21 Apr 2007
As polls open in Nigeria today Saturday April 21 at 10 am, political analysts are turning their attention to the 55-year old former chemistry teacher and current governor of the Northern Nigeria state of Katsina. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is the presidential candidate of the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that swept elections in majority of Nigeria’s 36 states last week (losing only seven states in the exercise). Elections in two states were annulled. Opposition calls for the cancellation of all the state elections, the postponement of presidential elections and the dissolution of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) were ignored. Threats of boycott and demonstrations to prevent the holding of today’s election fizzled out when the main opposition parties ANPP and AC failed to agree on a common front approach. The dream of the opposition parties fielding in a single candidate to challenge the PDP therefore fell apart. Apart from presidential elections, Nigerians will also be electing 360 members of the National House of Representatives and 109 Senators.
This disarray in the opposition ranks has clearly opened the way for the PDP candidate to sail easily to the presidency. Among the other 23 contestants, Yar’Adua has as main challengers Muhammadu Buhari, 64 of All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Atiku Abubakar, 60 of the Action Congress (AC). Buhari had been credited for instilling a sense of discipline and orderliness in Nigeria during the Mid-eighties when he was the military head of state. His War Against Indiscipline (WAI) did redress anarchy in certain sectors of Nigerian society. However, his bid to become president today has many hurdles. In Nigeria’s religious sensitive political environment, non-Muslims are suspicious of his alleged association with conservative Islam. He certainly will find it hard to penetrate all parts of Nigeria. His party currently controls five predominantly Muslim states in the north.
Atiku Abubakar, the estranged vice president of outgoing Olusegun Obasanjo, effectively joined the race Monday after the Supreme Court quashed his disqualification by INEC for corruption allegations. His party has won in only one state (Lagos). Lagos is the commercial nerve center of Nigeria and is seen as the most strategic state in the federation. Observers believe that Atiku has virtually thrown in the towel because he announced that he was participating in the elections so as to have the ‘locus standi’ to challenge the exercise in court. The other candidates do not pose any serious threat to the PDP candidate whose running mate Goodluck Jonathan- is Christian from the volatile Niger Delta region of Southern Nigeria.
The only uncertain variable in today’s election is the preparedness of INEC and the police in ensuring a smooth election. Eyebrows were raised on Friday afternoon when it was reported that election materials (being printed in South Africa) were still on their way. The late arrival of election materials and INEC officials at polling stations last week contributed in no small way in generating the hot air that surrounded the exercise.
In his address to the nation Friday morning, president Obasanjo admitted that there were shortcomings during the elections of last week. “Yes, the elections could not be regarded as perfect because no human arrangement or undertaking can be so regarded”. He said. Obasanjo then called on Nigerians, INEC, and political parties to help make the exercise successful. “The world is watching us and we cannot afford to disappoint ourselves, our friends and the world”. He added.
If the Nigerians heed their president’s call and allow the elections to hold successfully, they will be making history. This will be the first time that one civilian administration hands over to another. As stated earlier, all eyes are now focused on the little known governor of Katsina state. Born in Katsina town in 1951, Yar’ Adua attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1972-75) and later from (1978-80) where he obtained an M.Sc Degree in Analytical Chemistry. Ahmadu Bello University was the hotbed of radical thinking in the 70’s and 80’s where leftist lecturers like the late Dr Bala Usman and Dr. Patrick Wilmot held sway on many students. At one time, Yar’Adua was a progressive ally of Bala Usman. He has been a teacher, farmer and has been director of many companies including Habib Bank. The soft-spoken Yar’Adua was the first governor to publicly declare his assets upon taking office. It is generally agreed that as governor, he has managed Katsina State successfully. If he wins, which is very likely, it is expected that he will cash on his experience in running Katsina State to move Nigeria forward.
Njei Moses Timah