Former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, would not have bargained for any better display of people’s power than what happened during his public declaration of intention to vie for the presidency last week. Onyebuchi Ezigbo reports
General Muhammadu Buhari is one of the presidential aspirants on the platform of All Progressives Congress. Last Wednesday, Buhari stormed the Eagle Square, in Abuja, along with thousands of his supporters and top leaders of his party to formally tell Nigerians of his ambition to contest for presidency in 2015. His declaration was for a record four times since 2003.
An excited Buhari was driven into the arena about12.25pm. His entry roused the huge crowd of supporters to fever pitch. Crowds ran along with his motorcade round the arena before he climbed the VIP stand. Buhari who came in an open roof Jeep, stood up waving to the appreciative crowd of supporters.
From the day before the morning of Buhari’s declaration, all the roads leading to the Eagle Square venue had been virtually taken over by hundreds his supporters who had driven into the Federal Capital Territory in several convoys of buses to be part of occasion. Up till 12 noon on the D-day, crowds of supporters were still surging into the Eagle Square, making it almost difficult for party leaders to find a thoroughfare as they made their way to the VIP stand. Security men and party officials had a hectic time controlling the enthusiastic crowd of youths who took over the entry points to the covered stands, waving and displaying campaign banners. The ecstatic supporters drummed and danced round the arena almost endlessly till the end of the programme.
Speakers at the occasion repeatedly made allusion to the fact that the huge crowd was a clear affirmation of where the preference of majority of APC members lied.
Many serving federal and state legislators attended the rally.
The former military Head of State and three-time presidential contender, while formally declaring his intention to enter the presidential race on the platform of APC, promised to fight corruption and wipe out Boko Haram, which he described as “ungodly”.
Buhari, who was accompanied to the podium by four APC governors from Lagos, Rivers, Edo and Nasarawa states, said, “This is an occasion to celebrate our efforts and to resolve to continue until victory is won. I humbly wish to present myself before you, before all of Nigeria and before God, seeking to be elected as APC’s presidential candidate.”
The former military leader highlighted his priority areas if elected president. Among the areas Buhari said his government would focus were the protection of lives and property, pursuit of economic policies for shared prosperity, and youth employment. He said proper attention would be given to the provision of quality education for development, modernity and social mobility, and agricultural productivity to ensure food security and reduction of poverty.
Other areas Buhari pledged to focus on were the revival of industries to generate employment, development of solid minerals sector, restoration of honour and integrity to the public service, and a sincere fight against corruption. He said he would respect the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary and respect the rights of citizens.
Buhari did not spare the Peoples Democratic Party, which he said had presided over the country’s decline.
“Since 1999, PDP has presided over our country’s decline. Nigeria, in my experience, has never been so divided, so polarised by an unthinking government hell bent on ruling and stealing forever whatever befalls the country.
“Interference in the form of rigging, which PDP government has practised since 2003, is the worst form of injustice – denying people their right to express their opinions. Whether they like it or not, injustice cannot endure.”
Buhari paid tribute to Nigerians who he said had endured all kinds of difficulties, especially growing insecurity. He, nonetheless, commended the Nigerian Armed Forces for their efforts to deal with the insurgency in the North-east.
“It is everyone’s duty to resolve and help the national effort to overcome these immense challenges. I would like us to place on record our appreciation for the efforts of our Armed Forces under a new leadership and police in confronting these challenges,” Buhari said.
On the economy and the power sector, he said the situation had continued to deteriorate while the agricultural and industrial sectors had all spiralled downwards. Buhari said when PDP assumed power in 1999, Nigeria was generating 4,000MW of electricity, saying, however, that the situation has worsened.
“When PDP came to power in 1999, Nigeria was generating about 4,000MW of electricity. After 15 years and $20 billion spent, we are generating between 3,000MW and 4,000MW. No failure is more glaring than this.”
Welcoming party members and supporters to the event, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipre Sylva, who chaired the organising committee for the rally, said the country’s economy and security needed intervention. According to him, Buhari has shown in his lifestyle and past performance in government that he is the one to proffer solution to the country’s problems.
