SHAFAQNA – Aliyu Abdulrazhi had been on his feet since 6:00 am but had no intention of leaving Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign rally in Kaduna, northern Nigeria.Pressed up against barricades and corralled by police, he was one of thousands in the mostly male crowd who had waited since dawn in the sun and the dust for a glimpse of the former army general.
The crowd shouted slogans calling for political change in between appeals for water from anyone on the other side of the barriers.
“Can’t you see the people are here?” Abdulrazhi yelled from the crowd. “He’s the man who’s always been here for the masses.”
Buhari’s popular appeal, particularly in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria, has been taken as a given: at the last election in 2011, most of the 12 million votes he won were from the region.
But this time, analysts predict that he may have wider support and with the backing of a more powerful four-party alliance known as the All Progressives Congress (APC), it could just propel him to the presidency.
– Rehabilitated? –
The February 14 vote is expected to be the closest-run since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has won all of the last four elections. Buhari stood in three of them, in 2003, 2007 and 2011, for smaller parties.
Some in Nigeria have hailed the return of Buhari, who seized power in a December 31, 1983 military coup. But like most of the country’s leading politicians, he never really went away.
The PDP has sought to portray the 72-year-old as yesterday’s man, pointing to his tough — some say autocratic — line on corruption and indiscipline during his 20 months in office.
One party political advertisement even ran this week: “Once a tyrant, always a tyrant.”
But for Nigeria’s first-time voters — who weren’t born at the time or were too young to remember his time in charge — Buhari has taken on almost mythological status.
In particular, he is seen as a better bet to take on Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that has seized swathes of the country’s northeast and is now threatening Nigeria’s neighbours.
He has campaigned hard on the government’s failure to end the insurgency, its alleged lack of action in tackling endemic graft at the highest level and its stewardship of the economy.
– Ethnicity –
Adamu Garba said insecurity was one of the main reasons that he was backing Buhari.
He also hoped he would improve the lot of his Fulani people, a traditionally nomadic group whose cattle herdsmen have often clashed with farmers over grazing rights.
“I believe all the masses are suffering,” said Garba, who arrived at the square at 1:00 am and planned to follow Buhari’s campaign. “But I believe Fulanis are suffering most,” he added.
Garba wasn’t alone in linking his support for Buhari to a particular ethnicity — a key driver in voting intentions in a country of more than 250 tribal and linguistic groupings.
Dressed in traditional “buba sokoto” (hat and robe), Samuel Aloko said he represented Buhari supporters from the southwestern Yoruba — one of the country’s three largest ethnic groups.
Traditionally, the Yoruba have allied themselves politically with southern Christians such as Jonathan.
“We believe Buhari for now will be able to affect the present of economy, security and infrastructure,” said Aloko, who lives in Kaduna.
– New broom? –
The rally followed a familiar pattern: speeches from the “big men” — the local party grandees and national officials — music from an ear-splitting sound system and regular chants of “APC”.
The crowd brandished the wicker brooms that have become the APC’s symbol, swishing them in the air, hoping Buhari, as he has promised, will be the new broom to sweep Nigeria clean.
A fine film of dust filled the air — blown in by the seasonal Harmattan winds from the Sahara desert — as Buhari pulled up to the stage in a convoy of black four-wheel drive vehicles.
Police crackled Taser stunguns to keep the surging crowd back as the cars inched towards the stadium grandstand, where many APC honchos had waited hours for Buhari’s arrival.
Buhari, dressed in white, gave a speech, its content increasingly familiar, before heading off to a plush hotel nearby.
As a separate convoy of APC officials pulled out of the arena, children clung to the sides of their cars, hoping for a handout of cash from the opposition politicians to their faithful.
Source : AFP.com