Former military Head of State and three-time presidential contender, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), Wednesday formally declared his intention to enter the presidential race on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), promising to fight corruption and wipe out Boko Haram, which he described as “ungodly”.
Also Wednesday, it was gathered that one of the presidential aspirants and former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, might have been rattled by the presence of APC governors at the Buhari declaration rally.
But a source at the Atiku media office has said Atiku’s campaign team explained that the reason more leaders of the APC attended the Buhari declaration rally in comparison to the former vice-president’s, was because they were not invited so as not to compromise their neutrality.
Buhari, who was accompanied to the podium by four APC governors from Lagos, Rivers, Edo and Nasarawa States, said he was putting himself forward to contest for the party’s presidential ticket. “This is an occasion to celebrate our efforts and to resolve to continue until victory is won. I humbly wish to present myself before you, before all of Nigeria and before God seeking to be elected as APC’s presidential candidate,” he said.
The former head of state also used the opportunity to highlight his priority areas if elected president.
Among the areas, which Buhari said his government would give priority to, were the protection of lives and property, pursuing economic policies for shared prosperity and youth employment.
He said proper attention would be given to the provision of quality education for development, modernity and social mobility, agricultural productivity to ensure food security, adding that he would ensure that millions are out of poverty.
Other areas, which Buhari pledged to focus on, were the revival of the industries to generate employment, developing solid minerals exploitation, restoring honour and integrity to public service, and tackling corruption.
Lastly, the former head of state said he would respect the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary and respect the rights of citizens.
Buhari did not spare the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he said had presided over the country’s decline.
“Since 1999, PDP has presided over our country’s decline. Nigeria in my experience has never been so divided, so polarised by an unthinking government hell bent on ruling and stealing forever whatever befalls the country.
“Interference in the form of rigging which PDP government has practised since 2003 is the worst form of injustice – denying people their right to express their opinions. Whether they like it or not, injustice cannot endure,” he said.
Buhari paid tributes to Nigerians who have endured all kinds of difficulties, especially those facing the conflict and marauding insurgents in the North-east.
While expressing concern over the growing insecurity in the country, Buhari lamented the activities of the marauding murderers in towns and villages and armed robbers on the highways.
He nonetheless commended the Nigerian Armed Forces for their efforts to deal with the insurgency.
“It is everyone’s duty to resolve and help the national effort to overcome these immense challenges. I would like us to place on record our appreciation for the efforts of our Armed Forces under a new leadership and police in confronting these challenges,” he added.
On the economy, he said the situation had continued to deteriorate while the agricultural and the industrial sector had all spiralled downwards.
On the power sector, Buhari said when PDP assumed power in 1999, Nigeria was generating 4,000MW of electricity, however, the situation has worsened.
“When PDP came to power in 1999, Nigeria was generating about 4,000MW of electricity. After 15 years and $20 billion spent, we are generating between 3,000MW and 4,000MW. No failure is more glaring than this,” he charged.
The former National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who was called to introduce Buhari, said one of the key priorities of APC would be to generate jobs for the teeming unemployed youths of the country.
He disputed the appellation that Buhari is a religious fanatic, saying the former head of state does not in any way manifest religious fanaticism or bigotry, stressing that Buhari could be trusted as an honest and selfless politician.
According to him, Buhari’s interest is to come and stabilise the polity and step aside.
While welcoming party members and Buhari supporters to the event, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Silva, who chaired the organisation of the event, said amongst others that the country’s economy needed proper intervention.
According to him, Buhari had shown in his lifestyle and past performance in government that he is the one to proffer solutions to the country’s problems.
Commenting on the notion that Buhari is too old to rule, he said age will not be an issue in the election because Buhari has a lot of experience and integrity to his advantage which other candidates are lacking.
Senator Olorunimbe Mamora from Lagos State also addressed the gathering on behalf of a group known as the National Elders of APC.
He said the wind of change was blowing and that come 2015 “we will have an APC government at the centre”.
He listed the problems of unemployment, poor power supply, decay in the education sector and insecurity as some of the biting problems that an APC government would tackle if voted into power.
Another stakeholder of the party and the Minority Leader in the Senate, Senator George Akume, spoke of the exploits of Buhari while he was the Petroleum Minister where he was able to manage the resources creditably.
A woman leader, Hajia Rabiu Ishaq, on her part, urged fellow women to support Buhari whom she said is the leader they can trust to ameliorate the plight of Nigeria women.
Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi said change was certainly in the air, adding that in the past, the opposition party could not boast of the present number of serving governors at its rallies.
“The governors have agreed to work together for change and whoever wins the party’s ticket, we would all join hands to campaign for him,” he said.
He said only APC could boast of an incorruptible personality like Buhari, adding that about N1.106 billion was spent by Rivers State to control the spread of the Ebola virus, while the president only gave the state a paltry N200 million and accused the federal government of politicising the disease.
He said APC has a firm grip on Rivers, Kano and Lagos States, adding that the party intends to adopt the strategy it used to win in Osun State during the 2015 general election.
