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2011:The Buhari factor

Source: Muhammad Al-Ghazali - www.huhuonline.com

From what I reliably gathered, anytime from now, General Muhammadu Buhari, the former military Head of State and standard-bearer of Nigeria's comatose and largely ineffective opposition since 2003 will bid a much anticipated farewell to what remains of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) his political platform in the last two general elections.

Buhari's departure from the party will surprise few Nigerians actually. It was destined to happen sooner, rather than later. The signs were always there, and, in the end, it must also be recognized that the ANPP as presently constituted, has left him with few options over the matter. Far from the picture of the credible main opposition party it portrayed after its impressive performance at the polls in recent times, the ANPP had become the booth of practical and not so practical jokes of late.

In time, the party also became a veritable dwelling place for motley crowd of greedy opportunists, renegades and unprincipled journeymen who have little or nothing in common with the Daura-born General whose transformation from the iron-fisted despot of the 1980s to the calm and accommodating politician of today must have impressed not a few Nigerians.

For the ANPP, what Buhari brought to the table all these years was the tremendous goodwill and groundswell of support he continues to enjoy among the teeming masses of ordinary Nigerians particularly in the north. What they think of his squeaky clean image, and he of them, were always his strongest points.

His popularity was obvious in the ANPP's strong showing in 2003 and 2007 when most of the politicians cowed by the rampaging menace of the EFCC under Ribadu began to put their individual political survival over and above the collective interests of the party. Among the first to crack is the incumbent Minister of the FCT Adamu Aleiro. Others who chose to remain in the ANPP worked assiduously against its interests for their own safety all the same. The rest, as they say, is now history.

The lesson we can easily deduce from the failure of the ANPP to build on its gains in elections since 1999 and the subsequent crisis in the ranks of the opposition in recent times is simple and painful as well. Elections conducted on these shores have hardly been decided by proletarian sentiments.

Those who made life hellish for Buhari in the ANPP, and also worked against him at every turn, are equally conscious of the fact that the General's popularity at the grassroots will always count for nothing for as long as it does not result in electoral victory at the centre which looks increasingly unlikely with the passage of time.

Therefore, as the General bids farewell to the party ahead of the next elections, the question to be asked is how his absence will affect the fortunes of the party in 2011. In the murky shark infested world of today's politics which has become a naked dance for survival among the various actors, our politicians dream their dangerous dreams and also plot their lethal schemes against known and unknown adversaries. What they hardly do however, is to also think aloud!

In a nation literally bristling with all manner of felons and serial kleptomaniacs in high and low places, even pick-pockets know they cannot expect any form of amnesty in the eventuality of a Buhari presidency. From his pronouncements down the years, it is a burden the General must carry once again, come 2011.

To that extent, Buhari will, once again, be come face to face with heavily entrenched interest groups and individuals intent on retaining their spoils in 2011. They will also use every available political platform including anyone the General chooses to join to actualize his ambition to frustrate him. To these interest groups it will not only be the logical thing to do but a matter of survival as well.

That aside, the General's departure from the ANPP will also be a virtual death sentence for the party especially in the various states where its gubernatorial candidates coasted to victory in recent elections. That is because while not underestimating the individual qualities of the governors, the General's exit will diminish rather than enhance their chances especially in politically sophisticated states like Kano where the people are renowned for making their votes count. Such desperation, I suspect, explained the recent peace overtures made to the Buhari recently by some of the leading figures in the party such as Ahmed Sani Yarima.

To that extent, the absence of Buhari will compel many elected politicians in the ANPP to hurriedly re-evaluate their options in the next several months. In states such as Kano, Yobe, Zamfara, Bauchi, to name just a few, it is obvious that Buhari's exit will erode the ANPP's popularity base and ultimately affect the chances of their candidates since the incumbents are about to serve out their terms.

It may not exactly be panic stations yet, but my prediction is that given the survival instincts of the average Nigerian politician, many will choose the safety-first option. I will not be totally surprised if Buhari's absence precipitates a massive exodus from the ANPP to the relative safety 'guaranteed' by the preponderance of the PDP's control of the various instruments of state coercion.

Unless the opposition rapidly organize to banish the thought, more and more elected ANPP candidates will simply waltz across the carpet to guarantee their rule by proxy rather than face the humiliation of losing out completely, especially if Buhari resurfaces in another viable party capable of standing up to the PDP like the ANPP did in 1999 across the north.

There is no doubt that Buhari's consistency and service as the perpetual image of the opposition in last ten years gives him a moral pedestal unrivalled by any Nigerian politician since the return of democracy to these shores in 1999. But if truth must be told, that is hardly enough to clinch the presidency for reasons I have already advanced. Even if he joins the so-called mega party being currently muted in several quarters, it will still be a herculean task for him to actualize his goals.

Yet, in 2011, his adversaries can only underrate Buhari at their collective peril. Finding the right platform to upstage the PDP may be virtually impossible for now in truth, but the General can certainly count on his popularity in determining the occupants of the Government Houses in some states north of the Niger.

And who knows, perhaps a nationwide mega-party with broad appeal may still emerge with the General as its arrowhead but I doubt it very much. If we blame the PDP government for emasculating the political system it is equally clear that many individuals in the opposition theses days also lack discipline and conviction to enrich our democracy.

It is a major problem Buhari must contend with yet again in 2011. As he dares the PDP, he must also continuously look over his shoulder to see if there are other Etiebet's and Yarima's bearing down on him. He must always be wary of exactly where his field commanders are on the battlefield. Even if he finds another political platform, he may need to dream more and avoid the pitfalls of thinking aloud all the time. He must never underestimate the survival instinct of his adversaries.