Southern Nigeria’s Hypocrisy Will Produce Another Northern President

Viewpoint by Azu Ishiekwene

The writer is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of LEADERSHIP newspaper based in Abuja, Nigeria.

ABUJA (IDN) — After the primary by Nigeria’s opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which produced former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election, political leaders in the South of the country have been hurling abuses at the North for betrayal.

Atiku, a Northerner and flag bearer of the opposition party, was deputy to President Olusegun Obasanjo. He has contested for the nation’s top job five times since 2007, the last time being in 2019 when he challenged Buhari.

The South has held power for 13 out of the 23 years after the country returned to civil rule in 1999 and the North has been in power for 10. The advantage since independence 62 years ago, however, has been with the North which has been at the helm for a total 41 years.

Recently, two southern groups—the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Middle Belt Forum—led the charge for a return to the “zoning formula”, a turn-by-turn political arrangement, which should concede power to the South after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure expires next year.

Beyond the tantrums, however, these groups, like many others in the country’s boisterous, but less populated South, have very little practical influence on elections or voting. With 53 percent of 84 million registered voters, the North remains the country’s main voting bank.

Yet, I’m opposed to a system that despises its constituent parts as despicably as Nigeria has despised the South East, one of the country’s six geo-political zones. The sudden awakening among anti-zoning elements that there is no better time than now for merit to prevail—as if any section of the country has a monopoly of it—is nothing but sheer hypocrisy.

For the sake of fairness and equity, the arrangement within the political parties that produced Presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Buhari ought to have applied not just to the South (as a block), but particularly to the South East, the epicentre of Nigeria’s political crime scene.

Many Igbos in the country’s South East, which has a population of over 22 million, and has been the hotbed of secessionist agitation for many years, believe that their deliberate exclusion from the country’s top job is a price they have to pay for the country’s civil war which ended 52 years ago.

However, instead of directing their anger at the North, PANDEF, the Middle Belt Forum and other political groups that are aggrieved by the outcome of May-end PDP presidential primary should face the traitors in their own midst—the governors and party leaders in the South, who rather than put their money where their mouth is, decided to settle, yet again, for the crumbs from the North’s table.

In 2007 three Southern governors swore publicly, tongues sticking out, that it was time for the South to close ranks and support a Southern candidate to succeed Obasanjo. But one of the Governors, Peter Odili, wrote in his book, “Conscience and history”, that it was the same Southern governors that worked the hardest to frustrate that ambition, paving the way for Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency in 2007.

It happened back then as comedy, but now it’s playing out again as farce. At least twice in the last one year, governors under the auspices of the Southern Governors’ Forum, which comprises the two major political parties, PDP and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and a regional party APGA, held two major meetings at which they pledged to ensure that the Presidency returns to the South in 2023.

In what amounted to the military equivalent of a mutiny, the Chairman of the Forum, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, said after a meeting in Enugu in the South East in September, that, “The next president of Nigeria must come from the Southern part of Nigeria in line with the politics of equity, justice and fairness”.

On May 29, the South—specifically the South South—which has the largest number and concentration of PDP governors, had the opportunity to show that it could, at least, stand up for what it believes in. Sadly, it was, yet again, the South’s meltdown moment.

Even if the opposition party’s decision to select one delegate per local government area meant that the South had 357 delegates to the North’s 419, the treacherous attitude of Southern governors and political leaders guaranteed a Northern victory.

Southern groups shouldn’t be crying a river; they should be looking at themselves in the mirror. While the main Northern aspirant at the primary, Atiku Abubakar, was busy mobilising traditional rulers and religious leaders, calling in favours and laying mines to trip even candidates from the region who might stand in his way, with the full backing of Northern elders, political groups in the South were waging their campaign for the presidency through press statements on social media. The chickens have come home to roost.

It’s true that Nigeria’s abhorrent political maths leaves the South East with the fewest states and fewest local governments as well. But the region’s delegates to the primary did themselves no favours.  In a contest in which three aspirants from the region were in play, two of them received only 15 votes from the 91 delegates from the region, while the third had zero votes.

I laugh at the suggestion that what is left of the South’s misery would be saved by the presidential primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on June 6 and 7. There is an anecdote that helps to explain why that will not happen.

In the wee hours of Monday (May 30) after the PDP primary, I got an unusual message. It was from a confidante who though not a politician, has exceptional instincts from his training as a mathematician and over six decades of observation and experience of Nigeria’s politics. “2023”, he wrote: “The jigsaw puzzle is falling in place.”

He was referring to an earlier conversation we had after the two major parties announced, to the consternation of the South, that they had scrapped zoning and declared that merit was the new political orgasm.

After President Buhari said tongue-in-cheek that the zone where a party chairman is from should not deter any presidential aspirants, my confidante said it was very likely that the two major parties would field Northern candidates for next year’s election.

Atiku Abubakar is the first piece of that puzzle. It’s not outside the realm of probability that as the APC conducts its primary next week that Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, could be the second, final piece that completes the shame of Southern hypocrisy. And it would be justified, by Southerners no less, that the North East and the North Central are just as marginalised as the South East!

Like Deng Xiaoping said in his famous parable of white cat and black cat, APC insiders have said the party’s main preoccupation now, is how to stop Atiku.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that as things stand today, whoever emerges as APC’s candidate would hardly be a match for Atiku Abubakar in next year’s presidential election. And Buhari, who would then be obliged to pretend that he is handing over with a heavy heart, would have nothing to lose. Like it was in 2015, it would be yet another gift from the South. [IDN-InDepthNews – 03 June 2022]

Photo: Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Former Head-of-State General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd). CC BY-SA 4.0

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