One North, Who’s North?

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Abdullahi

The insistence of some leaders that power must return to the North in 2015 has provoked a nation-wide debate as to whether the north is still one

By Olu Ojewale  |  Aug. 12, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IT HAS more or less become a ritual. Whenever election time approaches, the issue of where the presidential candidates come from takes the centre stage instead of the capacity of the candidates to perform. More often than not, it is usually between the North and the South. Although the coming 2015 presidential election is about 20 months away, the struggle for vantage position ahead of the poll has started.

It was Ango Abdullahi, a professor and secretary of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, who first flew the kite when he addressed a press conference on Tuesday, July 16. According to Abdullahi it is time for the North to take back the presidency. He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear to you that the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and all these other groups that have emerged in the recent past, are committed to the interest that underlies northern interest. There is no question about that. The north is determined and is insisting that the leadership of the country will rotate to it in 2015 and I am making that very clear to you. On behalf of all of us, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, in front because it has been the oldest group, and the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, and our other groups that have been very active and strong, all of us are likely to have this very tough and common agenda. Not that the north is power blind, no, it will be argued on the rational arguments that are on ground today. The north on the basis of one man, one vote, can keep power indefinitely in the present Nigerian state.” The don added: “If it is on the basis of one man, one vote, the demography shows that the north can keep power as long as it wants because it will always win elections.”

Aliyu
Aliyu

Although President Goodluck Jonathan has not declared his interest to seek for a second term in office, but from his demeanour, it is very easy to know that he will. Hence, the former special adviser on food security to former President Olusgeun Obasanjo, advised President Jonathan not to bank on any support from the North if and when he decides on running for a second term. “My part of the North will not support him (Jonathan). The South owes us a moral debt and they should pay. There is nothing personal against the person of President Goodluck Jonathan. There is something wrong with the system that threw him up against equity and justice,” he said.

Abdullahi’s statement, as expected, has been causing anxiety in the political circles and invoking reactions from Nigerians. Perhaps, more importantly, it has rekindled rivalry and strengthened some political leaders, especially from the North, to demand for negotiation ahead of the 2015 polls. For instance, five northern state governors namely, Sule Lamido, (Jigawa), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Babangida Aliyu (Niger), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), and Muritala Nyako (Adamawa), who were said to be critical of President Goodluck Jonathan’s purported re-election bid in 2015, met with the president at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Sunday, July 27.

At the meeting which lasted for several hours, the governors were said to have told the president to forget about their support as long as Bamanga Tukur remained the national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The same governors had met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Saturday, July 20, and also with Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, former heads of state, in Minna, Niger State, on Sunday, July 21. When asked about the visit, Babangida simply commended the governors for being patriotic. He said: “I want to commend the governors and some of their colleagues. I was very impressed because they have seen the problem of the country as our problem and they have taken the right steps to consult widely in trying to find solution to some of these problems. These governors are real patriots and I am very happy and I told them so.”

All the five governors, except Aliyu continued with their consultations when they visited former President Shehu Shagari in Sokoto on Tuesday, July 30. Aliyu was said to have sent apologies over his inability to attend. He was said to have gone to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj. There have been speculations about the main reasons behind their meetings with the past leaders, but the governors have insisted that they were bothered about issues of insecurity, economic stagnation of the North, crisis in the ruling party and the future of the country in general. But it is also believed that they were worried about who would be the presidential candidate to help further enhance the Northern agenda. Both Lamido and Kwankwaso are alleged to be nursing a presidential ambition even though they have both denied the charge.

Jonathan
Jonathan

But what is incontrovertible is that Aliyu, who is also the chairman of the Northern States Governor’s Forum, remains adamant that President Jonathan had an agreement to rule for only one term. Recently, perhaps not to be seen as having a regional interest, he gave a new caveat: anyone that is interested in the presidency must negotiate with the North so as to safeguard the region’s interests. Aliyu made the declaration recently at the inauguration of the office complex for federal workers in Enagi, headquarters of Edati Local Government in Niger State. He said the North was prepared to follow whoever would be elected president in 2015.

“Some people, very few of them, are holding nocturnal meetings, that they are telling President Goodluck Jonathan that they are only supporters of Jonathan. We are the supporters of the constitution of Nigeria. Whosoever gets the power, we are in support of him but we are saying this time around in 2015, we will negotiate. We will support whoever gets this power, but we will ask for the fulfilment of the promises to our people. That is all we are saying and some people want to cash in on this,” the governor said.

