2019: Who will go for the North?
Constructing Possibilities Of First
No matter how you look at it, the present uncertainties over the state of health of President Muhammadu Buhari have left the northern part of Nigeria in a sort of quandary. Speculations and calculations about the 2019 election have been revolving around that factor, among other issues.
“Whether he resigns or God forbid, something else happens, we are going to have the balance of Buhari’s years taken over by someone else from outside the zone Buhari comes from…And the only way you are going to resolve the issue is that after Buhari’s administration, you have it zoned to a certain part of the country for eight to 10 years.”
That was a recent lofty political brag attributed to stormy petrel, Dr. Junaid Mohammed. And, it is very likely that most of those who read and cringed at that pregnant (preposterous?) claim, believed that the medical doctor-turned politician, spoke for the north.
However, a close examination of the political realities on ground in the north paints an entirely different picture. For instance, one indubitable fact about the change of guard from ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition, in which President Muhammadu Buhari emerged victorious in the 2015 election, is that Buhari’s candidacy was not the creation of the north or the fruit of northern political craftsmanship
Not that alone, the subtle political imbalances in the once close knitted north, may not recommend an easy way out from the possible scramble for political inclusion of neglected sections in the power equation, through agitation for power rotation among the constituent units and entrenched interests in the north.
Then, the new socio-political consciousness in the south would also throw up its challenges, because going by the configuration of voting preferences, there is no way the north alone could determine who becomes President without the input of the south, something it could not do in 2015, even prior.
Choice Of North’s Candidate
THIRTY-EIGHT years ago, during the 1979 convention of National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the north showed that it can always resolve its political challenges with ease and decorum. Alhaji Shehu Shagari had defeated the erudite Yusuf Maitama Sule (Dan Massanin Kano) by a slight margin of three votes, requiring a run-off between the two presidential aspirants. The convention went on a brief recess, ostensibly to allow for further consultation and horse trading.
When the meeting reconvened, Maitama Sule mounted the podium and astounded the gathering by saying that while politicians from the south engage in stiff competition for political power; they in the north believe that power comes from God. In that vein he said, to the relieve of many from the north, but astonishment of those from the south, that he was not interested in another round of election that “this night God has given it to Shagari.”
What accounted for the mixed reactions from that convention was that most politicians from the South (Southeast) expected that given Sule’s social standing and oratorical skills, his anticipated emergence would have thrown up the bombastic wordsmith, Chief K. O. (Kingsley Ozumba) Mbadiwe, as his natural running mate.
But, because Mbadiwe did not canvass that arrangement coupled with reservations by northern delegates about Sule’s roots, Shagari garnered more votes. The scenario changed and with that came the alteration of political equation in the north and Southeast. Instead of Mbadiwe, who represented the old political brigade came a fresh entrant, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who had weeks before the convention lost the governorship ticket of Anambra State to Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh. If Shagari was chosen because of his simple mien and lack of political baggage, the fact of Ekwueme’s fat financial contribution to the party recommended him to the Vice Presidential ticket.
A feature of that elective convention, which was in the heat of Nigeria’s return to democracy after nearly thirteen years of military rule, was that the popular sentiment pandered towards a northern flag bearer of NPN. The party, verging on the conservative bent, was dominated by contractor class.
Thirty-one years later, another opportunity presented itself for the north to show political maturity and demonstrate commonsense approach to leadership selection. That was in 2010. President Jonathan had earned a place as substantive President after the demise of President Musa Yar’Adua, with whom he shared a joint ticket in the 2007 election. With that fortuitous access, the former Vice President decided to test his popularity by contesting the presidency to serve a possible full term as first President from a minority ethnic group.
Piqued at the affront, when it became obvious that the north could not dissuade him from abridging what would have been the second term of a northern presidency under Yar’Adua, the north decided to use the power of the ballot to oust the man from Otuoke, a tiny Ijaw fishing community.
Although the Northern Elders prosecuted a consensus arrangement that threw up a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the effort could not yield fruit as most governors from the zone avoided Atiku during the convention and settled for Jonathan. A combination of factors robbed Atiku of the ticket, namely the second term ambitions of the governors, as well as the power of incumbency enjoyed by the new comer to the Presidential race.
The question then is, if the consensus candidate could not receive the backing of north to defeat a rookie politician in 2011, can they do that in 2019? Moreover, what promises to make 2019 very challenging are many and varied.
First, there is the subdued battle between Northwest and Northeast across party lines, over which zone should provide the Presidential candidate. Add to that the desire of northern minorities, especially the north central and Christians, to occupy the exalted seat.
Within the APC, the following are associated with possible interest in the Presidency: Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Danjuma Goje.
Depending on which faction gets the upper hand in the legal tussle over PDP, north has to choose from among the following: Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, Alhaji Sule Lamido.
