By Bashir Bello Akko
As the year 2010 draws to a close, ushering the highly anticipated year 2011, when general elections are expected to be conducted, the political tempo too is significantly rising. It is not just because elections will be held, but also because the expectations of the nation for free, fair, and credible elections has probably never been higher, especially with a presidential promise from Goodluck Jonathan himself, and his appointment of an umpire that many Nigerians seem to have so much trust and confidence in his capability and impartiality.
Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, now an amalgam of fusing political parties, is gradually becoming Nigeria’s centre of political attraction, not just because it has been the biggest gainer of legal victory in governorship election matters so far in this dispensation, (it has won three states now in the courtrooms, making its control of states now four) but again because it believes it has now assumed the position of Nigeria’s leading opposition party ready to wrestle power from the hands of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP).
Having already conducted a national convention that produced only its national officers, ACN’s focus seems to shift to its selection process of a presidential ticket bearer in a party primary that will not be long in coming. In its convention of Tuesday December 21, 2010, the Party showed a remarkable trace of cohesion, compromise and consensus when all the officers emerged unopposed, and without a single dissent or protest. This is unusual in pre-elections conventions where emerging officers are believed to be those with the mandate, or even power to make electoral difference especially during the primaries from which bona fide candidates of the Party emerge.
It seems therefore the attention of the party will now shift to settling on who its presidential candidate will be. Mallam Nuhu Ribadu so far seems the only aspirant that has not only made his ambition known, but has gone further to do the formal declaration ceremony on Wednesday December 15, 2010. Another name making the rounds in the ACN is also Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa who was a two-term governor of Sokoto State and one time presidential candidate of the now defunct Democratic Peoples Party, DPP. The party, DPP, was a splinter of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, which later got INEC’S registration and contested the 2007 elections. Another name being speculated is of Dr. Usman Bugaje, who until the last convention was the party’s National Secretary. Bugaje was a governorship aspirant in his native Katsina State under the PDP, but decamped to the ACN when the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua pitched tent with Ibrahim Shehu Shema that eventually won the state governorship seat.
Who then, among them, is the key contender? Bugaje is yet to formally declare, and seems to be prudent in letting out much information on his political ambition. His resignation as national secretary of the party may suggest a plan to contest either governorship or presidential seat in the ACN, but if the proposed merger between ACN and General Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, scales through, even the Katsina governorship seat could be relinquished to former House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Bello Masari, a CPC decampee from PDP that is leading negotiations on behalf of Buhari for the merger.
This then leaves Ribadu and Bafarawa for the hot race. On paper, Bafarawa seems to have an edge over Ribadu in terms of financial might. But in modern politics, it is having people, and not money alone that wins elections, even at primary level. This is why Buhari twice picked ANPP’S ticket when the likes of Rochas Okorachas were in the party’s race. Ribadu himself explained in an interview with international correspondents that his idols like late Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and even Shehu Shagari did not have massive money when they contested and won elections.
Similarly, Bafarawa seems to have an edge in terms of political experience having been in politics for some time now, especially that he won governorship seat twice, and was a presidential candidate at least once. This is unlike Ribadu who has never contested for election or ever been an active player in any party politics. However, the Ribadu team sees things differently, insisting that Ribadu’s experience comes from his almost thirty years of meritorious public service.
They insist that Ribadu’s 18 years as public prosecutor earned him the record of successful convictions unmatched by any individual in the almost 150 years of police history in Nigeria. They further showed that Ribadu is not only an exemplary police officer of many years, but a lawyer that has read even beyond a Masters level and now a registered Ph.D student. One could also point to Ribadu’s impeccable personal integrity which built an anti-graft agency, the EFCC, from the scratch to one of the most visible and most effective financial crimes fighting agencies in the world. Bafarawa is perhaps only best known as a successful businessman.
Arguments continue to float front and back, but Ribadu apologists believe that while Bafarawa’s exposure is more limited to state level with no significant record of national or international participation, Ribadu’s spans across the nation and even at international spheres. You can at least point to the EFCC as a major national and even international achievement Ribadu earned.
In a forum recently organized at Mambayya House, Kano, to commemorate late Mallam Aminu Kano’s legacies, speakers alluded to Ribadu’s legal background which they believe will position him better to enhance the rule of law and democratic practices badly needed in Nigerian politics. Similarly, they said his intelligence training and orientation as a police officer and as EFCC boss will provide more realistic instruments for giving the nation better security and safety. They also said that his experience in the EFCC will provide the solid foundation needed to fight corruption which is characterized as the No. one administrative problem of the nation. Also with the international exposure and contacts Ribadu has, it will attract better and more foreign friends to help and invest in the country. All these are not advantages Bafarawa seems to have, they argued.
During a visit by Team Ribadu to the ACN presidential hopeful, these volunteers supporting his campaign insisted that since Ribadu came into the party before Bafarawa, and that since Bafarawa is only a decampee that came after the party was firmly grounded, justice and fairness should rightly give the presidential ticket to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
More importantly, however, they opined that since Ribadu has better organization and structures to meaningfully prosecute the campaign, and that since he has put in so much hard thinking and clear policy solutions backed by untainted public service credentials, coupled with his personal towering integrity record, ACN does not need a second option or even primaries to settle on its ideal and deserving flag-bearer.
One of Ribadu’s campaign co-coordinators also argued during a press interview that since Bafarawa is still enmeshed in legal battles with Sokoto state government, a state he once ruled, on his past deeds during his tenure, he should suspend any bid for elective office and clear his name before re-joining mainstream politics. After all, if the state government implements recommended actions of its white paper and seeks legal indictment in a court of law, Bafarawa may be disqualified and ruin the electoral fortunes of the party. ACN will therefore do well to first look very well before it leaps into the horizon of selecting a flag-bearer. Doing this is imperative because as things are now, it is either ACN or CPC of all the opposition parties that can give the PDP a meaningful democratic fight at next year’s polls. The ACN has set a worthy precedent of peaceful, rancour-free and consensus filled national convention which produced credible and acceptable leaders. Let choosing its flag-bearer go in the same spirit so that the best could emerge to give Nigeria a deserving change.
(Akko is an Abuja-based practicing journalist)
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