As Atiku dares Buhari on Feb 16: Who will the odds favour?

As the much-expected general elections begin on Saturday next week, particularly the presidential poll, the race seems to be very tight between President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. TAIYE ODEWALE and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU examine their chances across the six geo-political zones.

Expectedly, of all the 91 registered political parties in the country, the two dominant ones in terms of structures across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory  (FCT) are the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). These two had produced elected presidents, governors and representatives into the national and Houses of Assembly aside from chairmen and councillors across the 774 local government areas and 8,809 wards within the last 20 years.

Presently, while the APC as the ruling party at the centre controls 22 out of the 36 states, the PDP has 13 governors, with the remaining state (Anambra) being controlled by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

At the parliamentary level, though the APC controls simple majority of membership at both chambers of the National Assembly, their leaderships as regards the president of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and even the deputy president of the Senate are in the PDP kitty.

While the APC came to power at the national level with Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, the PDP had earlier won and controlled power at such level for 16 years, beginning from May 1999 to May 2015, spanning the Olusegun Obasanjo, the Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan’s presidencies.

Little wonder that in terms of structures and national spread, the presidential candidates of both parties, President Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are far ahead of the candidates of the 77 other political parties that will participate in Saturday’s election.

What makes the race more of a neck-to-neck contest between Buhari and Atiku is the fact that the usual Nigerian factors such as religion, ethnicity and regionalism have little or no roles to play in shaping the directions of the electorates because both are of the same Fulani ethnic stock, Islamic faith as religion in addition to both are the northern axis of the country despite being from different geo-political zones.

Nevertheless, on zonal basis while Buhari can be said to have more presence and acceptance in  the North-west, North-east and South-west, Atiku going by emerging realities on ground will beat Buhari to it in the South-south, South-east and North-central.

Taking the zones state by state, Buhari in the North-west state of Kano with registered voters of about 5.5 million people is most likely to win the state with millions of votes, but with Atiku having the required 25% of the votes cast due to the influence of a former governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, there.

In Katsina with about 3.2 million registered voters, Buhari being a son of the soil will expectedly win the state with a very wide margin to the point of Atiku not having the required 25% of votes cast there, which may also play out in Kebbi with a voting strength of 1.8 million people.

President Buhari’s expected winning streaks in the zone will also play out in Jigawa state which has approximately 2.1 million registered voters, but with Atiku having the required 25% of the votes cast, a similar scenario that may play out in Zamfara state which has voting strength of 1.7million people looks likely.

However, in Sokoto and Kaduna states in the zone, Buhari and Atiku are in for serious contest with almost equal chances of winning there. This is due to the factors of the sitting governor in Sokoto state, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal now in the PDP and strong political strategists like the former governors of Kaduna state, Ahmed Makarfi, Ramalan Yero, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi and the PDP governorship candidate, Mohammed Ashiru, etc, giving Governor Nazir El-Rufa’i, a rabid supporter of President Buhari, the political fight of his life at the home front in the Kaduna North senatorial district or the Zaria Emirate axis which has the highest percentage of close to four million registered voters.

This is in addition to the fact that the Southern axis of the state has, since 1999, been a PDP stronghold while Kaduna Central, the traditional base of Buhari himself in the state, is also being hotly targeted by both parties for grabs in the election which holds in seven days.

In the North-east geo-political zone, apart from Taraba and Adamawa states with a combined voting strength of about 3.8 million people, President Buhari going by prevailing factors and realities on ground will defeat Atiku in Borno state, which has a voting strength of 2.3 million people; Yobe with a voting strength of 1.365 million people and Bauchi with a voting strength of 2.426 million people.

Atiku is expected to checkmate the winning streak of President Buhari in the zone in Adamawa, his home state, which has voting strength of almost two million registered voters; he is also expected to give the president a run for his popularity in Gombe state which is a PDP-controlled state with about 1.4 million registered voters. There is also Taraba, another PDP- state in the zone which has never been won by Buhari due to peculiar factors. The state has 1.777, 105 million registered voters.

However, Atiku by realities on ground may have the upper hand over President Buhari in at least four out of the six states in the North-central from Kwara to Kogi, Benue, Plateau and even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which has never been won by Buhari since 2003.

Even at that, while Niger state with a voting strength of about 2.4 million is a sure banker for Buhari, that cannot be said of Nasarawa state which has 1.6 million registered voters if previous records of electoral performance or performances between Buhari and PDP presidential flag-bearers are to be considered.

While Buhari has never won in the state since 2003, when he started running for president, PDP candidates from Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003, to Yar’Adua in 2007 and Jonathan in 2011 and 2015, have always won the state, a trend that seems to put Atiku on a solid pedestal against the president in the state due to peculiar factors involved.

