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Aside the recent outburst of the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum that the North would not play second fiddle in 2023, power brokers of northern extraction across the major political parties are equally making moves for the region to retain power. ABDULGAFAR ALABELEWE reports on the possibility or otherwise of the North having its way
Power brokers across the country have no doubt been engaged in a silent battle and permutations across the political spectrum for a while. The calculations within the political parties are struggles by the respective political parties to position their platforms for victory during the next general elections. The recent remarks by the spokesman of the influential Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has raised the suspicion of southern politicians that the North would not be willing to relinquish power after President Muhammadu Buhari completes his two terms of eight years in 2023.
The NEF’s spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed addressed a large gathering of students at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria recently, where he charged young northerners not to accept being ranked as second class citizens by their southern contemporaries.
Baba-Ahmed who delivered the keynote address at the event tagged The Inaugural Maitama Sule Leadership Lecture Series said heaven will not fall if a northerner is elected the next president of Nigeria. He said anyone who does not want a northerner as president should leave the country if one emerges.
His words: “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before, whether we are president or vice president, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and the democracy says vote whom you want. Why should we accept second class position when we know we can buy form and contest for first class and we will win?
“Whether the North holds power in 2023 or not anybody who wants to break up in this country will say so; they are just looking for excuses. This is a democracy; if they don’t like what Nigeria is they will say they want to break up from this country. We are not paying attention to those people; we are focused on the fact that we are running a democratic system.
“If majority of Nigerian voters vote for a candidate from the North and he becomes the president and somebody doesn’t want to live under such president, the person can leave. We inherited the North that determined where Nigeria went, we dropped the ball and we are leaving you to pick it, we are sorry, the North needs young people to be strong enough.
“A northerner is a respectable Nigerian, we can live with our poverty but we cannot live with sense of disrespect and anybody who toys with our respect, we fight them to the end. We will surprise them in 2023 because we will vote for who we want, including northerners and nothing will happen. If we choose to vote for a northerner, the heavens will not fall, we will choose who we want in this country.
“The North is not for sale; our legacy is not for sale. If there are Nigerians who are thinking that in 2023 we will line up because they will give us money, they are making a terrible mistake because the North is not for sale; our future is not for sale. We have learnt from our mistakes and we will not repeat those mistakes again.”
Role of power brokers:
Before the NEF stirred the power rotation debate, actors in both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) have hinged their demand for northern presidential candidate on the quest for victory for their parties, arguing that the region has the voting strength to determine where the pendulum would swing.
A member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Alhaji Adamu Waziri is one of the leading voices for a candidate of northern extraction in the opposition party. Waziri said as far as the PDP is concerned, the presidency would remain in the North “because the successor to President Jonathan in 2011 should have been a northern candidate, not Jonathan”. He added: “That is the understanding in the PDP and that is what I subscribe to.”
Aside other northern voices, some prominent chieftains of the party from the South have also made a case for a northern presidential candidate. Former national chairmanship aspirant of the PDP, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, had also said there is no way the party can win the 2023 presidential election if it presents a candidate from the southern part of the country as its flag bearer.
In the ruling party, on the other hand, some governors like Kaduna State’s Governor Nasir El-Rufai have openly canvassed for the return of power to the South after Buhari. But many other actors are working underground to see that, the North retains power at the end of Buhari’s tenure. For instance, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello has even come out to declare interest for the presidential race, saying that, the agitation for power shift to the South is unconstitutional and does not have a place in the APC constitution.
One thing that makes the South shiver when issues of elections are raised is the acclaimed population and voting strength of the North. Going the voter register presented by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to party leaders in 2019 ahead of the general elections, the Northwest alone constitutes 24 per cent of the nation’s population.
The document puts the figure of entire registered voters in the country at 84 million. Out the number, the Northwest had the highest number of registered voters, with 20 million voters, the Northeast had 11 million and North-central with 13 million registered voters, totalling 44 of the total 84 million registered voters.
The North’s voting strength gave President Muhammadu Buhari an edge over the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Buhari won the election by 2.57 million votes. He polled 15,424,921 votes, representing 53.95 per cent of the 28,587,564 total valid votes cast to defeat sitting President Jonathan who scored 12,853,162 votes, representing 44.96 per cent of the vote cast.
Though, contribution of the Southwest was significant in Buhari’s victory, it was obvious that it was the overwhelming support from the Northwest and the Northeast that delivered victory to the then General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).