Whatever position the North may eventually adopt, the dust raised by Abdullahi’s statement that the presidency should return to the North in 2015, has remained in the air. Feelers from the region have, however, shown that a Northern candidate, irrespective of what Abdullahi would want the nation to believe, may also be hard sell. In his statement, the former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, had said that a coalition of six groups was in support of the project to return power to the North, but some other sundry groups have since lent their voice to the debate by indicting the Abdullahi-led group for trying to foist a northern candidate on them.

One of such opposition groups is the Northern Youths Forum, NYF, which recently, berated Arewa elders over their comments on the return of power to the region. The NYF said rather than voting a presidential candidate of Northern origin as canvassed by the Northern elders, it would prefer to vote any presidential candidate on merit irrespective of his ethnic or religious background. The group in a statement signed by Bello Gambo Bichi, its director of media and publicity, warned that “it may not be too long before Nigerians and particularly northerners begin to question whether the present lawlessness is not a direct result of their poor leadership legacies.”

It accused the leaders of being hypocritical and blamed them for the state of affairs in the country especially in the North. “They thought Nigerians and, indeed, northerners, might have forgotten the link between their past failures as leaders in contemporary Nigerian political history and the current lawlessness in the country. They suddenly want to play the superman, who just came out of the blues to save Nigeria through press conference. In fact, what they could not do to make Nigeria better when they served in various capacities as presidents, presidential advisers and ministers, they are now doing so through press conferences,” the statement said.

The group advised the northern leaders to drop their primordial ethnic bias and selfish interests. “And in terms of national leadership, we advocate for a good leader and not just a Northern leader. Nigeria would be greater without ethnic champions, who cry over spilt milk. The future of the north will not and cannot be compromised to serve individual interest,” it said.

Speaking in a similar vein, another group of northern youths under the aegis of the Northern Youths Network, NYN, disassociated itself from the position of some northern elders and politicians concerning 2015 elections. Alli Kano, president of the group, said in a statement on Wednesday, July 17, that comments reportedly made by leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the NEF on the return of power to the North in 2015 were made for selfish reasons. “We wish to state very clearly that ethnicity, religion and all the other primordial sentiments which our elders have whipped up in the past to sway the choices of the people during election times, must be hurriedly discarded as we prepare for the 2015 general elections, so that credible and competent leaders will rule the nation and advance our democracy,” Kano said.

The group said it was lamentable that the elders in the North did not consider it imperative to consult the youths with a view to harmonising their positions before craving for the return of power to the North in 2015. “They just assume that as usual, they can set their selfish agenda and the youths, most of whom they have deliberately left impoverished, will fall in line automatically! But this time, they are in for a big surprise,” Kano said further.

Babangida
Babangida

The same position was also canvassed by the Coalition of Concerned Northern Youths, CNY. In a statement signed by Mohammed Danjuma, national chairman, who advised northern leaders to wise up and think about how to bring peace and prosperity to the region instead of fighting for power. The group is particularly hard on the northern state governors whom it asked to stop meddling on the choice of a president for Nigeria in 2015, but to concentrate on their mandate to provide service to the down-trodden masses in the region. “The North is currently suffering from the devastating effect of insecurity, misrule, endemic poverty caused mainly by the lukewarm attitude of the leaders of the zone, who have always taken it upon themselves to tackle problems in other states leaving their home in disarray,” the group said.

Mathew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto diocese, said that the reluctance of the Muslim North to share power with its non-Muslim population has been a cause for serious worry and a threat to its integration. Speaking as a guest speaker at the 2nd Northern Nigerian Writers’ Summit in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, June 17, he said, based on such attitude, there was clear evidence that, “One North is not a region, but a religion,” adding: “With so much focus on Islam and Hausa to the exclusion of other languages on northern media, it is clear that talent and imagination are being stifled.”

The presidency has dismissed the so-called northern agenda as a non-issue. Reacting to the threat that the North would not support President Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, the presidency said with or without its support, Jonathan would still win the election if he decides to contest. Ahmed Gulak, special adviser to the president on political matters, said in an interview that Jonathan was not perturbed by the threat because the likes of Abdullahi did not support him in the 2011 election and he won. “By the way, which North is he talking about that will not support the President? Is it his North, Buhari’s North, Ribadu’s North? Honestly, the position of his North does not count as far as the 2015 election is concerned. He is just one individual. So where is Abdullahi’s North. It is clear he is getting senile,” Gulak said.

