The last has not been heard of Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s elusive ambition to rule the country again. According to a recent report, the former head of state and 2011 presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change disclosed that he might re-consider his earlier decision not to contest a future presidential election. The soldier turned politician also revealed that his next decision would be based on the outcome of the ongoing merger talks by his party with the Action Congress of Nigeria and the All Nigeria Peoples Party.
This sudden twist in the former military leader’s decision has further raised the stakes as the race for the 2015 presidential election draws closer. More importantly, Buhari’s u-turn has shown that, for him, the desire to return to a position he left more than two decades ago is an unfinished business. By keeping Nigerians guessing about his political future, it appears the former military dictator still fancies his chances of winning the presidential election.
However, a possible Buhari candidacy in 2015 raises a number of critical questions about his suitability as a major opposition candidate. His possible candidacy is also tied to the future and success of opposition politics in the next election. Should the Katsina State born-General contest the presidential election again in 2015? Does Buhari stand any chance of winning the Presidency if he decides to contest? Will the opposition stand any chance if Buhari emerges as a consensus opposition candidate? Can Buhari, for example, defeat President Goodluck Jonathan if the incumbent decides to seek a second term?
The history of Buhari’s presidential bid has been very dramatic. Indeed, his interest to rule the country again after his brief stint as a military head of state in 1985 is synonymous with Nigeria’s return to democracy. The CPC presidential candidate’s quest has transcended two political parties and one failed merger. It, in fact, began a decade ago. After being forcefully removed in a palace coup in 1984 by the Ibrahim Babangida led-coup d’état, Buhari renewed his interest to govern the country again in 2003. He contested the presidential election as the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party. He was defeated by the Peoples Democratic Party nominee, Olusegun Obasanjo, who eventually emerged the President.
Undeterred by the loss to Obasanjo in 2003, the no-nonsense General was again nominated the consensus candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party. His main challenger in the 2007 election was the ruling PDP candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua, now late. They both hail from the same Katsina State. Buhari once again lost to Yar’Adua. But he rejected the results. Though he lost the election, his party decided to join the late Yar’Adua’s so-called unity government. But Buhari not only denounced the election as a fraud, he also distanced himself from his party’s romance with the new government.
He was not done yet. Like Abraham Lincoln who contested elections and failed many times, Buhari returned to the ballot again in 2011. This time, he decided to go it all alone having left the ANPP in 2010 for the Congress for Progressive Change, a party that he had helped to found. He said that he had supported the foundation of the CPC “as a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party the ANPP”. Buhari was the CPC presidential candidate in the 2011 general election, running against PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan. He pledged to remove immunity protection from government officials. He also gave support to the enforcement of Sharia law in the northern states, which had previously caused him political difficulties among Christian voters in the country’s south. Buhari came second to Jonathan, who was declared the winner.
Buhari’s quest to rule the country again 25 years after he was deposed as a military head of state has become an obsession. The possibility to be the country’s number one citizen has dominated his entire public life in the last 10 years. In all the 13 years of democratic governance, Buhari has contested and re-contested three election cycles beginning in 2003. Apart from losing controversially in the elections, he had also tried to use the judicial system to challenge alleged fraud that had kept him away to becoming a civilian President — a position which only former President Obasanjo now holds.
The best chance for Buhari to realise what has become an elusive dream was the 2011 presidential election which he lost. But to his credit, the CPC soon became popular in the North. The party also gained inroad in other parts of the country. The party particularly made an impression among those Nigerians who saw Buhari as the symbol in the fight against corruption. They admired his Spartan, principled lifestyle and for having the resolve to shun the corruptible vices of his colleagues.
Buhari means different things to different people. While he remains a folk hero to some for his vocal opposition to corruption, conspiracy theorists have painted him as a religious bigot who hates Christians and will use his Presidency to champion a Jihadist’s agenda. It appears, however, that Buhari’s quest to rule the country again is driven by his patriotism and his love for ordinary Nigerians-especially the so-called talakawas. If Buhari emerges as the opposition candidate, the factors that worked against him in past elections are poised to be his Achille’s heels in the next election. For one, age is not on his side. He will be 73 in 2015. Besides, he is still viewed with suspicion in some parts of the country.
Those who hold a perceived religious bias on his part will always vote against him. It is a burden he has to bear. Those who believe in the credential of the former soldier as ‘Mr Clean’ are in the majority. But sadly, this class of Nigerians is becoming extinct. The members have not been able to dismantle the powerful electoral machine of the PDP in the last three elections. Perhaps, 2015 could be different. Can the opposition risk his candidacy in another presidential election? As the opposition parties go into another merger talks ahead of 2015, the choice they make will determine their chances in the 2015 presidential election. Will the Buhari candidacy fly in 2015 or should the opposition parties rally around another acceptable candidate who will give the PDP a run for its money?
This Opinion Piece was first published in the Punch.