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Can Atiku Unseat President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 election?

Nigeria’s political landscape is characteristically characterized by a power tussle between two major political parties, the PDP and the APC. Incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari is a member of the APC, and he came into power by defeating President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP in the 2015 elections. Before the APC recorded that victory, many in the PDP camp would have deemed it impossible for any party to wrest power from their grip; however, the APC proved them and many others wrong. Not only did they take over power at the presidential level, they also extended their influence in the House of Assembly and the House of Representatives. Many followers of the PDP decamped to the APC camp, and the few that were left split up into several factions over and again.

Since 2015, however, the fortunes of the country have dwindled drastically. Technically, the country is currently on life support. Everything just seems to be hanging by threads, and no one knows what next year’s elections will bring. Those who vehemently agitated against President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and re-election bid, and who eventually did all they could to ensure that he lost the elections to Muhammadu Buhari, would surely be counting their losses and regretting their actions by now. The current government has failed to deliver on any of its campaign promises, and many people now regret why they decided to vote Goodluck Jonathan out of power.

Nonetheless, Nigerians have another opportunity to right their wrongs. The 2019 presidential elections are around the corner, and many aspirants have already begun to campaign all over the country. Nigeria’s political system is essentially a matter of two strong parties – PDP and APC – and many other little ones, who only do so much as to create awareness without making any real progress at seizing power from any of the two top dogs. Folks like Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu, and a few other technocrats have joined the race for the presidency on various party platforms, but it remains to be seen if the traditional two-horse race would be revamped to include the interests and passion these ones have for the nation.

Ever since the PDP announced Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the party’s official flagbearer for the 2019 presidential elections holding next year, one question that has lingered in the hearts and minds of most patriotic Nigerians is this; “Can Atiku Unseat President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 Presidential Elections?”

Before the PDP’s presidential primaries that elected Atiku was held, many would probably have written off PDP, due to their past mistakes when they were in power, coupled with the power of incumbency that the APC currently wields. However, the emergence of Atiku swung the pendulum in a new direction that not many would have anticipated. In the party’s presidential primaries, he defeated the likes of Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto state governor; Bukola Saraki, Senate President; David Mark, former Senate President; and a few other equally powerful and influential candidates. In fact, the victory was celebrated as though they had already won the elections next year. Such is the faith the PDP has – going forward into the 2019 elections – not just in their man, Atiku, but in the perceived new-found unity in the party, and in their preparations for the elections.

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Now, even though not many Nigerians fancy the prospects of PDP coming into power, they should not be quick to forget the man, Atiku. He is the current poster boy of the PDP. He is popular, powerful, wealthy, influential and experienced. So, the big question now is, what chances does he have against Buhari?

There is no straight-forward answer to this question. However, when we consider the below-listed factors, we shall have a clearer view of what his chances are. These five factors are vital to our assessment. They are:

  • Atiku’s Experience
  • Atiku’s track record
  • Atiku’s reputation
  • Atiku’s political alliances
  • Buhari’s incumbency advantage

Firstly, Atiku’s political experience:

Atiku Abubakar is an experienced politician. He is no stranger to the thrills and frills of the Nigerian political game.  He has been in the system for nearly three decades. In the early 1990s, he resigned his position as a high-ranking officer with the Nigerian Customs Service to contest at the governorship elections in his native Adamawa state. In 1993, he was also a contestant in the Social Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, which he lost. However, he did not allow both losses to hinder his political ambition; and in 1999, he was picked to be General Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate for the presidential elections. That was his first real taste of power at the top corridors, as he and Obasanjo’s tag team swept to power as PDP representatives. Not only did they win the elections, they also won a re-election in 2003.

During his tenure, he spear-headed several initiatives that brought economic gain to the country. He also oversaw the entry of several foreign companies and investors into the Nigerian market. The telecommunications sector also experienced its first real boom during that era, and many Nigerians remember his time as the vice president of Nigeria for good reasons.

On the other hand, the eggs of corruption started hatching during that era. Politicians first began to be interrogated and persecuted for embezzlement and money-laundering offences during that time, and he himself has also been mentioned in a few corruption scandals in times past.

After his tenure as the VP, he decided to launch his own presidential bid fully. He left PDP and joined the Action Congress of Nigeria, though he eventually lost the elections.

Nonetheless, in 2011, and in 2015, he contested again, on different platforms, and lost on both occasions. However, in the 2019 elections, Nigerians can expect a real showdown, as it is believed that Atiku has clogged all the holes in his presidential ambition, and is finally ready to fulfil his desire to lead this country.

The election outcomes will tell if he will, or not. Nevertheless, in matters of political experience, Atiku scores high.

