Buhari is not new to the presidential race. The 2019 elections is the fifth time he would be contesting the presidential election. His first attempt was in 2003 on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), but was defeated by then President Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP. He was back in 2007, also on the platform of the ANPP, but was defeated by late Yar’Adua, who hailed from Katsina State with him. In March 2010, he left the ANPP to form the CPC. It was under this platform that he contested the 2011 presidential election against Jonathan but lost for the third time.
He polled 12 million votes against the out-going president’s 22.3 million. The intrigues and power play that characterised the election, especially the collapse of an alliance between the CPC and ACN led by a former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu forced him to declare at the eve of the presidential poll that he will not run for any elective office again. His words: “This campaign is the third and last one for me since after it I will not present myself again for election into the office of the president.”
He however made a detour in 2013, when he said: “I am still in active politics until the polity is sanitised and people enjoy the fruits of democracy at all levels of government.” The volte-face unsettled many Northern political elements, who had been on the standby to step into his shoes, but the stern Buhari, like the soldier that he is, stuck to his gun and resolved not to quit politics, even when some of his contemporaries have taken the back stage. He hinged his resolution on two compelling objectives – need to sanitise the polity, and to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the dividends of democracy at all levels of government. Despite three unsuccessful attempts, Buhari never gave up on his presidential ambition. It is on record that he was among the first to declare for the 2015 presidency as early as in 2013, although many saw his quest then as another “political gamble.”
The bid, however, gained momentum shortly after the formalisation of the merger of leading opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which led to the formation and registration of APC by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on July 31, 2013. Expectedly, Buhari’s aspiration received the endorsement of APC’s delegates at the party’s National Convention in Lagos between November 10 and 11, 2014.
He defeated four other aspirants – former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and the publisher of Leadership Newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah to clinch the presidential ticket. He polled 4,430 votes to beat Kwankwaso to the second position.
The Kano State governor had 974 votes. Shockingly, Atiku, who many had thought would give the former military ruler a good run, came a distant third with 954 votes, while Okorocha came fourth with 624 votes. Nda- Isaiah, a new comer to the race had 10 votes. The outcome of the primaries drew the battle line for the 2015 presidency between Buhari and Jonathan, though it was not the first time both men would square each other for the country’s plum job.
They first met in the 2011 presidential election, which Buhari contested on the CPC platform but lost. There was no doubt that the APC national leadership was able to build formidable structures across the country between 2013 the party was registered and the 2015 elections, but it is incontrovertible that Buhari rode on his popularity to power, particularly in the North, where he enjoys a kind of cult-followership. Buhari’s popularity, perhaps, explained the support his ambition got from APC governors even when two of them –Kwankwaso and Okorocha contested the party’s presidential primaries.
His electoral strength as demonstrated in previous elections, especially in 2011 that he garnered about 12 million votes, convinced the governors of his ability to defeat Jonathan in the 2015 poll. The CPC platform, on which he contested the 2011 presidential election, it would be recalled, was formed less than six months to the election and his campaign never extended beyond the North. He also lacked the financial strength, which plays a great role in determining electoral victories in the country. Despite these limitations, he was able to win 12 out of the 19 Northern states of Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Borno, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara, while Jonathan’s PDP won in the rest seven states of Kwara, Kogi, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa.
It was therefore understandable when APC chieftains, including those who lost out in the presidential primaries threw all they had in support of the Buhari candidature in the last elections. The backing was informed by the belief that a Buhari candidature will guarantee substantial votes for the party in the North-West and North-East zones as well as the South-West, where Tinubu holds sway, politically. The calculation paid off with the party’s victory in 21 out of the country’s 36 states. The states are Ogun, Kogi, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Bauchi, Sokoto, Adamawa, Katsina, Kwara, Kaduna, Benue, Borno, Kebbi, Lagos, Yobe, Zamfara .