By Kazeem Akintunde
Northern power brokers are back in the trenches, scheming how the region will retain political power in the country come 2023. Their plan is to ensure that as many presidential aspirants as possible emerge from the south while they would prop up a single aspirant from the region to slug it out at the party National conventions coming up later this month. In the PDP, the permutation is for Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and serial presidential candidate of the party to emerge as its flag bearer in next year’s presidential election while in the APC, serious consultation is ongoing to draft Ahmed Lawan, the senate president, into the contest. If his candidature doesn’t work, the fallback option is the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, who is being worked upon to ‘rescue’ the north. He is popular across board, loved by the people, and focused. To make the move gain credibility, the two leading political parties have jettisoned zoning and have thrown the race open. The south is not folding its arms and watching, and has threatened fire and brimstone if the principle of zoning is abandoned. The coming weeks will be quite interesting.
A brief history. In the build up to the 1999 presidential election, there was a unanimous agreement that the south, particularly the south west, should produce the president in order to compensate the zone for the annulment of the 1992 presidential election won by Chief MKO Abiola. The two leading political parties in the country – PDP and Alliance for Democracy, AD, fielded Yoruba candidates in the person of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae respectively. Obasanjo emerged President and after eight years, handed over power to Umaru Yar’Adua from the North. The principle of zoning at work. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua’s untimely death necessitated that his Vice, Goodluck Jonathan become acting president and he was re-elected in 2011 for another four-year tenure. When Jonathan sought a fresh mandate in 2015, he was told that power should return to the north for the zone to complete its eight-year tenure. When he refused, power brokers from the zone dumped the PDP and teamed up with Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the newly formed APC, to return power to the North. Buhari is about to complete his eight year tenure and as expected, the south should have a go at the presidency come 2023. The north is, however, scheming to retain power as the zone believes and rightly so, that it has the number to pull it off. Though politics is a game of numbers, the political permutation up north, if it is to manifest, may sound the death kneel of the country. Already, the South East has been telling whoever cares to listen that it is their turn to produce the next president. None of the two leading parties is even looking in their direction. While the PDP should have looked in the direction of the region for fairness, equity and justice, as the zone has been loyal to the party, political heavyweights within the party are thinking of how to return to power and are not looking in the direction of the zone. The party believes that the surest way to realize that objective is by fielding a Northern candidate in the person of Atiku Abubakar. Already, the Turaki Adamawa has promised the party 11 million votes from the North if he emerges the flag bearer of the party.
The APC that has promised to zone its presidential candidate to the South is already jittery that a southern politician may not be able to match Atiku in a presidential contest and is now thinking of propping up Lawan or Zulum. Though Lawan has not really come out to declare interest in the number one job in the land, there are series of underground moves to drag him or the Borno Governor into the race.
While the PDP may get away with its plan to field a Northern Candidate, it may be the beginning of the end for the APC if it attempts to go the same route as the party was built on the blank of two major political parties and some fringe ones in 2014. Already, there are over 25 presidential aspirants that have signified interest in taking over from President Muhammadu Buhari. Leading the pack is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the arrowhead of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which consummated the political marriage with the Centre for Progressive Change, CPC, which gave birth to the APC. There could be an implosion in the party in the next few weeks. The National Convention of the party coming up later this month will determine whether the party will survive or not.
But why would the north be interested in retaining power despite the fact that a northern president is about completing its eight year tenure? Hakeem Baba Ahmed, the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum, gave a glimpse into the minds of many northern politicians when he said the eight-year tenure of President Buhari has been a disappointment to many Northerners as there is practically nothing to show for it in terms of development of the region. Rather, he said that the North has come out worse with banditry and terrorism becoming the order of the day in the region. According to him, “Millions of Northerners are justifiably angry and frustrated that they are worse off today than they were before 2015 when they voted for an administration that promised to improve and secure lives”. While he alluded to the fact that it is proper for power to shift to the south, Baba-Ahmed however said that the North would not play a second-class position in the scheme of things. “The north would not accept a second-class position and it can choose to hold onto power for as long as it wants”.
