As President Goodluck Jonathan continues to keep his second term ambition to himself, the Northern Elders Forum, which is now divided over support for the president, adopts a new game plan to take back political power to the North in 2015
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 24, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE Nigerian political scene is getting charged and more exciting. Even without the National Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, blowing the whistle for electioneering campaign to start, all the stakeholders seem to have a way of circumventing the electoral law in carrying out their political campaign in earnest. While President Goodluck Jonathan has been going about the country to commission projects and attend rallies to receive defectors to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, has also been taking similar steps to reach out and get support for the party ahead of 2015 general elections.
Perhaps, not to be outdone in the campaign moves, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, which has been championing the cause for the return of power to the North, held a two-day meeting in Kano on Monday and Tuesday to unite the region in preparation for the 2015 elections and the national conference which starts on Monday, March 17. According to its facilitators, the meeting became imperative in view of the factionalisation in the group. The crack in the elite group became evident in February when a splinter group of the forum formally inaugurated another association called the Northern Elders Council, NEC. The council, led by Tanko Yakassai, former political aide of Shehu Shagari, former president, at its meeting in Kaduna in February, publicly endorsed President Jonathan for re-election in 2015. The NEC’s position is at variance with that of the NEF, which insists that power must return to the North in 2015.
Tactically, the NEF’s communiqué after the two-day meeting which ended on Tuesday, March 11, did not dwell so much on the 2015. Instead, the forum’s communiqué found faults on what president Jonathan had done or had not done. It picked holes in federal government’s selection of delegates to the national conference, its handling of insecurity in the North, anti- North unity, policies and programmes.
The NEF dismissed the national conference saying it “lacks a constitutional basis or any form of legitimacy or authority to speak for the people of the North or other Nigerians.” Hence, the forum declared that the proceedings, conclusions and recommendations of the conference would, therefore, be of no consequence and would not be accepted by the people of the North. Besides, the forum said that the critical issues of national development in Nigeria were fairly well known and could be incorporated in amendments of the nation’s constitution, and that the North must work with people from other parts of the country to seek more legitimate avenues for discussing the nature and future of the Nigeria.
The communiqué further noted that the composition of the delegation to the conference represents a serious indictment on the Jonathan administration’s plan to organise a conference that would address the complex problems of the nation. According to the forum, a conference built on a foundation of injustice and contempt for all known values will not produce any just conclusions that would be useful to anyone.
On the security challenges in the North, the NEF accused the federal government of failing to immediately end the violence in the North-East region and also in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna states, which have left the communities with the only option of taking various steps to protect themselves. The communiqué called on the federal government to improve its capacity to protect citizens in the North-East region and many other parts of the North as the most minimal evidence of its seriousness about its responsibilities to the people in the region.
The forum further noted that while the people of the North were aware of the current challenges to security of life and property, it said it was sad that the area had become hostile to the leaders who have the responsibility to protect them. It therefore said the intolerable assaults must be stopped by either the Jonathan administration, or “by another responsible and committed leadership that should emerge in its place.” It emphasised among others that: “The rather diabolical, purposive and systematic underdevelopment of Northern economic and its social structures by the national leadership and some leaders in the North must be resisted; and policies which deepen inequity, underdevelopment injustice against the North must be reversed.” It also urged Northerners to resist attempts to intensify insecurity or cause further divisions and violence around faith and ethnic groups in the region.
On the 2015 elections, the forum said: “political activities, including elections must respect the will of the people; and further attempts to deprive the North of its rights to benefit fully in the democratic process will be lawfully and firmly resisted; unfair and unjust allocation of resources of the nation which deprive the North of its legitimate rights must cease; and the North must intensify efforts to improve the exploitation and management of its own human and other resources.” The NEF also enjoined the government to conduct the 2015 elections in a peaceful atmosphere throughout the North, especially and all over the country in general, stressing that the armed forces and the police must not be used to abuse people’s rights or intimidate anybody so that the will of the people would prevail.
