In an era bereft of heroes and heroines, an inspiring speech is harder to come by than the biblical camel trying to force its way through the eye of a needle. Political campaigns and rallies no longer inspire. After the era of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, political rallies have turned into arenas of lies, obscenities and vulgarities.
It is generally believed that people with the gift of the garb are loquacious. But one of the presidential aspirants of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who later won the primary is a man of little words. He doesn’t belong to the class of sweet-talking politicians, who have bestrode the country’s political space in the last 16 years, bringing basketfuls of empty promises to the masses.
His taciturnity is seen by many as a big disadvantage in the world of politics, where deceit is a second nature. But Buhari proved many people wrong at the manifesto ceremony organised by the APC for its presidential aspirants on Wednesday through Thursday.
Lanky but sure footed, the 71-year-old held the crowd at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, spellbound when he mounted the rostrum. His boyish voice rang out.
He said, “Personal ambition does not drive me in this regard. I seek to be the next President of our beloved nation because I believe I have something to offer Nigeria at this time of multiple crises. Insecurity, corruption, and economic collapse have brought the nation low. Time is past due that we work together to lift Nigeria. I am ready to lead Nigeria to its rightful future.
“I have always served Nigeria to the best of my ability. I have always tried to give more to the nation than it has given me. This is the principle of service that has guided my public life. Thus, I am not a rich person. I can’t give you a pocketful of dollars or naira to purchase your support. Even if I could, I would not do so. The fate of this nation is not up for sale. What I will give you and this nation is all of my strength, commitment, sweat and toil in the service of the people. What I can give you is my all.
“I do not intend to rule Nigeria. I want to democratically govern it with your help. I seek a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims may practise their faiths in peace and security; a Nigeria that is just and where corruption no longer trespasses into our institutions and national behaviour and a Nigeria where our diversity could be used for our national prosperity.
“Through a long career trying to build a better country for my fellow Nigerians in offices both high and low I have always tried to place my country before myself.
“While some who have occupied those same positions have grown mysteriously rich, I still live on my army pension. I own no foreign bank accounts, I own no companies profiting from government contracts.
“Why then do I seek office, if not for myself? While others might prefer to stay at home watching their grandchildren grow and leave the battle to others, I still see injustices that need to be righted and I still dream of a New Nigeria.
“I am what you see before you – a simple man who believes in serving both God and his country. A man who is impatient for change, who loves Nigeria and seeks to serve it once again.
“Nigeria is our home. Let us now turn it into the great nation we know it can and should be. I thank you all.”
With this historic speech, the one-time military Head of State threw the main bowl of the stadium into frenzy and set a yardstick for which politic speeches would henceforth by measured.
The conviction of his commitment is unshaken as it was 30 years ago when he led a military overthrow of the Alhaji Sheu Shagari-led civilian government on December 31, 1983.
After he was toppled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta in 1985, Buhari, on three occasions, sought to rule the country under a democratic dispensation.
On the three occasions, his ambitions were thwarted. Never has he come close to realising his ambition as this latest victory at the primery avails.
In his last attempt to rule the country during the last general elections, Buhari scored 12 million votes in the northern region but lost in the South-West, South-East, South-South and North-Central regions.
The national convention commenced with the accreditation of delegates across the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory at about 4pm.
Chairman of the party’s third national convention and presidential primary, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had said the event was moved from its Abuja traditional venue to Lagos as a result of the growing insecurity in the land. Not a few members of the party were suspicious of the last-minute change of venue. But Fayemi reassured members of the party of the sincerity of his community towards providing a level playing field for all contestants.
He said, “Indeed, some aspirants wrote to us wanting the convention committee to still stick to Abuja. But since everything we are doing is in the open and transparent, in fact, all aspirants have representatives in the committee and they were part of all the discussions that transpired before we arrived at Lagos, so, we were able to convince them. I then met with all the presidential aspirants. By the time I finished the explanation they could see that the choice of Lagos was not an arbitrary decision or an accidental choice, that we looked at all the alternatives before we arrived at the choice of Lagos.”
Speaking at the event, Fayemi said, “All the aspirants have agreed to unite and cooperate with anyone who emerges as the presidential candidate of the party. This is commendable. And for them, just as it is important to me, a successful convention is sine qua non to a successful electoral victory. If at the end of the day we organise an election in a place that our delegates cannot get to on time, it is bound to impact on the entire process and it might dent the overall quality of the convention.
“I come into this with nothing but my integrity. So, if anyone wants to suggest that this is going to be a coronation for a particular aspirant then that is news to me. I have the greatest respect for every aspirant but I am not the type that can be manipulated or intimidated into working to a pre-conceived answer not even by the chairman of the party or any leader of the party.”
The five presidential aspirants, were former Vice-President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; Kano State Governor, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso; Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; the publisher of Leadership newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, and Buhari.
Fayemi, who spelt out the modalities for the election, explained that the delegates would be called out in alphabetical order, thus beginning with Abia and ending with Zamfara in a marathon exercise that lasted more than 24 hours.
Although all the aspirants commended the planning committee for putting up a spectacle of a primary, the event was slightly marred for about 10 minutes when delegates from Delta State engaged some electoral officers in a free-for-all. The rampaging delegates, who upturned the tables and chairs of the electoral officers, protested the refusal of the electoral officers to allow them to register and vote. The electoral officers had complained that some of the delegates were not duly accredited at the gate before they entered into the voting arena. They chanted, “No more voting! No more voting!” The violent conduct happened in front of the party’s national leaders, who included governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives, commissioners, among others.
Fayemi said 9, 000 brand-new ballot papers and 40 ballot boxes were used for the election, adding that only 7, 214 delegates were accredited for the exercise.
After several hours of collation and counting, Buhari scored 3, 430 votes to beat Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, to a distant second with 974votes.
Surprisingly, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar came third as he followed closely on the heels of Kwankaso, by scoring 954 votes and losing with 30 votes.
Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, polled 624 votes to come fourth while the Publisher, Leadership newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah came fifth with 10 votes while voided votes were 16.
Buhari in his acceptance speech said the opposition was poised to sack President Jonathan from Aso Rock, next year.
He said Nigerians were tired of 16 years of broken promises, hardship, corruption, ineptitude, impunity and lack of vision.
Buhari said history beckons on Nigerians to make the necessary change by voting out the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said, “My common cause is the love I have for our nation. I want Christians, Muslims, the old and the young, the rich and the poor to come together and let us advance together the cause of this country.
“Preserving the nation’s feature is a great obligation to all of us. This is what the government in power should saddle itself with, otherwise, they have no reason being in government.
“The PDP government is leading us to destruction. Nigeria should be the leader of Africa. Our people sleep in and pay for darkness. Over 200 of our girls were abducted and government has been unable to do anything to it.
“Several of our youths were trampled to death because they went in search of employment. Are we happy to continue to live like this? My answer is “No! No! No!”
Delegates from each state comprised serving and past senators, serving and past House of Representatives members, past and serving governors, past and Nserving deputy governors, state cabinet members and ministers.
When he made his speech a thunderous ovation from the VIP stand greeted his welcome address and manifesto.
The National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, described the convention and primary as historic and unprecedented in the annals of t of the country.
The emergence of Buhari sets the stage for a battle royal against President Jonathan on next Valentine’s Day.