Nigeria, Africa's most populated country, will go to the polls on April 16 to elect a new president. It's the fourth election since the country returned to civil rule in 1999. TELL profiles the leading candidates for the post of the most powerful man in Nigeria.
Goodluck Jonathan, 53
He was practically forced into politics in 1998 by his Ogbia Community in Bayelsa State when Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governorship candidate, approached the community for a running mate nominee. Fortune, they say, favours the prepared mind, and Goodluck Jonathan was the prepared mind fortune found in the ancient kingdom with a doctoral degree. He was the ideal deputy, who experienced politicians argue is an equivalent of a vehicle spare tyre. He had no visible ambition as the number two man to succeed his boss, as is the tradition in Nigeria at federal and state levels. He held his peace while politicians positioned themselves to succeed Alamieyeseigha as their second term braced the half way tape. He did not feature in anybody’s succession calculus, except God’s.
Suddenly, Providence propped him to the fore. Alamieyeseigha was arrested in London for money laundering in October 2005, he was impeached and subsequently jailed in Nigeria. The mantle of leadership then fell on Jonathan. Now as the front-runner, he easily won the party’s governorship ticket in 2007. But God had other plans for him. The party picked him as the running mate to Umar Yar’Adua, the presidential standard-bearer. If Jonathan was given a choice he might have felt more comfortable remaining as the governor of Bayelsa State.
About three years in office, Yar’Adua died and Jonathan became president. When the conflict of making Jonathan president was on, those who knew him doubted if he would want to contest in 2011, given his attitude to power. He appeared to share Macbeth’s initial philosophy, before he was consumed by ambition, that “If Chance will have me king; Chance will crown me.”
However, events since he became president have proved that Jonathan’s formlessness may not be entirely weakness as his opponents say. He has disappointed some hawks in the party who supported the “doctrine of necessity” to make him Acting President, calculating that he would be too scared to run in 2011. Some thought that zoning will stop him but he found a way around it. Now the 2011 presidential election is between Jonathan and others.
Muhammadu Buhari, 68
His training as a soldier prepared him for wars and battles. Perhaps, it also prepared him to be a dogged fighter. This may explain why since 2003 he has remained resolute in his quest for the presidency of Nigeria. And once again, this year, Muhammadu Buhari, retired general and former military head of state, is set to battle for Aso Rock, the nation’s seat of power.
Just like it happened in the past, Buhari is once again a major factor to consider in the race for the presidency this year. Frustrated at the attitude of the leadership of his former party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Buhari formed the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, on whose platform he is running for the presidency.
But that is not exactly what makes him a major factor. What Buhari really has going for him is the fact that he is seen as a credible candidate with impeccable character and anti-corruption records. He is also seen as a no-nonsense leader who will not condone any acts of indiscipline. These are attributes he displayed during his days as head of state and the time he served as chairman, Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, PTF, under the military regime of late Sani Abacha.
This is perhaps where his attributes may become an albatross. As a dogged fighter, Buhari holds on to certain principles that have not allowed him to work in a merger arrangement with the ACN or any other party. Besides that, most politicians both see his strict anti-corruption and disciplinarian stance as a major threat from the North and the South and many of them would rather not have him as president. Add that to the perception in the predominantly Christian South that Buhari, a northern Muslim is intolerant of other religious and ethnic groups, then it will be clear why he appears so close to the presidency and yet so far away.
Nuhu Ribadu, 50
Some have called him the Nigerian version of Barack Obama, president of the United States. Others insist that he is the David that would confront and vanquish the Goliaths of Nigerian politics. Still, a few believe he could be that political messiah that would lead Nigeria to the Promised Land. These were some of the thoughts that greeted the declaration by Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to contest the presidential election, an indication that Ribadu embodies the hopes and promises of many disillusioned Nigerians, especially the younger generation who have been consistently scarred by leadership failure either disguised in military khaki or civilian babanriga.
Indeed, there is a marked difference between Ribadu and most of the other presidential aspirants. Apart from the fact that Ribadu is the youngest, and has never held any elective political position before, he is also perceived to be largely immune to the corruption virus that is endemic in the nation’s ruling class. This is not unconnected with the years he spent as head of the anti-graft agency where he acquired a larger than life persona as he waged a relentless crusade against corruption. Many believe that his laudable pedigree with the EFCC represents a political asset that places him far ahead of some other presidential aspirants shackled by corruption and allied burden.
As may be expected from an anti-corruption czar, Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, has made corruption and leadership part of the central thrust of his campaign. His entrance into the country’s murky political waters as presidential aspirant of ACN has sent a message. It has impressed on other political parties and the nation’s ruling elite of the need to present credible candidates to the electorate in the next general election.
But does Ribadu have enough political clout to emerge as president? And even if he does, can he transcend the diversities in the nation to emerge as the next president-elect?