Saturday, November 22, 2003

Buhariís lonely struggles

Abdul-Azeez Suleiman

Perhaps General Muhammadu Buhari, the All Nigeria Peopleís Party (ANPP) presidential candidate in the much-touted April 19 polls may have to pursue his legal battle to upturn the result of the election alone as big names in the ANPP appear to increasingly distant themselves from the struggle.

While only Chief Don Etiebet, the partyís national chairman and a handful of loyalists in The Buhari Organisation (TBO) seem to endure in accompanying the general to the court on almost every adjournment, governors and other representatives elected on the platform of the ANPP appear either to be too busy to go with him or simply donít care."And if my supporters do not bother to come out openly and support me for people to see, I think that is mainly their problem. What I am proud of is that we have enough team working seriously to ensure that we have gone through the process that will prove through the court of law that there were no elections," the general told Weekly Trust.

ensure that we have gone through the process that will prove through the court of law that there were no elections," the general told Weekly Trust.

At first, sceptics doubted that there was really a snag in the relationship of ANPP governors and other representatives with Muhammadu Buhari but recent political spins tend to throw all scepticisms to the wind.

More and more intrigues suggest that more prominent figures in ANPP are shedding all shreds of allegiance to the partyís presidential candidate in a frantic expectation of favours in a post-2007 power arrangement.

Especially disturbing are emerging revelations that the ANPP state governors and most elected representatives have withdrawn all financial and moral support for the party and to the Buhari struggle as well.

Honourable Yusuf Datti Baba Ahmed, an ANPP member in the House of Representatives from Zaria, confirmed to Weekly Trust that though the party caucus had agreed that members of the House contribute 10 per cent of their monthly basic salaries, the collection is however low.

"I even suggested that staff should be dedicated for the singular purpose of collecting membersí contributions for the party. And that advice has not been taken yet," he said.

He disclosed that it has also been suggested that some money should be set aside under the office of the ANPP leader in the House of Representatives so that a minimum of N12,000 to N15,000 would be paid to the staff dedicated to this function.

"But you see, they are not very forthcoming to suggestions of that nature," Baba Ahmed said.

On his part, the ANPP national secretary, Sani El-Katuzu, insisted that all elected party representatives including the seven ANPP governors have been contributing to the partyís finances.

According to him, all party members and not only governors are expected to contribute to the funding of the party.

"All of us have a duty for financing the party in the little ways that we can and the state governors are doing the best they can under the circumstances. It is not true that they are not financing the party," he said, admitting however that they are doing it in a little way.

El-Katuzu observed that arguments that the governors have ceased to support the party were only hatched by some people who believed that the funding of the party should be shouldered solely by a certain category of people.

"The party belongs to all of us and nobody should be made to feel as if he alone is responsible for financing the party," he said.

He however agreed that in most cases, individual candidates finance their election petitions without assistance from the party, because the party does not even have the means of sustaining itself.

He said it is the candidates that are expected to give the party funds to run itself with, as well as to finance their litigations.

"But in the case of the presidential election petition, apart from General Buhariís group, the party also lends a helping hand because we are partners in the case and we are also doing our part," he said.

More curious is that the muddle in the ANPP is worsening at a defining moment when preliminary successes by General Buhari in the courts are beginning to change peopleís attitude towards the nationís judicial system from one of suspicion to one of respect.

People are therefore questioning why the governors who owe their electoral victories largely to Buhariís grassroots supporters would want to desert him at this stage.

Some grassroots supporters of the general believe he is being deserted because of his deep-rooted pragmatism which contrasts with the flexible conformist ideals of most of the governors and other fellow party men.

Alhaji Ibrahim A. Alhassan, a Kaduna-based businessman and a Buhari supporter who said that though he is not a card-carrying member of the ANPP, he is however not happy with the lukewarm attitude of most prominent members of the party toward the Buhari struggle.

"People like us who are not affiliated to any political party but worked for the success of the ANPP in the April polls are actually disappointed with the governors and other officials elected under the partyís flag."

According to Alhassan, most people used their money, time and energy to ensure an ANPP victory just because General Buhari was in the party and not because any of the candidates was worth being elected.

He said that the confidence of the Nigerian masses in the electoral process and the democratic governance was only rekindled with the entry of the general into the ANPP.

"The governors should be grateful to General Buhari and not treat him this way. They should remember that if not for him, they would not have even come close to gaining or retaining the positions they hold today," he said.

At least, this much was confirmed by Hon. Datti Baba Ahmed who believe that the governors and all representatives at both federal and state assemblies that were elected in the ANPP must align themselves with the cause of General Buhari.

He pointed out that a majority of the ANPP members in the national and state assemblies are there courtesy of Buhariís grassroots sympathy.

"We owe our victory a great deal to General Buhariís presence in the ANPP and to the fact that he contested on the same platform as we did."

As usual, the national leadership of the party denied having knowledge of any rift between the governors and the Buhari group.

Dispelling this fear, El-Katuzu, the partyís national scribe said that at no time has the party secretariat received any report of any disagreement between General Buhari as a person or his group and any of the governors.

He suggested that the ANPP governors might be tied down to official state functions and may not have the time to attend the court sessions.

"I will like to believe that it is not because of any animosity knowing full well that it is not always easy for someone to come and stay in Abuja to attend court cases. People have their own responsibilities, which they have to look ino," he said.

El-Katuzu explained that General Buhari does not go to the court alone but is always in the company of the partyís national chairman and friends and well-wishers.

According to him, a situation where the ANPP is represented by its national chairman is symbolically expected that the whole party is with that activity.

And to that extent, according to the scribe, General Buhari should not be seen as going to the court alone.

"He has the sympathy of the whole party because the national chairman is behind him," he said.

Coming to the rescue of the ANPP governors, the Borno State deputy governor, Alhaji Adamu Shettima Dibal explained that the national leadership of the party is to blame for the absence of governors at the sittings of the presidential election tribunal as a mark of support for the partyís presidential candidate.

In an interview with Weekly Trust in Maiduguri, Alhaji Adamu Dibal denied accusations that ANPP governors are not forthcoming in their support for Muhammadu Buhari, saying that it is members of the partyís national executive that are supposed to coordinate and extend invitations to the governors to attend the sittings of the tribunal since General Buhari himself is physically appearing at the tribunal.

"The fact that we are not in court with Buhari does not mean that we are not with him. As a party affair, the national leadership of the party should have been more active in coordinating and reaching out to the states level," Dibal said.

Charting a middle course in the fray was Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the first executive governor of Edo State under the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and now a powerful national figure in the ANPP.

Chief Oyegun believes that General Buhari is "not getting the kind of support he deserves both from the elected officials and the party."

This buck-passing has however failed to convince most grassroots sympathizers of the general who insist that the attitude of the governors and most ANPP top men toward Buhariís struggle may not be unconnected to a wider power politics.

This presupposes that some of the governors are already scheming for vice presidential positions under an Igbo presidential candidate in the 2007 contest, while others are believed to be preparing to leave the ANPP and work for a PDP agenda in the hope that President Obasanjoís sit-tight plan uncovered recently actualises.

Perhaps therein lies the reason behind the ANPP governorssí lukewarm attitude to what has now rightly or wrongly come to be seen as the Buhari struggle.

And irrespective of what the motive of the governors may turn out to be, at least one thing is clear. It is proving to be a headache for the national leadership of the party to bring together the ideals General Buhari stands for and those of most members of the ANPP.

"My main problem is to see that this system is honourable enough. A decent system that goes by the law," said the hardly-rattled general.