No matter where they reside, whether in Nigeria or outside, critical chroniclers of this country’s roller-coaster existence have always been the butt of disparaging comments from jaundiced participants who find themselves in the maddening struggle towards building a befitting functional country. Perhaps discomfited by the certainty of truth, these characters often do not hesitate to hit out at anyone whose viewpoint they consider incongruent. Like the practiced cobra, they lie in wait for their quarry, waiting for it to cross their path. And soon as it does, they strike with the same natural impulse of the deadly reptile.
My friend Chido Onumah found himself in this situation when he dared to pose a question that seems to have rattled the opposition. Just when three major opposition parties and some smaller ones had consummated a merger that fostered a grander party called All Progressives Congress, APC, primed to dislodge the largely despised PDP in the next elections, Chido stirred the hornet’s nest. In the piece published in his column in The Punch on June 21which went viral almost immediately, Chido coined an unequivocal headline the opposition must have deemed audacious – 2015: Who will defeat Jonathan?
What a cheek! Joe Igbokwe, the frequently excitable, typically devoted Lagos state publicity secretary of the leading merging party, ACN, won’t dignify the question with what could turn out to be potentially damaging silence. Yet, instead of taking his time to properly reflect on the gist of the piece, Igbokwe promptly seized upon the mischievous author in a rejoinder, implying the futility of the exercise and indicting him for working hard to insinuate himself to the Presidency. Interpreted correctly, Igbokwe’s mind is that the author is assailed by poverty and hunger and, therefore, did the piece to book a passage to rehabilitation by either Aso rock or the ruling party.
Laughable as it is, this far-fetched deduction does nothing to flatter the political acumen of Igbokwe, not to mention his rational mind. Much as he tried in his rejoinder, he failed to answer a simple question that is obviously intended to rouse the opposition to the reality of what they lack. The question is, besides General Muhammadu Buhari, who again can the opposition, now circumscribed in APC, present as their presidential candidate to face President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015?
There is no point mentioning Adams Oshiomhole, Raji Fashola, Kayode Fayemi or Rochas Okorocha. These are good materials quite alright, but given the sentiments and mood that have produced a permutation that favours a president of northern extraction, there is no way this APC would present any of the aforementioned personalities or anyone for that matter who is not from the north as presidential candidate in 2015. If the party does that, it would pave the way for Jonathan to coast to victory without breaking sweat.
Certainly in the future the position is bound to go to a candidate from the south, but for this moment the opposition would have to go for a northern candidate as a strategy for garnering the significantly huge northern vote which, barring any underhand dealings, will be leveraged by an also large southwest vote that will effectively checkmate PDP at the polls. They will neglect to do so at their own peril. And the point is – and Igbokwe would do well to take this as a matter of fact – the only candidate from the north who has what it takes to beat Jonathan in a free and fair election is Buhari.
This is the point that Chido made that upsets our friend Igbokwe so much. Take it or leave it, the opposition as it is constituted today does not parade anybody from the north that possesses anything close to Buhari’s integrity, credibility and mass appeal capable of galvanizing the northern electorate for victory. Certainly neither the prickly Nasir El- Rufai, nor the enthusiastic Nuhu Ribadu, to name just two visible northern politicians whose names are sometimes thrown up as likely presidential candidates.
Igbokwe should not delude himself into believing that the average Nigerian voter is refined enough to vote on the basis of performance. If his party does not this moment begin the positioning of a well-prepared, well-managed, better-packaged Buhari for the next election Jonathan will win again hands down. He won in, of all places, south west – opposition ACN stronghold – in the April 2011 election in spite of the perpetual non-performance of the PDP and the intense campaign against PDP mounted by Igbokwe’s party. It is easily recalled the many instances the ACN leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu appeared on rostrums denouncing the PDP, describing it as Poverty Development Party.
But to the utter consternation of many an observer, the party which was labelled as the dispenser of poverty won the election “fair and square” in Tinubu’s ward barely one month after. The ACN abandoned its presidential candidate and voted the candidate of a party it had pilloried and castigated in the days leading up to the election. How did that happen?
The ACN has maintained loud, embarrassing silence all along. Neither Igbokwe nor the highly effective Lai Mohammed has been bold enough to offer any convincing explanation since that disastrous showing. The question is asked again: What happened? And who says it can’t happen again? Igbokwe should rather address that instead of looking to denigrate anyone that tries to stimulate reasoned – even if uncomfortable – debate around the preparedness of the opposition as 2015 beckons.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist; can be reached on [email protected]