The conference itself was an emotional one for the Northern elders. Yusuf Maitama Sule, chairman of the NEF and convener of the meeting, in his speech decried the insurgency in the North and alleged that only an irresponsible government at the centre would allow the killings of students, women and children in the North-East of Nigeria to have gone thus far. Sule said: “In my 60 years in politics, I have not seen what I see in the North in terms of instability, insecurity and living in poverty in the midst of plenty.” He criticised politicians who were going round places telling people that the Muslims in the North would want to Islamise the North and the country at large and described the alleged action as a deliberate attempt capable of dividing the country along religious lines. The “NEF should not be seen as the enemy of the federal government simply because of its stance against injustices to the North; it rather should be seen as a peacemaker and partner in progress which wants to see strict adherence to the principles of democracy,” he said.
In his submission, Mukhtar Muhammad, a retired air vice marshal and representative of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said that the ACF had gone far in discussion about the unity of northern Nigeria and in ensuring that the North would speak with one voice, one youth organisation and one women organisation at every national function. Muhammad, who is the vice chairman of the forum’s Board of Trustees, said the killings of hundreds of people daily in the North should not be tolerated by anyone.
Hakeem Baba Ahmed, former legal adviser of the forum, who read the communiqué, blamed former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the political situation in the North. Ahmed, in a paper which he presented at the conference, went on a memory lane and recalled that Northern hegemony suffered the greatest blow under Obasanjo. “Within the first four years of his two terms, Obasanjo had completely dismantled the northern political establishment that created him and the northern political elite has been on the defensive since then,” he alleged. According to Ahmed, after 2011 elections, the lines had become firmly drawn and the North had become politically decimated and lamented that this was the moment of the greatest weakness of the northern leaders. He, therefore, called for unity among northern leaders to reclaim their prime of place in the political equation of the country.
He similarly took a swipe at the Jonathan administration for holding the national conference close to the time of election, saying it would distract the electorate and tilt the situation in his favour. Ahmed also faulted the list of delegates, saying it had set the North against the South because it gave Nigerian Muslims about 198 delegates as against 294 given to Christians. “It is offending Christians in the North-West, Muslims in Plateau State and the North-Central zone and so on,” he stated. Ahmed, therefore, advised the delegates to challenge the composition at the start of the conference and if their request was denied, they should walk out of the conference. He held that if the North had strong, cohesive and visionary leadership today, no one would dare design a conference that would so blatantly offend all indices of justice and fairness. Apart from whipping up sentiment on why the North should unite ahead of the 2015 elections, many other Northern leaders have also made controversial statements that may further cause distrust of President Jonathan’s government and unite the North against any southern candidate. In his submission at the meeting, Usman Bugaje, former national secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, was quoted to have said that it was wrong for any state in Nigeria to claim to be an oil producing state. According to Bugaje, 72 percent of the total land mass in the country belonged to the North and by the United Nation’s law, only the North could actually claim ownership of the oil wells. Bugaje said: “whatever mileage you get in the sea, according to the United Nations Law of the Sea, is a measure of the land mass that you have; whatever the mileage to the sea and the land mass of this country (Nigeria) that gives it long 200 nautical miles or more into the ocean is because 72 percent of the land mass of this country is that of the North.” According to Bugaje, the investment in the oil and gas industry actually came from the Nigerian state and the territory belongs to the country, but what the Niger Delta people claimed as the off shore oil was actually the oil of the North.
