Nigerians made history. For the first time in the nation’s democratic history, an incumbent president has been defeated. While incumbent governors have been defeated in the past, it was a feat many thought might not be possible at the centre for a long time to come. But Nigerians, by their votes, have shown the exit door to a government they deemed has not served them right. But the trouncing of Goodluck Jonathan at the polls was not a happenstance. Perhaps, if there were those who did not see this coming, it was probably the president himself and some of his loyalists. Beyond this, however, there are some five key individuals who contributed to the electoral downfall of the president. Their actions and what they represented ensured that in less than two months from now, Jonathan will become a former president.
BUHARI: THE ULTIMATE CROWD PULLER
He is a man after the heart of the talakawas, the masses, in the northern part of Nigeria. These are young men and women who fanatically follow him – and have been doing so since 2003 when he first threw his hat in the ring. Buhari has always had a cult-like followership in up north but it was difficult to replicate in other parts of the country. However, the support base of the retired general moved beyond the north to the strategic south-western part of the country which has a strong media and publicity base, in addition to a large population of voters. From a man who consistently won 12 million votes in the north without any major finance or structure, he was successful sold to southern voters and this marked a major turning point for Jonathan, who would ordinarily expect that as a southerner, he would be the preferred candidate in the region. ‘Sai Buhari’ (only Buhari) that was only restricted to the north alone suddenly became the catchphrase in the mouths of both young and old down south. Even when questions were raised over his academic certificate and health, his followers, especially those who are very active in the social media, insisted they would vote for him nonetheless. Jonathan’s exit was inevitable.
TINUBU: THE UNDYING POLITICAL CRAFT MASTER
Hate him or love him, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is one politician you ignore and you later bite your fingers. Simple as that. Since he survived the PDP tsunami of 2003 when he returned as governor of Lagos State in an election that saw five of his former colleagues in the then AD sent packing, he has gone about the business of checkmating the ruling PDP with so much passion and determination. Blessed with an uncanny ability to identify political as well as electoral assets, Tinubu was said to have said immediately after the 2011 elections reasoned that if Buhari could poll 12 million votes without much resources and national appeal, then he was the man to be pushed forward for 2015. But before then, there was the need to build a strong, broad based political party that would be strong enough to serve as counterfoil to the PDP juggernaut. He and Buhari started consultations. The product was the All Progressives Congress (APC). He got disgruntled elements within the PDP to jump ship and for the first time since 1999, the opposition was able to speak with one voice.
AMAECHI: THE BULL IN CHINA SHOP
When Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers state, wanted to return as the chairman of the very powerful Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in 2013, his party, the PDP, did not want him because by that time, he had become a thorn in the flesh of President Jonathan. Amaechi and the president’s wife had fallen out over the demolition of waterfront houses under an urban renewal programme. It became a media war. The war shifted to the NGF. But Amaechi, backed by governors from opposition party and PDP rebel governors, would have none of that. Even when the governors had two parallel elections, public sentiment was on the side of the Amaechi faction. And he went about the business of Jonathan’s political demolition with alacrity. He used the NGF to fight the president and formed an alliance with opposition governors to make life miserable for Jonathan. It was a terrible embarrassment for the president, coming from a fellow Niger Deltan, and Amaechi’s persistence did more political damage obviously more than what the president budgeted for.
SARAKI: THE NEMESIS OF PDP
One of the most underrated politicians in Nigeria must be Bukola Saraki, former governor of Kwara state. As chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum between 2007 and 2011, his influence among his powerful colleagues ballooned, and he eventually nominated Amaechi to be his successor. That gave him considerable influence on NGF even after his tenure as governor. Then, his loyalist, Kawu Baraje, became the acting national chairman of the PDP, further giving him a strong hold on the party structure. However, Jonathan, probably eyeing the 2015 elections, dislodged Baraje from the PDP secretariat. That was the final push for Bukola who promptly engineered the breakup of the ruling party in conjunction with other anti-Jonathan forces within and without. On August 31, 2013, the PDP had its convention in Abuja with the sole aim of electing a new chairman. However, rather than that making the headlines, the biggest news of the day was the staging of a walk-out by section of the party led by Bukola Saraki, former governor of Kwara state, and seven governors from the party. They were later to be known as the new PDP and they became unofficial opposition party to the PDP. When they eventually merged with the newly formed APC, they left the PDP bleeding as a spate of defections followed.
OBASANJO: THE TIRELESS RABBLE-ROUSER
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo went about the demolition of the Goodluck Jonathan political brand with such determination that left many analysts wondering if there was nothing more to it than a statesman and his desire for good governance. But Obasanjo had an axe to grind with Jonathan. Having helped the latter to Aso Rock in 2011, he discovered, to his dismay, that Jonathan was keeping him at an arm’s length and that Tony Anenih, Obasanjo’s friend-turned-foe, had become the most powerful elder in the PDP. Bone by bone, Obasanjo began to take Jonathan to pieces. He would later ask most of his loyalists in the south-west, such as Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Isiaka Adeleke and Segun Oni, to join forces with the APC while he became a ‘political consultant’ to the party. On the international level, Obasanjo used his influence to get Nigeria’s allies such as the US and the UK to downgrade Jonathan and promote the candidature of Buhari. Obasanjo’s frequent public criticism of Jonathan often resonated with the views of many Nigerians. Jonathan did not need a political enemy like Obasanjo, and he had his hands full till the last minute.