The President`s Opponents in the April 2011 Presidential Elections

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On the 7th day of April, 2011, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect a president of their choice to lead them for the next four years. This is if the powers that be and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) permits the votes to count. The fear  that the votes may not count is real considering the experiences Nigerians had in 2003 under Professor Maurice Iwu's INEC.

  Even though Professor Iwu served as Auditor when Professor Jega, the incumbent INEC chairman, was the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the association of university teachers in Nigeria, the persona of the two varies very remarkably. While Iwu is arrogant, combative and at every point appears to curt controversy, Jega is seen as a calm, humble Nigerian who is more committed to dialogue.  

  Again, while Iwu came into office as a little known political figure, Jega came into the job as a vice chancellor of an important university in Northern Nigeria and had just served on the Electoral Reform Committee (otherwise known as the Uwais Committee). This is apart from his being imprinted into Nigeria's political consciousness from 1993, when as president of ASUU he led the intelligentsia in rejecting the diabolical annulment of an election adjudged to have been free and fair and won by late Chief MKO Abiola. The role Jega played as president of ASUU being a Northern Muslim was critical for the events that led to the stepping aside of General Ibrahim Babangida from power in August 1993.  

  The commitment of the president to a free, credible and transparent election in 2011 and the personality of Jega have together inspired hope that for the very first time in a very long period, Nigerians will have a credible election. The turnout a voter registration centres is a testimony to this general belief and confidence in the process. The very slow process of registration notwithstanding, Nigerians came out in their numbers, some as early as 4am and waiting up to 4pm for days running, to queue up to be registered. This should be frightening to any person who imagines that Nigerians who took this pain will voluntarily relinquish the right to decide their destinies in the April elections.  

  On the basis of the assumption that the votes will count in the April elections, it is worthwhile to consider the president's opponents in the elections.  

  The president is the candidate to beat for several reasons. First, as the president of the Federal Republic, he has enormous powers of incumbency which can be deployed for ill or for good. Whichever way, the incumbency fact places him in a position to distribute patronage, even legally, in a manner that can swing public opinion in his favour.  

  Secondly, the president is the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the largest party in Nigeria and some say in Africa. The party has governors in 27 out of Nigeria's 36 states and has a dominant majority in the National Assembly. This certainly places the candidate of the party in a very advantageous position. This position is even so despite the opposition from some elements in the Muslim North to his candidature even in his own party.

  However, the voting pattern at the PDP primaries clearly points to the fact that very many Nigerians are no longer willing to subscribe to the ethnic and religious cards and more than anything else, their personal interests now far outweighs such sentiments. Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna in the North West voted massively for the president at the primaries shattering the myth of Northern domination of Nigeria's political space. A testimony that Nigeria´s democratic processes is egging towards substantive democracy over majoritarian and regional rhetoric.  

  Thirdly, the president warmth, avidity and the clear indications that he is turning out to be a Nigerian refutation of the sordid stereotypes about Nigerian politicians played a political catacylsm in bringing twenty-one and more political parties in the country together, under the aegis of Patriotic Electoral Alliance of Nigeria, to support and throw their weight behind President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan/Sambo ticket. Given that only a candidate with the right credibility can act to propose national solutions to Nigerian problems, whether on growing Islamic terrorism in Borno, Bauchi, Plateau and other Northern States, a new National Security Strategy, Niger Delta unrest and its environmental degradation, a flaccid deteriorating education system, the economic that is not producing jobs etc.  

  Finally, the president is likely to get block votes from the Southern part of Nigeria and a critical mass of voters in the North (Northern minorities) will also give the president block votes. The votes of the Northern minorities more than any other will determine the winner of the 2011 presidential elections. Not since the events that led to the Willinks Commission which issued its Report in 1959 has the chasm between the Hausa-Fulani and Northern minorities been this wide.  

  So far, though as the time of filing this report, the final list of candidates have not been released by INEC but baring any unforeseen circumstances, the following persons whose names have been forwarded to it by their political parties are the candidates who will file out against the president to be elected at the April polls. 1. 1. Nuhu Ribadu   of the Action Congress of Nigeria. 2. General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). 3. Dele Momodu of the National Conscience Party (NCP). 4. Professor Pat Utomi of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP). 5. Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). It is not clear whether other political parties fielded candidates but Mr. John Dara, a northern minority and christrian from Kwara has his posters all over Abuja, Nigeria's capital city but this writer is unaware of his party's convention from where a presidential candidate ought to have emerged, but is possible. In the light of this fact, this analysis will be restricted to the above 5 candidates.  

  General Muhammadu Buhari, CPC. General Buhari, former military head of state and two times presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party,ANPP (2003 and 2007), a professional presidential candidate that would form his own political party in order to contest presidential election, is the main challenger. His political party, the CPC, was formed about a year ago and riding on the wings of the credibility of the general has grown by leaps and bounds. General Buhari is regarded as credible and has almost a universal mass appeal amongst the Northern muslim youths and the ulama. His name alone has won elections in the North and still continues to pull votes in a proportion hitherto unimaginable.  

  Unfortunately, General Buhari is seen as a religious bigot and an Islamic fundamentalist. This toga, despite denials and repeated attempts by his Christian friends, amongst them the radical Father Matthew Kukah, to demonstrate the opposite have largely been unsuccessful. To address this weak link in his chain, General Buhari a few days ago picked the fiery preacher and enfant terrible of the Pentecostal Movement in Nigeria, Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly in Lagos as his running mate.  

