Even before former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his legendary public statement and the Fourth Republic's vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, left the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), most APC leaders knew that electing President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term was not going to be an easy task. The apprehension was also made acute when the former vice president left the ruling party to rejoin Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with apparent intention to contest the 2019 presidential election.
While Obasanjo outlined the need for a paradigm shift in the leadership structure of the country, the APC leaders, having noted the preponderance of public opinion for the presidency to remain in the north, felt that the presidential contest would be won and lost in the north given the zone's large haul of registered voters.
As soon as the president announced a presidential campaign council dominated by Southern politicians, especially Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, a small group of northern leaders in the party came together with a view to preserving Buhari's support base in the north.
A source told The Guardian, "What inspired the formation of a small cell of committed lieutenants of the president was the need for balance. So that, while the southern leaders made all the noise and devised all tricks to shrink the support of the opposition, the insider committee would work behind the scene to reach the grassroots in selected states in the north."
Against that background, it could be said that the victory announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for President Buhari and APC came by way of the backstage contributions of 12 men and women as well as strategic oversight by the opposition leaders.
Opposition's strategic slip
DURING an exclusive interview with The Guardian shortly after the former vice president, Atiku, moved over to PDP, Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari, said the Fourth Republic's vice president had injured his political relevance in the scheme of things in the country. While contending that Atiku behaved true to type by his cross defection, Masari expressed the belief that in the event that PDP fails to gift him the party's presidential ticket, the former vice president would leave for another party. Masari declared that as a nomadic politician, Atiku would not remain in a party unless his ambition to contest the presidency was guaranteed.
As if to prove the Katsina governor's assertions right, at the build up to PDP's presidential primary in Port Harcourt, there were covert plans by Atiku's confidantes to engineer his move into All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to fly the party's flag for the February 16, 2019 presidential poll.
The decision to have Atiku move over to APGA was, according to sources, informed by two considerations, notably to harvest the bloc votes of Igbo electorate and call the bluff of some PDP hawks that were averse to the vice president flying the party's presidential flag.
Some PDP faithful, especially those who fought against the proposed name change for the party, mounted spirited opposition against the idea of Atiku becoming the presidential candidate. They contended that allowing Atiku to fly the party's flag would amount to rewarding indiscipline, stressing that but for Atiku's decision to join the five state governors that left PDP in 2014, it would have been very hard for APC to beat PDP in the 2015 presidential election.
The PDP stalwarts that opposed Atiku's bid for the presidential ticket, including Governors Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose, who maintained that after funding and contributing ideas that led to PDP's loss of the presidency, it did not sound reasonable that the former vice president should be the party's champion in the 2019 election. Those who opposed the move to support Atiku for the presidential contest noted that had he stayed back as late Dr. Alex Ekwueme did when Obasanjo blocked his chances, the 2019 presidential ticket would have been his without challenge after former President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 poll.
Nevertheless, it took Atiku's high network of contacts and persuasive power to win the voices of dissent to his side. The former vice president dismissed opposition to his quest, remarking that each time he had to leave PDP it was based on unfair treatment and undemocratic tactics.
Speaking through his Director of Media, Segun Sowunmi, Atiku noted that he had worked for the deepening of Nigeria's democracy, stressing that at each point when the country's democracy was being trampled upon, he had always risen to the occasion, sparing neither cost nor personal comfort to defend the nation's interest. Sowunmi said Atiku deserves garlands for helping to found major political parties in the country, adding that his contributions to the success and stature of PDP are monumental.
"Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is not a vain politician," he said. "He has rich ideas and vision for the development of this country and serves as the bridge between the old and young. That is why he is talking jobs at this point in time to help revive the economy of this country."
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible that that failed strategy of having Atiku on the APGA presidential ticket with former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, would not only have put the presidency beyond President Buhari's reach, but also made the 2019 poll intriguing.
Before Atiku's incursion, PDP leaders were divided on Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and former Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. While some state governors, led by Wike and Fayose, preferred Tambuwal, who would have most likely paired up with the former Ekiti State governor, former President Jonathan believed in the ability of Shekarau to mobilize the mass of northern voters, the talakawas.
