Talks of possible merger and adoption of a single presidential candidate by the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) have collapsed, at least for now.
One of the gladiators on the ACN side said in Lagos that the so-called merger was no more than hype by the Muhammadu Buhari side in the first place.
Saharareporters was told that the talks broke down a long time ago as General Buhari refused to participate in the ACN party primaries perhaps because he sensed that running against a younger candidate in Nuhu Ribadu or Attahiru Bafarawa could spell doom on his political career.
The purported plan by the ACN and CPC to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) yesterday in Abuja was dismissed by some sources as a concoction of the Daily Trust newspaper, whose owners are associates of General Buhari. During the waning days of the Umaru Yar’Adua administration, Daily Trust developed a reputation for such unfounded stories, notably stories of Yar’Adua’s "recovery" even when the man was in a vegetative state and only weeks from dying.
But the ACN negotiation with the CPC was real at the beginning, driven partly by special interests within the ACN, especially its sole proprietor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the former Lagos State governor who was buoyed by judicial victories that gave his party some Southwest states after prolonged legal battles.
Tinubu had invited Nuhu Ribadu to become the presidential candidate. The former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) became the darling of the ACN on the account of his youthfulness and popularity amongst Nigerian educated young people as well as the international community.
As time went on, however, it dawned on Tinubu and top echelons of the party that Ribadu was going to face serious hurdles gaining acceptance in the traditional north where the rich and conservative hold political power. Ribadu wasn't highly "respected" by northern politicians, who accept the dictates of certain entrenched interests in deciding whom to vote or work for.
In addition, as soon as Ribadu became an aspiring candidate, he made a number of faux pas that alienated his initial supporters. His widely publicized exoneration of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, for instance, was widely regarded as capitulation, and he didn't help matters by eulogizing Tinubu himself and casting him as a victim of PDP conspiracy. After that, the steam of the Ribadu campaign seemed to die down completely in the past few weeks as the PDP candidates took center stage.
Tinubu was quoted as saying that he had achieved from Ribadu all he wanted, that is, a "clean bill of health" regarding the allegations of corruption against him as governor of Lagos and his continued dominance of the financial and political scene.
Two things happened that almost got Ribadu removed from reckoning as the authentic candidate of the ACN. First, Tinubu began to reach out to General Buhari for alliance, offering himself as the General’s Vice Presidential candidate in an alliance between the two parties.
But that proposition was not appealing to the Buhari team because they feared that with Buhari's reputation as an "Islamist", he could not have another southern Muslim as his vice in a presidential contest. Tinubu was asked to nominate another trusted person instead, which led to the choice of Niyi Adebayo through Chief Segun Osoba. Both Osoba and Adebayo were never fond of Nuhu Ribadu because of their closeness to James Ibori, whom they visited in Kaduna prison after Ribadu got him arrested and tried for corruption. But it didn't take long for the Buhari team to understand that Niyi Adebayo was not going to cut it as Buhari's deputy as he is regarded as a political paperweight whose performance in Ekiti state as governor between 1999-2003 remains controversial.
Sources told SaharaReporters that after a frustrating contact with Buhari, Mr. Tinubu decided to focus on the Lagos ACN primary elections where he put his wife and some children in electoral contest and wanted to replace the current governor of Lagos State as the candidate of the ACN in the election.
However, he hit a brick-wall in that respect and formally settled for the incumbent Babatunde Fashola as the party's candidate. In the mean time, he had imposed his wife as a senatorial candidate in the state.
Meanwhile, the period of interregnum allowed Nuhu Ribadu to rally ACN members to make a good showing at the party's convention in Benin. He also retained the confidence of the party chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, who had always believed that the best way to defeat the PDP behemoth was to field a young candidate for the party.
Although some ACN apparatchiks had reached out to new candidates to contest against Ribadu in the ACN primaries, it was almost too late to pull any surprises. For example a new recruit to the ACN primaries, former governor of Sokoto state, Attahiru Bafarawa, came late to the ACN convention in Benin because he was delayed by a continued trial for N15 billion corruption arising from his tenure as governor of the state. Only yesterday, the Court of Appeal in Sokoto dismissed his objections and ordered that he be tried for corruption.
When it became clear that beating Ribadu at the primaries was impossible, ACN chieftains concentrated on their respective states to conduct what some described as highly questionable party primaries that placed their wards and cronies as candidates in upcoming elections.
When the party primaries took place last Friday, one day after the PDP primaries, all the candidates arrayed against Ribadu decided to withdraw from the contest and he won by a general "acclamation." But the ominous sign that he remains a stranger to the kind of politics being played by Tinubu and his loyalists was exposed when Ribadu refused to sign a clause in the party nomination form which provides that the party could replace him anytime they wanted. So, as he began giving his acceptance speech at the Onikan stadium venue of the party primaries, the crowd petered out.
Curiously, party leaders began fresh negotiation with Buhari's team after the primaries, even after they had chosen a candidate.
Those negotiations continued until Ribadu met face to face with Buhari last week in Kaduna after he paid a condolence visit there. In a close door meeting, Buhari reportedly told Ribadu to withdraw from the race and let him become the candidate for both parties--ACN&CPC--but Ribadu respectfully told him that since he had once been head of state and run as presidential candidate on two occasions without success, it was time for a younger person to carry on from where he had failed. The two men disagreed and parted without an agreement.
Ribadu is riding on the crest of renewed enthusiasm in the North, occasioned by anger against state governors who they claimed sold their "birthright" to Goodluck Jonathan in the PDP primaries. So many of those governors may not be able to safely campaign for Jonathan in the North in the upcoming election as they face a very hostile electorate.
Also Ribadu’s continued acceptance by young people across Nigeria has helped to re-energize his campaign.
Concerning Buhari also, core political figures in the north like Abubakar Atiku and Ibrahim Babangida are more disposed to supporting Jonathan than supporting Buhari because of their fear that he would lose in a general election.
So far, most political campaigns are in the cooler, so it is unclear how things would swing in favor or against any of the candidates from the North. It is clear, however, that if they remain fractured and uncoordinated, that would be added advantage to Goodluck Jonathan, the PDP candidate in the election. A source in Ribadu's camp told Saharareporters that Buhari will ultimately be prevailed upon to withdraw from the race, but Buhari, a well known no-nonsense man who is on the cusp of choosing fiery Lagos Pastor, Tunde Bakare as his vice presidential candidate, would most likely not oblige.
On the part of Ribadu, the next task is choosing a vice-presidential candidate who can generate adequate interest in his candidature in terms of credibility, viability and independence. The short list earlier included the governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomhole as the top candidate, but he may have been eliminated as he, too, faces dwindling popularity at home over the conduct of the ACN primaries.
Most importantly, Governor Oshiomhole is generally accused of being over-ambitious, and to be seeking only platforms that would aid his ambition to become the president of Nigeria in the near future. He is said to be the brain behind the continued push to have Buhari become ACN's presidential candidate. Mr. Ribadu is reportedly searching for a female vice presidential candidate in the meantime.
But despite the advertised "MOU signing” in Abuja yesterday, Buhari was sighted in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, while Bola Tinubu remained in Lagos and Chief Akande only went as far as Ibadan, Oyo State.