By Jude Atupulazi
As the count down towards the general elections of 2019 begins with the commencement of campaigns, there is no doubt that only two political parties are in the mix of things in the presidential race. They are the incumbent All Progressives Congress, APC, and the People's Democratic Party, PDP. The standard bearers of the two parties are President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in that order.
While Buhari is sticking with incumbent Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, a Yoruba; the PDP candidate has chosen Mr Peter Obi, an Igbo from Anambra State.
Since the emergence of the Atiku/Obi ticket however, the country had been in an almighty buzz. Much of the excitement has been on the choice of Obi as Atiku's running mate. The excitement over the choice of Obi which resonates across the country is mainly because of the perception of Obi by Nigerians as a different species of politician, a fresh breath, if you can call it that.
As governor of Anambra State, he took governance to dizzy heights by his stellar performance. But it wasn't just his performance that wowed Nigerians. It was the way he did that. Obi, as governor, was humble, prudent (or stingy, according to some people), pragmatic, focused and visionary. He led by example too. He abhorred wastage.
He ran his state as though he was running his private business which meant that he was careful how he spent money and was anxious to make the state work.
Unlike many of his type, he saw governance as serious business. When he travelled, he travelled light. It was not his style to take along with him anyone who had no business with such a trip. He reduced the cost of governance by removing all those unnecessary things that cost unnecessary money. He reduced his salary and the salaries of his appointees, including his security vote. He did not go on leave for one day. He never left the state for extended periods. He did not throw parties. He focused on things that would bring money to the state. These things made him unpopular among a certain class of politicians, but popular among true lovers of the state and the masses.
But he stuck to his guns. To him, the overall good of the state; not that of certain individuals, mattered. It was no surprise therefore, that when he left office, his state became richer with several billions; the first time any leaving governor, or even president, would do that in this country.
Even outside of government, he embarked on something no one before him had done and that was visiting schools across the country and donating money to them for infrastructural development. At a time, he visited a school in Kenya. As he did this, some of his contemporaries were resting outside the country.
It was also a period that Obi used in talking to his compatriots on issues bothering the country. The one that brought him into public consciousness was his first Platform Lecture some years back at which he preached the gospel of good governance.
It was no surprise that when Atiku made his choice of a running mate, he went for Obi. Like Obi or hate him, you must concede that he has a unique personality. He is not one to be cowed by anyone, even when he appears the quiet type. He wins battles without shouting. That was how he overcame the challenge of then National Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO, in his state. At that time, the notorious NARTO, which had police protection, pocketed revenue accruing from all the parks in the state without remitting a kobo to the state. But Obi enlisted the help of the Army and sacked both NARTO and their police accomplices in an early morning operation and money started rolling into the state's coffers from the parks.
That was also how he prevailed over the hostile state assembly peopled by opposition members in his first term, despite their initial refusal to cooperate with his government and later, their attempt not to pass the budget and to impeach him. Obi uses tact, rather than raw might, in dealing with those opposed to him. So if you're expecting him to fight you openly, you're wasting your time. He will rather do so without you knowing and by the time you realize what's happening, you are biting the dust. Perhaps this is why not a few people believe that Obi is one of the greatest politicians to have come out from Anambra State.
I don't want to bore you by regaling you with the story of how he reshaped the political landscape of the country by introducing staggered elections in Nigeria. That fact is well documented. But the main thing is that Obi deserves all the praise anyone can give him, regardless of his personal shortcomings.
Now he has been chosen as running mate to Atiku, meaning that if PDP wins, Obi will become Vice President, a position the Igbo last occupied in the Second Republic when the late Sir Alex Ekwueme served under Shehu Shagari. Since then, the Igbo Nation has been trying to peep from the window, rather than being part of the action in the country's politics.
This perhaps explains the euphoric response by Nigerians, especially Igbos, to the choice of Obi by Atiku.
But then, beyond the euphoria, I'd say that the 2019 presidential election in the country is not just about Obi. It is about seeing the last of Buhari so that the country can be pulled out from the abyss which Buhari has invariably succeeded in pushing her into.
To remove Buhari, however, is not a piece of cake. It is not enough to make all the noise one can muster without appreciating the enormous odds and taking appropriate actions. It is about being pragmatic and facing the facts. Unlike Jonathan, Buhari will fight tooth and nail to retain his seat. He knew what he would face and began ab-initio to build structures that would help him to retain his seat. That was why he ensured that virtually all the service chiefs are from not only his ethnic zone but from his religion as well. Most of the major appointments he made also favoured his people, including the chairmanship of the electoral umpire, INEC. So anyone thinking that removing Buhari will be a piece of akara is deluding themselves.
So what can be done? The only thing to be done is to remove him through the ballot box. But then, a lot depends on the vehicle through which that can be done. The vehicle here means the party. And after that, comes the person.
It is as clear as daylight during the dry season that only the PDP can give the ruling APC a run for their money. Any other party claiming to do so is merely pretending. So having accepted that it is the PDP that can provide a credible challenge, it is also necessary to look at the candidate.
Atiku Abubakar is a known name in Nigeria, having been Vice President for eight years under a very difficult person like Olusegun Obasanjo. He was not just a Vice President, he was a very visible and powerful one, so powerful that at a time his boss saw him as a threat.
Again, having stayed in the corridors of power for eight years, who is currently better qualified for the job than Atiku? Such experience isn't what you acquire just by reading and acquiring degrees. Sometimes it is better to experience something first hand and that is what Atiku experienced as Vice President for eight years.
Only the PDP and Atiku, a core Northerner, can effectively challenge the incumbent party and president.
I know we have the Muoghalus and Ezekwesilis, but their parties will only make up the numbers as they will not even win in the home towns of the contestants. Thus, the Igbo Nation placing their hopes on such parties just because their candidates come from here, will amount to wasting votes. This assertion is without prejudice to the great qualities of the candidates in question, but that remains the hard fact.
Now, it is a fact that Buhari has shown disdain to Igbos in his first term, even declaring once that he wasn't expected to give same treatment he gives to those who gave him 97% votes to those who gave him 3%. Some of his economic policies have been anti-Igbo and his appointments have blatantly shown the Igbos that they have no place in his government. This is why it has become imperative for Ndigbo to see the last of Buhari under whom Nigerians have never been more divided along ethnic and religious lines.
In Atiku, we have a detribalized Northerner and one ready to do business with those who can add value to his government regardless of where they come from. He has also promised to restructure the country so that everybody will have a sense of belonging and develop to their maximum potentials without let or hindrance.
We all know that Ndigbo are not asking for much. All they ask is a level playing field. With their legendary natural talent, having a level playing field will see them quickly maximize their potentials to the glory of the entire country where the Igbos are scattered.
This is the reason why Ndigbo need to rally round Atiku and PDP; not just because their son and brother, Obi, has been picked as a presidential running mate. I tell you that had any other party been stronger than PDP, and promised to restructure the country, Ndigbo would just as well have supported it. But being that it is PDP today that is the strongest, having Obi in the thick of things has become an added bonus which every genuine Igbo person is obligated to support.
Any other calculation, such as the argument that having Buhari for another four years will open the door to Igbo presidency later, is balderdash and mere hogwash, especially when the same APC that says it will hand over to Ndigbo is also promising the Yorubas same thing. Besides, from the way Buhari has treated us in his first term, who will believe him if he says he will love us and be kissing our lips next time? As the famous thriller writer, James Hadley Chase, would say, believe this, you'll believe anything.
Verily verily I say unto you: any Igbo person rooting for Buhari for second term under the present circumstances needs to have their Igbo roots examined to determine if truly they are one of us.