Based on the vote tally returned by INEC from the presidential election, it is possible that had Atiku been on APGA ballot and Tambuwal flying the flag of PDP, the game would have been up for APC and Buhari, since PDP and APC would have shared Northwest votes. Given that scenario, if Tambuwal benefits from the Not-Too-Young-To-Run sentiment, Atiku and Buhari would have been wrestling on their ideas and performance. But it did not pan out that way.
Enter team G12
ALTHOUGH PDP chieftain and Atiku's handlers did not envisage the feasibility of President Buhari netting maximum votes from Northwest, some APC leaders in the north saw the danger of allowing a strong rival presidential candidate from the northwest.This could explain why the presidential candidate of Peoples Trust (PT), Mr. Gbenda Olawepo-Hashim, had a tough time running his campaigns, especially his running battles on the platform of Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) shortly after he indicated a strong showing for the presidency. Although with roots in Southwest, Olawepo-Hashim hails from Kebbi State.
It was based on this apprehension and need to preserve President Buhari's support clusters in the north that a team of 12 persons was constituted to undertake grassroots mobilization and sensitization of voters in Katsina, Kano, Yobe, Borno and Kebbi States.The Guardian gathered that members of the G12 included governors Masari, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Ibrahim Gaidam, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Ministers of Interior, Justice and Aviation, Gen. Abdulmunin Danbazau, Abubakar Malami and Hadi Sirika, Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority (MD, NPA) Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, formr APC National Secretary and Yobe guber candidate, Mai Mala Buni, Musa Haruna Haro, and Special Adviser to the president on Youth/Student Affairs, Nasir Saidu Adhama and Kano State Commissioner for Local Government, Murtala Sule Gary.
Apart from the initial meeting where the information module and technical modalities were worked out, Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, did not feature in subsequent planning and execution of the mandate of the amorphous group. Through the work of the group, which remained out of public radar, major information and messaging from the opposition were cleverly counteracted just as the thought that corrupt people have ganged up against President Buhari was spread among the people. Voters were also informed that one of the presidential candidates was not a real Muslim.
The work of the group was more defined in Kano and Katsina States. In Kano, Governor Ganduje and Adhama worked the grassroots through their empowerment scheme, Youth Empowerment Scheme, which cut across the 44 local government areas of the state, was programmed to uplift the living condition of young people and push back on opposition's claim that under Buhari hunger is rife. Governor Ganduje encouraged startup businesses, by providing young entrepreneurs with N20,000 each as startup capital to support their businesses, even as he empowered 8,800 youths through the scheme.
On his part, Nasir Adhama worked tirelessly with the youths in Kano and across the nation through P-YES. It was perhaps on account of his yeoman's job that Adhama's community and local government returned the highest number of votes to APC and President Buhari in the just concluded presidential poll. Nassarwa Local Government Area from where Adhama hails delivered about the highest votes from any ward with 84,289 votes. Through his intervention, 3,000 people benefitted from free eye surgeries.
Apart from leading the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to pay a courtesy visit on the president, Adhama had been mobilizing working youth voters progressively, especially through the Presidential Youth Empowerment Scheme (P-YES) initiative, which served 774,000 beneficiaries across the 774 Local Government of the country.
Like Adhama, other members of G12 sustained grassroots mobilization for the president even before electioneering kicked off officially. This might be the secret why Kano and Katsina States posted extra-ordinary results for the president. It was perhaps on account of the success recorded by the G12 that Kaduna State governor was said to have dismissed some APC chieftains from the South as empty barrels lacking in electoral worth.
However, despite the result of the presidential and National Assembly elections, sources said some of the state governors might have it tough winning their second term mandates due to inability to weave similar cohesion and strong support in their respective states. Some guber candidates on other platforms have been giving covert assurances of their intention to cross over to the ruling party after winning the governorship.Consequently, until the gubernatorial and State Assembly elections are done with, the full story of what went on behind the scenes for the 2019 general election would still remain unfolding.