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A RUNNING MATE FOR BUHARI

By NBF News
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Perhaps the next greatest expectation on the political scene is who former military head of state and presidential candidate of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, picks as running mate. Many names have been thrown up over the weeks and months: Cornelius Adebayo, Niyi Adebayo, Chris Ngige, Bola Tinubu, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ken Nnamani, and even Pastor Tunde Bakare, convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG).

Yes, Buhari's running mate is big deal, and something that requires tact and political savvy. He or she must be someone that adds a lot of value to the ticket, and who enhances the sheer magnetism that the former head of state represents, particularly in certain parts of the country. I usually call him 'Hurricane Buhari' in view of that reality.

Happily, for those averse to zoning and power rotation, Gen. Buhari's political strategy is not anchored on that principle, though it's something inevitable in a plural country like ours. Buhari is from the North, he can't therefore come with a northern candidate as running mate. He is Muslim, so he can't come with a Muslim running mate. Who does he run with then? That is the crux of the matter.

Last September, I wrote a piece with the title '2011: Mistakes Buhari must not make.' On the choice of a running mate, I'd stated: 'In 2003, Buhari ran with Chuba Okadigbo. In 2007, it was Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. If in 2003, the choice he made was permissible, that of 2007 was a blunder. Faux pas. Misjudgement. Ume-Ezeoke? Featherweight. Paperweight. No wonder he later backtracked, after they had initially agreed to challenge PDP's alleged victory at the tribunal. This time round, Buhari needs a crowd puller, a colourful politician who will add value to the ticket. He has the choice to pick from either the South-east or South-south. No clay-footed politician this time, but someone who can rally the people, and attract votes, particularly in his own area, and then nationwide. Iron sharpens iron. No second rate running mate this time.'

You would notice that I did not recommend a running mate from the South-west, why? Because I'm an incurable believer in power rotation. I believe Nigeria has been naturally and divinely zoned, and anybody fighting that reality is merely kicking against the pricks. He that shakes the stump of a big tree is merely shaking himself. The South-west has played very major role in governance through the eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, and fairness demands that the two topmost positions in the country be occupied by people from different zones in the incoming dispensation. It, therefore, rules out people like Cornelius Adebayo (being from Kwara, he's from North Central, but he can't deny his Yorubaness), Niyi Adebayo, Bola Tinubu (he's also Muslim, and I doubt if Nigerians are in the mood for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, particularly with Buhari who is erroneously branded a religious fanatic. Who then should be running mate?

Let me spare some words to appraise the preference for Pastor Tunde Bakare by my boss and Daily Sun columnist, Dimgba Igwe. On Tuesday, he did a piece, 'Run, Bakare, run,' in which he submitted that the fiery Latter Rain Assembly shepherd and convener of the SNG could make a good running mate to Buhari, because 'it would be the pairing of two strong personalities who would certainly give the Jonathan-Sambo incumbency ticket a run for their money at the polls.' I agree, but I'm afraid it won't suffice. Yes, the Jonathan-Sambo option, for me, is just business as usual, we need a leader that can bring radical change in the country, which Buhari is in pole position to do. But running with Bakare? A wild shot, I think.

Tunde Bakare is a great preacher of the gospel, no doubt. He's doing what God has called him to do, and doing it well. A couple of times, he has dabbled into prophecy, and burnt his fingers in the process, but you can't fault his sincerity and love for the country, hence his convening the SNG, which played a key role when Nigeria's future was threatened during the Umaru Yar'Adua illness saga. But Bakare as running mate to Buhari? He won't bring much to the table in terms of voters. And you need the voters more than anything else at a time like this. You need a consummate politician, a compelling personality, who will further stoke the intensity of 'Hurricane Buhari.' But who? That is the big question.

The South-south can conveniently produce a running mate, but there is now a limiting factor. Some people (not all) in the region have ethnicised the race for presidency, and they see Goodluck Jonathan as a matter of do or die, irrespective of his inherent weaknesses as a leader. Some people accuse the North, and Atiku Abubakar particularly, of playing an ethnic card in the race for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But see how the South-south voted in the primary. Bayelsa, 67 - 0, Rivers, 128 - 2, Cross River, 105 - 0, Edo, 60 - 0, Delta, 114 - 7. Ethnic or nationalistic? Your guess is as good as mine. Even Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, at a thanksgiving service last weekend, rebuked the unknown seven people who voted for Atiku Abubakar. With such sentiments permeating the region, I doubt if any politician from the area would agree to run with Buhari. Even if he genuinely wants to, he would be wary of being called a traitor, a quisling, and his life may not be safe.

Now to the South-east. If you ask me, I think Ndigbo is on the roller coaster to a grave mistake by queuing blindly behind Jonathan, based on a will-o-the-wisp agreement that the region will be helped to produce the president in 2015. How simplistic. An agreement on power rotation, which Jonathan signed as number 34 (or is it 35?), he has brazenly reneged on. And the Igbo nation is clinging to an undocumented, unwritten one, based on the gossamer-thin premise that by our constitution, Jonathan would have been inaugurated twice as president, and so would be ineligible for another term. Who says? The Supreme Court? The Igbo nation is in for a shocker, and sadly, by then, it would be too late. And when they cry and lament, the brains behind the perfidy would simply tell them to go and queue for their turn, adding: I dey laugh o.

See how the South-east delegates voted in PDP to show the inexorable descent of the region to political self-immolation. Abia, 80 - 1, Anambra, 47 - 8, Imo, 123 - 3, Ebonyi, 82 - 2, Enugu, 89 - 9. Hemlock is waiting. Will the generality of the Igbos drink? Not if good sense prevails now, and they beat a hasty retreat. My friend and colleague, Chuks Iloegbunam, writing in Daily Sun on Tuesday under the headline, 'Jonathan, Ndigbo and so on…' says by throwing in their lot with Jonathan, the Igbo nation has jettisoned the politics of old, and have now embraced 'a new era of realism.' But what is perceived as realism at times may be foggy, smoggy and blurred. I'm afraid such is the abyss Ndigbo may be descending into.

So, what to do? I recommend a strong Igbo running mate for Buhari. No doubt, the political elite in the North fear the former military leader like the plague, because they want business as usual. But with what they led their delegates to do to Atiku in the PDP, they are awaiting a shellacking in April. It's not unlikely that a good number of the governors will lose their offices, run out of town by the people, backed by the hurricane. If Buhari, therefore, has a strong running mate from the East, and the proposed alliance with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) works, the West can also be rallied behind the ticket by Bola Tinubu's influence. How then will the Jonathan/Sambo team survive? I don't see. Get a large chunk of the North, a tidy slice of the East and West, and make a modest showing in the South-south, and the deed is done. Will the Buhari camp get the brew right? It depends on the alliances made. We anxiously wait.