Bugaje’s comment has apparently enraged the Ijaw Youth Council (worldwide), which saw his statement as reckless, provocative, baseless, misleading and a display of highest level of ignorance. The IYC in a statement signed by Eric Omare, its spokesman, on Wednesday, March 12, said Bugaje was ignorant of the UN law. The law, according to Omare, has no provision saying the maritime boundary of a country is determined by its land mass. Omare said there is nowhere in Articles 3, 5, 57 and 76 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, where it was stated that the land mass of a coastal state would determine its mileage into the sea or its maritime boundary. The IYC expressed disappointment that such a statement could come from a Northern elite such as Bugaje. It, however, regarded Bugaje’s statement as a ploy to mislead Northern delegates to the national conference to oppose the legitimate demand of the Niger Delta people to control their resources. “To the IYC, such a misleading statement coming from an elite such as Dr. Bugaje brings to the fore the reason behind most of the barbaric acts coming from that part of the country… The IYC is very much aware of the game plan of the Northern Elders Forum. The IYC is watching and ready for the challenge! We wish to further state that the initial and present investments in the oil and gas industry is not the investment of the Nigerian state or Northern Nigeria as Dr. Bugaje would want people to believe. It was the multinationals who came to explore oil during the colonial and post-colonial era that did the initial investment and subsequent investment of government in the oil industry is from the proceeds of the Niger Delta oil,” the IYC statement said. The Ijaw youths therefore, advised the Northern leaders to bury the frivolous claim to Niger Delta oil and think of creative means to harness the resources found in the North. It warned that “the IYC is capable and ever ready and willing to defend, protect and assert the Niger Delta communities and the people’s ownership of its oil and gas resources both onshore and off shore.”
From every indication, it appears that the NEF meeting may not have been able to rally round the whole of the North behind it ahead of the 2015, which perhaps, suggests that the forum would want to use the national conference to paint the Jonathan government in bad light. But to successfully achieve that ,it would need to convince Northern elite such as Ibrahim Shekarau, former governor of Kano State, Attahiru Bafarawa, former governor of Sokoto State and Yakassai, who recently pitched their tent with President Jonathan.
Shekarau, who defected from the APC to the ruling PDP, when asked if he was ready to campaign for President Jonathan in Kano in 2015, said: “I am prepared to campaign for the PDP. And whoever turns out to be the candidate of the PDP at any level is my candidate.” Making a similar commitment Bafarawa said in an interview that the president was still in the process of learning and would do better if re-elected in 2015. “He (Jonathan) had experience as deputy governor, governor and vice president. Being a governor of Bayelsa State is different from being the president of the country. Within the last four years, he has gained a lot of experience. If he goes for a second term, I believe he will do better than he did in the last four years. If Mr. President wants to aspire for a second term, I believe he has a vision. His first coming was not as president but as vice president. Therefore, the vision of his government is the vision of his boss. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, if the party leadership is doing its job as it ought to, everybody will succeed because the manifesto of any political party is the working material that is supposed guide Mr. President or the governors. And who is going to supervise them? It is the party leadership. So, if the president or any governor fails, it is not the person that has failed but the leadership of the party,” Bafarawa said.
Yakassai whose, NEC has been in collusion with the NEF led by Yusuf Maitama Sule and Ango Abdullahi, a professor of agriculture and secretary general of the NEF, over the disagreement that political power should return to the North, seems unapologetic about his stance. He is one of the president’s nominees to the national conference. In an apparent disregard to calls by the leadership of the NEF and ACF, that political power should shift to the North, Yakasai stated:
“We will work alongside all Nigerians who wish to ensure that machinations of anti-democratic forces in this country are frustrated…Northern Elders Council commends and fully supports the visionary and transformational policies of President Jonathan and acknowledge the socio-economic strides of the administration in all sectors. The Council pledges its full support and commitment to work for the success of President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo.”
But Ango dismissed the NEC as being bought over by the president. He also kicked against the convocation of the national conference, saying it was not designed to be sovereign in nature and it was being used by the president to perpetuate himself in office.
Junaid Mohammed, another Northern elite, also dismissed the NEC as inconsequential in the determination of Jonathan’s fate in 2015, describing members of the new group as political prostitutes.
With increasing tension between the North and South over the possible re-election bid of President Jonathan, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former head of state, said on Thursday, March 6, that the manner in which the country would handle the 2015 general elections would determine if Nigeria will remain a united and stable country. “The way we are able to handle this very important event will largely determine how successful we will be in our efforts at remaining a united, indivisible and stable country,” he said. But will the gladiators in the regional and sectional politics allow decorum in the all important election? The answer is not likely to come forth soon until after the national conference which may be the catalyst for the success of the 2015 election.