Guest Columnist

Buhari’s electoral body bags, by Lasisi Olagunju

Governor Nasir el-Rufai last week proved Dr Tai Solarin wrong. In a 1970 article, Dr Solarin listed some “unforgettable utterances” made by first republic politicians. He was horrified to discover that those who would sack that era were jotting down the horrid statements against the names of their makers. One of them said “£800 is nothing to me.” Another said “if you rig the election, I will kill you. If you do not rig the election, I will not kill you.” Yet another said: “Be the government in power – saint or sinner – it will be foolish for a person not to be in it.” And yet another said: “Because you did not vote for me, not a single amenity of my government will come to your town.” Dr Ikejiani was asked how many buildings he was putting up at the same time, he replied that honestly he could not say. After listing the “unforgettable utterances” and reviewing what happened to the politicians who made them following the collapse of the first republic, Dr Solarin waxed optimistic. He predicted: “I do not think we will get tomorrow, rulers who will say they will not give us water because we did not vote for them. I do not think we will get our water pipes laid tomorrow and any minister will refuse to let the water flow because we have refused to behave as slaves to them. I do not think the civilian rulers of tomorrow will refuse to build us schools or hospitals because we have not hailed them lord and master…”

How wrong Dr. Solarin was. He should come back to 2019 Nigeria and listen to the “lord and master” of Kaduna, Kabiyesi Alayeluwa Nasir el-Rufai, Conqueror of Queen Elizabeth’s Britain, of Donald Trump’s America and of their European allies. Governor el-Rufai told busy-body foreign countries who are poking their noses into our next Saturday’s elections that they would not leave Nigeria in one piece unless they back off. Powerful el-Rufai warned “those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person to come and intervene. They would go back in body bags because nobody would come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country…” You may feel that those words are too morbid for a governor to say; that they are words you hear among touts who hold court under Lagos bridges and in tramador and shisha joints in Kaduna. But this governor bombed the world with those words and nothing happened – except that he got a presidential applause!

Now, let us agree that the Kaduna governor has a reputation for hard talks, why do you think the presidency queued behind him? Someone said we are in desperate times and Buhari’s presidency has started feeling very vulnerable given the pathway of its own ascendancy. I asked why would Buhari panic and enter desperate mode when he has always had some twelve million Northern votes in his pocket?  Someone answered that this coming Saturday’s presidential election will confirm one thing: It will stamp or repudiate claims that Muhammadu Buhari has the North in his pocket. I should agree. But why? The figures.

Buhari’s Lagos backers for the 2015 elections did not go for him because of anything other than the home figures they believed he had. Their consideration was the fabled ‘12 million Northern votes’ they insisted he had any day whatever happened. They still believe so. They probably have a reason to believe so. In 2003, Buhari contested and polled mainly from the North a total of 12,710,022 votes. In 2011, of Buhari’s total votes of 12,214,853, a staggering 11,691,355 came from the North. In 2015, when he had a national appeal, his total votes were 15,424,921 with the North contributing 12,228,491 of that figure. His Southern backers and supporters still boast that those 12 million votes are still there to shock Buhari’s opponents next Saturday.

Nasir-El-Rufai (Photo Credit-The Nation)

But I have read some commentators disclaiming the Buhari myth. They claim that where trees stand shoulder-to-shoulder, every monkey would boast of unequalled expertise in jumping branch-to-branch. They say Buhari had those northern figures in 2003, 2011 and 2015 because he contested against Southern Christians who were perceived as usurping the North’s tenure in the Villa. Such a claim may really have some validity. In 2003, Olusegun Obasanjo had to fight off the North’s attempt to force a single term on him and collect ‘their power’ back. They called it the Mandela Option. The 2011 election was contested in an atmosphere of bitterness and collective loss by the North. Goodluck Jonathan contested that election after inheriting power from Umaru Yar’Adua who died midway into the north’s first term. The North said the Ijaw man should not contest because it should have eight years after South’s/Obasanjo’s eight years. Jonathan did. He won but with that win stepped on the northern cobra’s tail. He had that term and contested again in 2015 and incensed the entire North into rallying behind Buhari.