  It is the hope of General Buhari and his handlers that this choice will prove to the voting public that he is not religious bigot and become acceptable to the Christian voter. But unfortunately, his handlers might have made a choice that rather douse the tension may rather inflame passion. Pastor Bakare is not beloved by the leadership of Nigeria's Christian association. Neither is the Pentecostal Fellowship at peace with him and his electoral value may be restricted to his congregation and a few sympathizers from the Save Nigeria Group, a group that campaigned for the making of the president, then vice president, as Acting President last year. It is both a pragmatic error and a moral failure for a political activist that Nigerians of social and political conscience rallied round to support and promote the Save Nigeria Group which he led to now accept to run as a vice presidential candidate. Nigerians should have been told that the Save Nigeria Group project is a narrow, self-serving stratagem for General Buhari, Pastor Tunde Bakari and Mr. Yinka Odumakin political ambition.  

  This choice might have become inevitable with the collapse of the alliance sought to be forged with the ACN seen as largely a Yoruba party and a continuation of the regional politics of the Awo era. Picking a Yoruba running mate of note might have become difficult hence the choice of Pastor Bakare considering the fact that he is a known name and figure.  

  How all this will translate into votes will be seen in April. My forecast however is that General Buhari may loose his home state Katsina in the North West because of the commitment of the Governor to the Goodluck/Sambo ticket and the internal wrangling within his CPC in that state. He is likely also to loose Kano state because of the Shekarau factor which is explained below. Jigawa and Kaduna will vote PDP, but the CPC will win in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi. He will score at least 45% of the votes in the zone.  

  In the North Central, he will loose in Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Plateau, Nasarawa, the FCT and in Niger. His best showing will be in Niger. On the whole he will score about 20% of the votes in this zone. In the North East, Buhari's chances are bright in Bauchi where he is like to score about 50 -55 % of the votes. But he will lose massively in Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Bornu and Yobe states. He is likely to win about 40% of the votes in this zone.  

  As earlier pointed out, the south will vote for the president. Buhari's best performance will be about 30% of the votes, and that is being very optimistic.  

  Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, ANPP. The candidate of the ANPP is the incumbent, two term governor of Kano state, arguably Nigeria's most populous state. He is the first governor to win a second term in Kano political history, a feat that even the flamboyant Rimi could not achieve.  

  His election in 2003 as the Governor of Kano state was achieved because he was General Buhari's candidate. The mass of the people of Kano voted out Kwankatso to give him the job because of their admiration for Buhari. However, the honeymoon collapsed very quickly between Buhari and the Malam. Upon collapse of the relationship, the governor entered into all sorts of unholy alliances to destabilize the general. He was one of those in the thick of the events that led to the exit of Buhari from the ANPP.  

  His nomination as the presidential candidate of the ANPP is seen by many analysts as coup against General Buhari. Beyond his Kano state, Malam Shekarau is unlikely to garner any reasonable votes. Not even his choice of Chief John Oyegun, former governor of Edo State is likely to give him votes in Edo state in a any meaningful percentage. But in Kano state, he is likely to take a large chunk of the votes that should have gone to general Buhari. Malam Shekarau is therefore seen as working for the president, either by design or by default.  

  Nuhu Ribadu, ACN. He is the immediate past chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and comes from a politically exposed family. His father served as Minister of Defence in the first republic. A retired police officer who as chairman of the EFCC was promoted in a manner that was resisted by his colleagues and the general public. His middle name, if you like, can be said to be Mr. Controversy.  

  During his tenure at the EFCC, he was perceived as a tool in the hands of General Obasanjo. This perception was not unfounded and some of his decisions were clearly partisan and fell short of the objectivity required in such a job. But the average Nigerian was not angry with him - it was so nice seeing the mighty fall! The fear of Ribadu became the beginning of wisdom for the high and mighty and Ribadu for the ordinary Nigerian was the nemesis of their oppressors - this combination made Ribadu a household name.  

  Banking on this popularity and desirous of being branded as intolerant to corruption and the illusion of the anti-crruption party, the ACN has latched on to Ribadu and given him their presidential ticket. But Ribadu is a paper weight politically and some have even argued that Ribadu was chosen in the hope that Buhari will accept the ticket of the ACN as Ribadu would be easy to push out of the race.  

  Unfortunately, the alliance with Buhari has collapsed and Ribadu has to continue as the presidential candidate of the ACN without any political base. He is unlikely to call on experience as a bargaining chip as he has no experience in a democratic environment.  

  His chances in percentage terms if 2% of the votes mainly from the West where some illiterate candidates will append their signature on the broom - the logo of the ACN.  

  Dele Momodu, NCP. The basis of his audacity in stepping into the over sized shoes of Gani Faweihinmi is unfathomable. Beyond his publishing Ovation, which is an events album used by tailors and designers in their jobs, this graduate of Yoruba has no history of political or activist background. It is either he requires it on his cv for an ulterior motive or his wealth, like sour palmwine, has gone into his head!  

  Pat Utomi, SDMP. Pat Utomi of the Lagos Business School is one of Nigeria's best - urbane, cerebral and detribalized. An excellent public policy analyst, his seeking for the highest office in the land smirks of vain glory, but it might be borne out of a patriotic desire to elevate the debate during the presidential campaigns. Coming from the president's geo-political zone, it may also be a demonstration in his non-belief in regional politics. His chances are near nil and in percentage terms - 0.5%.

  This is one presidential elections that Nigerians are waiting to experience.   Ekiyorbomode A. Edotimi, Director-General, Nigerian Progressive Group, writes from Germany.