Speaking on the failings of the country in the power sector, Amaechi said President Goodluck Jonathan had failed in his promise to deliver stable power supply in the country by 2014.
Buhari was driven into the arena at exactly 12.25 pm in an open roof sports utility vehicle (SUV) from which he waved to his supporters.
His frenzied supporters ran alongside the motorcade conveying him till he went into the VIP stand.
As early as midnight Tuesday, all the roads leading to the Eagle Square, Abuja, venue of the declaration rally, was swarmed with hundreds of his supporters who arrived the capital city in several convoys of buses.
Security men and party officials had a hectic time controlling the enthusiastic and near-fanatical youths who took over the entry points to the covered stands, waving and displaying campaign banners. The ecstatic supporters drummed and danced around the arena endlessly till the end of the programme.
Reacting to the calibre of personalities that graced Buhari’s declaration, a source in the Atiku media office said the former vice-president viewed the presence of some governors of APC as something that may endanger their neutrality before the presidential primary
The source said Atiku had deliberately avoided extending invitations to the leaders of APC and the party’s governors “because he didn’t want to compromise their neutrality”.
He explained that since the party’s national leaders and the governors did not endorse any presidential aspirant, Atiku had no need to invite them to his declaration, which might send the wrong message.
Elaborating further, the source said since the party’s national leadership made it clear that they would create a level playing field for all presidential aspirants of the party, inviting any of them to Atiku’s declaration could have led to the perception that they had endorsed him.
To avoid that controversy, the source said Atiku chose to make his declaration essentially a youth event, because they are the main victims of poverty and unemployment, critical agents of change and the focus of his agenda on job creation.
Another reason the source gave was that Atiku did not want to turn the event into a campaign rally as opposed to a symbolic declaration of intent to seek the country’s presidency in 2015.
Some of the leaders of APC who were at the event included Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, Edo State Governor Adams Oshiohmole, Nasarawa State Governor Tanko Al-Makura, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari.
Others were the National Vice-Chairman of APC (North-east), B.D Lawal, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Senator Ahmed Yerima, Senator Abba Buka Ibrahim, Silva, Muoghalu, Sharon Ikeazor, Alhaji Mustapha Habib, Osita Okechukwu, Hajia Hadiza Usman of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), Tony Momoh, Prof. Tamuno David-West, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, Oluwatayo Oluwa and Rotimi Akeredolu.
However, his rivals for the ticket of APC – Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Publisher of Leadership Newspaper, Sam Nda-Isaiah were absent from the vent.
Also reacting on Buhari’s entry into the presidential race, and his derision of the ruling party, the PDP said yesterday that it was pleased to welcome him to the 2015 contest, but debunked his assessment of the party and the Jonathan administration.
PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary Olisa Metuh: “While we congratulate and wish him well in his ambition, we have noted some distortions and misrepresentation of facts in his speech and consequently wish to put the record straight.
“According to General Buhari, Nigeria was generating 4,000MW of electricity in 1999 but has today fallen short of that capacity under the PDP.
“The fact remains that as at May 29th 1999 when PDP took office, Nigeria was generating 1,600MW. We urge Nigerians to fact-check this. Corroboration of this figure can also be sought from the World Bank, the IMF and multiples of other authoritative sources.
“In contrast, it is common knowledge that under the transformative leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria now generates 4,568MW of electricity, triple what was generated in 1999.
“Again, General Buhari stated that the growing economy which the PDP inherited in 1999 has been destroyed within 15 years in office. This also does not represent the reality on the ground.” PDP said these facts could be verified from the handover notes of the military as well as from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), adding that at the time, Nigeria was the third largest economy in Africa, behind South Africa and Egypt.
PDP also said the nation was rated number 48 in the world in terms of its foreign reserves which stood at $3.6 billion while its foreign debt stood at $36 billion.
Metuh said it was incontrovertible that in the last 15 years of PDP leadership, especially the last three years of dynamic and purposeful administration provided by Jonathan, Nigeria’s economy has become the largest in Africa and the 26th largest in the world.
“Similarly, our foreign reserve now stand at over $39 billion and our foreign debt reduced to less than $7 billion from $36 billion,” he said.
Besides, the ruling party took on Buhari on Nigeria’s agricultural sector, saying his statement did not reflect the reality on the ground.
“Verily, the fact remains that in the last 15 years under the PDP, indeed, in the last three years of vigorous application of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, there has been an unparalleled government input in agriculture, thereby pushing production to an all time high. Moreover, Nigeria food importation has reduced from N1.1 trillion in 2010 to N684 billion.
“While we understand that the APC is hell bent on using every opportunity at its disposal to discredit the PDP in its quest for political control, we urge their handlers to always cross-check their facts and stop making a mockery of respected Nigerians in the mould of General Buhari.
“Finally, the PDP again welcomes General Buhari into the presidential race and hopes that in the future, he will not allow himself to be further embarrassed in the course of his campaign,” the PDP said.