As we marvel at the Buhari hurricane in the North, we are reminded that before 2011 and 2015, there was the 2007 election which was contested by Buhari against fellow Fulanis and he failed miserably? It was the lot of Buhari to share the votes with Umaru Yar Adua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Buhari concentrated his campaigns in the North thinking that with his ‘twelve million votes’ he could force a rerun and then defeat the candidate of the ruling party. But there was no 12 million votes for him. He, in fact, lost in the first ballot to the PDP candidate- Umaru Yar’Adua who incidentally was from his state. Buhari’s total votes in that election was 6,605,299 – North and South. Indeed, he lost his home state to Yar’Adua. Then, in 2015, a combination of rhetorics, religion, politics and ethnicity aligned the stars in Buhari’s favour. Those who sacked him in 1985 stepped out to bring him back. Where are those ones in this coming contest?

What should the nation expect this time from the North? Both friends and foes agree that the 2019 electoral situation is not exactly what it was in 2015. Number of registered voters has moved up from 68,833,476 in 2015 to 84,004,084 this year. The Northwest today has 20,158,100 or 24 percent; Southwest, 16,292,212  or 19.39 percent; North-central has 13,366,070 (15.91%); South-South has 12,841,279 (15.29%). The Northeast and the Southast respectively have 11,289,293 (13.44%) and 10,057,130 (11.97%) voters. It should be clear to all that the next president won’t be a sectional champion. But we have a Buhari who never believed he lost in 2003, 2007 and 2011 even while his appeal and efforts were deliberately sectional. Now, he is a messianic incumbent who believes he holds a divine mandate to defeat his opponents even if with a ‘remote control.’ With that mindset, we do not have to be told that the stakes are very high for both sides this Saturday.

Now, the problem is not just in the huge number of registered voters in each of the zones. The crowd and the counter-crowd, the balancing of terror of one party by the other is enough to raise the blood pressure of any incumbent. No one smells death and goes to bed quietly. On a day Buhari’s Villa celebrated a huge friendly crowd in Taraba which was as “if people were dropping from the sky,” the PDP massed a humongous crowd of its own fans and followers in Buhari’s Katsina State. Was that a revival of the old Yar’Adua/Buhari scramble for Katsina? And you, again, saw PDP’s sea of red caps in Kano yesterday (Sunday). Where did those ones come from? What of Aminu Tambuwal’s Sokoto and the crisis-torn APC in Zamfara? And these key states are in Buhari’s Northwest. Four years ago, anyone who campaigned against Buhari anywhere in the North risked going back home in “body bags.” But things have deteriorated so fast and so much that a stadium could not now contain anti-Buhari campaigners in Katsina, his home state, and in his electoral capital, Kano. What has changed? Or what has gone wrong?

So much has shifted, obviously. Now, if the North is no longer comprehensively Buhari’s electoral captive, there must necessarily be consequences for both sides in the contest. There have even been forecasts and polls pointing at an Atiku win. Now, Buhari’s APC is not Jonathan’s acquiescent PDP. Our ruling party won’t be an obedient Ileya ram on election day. You heard Buhari when he told an interviewer last month that his losing Saturday’s election was an “impossibility.” Add that to el-Rufai’s bodybag threats and try peep into the hearts of the men behind the foreboding statements. Those tough talks, imprecations and threats from midgets and giants should be seen as natural reactions to a future denuded of its historical certainty. When a Babalawo runs out of incantations, he goes sputtering and resorts to spraying baleful saliva. That was the reason for the verbal misadventure of el-Rufai. It was also the reason for the unfortunate presidential endorsement of a threat to put super power citizens in “body bags” because of a tomorrow that belongs to none.






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