No regional bloc votes:
Notwithstanding the region’s voting strength, history has shown that, the North does not vote en bloc at all times. In the First Republic, Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) was different from Mallam Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and Tarkar’s United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) all contested election the same time with Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) from the West and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) from the East.
During the Second Republic, there were the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) and the Great Nigeria Peoples’ Party (GNPP) which fielded Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Mallam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri respectively from the North. The above northern candidates contested not only among themselves but also against the Nigerian Peoples’ Party (NPP) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) that fielded Azikiwe and Awolowo from the East and the West respectively.
Also in the Fourth Republic, General Muhammadu Buhari contested against his Katsina kinsman, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The only time that the contests appeared to be between the North and the South was when Bashir Tofa contested with Chief Moshood Abiola and even then, the North voted for Chief Abiola from the South against Tofa from Kano.
One cannot also wish away the anger and bitterness of a group of northerners who prefer to address themselves as the Middle Belters, a good number of whom are Christians. They have for long cry over what they call the Hausa/Fulani domination. This group will mostly vote a southern presidential candidate than going with a Hausa/Fulani Muslim candidate from the far North.
Northern governors’ position:
While some of the stakeholders agree that, the North’s insistence on power in 2023 will have negative impact on the nation’s unity, others argue that, the country’s constitution does not specify where the president must come from.
The region’s governors and monarchs rose from their joint emergency meeting in Kaduna on Monday to reject rotational presidency, saying that, it is unconstitutional. Communique read at the end of the meeting, by chairman of the forum and Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong said the forum observed that some northern governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the country.
He said: “Notwithstanding their comments, the forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the presidency must go to the South. The statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that the elected president shall: score the majority votes; score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-third of the states of the federation. In the case of run-up, simple majority win the election.”
The Coalition of Northern Groups’(CNG) spokesman, AbdulAziz Suleiman said, the true position is not that, North is insisting on retaining power beyond 2023 or anytime longer. He said: “The argument is centred on the latent threat of blackmail by the group of southern governors that insists power must shift to them irrespective of the democratic requirements that involve persuasion for votes.
Calling the bluff of the South:
“It is about calling the bluff of a people that have been brought up thinking their only path to attaining political ascendancy is by threatening others, particularly by singling the North for irreverent treatment. It is no longer in doubt that the current relentless manoeuvre by the southern political elite targeting essentially the Northern region are part of a mega but clandestine plot spanning several years.
“For too long, these self-acclaimed enemies of the North both foreign and local have worked strenuously to ensure that the region remains backward, divided, weak, confused and bewildered by myriads of challenges and problems especially during elections. Today everyone can see a clear pattern drawn from the strategies employed by the South in the 1960s namely the disintegration of the North and in particular, bringing its population down on its knees by direct annihilation or political and economic incapacitation.
“As continuum of this plot, the southern elite, irked by their failure to achieve their nefarious objectives, through inciting and encouraging agitations for secession and other commotions in this country are quickly resorting to other forms of tactics and antics to introduce the threats and blackmail around matters that have much to do with elections and everything to do with numbers.
“Recall that throughout the eight years of ex-president Obasanjo with all his lapses and inadequacies, not for once did northerners blame his entire tribesmen nor did Muslims blame his entire religion. Instead, his person, politics and policies and to a large extent, his political party were challenged.
“Likewise, none of Jonathan’s catalogue of misrule was at any time blamed on his Ijaw tribe or on his religion, including the many atrocities committed particularly against the North, and the conduct of his fellow tribesmen who did not spare every unconventional means to cajole support for a President they openly referred to as ‘their son’. Rather, his politics, policies and his political party position were isolated for attack.
“Today, the elites in the South would rather target the whole North and its people than isolate Buhari, whom they mischievously tag northern president, his policies or his party. We are unfortunately quite aware that this conspiracy is actively perpetrated with the connivance of some northern governors and a handful of disgruntled political leaders from parts of the North-central and accommodated by the cowardice of those that present themselves as core northern political leaders.
“The position however remains that come what may, the North is no longer going to be disposed to giving in to blackmail and threat from any section of the country and as the CNG we restate that we remain firmly behind the position taken by the Northern Elders Forum.