In the South-west geo-political zone which has the second largest number of registered voters after those of the North-west, President Buhari is more rooted in the area than Atiku as a result of required political structures symbolised by all the six governors of the states who are APC. This is in addition to the tremendous influence of the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in the entire zone which comprises Lagos (6.5 million voters), Ogun (2.3 million voters), Oyo (2.9 million voters), Ondo (1.8 million voters), Ekiti (910, 000 voters) and Osun states with a voting strength of about 1.7 million voters.

Though Buhari for sure will win in the zone, Atiku will also have good showings across the six states with percentage performance of 30 to 40 of the total votes cast.

In the South-south, aside from Edo state, where President Buhari may have a good showing in the election being an APC-controlled state as well as the home state of its national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, Atiku is said to be sure of defeating him outrightly in the remaining five states of Rivers which have voting strength of 3.2 million people, Akwa Ibom (2.1 million people), Bayelsa (923, 000 voters), Delta (2.8 million voters) and Cross Rivers with a voting strength of 1.5 million voters, respectively.

Similar winning streaks based on prevailing realities on ground are also there for Atiku in the five South-east states. In fact, apart from Imo state being an APC-controlled state where President Buhari is expected to square it up with Atiku despite the positive sentiment of an average Igbo voter for Atiku who is running on a joint ticket with Peter Obi, an illustrious son from the zone. Atiku may trounce Buhari in the remaining four states of Enugu (1.9 million voters), Abia (1.9 million voters), Anambra (1.9 million voters) and Ebonyi (1.4 million voters) with wide margin of votes that may deny him the required 25% of the total votes cast.

This is even as notable social cultural groups in the country like the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) headed by Professor Ango Abdullahi, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo headed by Chief John Nwodo, a faction of the Afenirefere group represented by Yinka Odumakin, the Middle Belt Forum headed by retired Air Commodore Dan Suleiman and the South-south forum headed by Chief Edwin Clark, threw their weights behind Atiku’s candidacy in the race on account of his stance on restructuring.

To the elders, President Buhari has nothing new to offer Nigeria and Nigerians if voted back into office.

“What Nigeria and Nigerians need now is a leader with clear vision, mental alertness and required ideas of moving the country forward. Atiku of the PDP has to a large extent demonstrated this on the political terrain with his genuine intention of planning to restructure the country along the lines of fiscal federalism and not over-bloated or suffocated centre that has been bleeding the nation’s economy to the detriment of the suffering masses in the country who constitute the largest portion of the population,” they said in a communiqué issued by Yinka Odumakin.

But for President Buhari, similar support came from about 80 retired Generals from the nation’s Armed Forces, who said having performed creditably well across the various sectors within the last three and half years, deserves to be given another mandate.

The retired Generals led by Brigadier Buba Marwa, a former military administrator of Lagos state, said as far as they and the majority of Nigerians were concerned, President Buhari has delivered on his three cardinal areas of security, economy and war against corruption which, if sustained, would surely take Nigeria to the next level. However, some commentators in the polity like Mike Ozekhome (SAN), in his  reaction to the endorsement, said voices of the 77 retired generals were not up to that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo or that of Ibrahim Babangida or Theophilus Danjuma who had at different times between last year and now advised Buhari not to seek re-election on account of alleged below average performance,  just as APC also dismissed the endorsement of Atiku by the social cultural groups as gang-up that will fail.

The neck-to-neck chances of the two leading contenders in the race and the required need for credibility of the electoral process, made the international community like the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America to, in separate statements last week, call on all stakeholders involved to allow the people’s votes to count by not in anyway interfere in the process.

The foreign powers in their statements further warned stakeholders be they staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), personnel of security forces, politicians participating in the elections or even officials of government in power of sanctions awaiting them in form of visa denials among other restrictions.

Though the APC-led federal government felt bad about such interference from foreign powers, but it assured the electorates of free, fair, transparent and credible elections.

The party in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Lanre Isa  Onilu, in Abuja, said most of the people alleging plans of rigging by the ruling party were being hunted by their past as “no such plan is being hatched anywhere and by whatever means within the party.”

“For us in the APC, we don’t need to circumscribe the process to win the coming elections because the records are there for Nigerians to see how wonderfully the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has performed and to vote wisely for them to be taken to the next level of the development-driven performances,” he said.

But his counterpart in the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, insisted that the party in collaboration with INEC and security agencies is planning to rig the elections having allegedly seen the handwriting of their imminent defeat on the wall.

He said: “If the coming elections are allowed to be free, fair and transparent , PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, will beat President Buhari straight away in a first ballot because of his abysmal performance in office within the last three and half years.

“The signs are out there in the streets, indicating that Nigerians are tired of a President who is not in charge. Nigerians want an in charge president, they don’t want a President whose wife will say he is not in charge but a cabal.”

As far as the coming elections are concerned, particularly the presidential poll which is just seven days away, the die is cast between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP on who will  eventually emerge as the winner.

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