He is of the view that southern politicians are going about the zoning principle as if the north does not matter again. “These reckless comments on 2023 presidency, when leaders in the south make indecorous statements about power shifting to the region naturally provokes a reaction from the other side. I think matters of this complexion require tact and diplomacy – not threats or counter threats. Even if most people agree that power should orbit to the south in 2023, there is still a need for popular consensus. We all have to work together. Leaders only deepen the sectional fears and widen the chasm by making uncontrolled comments. Where the next president should come from is a collective decision, no region or group should be isolated or made to feel threatened over this.”
The question many right-thinking Nigerians have been asking is – of what benefit has the power that the region has exercised in the last eight years been to the region?
Since 1960 when Nigeria became an Independent Nation, the Northern region has been at the helm of affairs, producing leaders, both military and civilians for more than 47 years. The North ruled the Nation through the late Tafawa Balewa who was in power for six years, General Yakubu Gowon – Nine years, Murtala Mohamed – one year, Shehu Shagari – four years, General Muhammadu Buhari – two years, Ibrahim Babangida – eight years, Sani Abacha – five years, Abdulsalami Abubakar- one year, Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua -three years and Buhari – eight years.
The south has only been at the helm through General Obasanjo – three years, Ernest Shonekan – few months, Obasanjo – eight years and Goodluck Jonathan – five years – a total of 17 years.
Despite the number of years the Northern region has held on to political power, it still has the worst indices in terms of socio-economic development among all the regions in the country. On literacy level, the North Central fared a bit better with 72.9 percent of its men literate while only 49.6 percent of its women could be said to be literate. In the North East, 50.5 percent of its men are educated while only 31.8 percent of its women have formal education. In the North West, 59 percent of its men are literate while only 29 percent of its women can read and write.
The level of poverty in the region is also overwhelming. According to figures provided by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2019, the poverty rate in Sokoto State is put at 87.73 percent, Taraba – 87.72 percent, Jigawa -87.2 percent, Adamawa -75.41 percent, Zamfara -73.98 percent, Yobe -72.34 percent, Niger -66.11 percent, Gombe – 62.31 percent, Bauchi -61.53 percent, Nasarawa -57.3 percent, Katsina – 56.42 percent, Kano -55.1 percent, Plateau – 55.1 percent, and Kebbi State – 50.2 percent.
In terms of maternal mortality, the region also comes up with worse statistics with 709 women out of 100,000 estimated to die while trying to give birth. In the south, the figure is 364 out of 100,000 births. The number of out-of-school children from the region has a place in the Guinness Book of world records.
It is not surprising that banditry and terrorism have also crippled the economy of most Northern states as agriculture, which has been the mainstay of its economy, has been dealt a fatal blow by criminals hiding under the cloak of religion to wreck havoc in the country. A sizeable number of states in the region have become no-go areas, yet we have a president who is also a retired general from the region unable to find a permanent solution to the crisis for over seven years. The same region is also now scheming to retain power come 2023 because it believes that it has the population to lord it over other regions in the country.
The Equity and Justice Forum, a group within the APC, has already warned Northern power brokers to think of supporting power shift to the south for equity and fairness. James Olakunle, coordinator of the group, said that the North has had its turn of eight years at the presidency and should support a power shift to the Southern region. “We are sounding this warning because any arrangement to foist another Northerner on this nation will not augur well for the country. These are the attitudes and actions that have propelled the emergence of Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB and Sunday Igboho of the Odua Nation. We think wisdom should tell the Northern power bloc that it will not be possible to enslave a people as educated and dynamic as the people of Southern Nigeria. Moreso, when the Fulani oligarchs have demonstrated an appalling lack of capacity to govern, with Buhari’s government being the epitome of this incompetence, of what benefit is power to the North when its people are battling high-level poverty? Of what benefit is power to the North when many of its people are poor, hungry and angry?
Power that benefits only the tiny minority ruling the country is not power and the earlier northern politicians realize this, the better for the Nation. It is when we have a nation that we can be thinking of who to rule. The North should not scatter the already wobbling union called Nigeria by their unbridled desire to hold on to political power again next year.
See you next week.