Interestingly, the North has produced more heads of state than any other region in Nigeria since independence, but this has not translated into development or improvement in the status of the majority in the region. Analysts have been able to point out that of the nearly 53 years since Nigeria became independent, the northerners have ruled for more than 30 years, but most of the problems being faced in the country, and indeed, in the North, could be traced to their years of misrule. Indeed, if Jonathan is interested in going for a second term in 2015, he has a record of performance to get votes of discernible people in the region. Unlike previous administrations, it is only the Jonathan administration that has ever tackled the problem of Almajiri system, which is believed to have impoverished a large number of northerners and denied them Western education.

In line with his electoral promises, President Jonathan on Monday, July 29, said that all Almajiris would be taken off the streets and enrolled in schools by September this year. Speaking at the inauguration of the TA’AL Model Primary School in Lafia, constructed by the Nasarawa State government, Jonathan, who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, stated that out of the 143 Almajiri model schools being constructed across the northern states, 120 would take off in September. Almajiris are usually children of school age who are sent, by their parents, to live with a local Islamic teacher, who in turn, sends them to the streets to fend for themselves by begging. The almijiris are commonly found in the North carrying bowls to beg for food and money. Their number contributes a significant figure to the official 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. Some analysts say the system is a fertile ground for recruiting religious fundamentalists.

Kukah
Kukah

Nyesom Wike, minister of state for education, said the federal government would hand over the almajiri schools two weeks after the Ramadan fast. The schools were built as part of efforts towards addressing the problem of the high number of out-of-school children. According to the minister, federal government would provide textbooks, furniture and laboratory items while the state government would feed the children and provide uniforms. The Universal Basic Education, UBEC, a federal government parastaltal, and the ministry of education, would make arrangements for the handover of the schools to the states to enhance enrolment and the success of the programme.

In the area of electricity, the Jonathan administration has successfully reactivated some moribund hydro-power stations in the north, which had hitherto been neglected by successive governments and thereby creating jobs for the locals. Perhaps, the only monster that has not been tamed by the Jonathan administration is the availability of electricity. But the battle is on. For instance, the government has invested N162.9 billion to reactivate the Zungeru hydro-electricity power project in Niger State. Speaking at the occasion, Jonathan said that the hydro dam project, when constructed, would generate 700 megawatts of electricity for the country. He said the Zungeru Hydro Electricity Power Project was conceived in 1982, but due to constraints of funds the construction work could not begin and that his administration had now solved the financial challenge by making funds available to build the dam. Some analysts would want the president to extend the gesture to the Lake Chad, Sokoto basin, the Mambilla Plateau hydro-electricity and Benue valley oil exploration projects.

The Jonathan administration is also being commended for the agricultural transformation programme going on in the North. However, Zayyad Muhammed, a blogger from the North, said that more efforts would be needed to the reach real farmers and make them feel involved in the programme. “President Jonathan still has more time to change northern Talakawas’ impression of his government. He has to design speedy but feasible policies that will break the poverty cycle in the north through economically empowering the poor. The government should establish a strong direct contact with the people in each state, instead of the heavy reliance on ‘State Government Houses’. However, a Presidential liaison person or point-man wouldn’t be a bad idea. Jonathan needs to free his government from the armpit of state governors,” Muhammed advised.

He also wants him to launch a special agricultural and poverty alleviation programmes to endear himself to the northern Talakawas. Muhammded said this is because for nearly 40 years that the northern elite held political power in Nigeria, they failed to proffer feasible policies in the areas which could have had positive impact on the livelihood of the ordinary people in the North. The Jonathan administration has similarly being involved in the building of road networks in the North.

Based on performance indices alone, many people who spoke with Realnews advocated that Nigerian leader should be elected on performance and not on ethnic or religious sentiments. Matthew Ayuba, a civil servant in Kaduna State, said the zoning arrangement in the PDP is not enough reason to deny Jonathan a well deserved second term. According to him, those who want Jonathan out in 2015 must come up with “performance-based” reasoning rather than relying on a non-existent one-term arrangement.

That is also the position of Abdulazeez Ibrahim, a lawyer in Kaduna. He told Realnews that those clamouring for power to return to the North were being guided by selfish interest and greed. He noted that the North had had power for a long time and there was nothing to show for it. “This ethnic call is straining Nigeria; it is the constitutional rights of everybody who is qualified to vie for the presidency. Those who are making the calls, what have they done to the north before President Jonathan? I don’t even know what Jonathan is waiting for before declaring his interest for the 2015 general elections. He should declare now because it’s his constitutional right to do so. The constitution does not make any provision for zoning and therefore, nobody should think of it in 2015. If the north thinks it has a better candidate, it should present him and let the people decide,” Ibrahim said.

