By ADE ALADE
The desire of northern leaders to stop President Goodluck Jonathan from retaining his seat after the 2015 election has received a boost with the acceptance of a former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, to bury his differences with his then successor in office, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and form a formidable alliance that will give victory to the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) at the next polls.
The relationship between Buhari and Babangida has not been cordial since the latter overthrew the regime of the former in a bloodless military coup in 1983.
To achieve reconciliation with Babangida and other northern leaders in his camp, like former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, Saturday Sun gathered that Buhari has set up an eight-man high-powered committee “that will not only work on smoothening the relationship between him (Buhari) and a section of the northern elite but also seek their support for his nomination as APC presidential candidate and at the election proper.”
Speaking at a public lecture in Minna, Niger State on Wednesday last week, Gen. Buhari had expressed his preparedness to contest the 2015 election and also his willingness to step down for a better candidate that may emerge from APC. Many believed that the former Head of State was referring to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who is being backed for the top job by a group of northern leaders led by Gen. Babangida.
Buhari had declared: “Whoever thinks he has got a chance, let him come out because the more we are, the merrier it becomes. I will be ready to step down if there is a formidable and better candidate. It is not about me but for the survival of the party. APC is about ensuring internal democracy, whoever emerges is the person I will support. Yes, I will be ready to step down,” Buhari had declared in a veiled reference to the ambition of Tambuwal to contest the next presidential election on the platform of APC.
Investigations, however, revealed that Buhari’s public declaration notwithstanding, he has, of late, intensified efforts to reach out to a number of northern leaders, who have, in the past, refused to support his presidential ambition due to some personal and ideological differences.
To make this possible, an eight-member committee had been set up to drive the process. A member of the committee, who would not want to be named because of the strategic nature of their assignment, revealed: “As a result of the work already done so far in this regard, a comfortable number of ACF (Arewa Consultative Forum) leaders are now ready to back Buhari while the next critical stage is to get the IBB camp to work on the same page with us to see Buhari through the next contest.”
When asked the details of how to get Babangida to support a Buhari presidential campaign, the source said: “The contact committee is working hard on bringing the two former heads of state together so that some impressions can be cleared and settled. This won’t be difficult. Remember former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, had brought the two of them together before. What we need now is to build on such past efforts by first taking Buhari’s message to IBB, Gusau and others.”
Asked about the type of message Buhari is sending the contact team to these northern leaders, the source said: “The message is simple and not only for IBB but for some other Nigerians that have a mindset about Gen. Buhari’s candidacy. Nigerians need to know that Buhari has come of age. Time has changed and as such cannot be the dictatorial leader some people perceive him to be. He wants the people to know that in this democratic dispensation, he can’t do some of the things he did under the military decree, which some still count against him. He said the wishes of the majority of CPC members that have been allowed to prevail in the party’s primary elections in Kano and Katsina recently should prove to the people that he is a totally changed person when it comes to allowing the wishes of the majority. He also wants the people to know that he is not going to chase anybody out of Nigeria as has been speculated in the past.
“Another message he has mandated us to take round, especially to those we will be reaching out to in the South of the country, is that he is not the religious bigot some people believe he is. He said his choice of a radical Pentecostal pastor (Tunde Bakare) as his running mate in the 2011 presidential election should be enough to convince those that still doubt his stand on religious tolerance.”
The contact committee member argued that the interest of Tambuwal in the APC presidential ticket is not much of a threat to Buhari because the former Head of State “believes he has all it takes to get the new party victory in the next election,” adding: “This is without prejudice to his public promise that he is ready to make the needed sacrifice if there is any better candidate in the party fold.”
It was further gathered that after the last convention of the CPC in Abuja today, activities of the contact committee will be intensified and become a little visible, while Buhari’s message of reconciliation and new improved personality will be amplified at the convention.
“Starting from the CPC’s last convention in Abuja on Saturday (today), we will start amplifying publicly some of these messages we have been taking round to our leaders and our people on the need to drop some of the old negative impressions about Buhari so that the latest effort to close ranks and chase out the PDP in 2015 will achieve the desired impact,” the source added.
When Saturday Sun contacted one of the national officers of the ACF to confirm the claim of the committee, the forum’s National Vice Chairman, Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku, said he has only been briefed about the Buhari’s moves but yet to be personally contacted.
According to him, “I have been in the US for some weeks now; nobody has contacted me personally, but I can’t deny that I am aware that some of our leaders are working hard to close ranks, bury their individual differences and collectively bring an end to the PDP misrule in Nigeria. I must add that I personally appreciate Buhari’s humility in the latest effort and I say it’s a welcome development.”
He added: “Whatever we can do in form of personal and collective sacrifice is what we are ready to do as northern leaders with the support of other compatriots across the country to end the current impunity, insecurity and senseless looting of our commonwealth going on in our nation.”