A primary challenger from the left of the APC is thought to be the imaginary but vanishing Bola Tinubu/Shehu Sanni/Abdullahi Ganduje/Rochas Okorocha axis.

Lewis Obi

From every signal, any attempt to challenge the candidacy of President Muhammadu Buhari from within the All Progressives Congress (APC) would be considered akin to treason. Yet such a challenge is probably what the party needs as a redemptive escape hatch to reflect the complexity of the party, if not about the sainthood of its leader, the President.

Every major party, in a political system that pretends to be two-party, is always a big tent coalition, accommodating all manners of persuasion, ideas and characters. A primary challenger from the left of the APC, that is, the ‘progressive wing,’ (although many now believe that ‘progressivism’ has been taken out of APC and replaced with ‘godfatherism’) is thought to be the imaginary but vanishing Bola Tinubu/Shehu Sanni/Abdullahi Ganduje/Rochas Okorocha axis.

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That branch of the APC would probably persuade a few million vacillating voters that the ‘sectarian-fascist’ right wing of the party, which has been the most dominant and the most visible, is not all there is to the APC. If no such challenger comes, as most bookmakers predict, the party – and Nigerians at large – would have no choice than to accept that the ‘sectarian-fascist’ wing is all there is to the APC.

Buhari’s hold on the ‘sectarian’ wing is total and that wing literally worships him. The ‘fascists’ tell him he is the indispensable man, the messiah, Nigeria’s Ataturk if not Lee Kuan Yew; it is from these two primary groups he got the idea that he is not president but king. With that comes the fascinating attitude that he is doing Nigeria a favour by being its president. It is an image that has led to a misguided work culture which translates, as always, into a woeful job performance, shoddy work, half-hearted effort, the abdication of responsibility, not to talk of on-your-face nepotism. Even when allowance is made for his age, 75, and his problematic health, which should not be held against him, he still comes far short of what he was capable of accomplishing, given his vast experience, stated ambitions, and the enormous support he received on arrival three years ago.

The President is in the race for two basic reasons. He enjoys the power that comes with the job, but not the job itself. He represents the Northern Oligarchy, provides great shield for his many admirers, flatterers, and hero-worshippers whose position might be threatened in his absence. Both sides share the symbiotic relationship of the tank and the foot soldier, mutual protection.

But President Buhari merits primary challenge not for his personal interests, not even for his widely reported nepotism, but for falling down on the job, and doing so publicly. Let’s even take one issue he claims to be dear to his heart. Everyone gives him credit for the fight against corruption, he gets praises even abroad. True, he deserves credit but that credit cannot bear scrutiny. True, he declared his assets publicly, which is a testimony to his integrity. If he was committed to cleaning up Nigeria of corruption, if he was determined to drain the swamp, as the Americans would say, he would have persuaded his cabinet, his ministers, his special advisers, his directors, to say nothing of his party leaders, and at least APC members of the National Assembly and his party members to follow his example. It was not that he tried but failed to do this. The truth is he did not even try. The universal test of leadership is: look at your back.

After three years of the fight against corruption, all the indices show that corruption is rising, not falling, and this chilling news comes from home and abroad from National Bureau of Statistics through Transparency International and Amnesty International, to the US State Department Country Report on Nigeria and others. Now, let us for the sake of argument, ignore the statistics and look inwards at our police stations and police checkpoints, at our bus stops, our licensing offices, our customs checkpoints and ports, at Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials, our National Assembly and so on. What do we see but the raw sewage of bribery and corruption? Credit must go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for several spectacular cash recoveries.

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The President takes the old headmaster’s approach to the economy. Everyone could see Buhari was trying to save money when he refused to appoint ministers. But in so doing, he practically brought the economy to a halt for five months, and insensibly nudged the economy to drift into a recession. His instincts about foreign exchange seem right as he stubbornly refused to float the Naira. His insistence on the Treasury Single Account was an excellent policy. The effort to collect more taxes is also good. Buhari’s economic diversification slogan is fine but until his budget begins to reflect the will to diversify, there will be no economic diversification. More food is being produced although food inflation still keeps many mouths hungry. The economy is looking up thanks to the stabilization of the international oil market and the lucky rise of crude oil prices. The rise in the budget for capital projects is to the President’s credit. But interest rates are too high to encourage manufacturing. The jobless rate creates gloom in the land while youth unemployment is actually embarrassing.

It is in the area of security that President Buhari scored an F grade, the worst of any Nigerian president in history. General Buhari was expected to dispatch Boko Haram in a matter of weeks once he took charge as commander-in-chief. Today, the terrorists are still bombing the North East. He was to release the abducted Chibok girls within a fortnight of his becoming president. He secured the release of a 82 of them, but more than 100 Chibok girls are still in captivity four years after their capture by Boko Haram.

Herdsmen had occasional brushes with farmers before Buhari assumed office. Ever since, the herdsmen have become the fourth most deadly and murderous group in the world, according to the Global Terrorism Index.

Bad signals surfaced quite early in President Buhari tenure when in December 2015, six months into his tenure, the Nigerian Army opened fire on a huge multitude of Shi’ites on a religious procession, killing hundreds of them and demolishing their leader’s home and all Shi’ite structures in Zaria, Kaduna State. The Nigerian Army claimed the Shi’ites had blocked the convoy of, and attempted to assassinate, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Burutai. But the Army showed no proof.

When President Buhari was told, he revealed no emotions. He told a TV interviewer that he had heard that the Shi’ites were ‘a state within a state.’ A few months later the Kaduna State Government revealed how it had collected 347 corpses of Shi’ites, and how it had buried them in mass graves. The Shi’ites, on their part, protested that their members killed were more than a thousand. Till today, no question has been asked about the massacre of the defenceless, unarmed Shi’ites, a minority Muslim group.

Since President Buhari came to power, the deaths from Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen have been put at about 20,000. His pledge to secure the release of the Chibok girls has remained unfulfilled. The daily killings of the herders have caused national uproar, yet the president has refused to take any visible effective action. In his third anniversary speech, he promised that the killers would be arrested and prosecuted for their crimes.

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Nigerians laughed, because he had said similar things a dozen times without result. And if the primary function of a government is to secure the safety and welfare of citizens Buhari government’s failure in that area is incontrovertible. Anywhere in the world, party members who oppose such abysmal performance ought to speak up. If they don’t, Nigerians should make their own conclusions.


First published in March 2018