Besides, he said Abdullahi and his cohorts should not think that they could railroad the whole North to vote for their chosen candidate. According to another northern lawyer, Section 133 of the constitution is explicit on the requirements for those seeking the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. “Such conditions include having majority of the votes cast at the election, and having at least one-quarter of the total votes cast at the election, in at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. With these clear provisions, it is very sad that some Nigerians still see the issue of election to the office of president from a jaundiced regional prism,” he said.

Tambuwal
Tambuwal

Chinedu Nwoye, a business man in Lagos, has argued that Northerners have no right to say that power must return to the North in a free, fair and credible election. “Anybody that believes in democracy should know that the outcome of the 2015 election would be determined by the electorate, whether power should go to the Southern, Eastern, Northern or Western part of the country. If the electorate, after the electoral process concludes that power should go back to the south with the majority voting for the south, then so be it because it is only a free and fair election that would determine where power is going to. The outcome of the election should not be determined by a certain group of people even before the election but it should be after the election whereby the masses had voted for whom they deem fit to govern them.” Nwoye said adding that northerners should stop thinking that presidency is their birthright.

“There is no region that has the birthright of ruling this country; northerners do not have the monopoly to take back power to their side. The best candidate should be elected, but also, considering the large ethnic group in the country, a rotational policy should be adopted so as to enable every part of the country to have a fair share and a sense of belonging in the country,” he said.

Ideally, in a society where justice and equity reign, Tobias Michael Idika, president, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Kano State chapter, said the South-East should be the next in line to assume power in the country. In a statement issued by Idika on Wednesday, July 29, the Igbo leader said it appeared as if the South-East was no longer part of the country. “For the informed minds, the history of politics and power-sharing in this country has never favored the South-East since independence; and it is obvious that after the civil war, our brothers from the North believe that we are a conquered people—serfs, and should not be considered in the socio-political cum economic arrangement in Nigeria,” he said.

According to the Igbo leader, the North had been in power for more than three decades and yet, “the North is counted as the poorest and most backward in terms of education and human development! This then means that those who clamour for power in the North do so for their own selfish aggrandisement. What is the need of clamouring for power when they cannot use it to develop their region?” He said the Ndigbo would no longer fold their hands and watch while northerners monopolise power and send them into oblivion. “So, my advice to our brothers in the North is to be considerate and stop seeing political power as their birthright. At this point, one begins to think that some cabals in the North manufactured the Boko Haram just to stampede Nigerians into agreeing to their terms of taking power back. I want to warn our northern brothers to desist from this cheap blackmail and face the realities. From a normal calculation and in the manner they are going about it, it may take another 40 years for power to return to the North. My submission remains that justice and equity must reign supreme in this issue,” Idika said.

Haruna Ndah, an Abuja based lawyer, said the North should at least allow Jonathan to have a second term in office as his constitutional right if he so desires. “Constitutionally, he has only served one term in office. What he did in 2010 was to complete Umaru Yar’Adua’s tenure and that, cannot be counted as a full tenure… So, legally speaking, there is absolutely no law restraining Goodluck Jonathan from contesting the 2015 elections if he wants to,” Nda said.

But Harrison Abba, another lawyer in Abuja, holds a different view. He said even though there is no law barring the president from running in 2015, he is morally bound not to contest based on the zoning arrangement of his party. “It is a moral question. There is no law that says he cannot contest but he must respect the zoning arrangement in his party. The north was supposed to be in power for eight years but President Umoru Yar’Adua’s death altered that arrangement. Now that we have allowed him to serve one term, he should just respect the arrangement and step down in 2015,” Abba said.

But the PDP arrangement was actually ripped to shreds by Jonathan’s emergence as the PDP presidential candidate in 2011. It followed with the election of Aminu Tambuwal as speaker of the House of Representatives instead of a South-West candidate. Therefore, it has been argued in the political circles that the president is no under any obligation to honour any zoning arrangement. To buttress their argument, some leaders in the North claimed that it is morally wrong for President Jonathan to contest in 2015, based on an alleged, but disputed, agreement that the presidency would return to the North after Jonathan’s one term in office. But that has been generally seen as a ploy by some northern elements to impose their will on the country.

From all indications, it appears that the standpoint of some northern elders on the 2015 presidential election has polarised the region further. But whether the realignment of political forces in the region would allow development oriented programmes of political parties and credibility of personalities in the election overrides other myopic considerations is another matter. For now, what Nigerians seem to be saying is, enough of regional politics, but the best candidate should lead the country come 2015.

Reported by Anayo Ezugwu, Vincent Nzemeke and Chinwe Okafor

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