He said to those who felt Buhari was too old to be president that age will not be an issue in the election because Buhari has experience and integrity to his advantage, which other candidates lack.
Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora from Lagos State addressed the gathering on behalf of a group known as the National Elders of APC. He said the wind of change was blowing and that come 2015 “we will have an APC government at the centre.”
He listed the problems of unemployment, poor power supply, decay in the education sector and insecurity as some of the biting problems that the APC government will tackle if voted into power.
Another stakeholder of the party and the Minority Leader in the Senate, Senator George Akume, spoke of the exploits of Buhari while he was the petroleum minister, when he was able to manage the country’s key economic resource creditably.
A woman leader, Hajia Rabiu Ishaq, on her part, urged women to support Buhari whom she said was the leader they could trust to ameliorate the plight of Nigeria women. She described Buhari as the Nigeria’s own Mandela with regard to his integrity, honesty and caring spirit.
Professor Isah Odigie, who represented APC supporters living in Canada, said Nigeria at the moment needed an extraordinary leader in the mould of Buhari to implement the policies required to rescue it from self-inflicted crisis.
Many believed Atiku was rattled by the huge attendance at last Wednesday’s declaration rally for Buhari. But the impression from the the Atiku media office was that the reason more leaders of the APC attended the Buhari declaration rally in comparison to the former vice president’s declaration, was that they were not invited to Atiku’s declaration so as not to compromise their neutrality.
Among the leading figures in APC that were at the Eagle Square to show solidarity with Buhari were, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, Edo State Governor Adams Oshiohmole, Nasarawa State Governor Tanko Al’makura, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Masari.
Others were National Vice Chairman of APC (North East), B.D Lawal, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Senator Ahmed Yerima, Senator Abba Buka Ibrahim, Muoghalu, Sharon Ikeazor, Alhaji Mustapha Habib, Osita Okechukwu, Hajia Hadiza Usman, Tony Momoh, Professor Tom David-West, Alhaji Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, Oluwatayo Oluwa, and Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN.
But beyond the fanfare that accompanied the declaration of his presidential ambition, many Nigerians also wanted to know from the former Head of State why he decided to break his promise after losing to the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 not to contest for the presidency again.
Apparently, out of frustration after losing three consecutive times to the candidates of Peoples Democratic Party in 2003, 2007 and 2011, Buhari had vowed not to contest for the presidency again. However, that position would not stand the test of time as Buhari soon realised that apart from succumbing to pressures from associates, he had to contend with the political dynamics of the time. First, the former Head State said he had found it difficult to ignore the deteriorating state of the country. For a man who went into the last presidential election on the platform of a new party, the then Congress for Progressive Change, barely six months to the election, his ability to still clinch a second position at end of the contest was, indeed, something significant.
For many of his loyalists and political associates, if Buhari could muster close to 12 million votes from the electorate even with the short lifespan and limited reach of the CPC, under the present dispensation, with the merger of three political parties to form APC, he should quite successfully coast home to victory. It was this line of thought that propelled the decision of Buhari to abandon his position not to contest and to once again throw his hat into the ring.
Last Thursday, following his successful public declaration of ambition, Buhari proceeded to the APC headquarters in Abuja to purchase the party’s nomination form for the presidential primaries.
Before making his public declaration of interest there were several attempts to broker a consensus arrangement and to get the party hierarchy to buy into the plan. In pushing for the consensus, Buhari and his loyalist had felt they could lobby other aspirants to accept a consensus arrangement in deciding the presidential flag bearer of the party in his favour. Buhari said his belief in the consensus arrangement was based on a desire to avoid a rancorous primary election.
But, Buhari who addressed a gathering of various youth support groups from around the country in Abuja as a prelude to his public declaration, said he would was ready to contest with other aspirants of the party for the presidential ticket.
Atiku has never hidden his preference for open primaries in choosing the APC presidential candidate. However, after weeks of political manoeuvring and intrigues, the party found that majority of its members wanted the electoral law and the constitution of the party to be adhered to by going ahead with the presidential primaries.
The huge attendance at Buhari’s declaration seems to be an indication of where the APC presidential ticket for next year’s election may head. But time will tell how far the former Head of State can go.