the novel direct primary election initiated, in the words of the party’s
National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, “to ensure participation of all party members in the emergence of our presidential candidate.”
While many known names in Nigeria’s political circle like former Ondo and Cross Rivers States governors, Olusegun Mimiko and Donald Duke, former Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili, as well as, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late goggled General Sani Abacha, Hamza Al-Mustapha, have joined younger elements like Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim and Omoyele Sowore as presidential candidates of their various political parties, it is obvious that they could only play on the sidelines of what promises to be an epic contest between Buhari and Atiku.
Unlike the typical pretensions in the camps of political contestants, those familiar with Nigeria’s electoral contests and are aware of the political configurations that may likely be thrown up in the coming race believe that the tussle next year would be a real one between two tested gladiators, who have all it takes to seek, obtain and retain presidential powers.
In his assessment of the situation, Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly, an insider who should know, because he had been Buhari’s running mate in an unsuccessful presidential contest in 2011, said the issues that would determine the winner of 2019 election have gotten “more robust” with the emergence of Atiku.
Giving an insight into the scenario that will unfold next year, Bakare said: “It is not going to be an eaglet versus an eagle, but an eagle versus eagle: an old eagle versus new eagle and probably both of them old eagles.
“Buhari has the power of incumbency and he will do his best to win the election, but Atiku is not going to take ‘No’ for an answer, when the two forces collide in the election (field). Atiku, just like Buhari, has the experience, the exposure and the acceptance expected of the country’s president.
Although with a massive government machinery that could be deployed by a desperate incumbent to twist the narrative and an opportunity of showcasing a list of achievements as promises kept in his first term, Buhari also carry the burden of having an army of critics, who have weighed his capacity against the expectations of Nigerians.
Because of this factor of having been on the searchlight during which his weaknesses and strengths have been thoroughly scrutinized and integrity put to test, the incumbency factor, as is wont to happen in such cases, has become a make-or-mar instrument that has the ability to bring as much successes as failures to the second term ambition of a sitting executive.
This could also be said of Atiku, who had occupied the number two position with which he exhibited an array of executive powers between 1999 and 2003, when he enjoyed a good relationship with his principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as he too had the burden of having been put through an integrity test of presidential authority although it could be explained that the bucks did not stop on his table.
This has further put the two gladiators on the spot for personal characters as they are perceived by many Nigerians to be on the far sides of two opposing divides of corruption perception, physical well-being, personal business acumen, social interactions and exposures to the required knowledge to drive modern government, but their supporters have either turned whatever the opponent labeled as a vice to a virtue or simply dismiss them.
A quick look at the scenario by an undiscerning observer will show that unlike the 2015 exercise that had the North against the South in the race for political power, 2019 will be an intra-regional contest, which, for the first time in the nation’s history, will pitch the Northwest against the Northeast and that the Southern and Middle Belt regions will provide the winning tilt. But as it is all over the globe, Nigeria inclusive, politics is not a mathematical calculation, where the answer is sacrosanct.