Secondly, Atiku’s track record:

Atiku has a good track record of leadership and governance. His time of service as vice president during president Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime was laden with several exploits and commendable achievements, many of which have been highlighted already. Asides his political inclinations too, Atiku is an astute businessman and entrepreneur. It is believed that, this will be a strong point for Nigerians to consider, going forward into the elections. Atiku runs many businesses that span across many sectors in Nigeria and beyond, and all of them are performing well. Atiku has good economic and business intelligence, and if he is able to translate his obvious competence and excellence as an entrepreneur and businessman into national systems, the country’s economy will surely be improved. Buhari, on the other hand, as a former military administrator and a current cattle rearer in his native Katsina state, is not perceived to be someone who knows much about economic viability; so, in matters of the economy, Atiku should do better.

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All this becomes a possibility, if he is eventually elected into power in next year’s elections.

Thirdly, Atiku’s reputation:

One factor that is crucial in determining if Atiku stands a chance at unseating Buhari is his reputation. Many people are tired of the current government, but they are also wary of simply recycling old systems. Atiku and Buhari are deemed to be alike in many ways, and Nigerians will be wary of making the mistake they made at the 2015 elections.

In 2015, Not many people wanted to vote for Buhari; they only wanted someone other than Goodluck Jonathan, and Buhari was the closest strong candidate. Next year’s elections come with similar indices: many people do not want to vote for Buhari, but they do not just want to vote for the next strong contestant, which is Atiku.

Atiku’s reputation has some question marks, which may lead many to doubt his integrity. His name has been mentioned in a few big-money financial crimes, though no convictions have been made so far. He is also commonly referred to as a political nomad. His political journey has seen him move from the SDP to PDP, then to ACN, then back to PDP, before he decamped to the APC, and then finally back to the PDP early in 2018. One question many people ask is this: “why so many decampments?”

It is believed that, one who knows his values will stay at a place where he feels their values align. However, with Atiku, the case has been the direct opposite, leading many to question the integrity and sanctity of his value system. On each occasion when he moved camp, he always criticized the previous camp. For instance, when he left the PDP to join APC, he openly criticized the PDP for certain issues. Not long after, when he left the APC to re-join the PDP, he came publicly and criticized the APC again.

Atiku may be a competent businessman and politician, but his value system may not be in shape. This may lead many Nigerians to lose their trust in his capacity to lead the country to the promised land; and this could impact on his chances at next year’s elections.

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Fourthly, his political alliances:

Atiku is from Adamawa state, in the north-eastern region of Nigeria. In his state, he is the ‘Turakin Adamawa’, which indicates that he is very well-respected and influential in the land. He is well-connected around the northern part of the country, and he is also very influential in other parts of the world.

Since he announced his intention to run and eventually won the primaries, scores of prominent Nigerians have rallied their support for him. Notable among them, is former president and Atiku’s former boss, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo, a highly-revered politician and statesman, publicly endorsed him, saying that he was the only one who could lead Nigeria out of the economic quagmire it currently is in.

He is also being supported by a host of top politicians, including the current Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal; former Senate President, David Mark; ex-Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; current Governor of Kaduna state, Ahmed Makarfi; ex-governor of Jigawa state, Sule Lamido; and ex-governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang; all of whom lost to him at the PDP party primaries. He has also been able to secure the support of many other prominent Nigerians within and outside the country.

One thing that greatly influences political victories in Nigeria is the nature of one’s alliances, and the magnitude of their collective influence. Going by the kinds of allies that Atiku has, along with many others yet unmentioned, we can boldly claim that Atiku has a real chance at challenging Buhari for the presidency next year, and possibly unseating him.

Lastly, Buhari’s Incumbency Advantage:

This is perhaps the most critical determinant of Atiku’s chances at next year’s presidential elections. The magnitude of power and influence that incumbency affords is so massive, that if it is well deployed, no opponent may stand a real chance. For instance, in some Nigerian cities, some prominent advertising agencies have alleged being hindered from projecting Atiku’s campaign insignia. This is no doubt, the work of the incumbent government; and there are many more ways by which they can frustrate the campaign efforts of their opponents, while driving home their own agenda.

Nevertheless, even though Buhari has the incumbency advantage, Atiku is certainly not a rookie; and we may just see a repeat of what happened with Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, when the PDP were so overconfident in their incumbency, but eventually lost by a narrow margin.

So, the final verdict is this: given all the factors and variables considered thus far, the 2019 elections will be keenly-contested, and a marginal victory is hereby predicted. Furthermore, if Atiku can do due diligence in making adequate preparations, fortifying his weak points and leveraging on his strengths and allies, he stands a real chance at unseating Buhari.

The outcome, if Atiku wins, may likely be a case of the people voting against Buhari, and not necessarily them genuinely voting for Atiku.

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