“The problem is not about the North but rather the warped thinking of the southern elite that thinks the resort to threats is an option. In the past, the North had voted overwhelmingly for southern candidates like Abiola and Obasanjo in the absence of such threats. Even if the North may fall slightly short of producing a president single handedly, it certainly has the intimidating capacity in terms of voter strength to resist intimidation from other sections and to demand respect, negotiation and mutual understanding.
“We are aware that fairness is key to every governance arrangement and since in Nigeria, decades after independence we are yet to agree on a Nigerian president without regional attribution, it is only fair that we begin to look at the minorities. In this case, the North-central should be the most desirous of fairness. The North-central is on record as never having had a president or vice ever elected from that region even when there are competent hands about if you take away the negligible few northern traitors. It would be a good thing to give the North Central a try for the sake of fairness.”
A national youth leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Salahudeen Lukmam said far from the narrative of the NEF, it is not about the population of the North but the spirit of equity and fairness within the party and general consideration of power rotation formula.
Lukman who is the National President, of PDP National Youth Movement argued: “The southern region has enjoyed presidency for 14 years while the northern region has only enjoyed it for 10 years. Obasanjo’s eight years, Jonathan’s six years and Yar’Adua’s two years with Buhari’s eight running years respectively.
“The fact that PDP is doing everything possible to ensure fairness going forward necessitates my opinion, looking at the narration of zoning national chairmanship position of the party to the Southwest which is the only zone yet to lead the party corroborates the fairness of the party. The only justification on ground aside the fair power rotation between the two region is electoral value and voting strength of the northern region, as major opposition party with critical interest to take power back from the ruling APC. it is essential to zone her ticket to the North because the battle is beyond just the ballot but battle with power of incumbency, state apparatus ,state fund so we need to field northerner to get the full backing and commitment of most largest voters region.
“Contrary to argument from some quarters, North retaining power can never threaten Nigeria’s unity. It is the ‘nepotic’ nature of President Muhammadu Buhari and APC led administration that made every Nigerian remember their origin. You will recall that before now, hardly Nigerians ask where is the origin of the president, take a look at 1993 general election, didn’t northerners abandon their son Bashir Tofa to support Moshood Abiola? Did anybody remember if Obasanjo was a southerner throughout his reign? Who cared to know if the late President Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua was a northern? He even did what southerner could not do for their people in the creeks: he offered amnesty to Niger delta militants. Jonathan was busy developing the North, making frantic move to modernize Almajiri to reduce security threat.
Credible candidate the answer:
“All those are acts of true leaders who have led Nigeria. Once a credible person is fielded from the North, such person will run all-inclusive government and Nigeria will be more united. So, the ticket to the North has less or no effect on Nigeria’s unity rather it will strengthen our bound so far a bigot or tribalistic person is not repeated.
“We know that, no region can independently produce a president. Right from party primary to general election, one requires support and votes of all other regions, most critically in the general election where a percentage of votes must be gotten by candidate in two-thirds of the federating states. Just like one can’t independently deliver even national assembly principal leadership, we all need each other to succeed politically and otherwise.”
In his own view, a veteran journalist and political analyst, Alhaji Tajudeen Tijjani, faulted the Southern Governors’ Forum for flying what he described as a ‘dangerous kite’, saying that, their action was a political suicide.
Tijjani said: “The whole hullaballoo began from the moment the Southern Governors’ Forum flew a dangerous kite that it has become a must that the next president of Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari must emerge from the South.
“This political hara-kiri opened room for many comments and anger laden response across the country, especially from the North by the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) and other pressure groups, especially from the North. They described the action of the southern governors as uncalled for and lacks nationalism. They argued that southern governors are from different political parties and it is only a party convention that chooses candidate for their respective political parties.
“The two parties of PDP and APC parade different programmes and one wonder what informed the southern governors to take such a stand. Their statement on the issue of presidency in 2023 is funny and a political suicide. They should be well informed that the issue of how to share political offices, including the presidency has become a necessity between the North and the South since the First Republic even under a parliamentary system and went further into the Second Republic. Why are the governors of the South agitated that the North is planning to hold on to the presidency after 2023?
“The danger comes when one part of the country began to suspect and intimidating the other. That is the way many of our politicians think of political power for them to have it and use the way they want without any consideration for the electorates. Under the current system of government the country is operating, it is impossible for one part of the country to produce the president without the support of the others. For both the APC and the PDP, the preoccupation appears to be where the next president will emerge from rather than how power will be used to rescue the nation from going adrift.”