In the light of the foregoing, would it be easy for the north select a candidate that can win election on personal merit and clout? If the north should go for consensus, under what platform would that plan be envisaged? And given the different political maturation and clout of the above actors, how easy could it be to ask any to step down? Would a possible straw poll be acceptable to the gladiators?
Tragedy Of PDP Fall
PRIOR to 2013/14, when some governors and legislators defected from PDP to newly minted All Progressives Congress (APC), the north was adjudged as owners and kingmakers in the ruling party.
It was on that strength that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a new entrant into the party, beat the navigator, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to the PDP presidential ticket in 1998. BuT although Obasanjo was the creation of the north, eight years after, the North had become too recessive to hold its ground politically.
When therefore Obasanjo chose former Katsina State Governor, Yar’Adua, to succeed him over such other potential candidates as Abubakar Atiku and Ahmed Makarfi, the north was silent. Perhaps, it was because it lost its united action in politics that made it abandon PDP, upon which it conferred momentum.
Having abandoned PDP for Jonathan, instead of using its famed strength and unique political engineering to ensure an elective primary, the north joined APC, which was not by any pretensions its making. It was based on that reality that the Southwest insisted on General Muhammadu Buhari, despite being subdued by the north.
But blinded by its hurry to take over power, no matter the risks, the north failed to plan and by not bidding its time fell for the superior political ingenuity of Southwest. Thereafter every attempt to ride roughshod over the kingmakers conferred stagnation on the platform, such that reaping the fruits of political ascendancy remains a forlorn wait.
Wiles Of Southwest Versus Discontent In Southeast
ASIWAJU Bola Tinubu occupied the central command centre during the 2015 machinations to oust PDP. One thing the former Lagos State governor has going for him is his knack for future political forecasting and strategic thinking.
As early as January 2016, Tinubu had started recruiting his ground troops for the 2019 offensive. Events of the preceding year, including spat with national chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and electoral gimmicks in Kogi governorship, seemed to have convinced the Jagaban that there was a crucial last electoral battle to fight if he was to secure his political domain.
Four months later, former Ogun State governor, Aremo Segun Osoba, rejoined the party he left in anger for the Social Democratic Party (SDP). That singular reconciliation set the polity afire, with speculations rife that Osoba was coming to be deployed to a range of politically sensitive assignments and positions.
Just last February, during the swearing in of Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, Jagaban told journalists that he would consider running for the Presidency in 2019. He was later to moderate that declaration with the proviso that that would not be, if President Buhari was to be on the ballot.
Presently, wonder boy of Lagos politics and immediate past Minister of state for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, is on the verge of joining APC. All these schemes are not for fancy or make believe. Tinubu seems to believe that having ‘lost’ some of his footsoldiers in the 2015 election, there is need to enlist replacements.
There is nothing to guarantee that such loyalists like Babatunde Raji Fashola and John Kayode Fayemi, who are perceived to be on political loan or exile, would be available for duty as Jagaban prepares the ground for 2019 electoral battle.
Playing prime role in the 2019 Presidential election would be Tinubu’s way of standing up against the intrigues of the cabal around President Buhari, who had from day one been scheming on how to cut the Lagos strong man to an intended political size. With Tinubu or his protégé on the ballot, how much vote would a northern candidate garner in the Southwest to become President?
Coming to the Southeast, the agitation for secession and restructuring has thrown up a new consciousness among the people. And prepared to shake off their legendary apathy, the people seem determined to line behind a candidate from the zone in 2019.
Chief Chekwas Okorie reluctantly ran for the Presidency in 2015 on the platform of United Progressive Party (UPP), when those who initially expressed interest to contest were blackmailed out of the race.
However, a combination of factors, including the protest against marginalization by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement of Biafrans In Nigeria (MOBIN) and the renewed clamour for restructuring have thrown UPP up as platform of choice for the political expression of Southeast.
As such, while some notable figures are on standby to serve as possible Presidential running mates to a northern candidate, UPP, basking in the euphoria of harvesting from the mistakes of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), has declared willy-nilly to field a presidential candidate.
Whether therefore Chekwas Okorie, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Senator Ike Ekweremadu or incumbent President General of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, Chief john Nnia Nwodo, flies the UPP ticket, it is left to be seen what collateral impact the presence of Senators Ken Nnamani, Anyim Pius Anyim, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Peter Obi or Governor Rochas Okorocha would make as presidential running mates.
Consequently, the implication of a Tinubu presidential chase and a Southeast presidential flag bearer on the 2019 presidential ballot is that no clear winner would emerge on the first ballot.
And when that happens, the real negotiation for Nigeria would begin anew. As such, it would be ability of the candidates to resolve issues like fiscal federalism, restructuring, state police, equality of zones among other contending issues, that would determine the nature of 2019 Presidency. Could that explain why former Vice President Atiku Abubakar remains the vocal proponent of restructuring in the north?
Purport: Given the above scenario, Dr. Junaid Mohammed would be reminded of the apex court ruling in 1979 that mathematical calculations do not decide political considerations.