2011: Can the North achieve consensus?

THE SUN Newspaper- Jacob Edi

Ahead of the presidential elections in the Second Republic, the northern establishment met to take a critical decision. It was learnt that with about five presidential aspirants, all from the North and within the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN), there was need for harmonization. As the days went by and election was close, the northern political leaders knew it would be a political harm to allow all the aspirants go into elections without some form of consensus.

And at a meeting of all the NPN stakeholders of northern extraction there was a ballot, which produced former President Shehu Shagari and Alhaji Maitama Sule, respectively. But Sule declined to go for another round of voting and the lot fell on Shagari to be the northern tusk-bearer.

Party supremacy was strong at the time. Political agreements were adhered to and issues of zoning or lack of it were not on the front burners. Also, political decisions were taken on the basis of primordial sentiments or at least so it seemed then. This was in 1979.

Over three decades on, the circumstances have changed. As the saying goes, many waters have passed under the bridge. In today’s Nigeria, although the issues that attended politics then have not changed fundamentally, they seem to have appreciated from the analogue level that existed: religion, ethnicity, tribalism, marginalisation and now zoning.

In consideration of the divisive tendencies of these sentiments, Nigerian politicians have always sought ways ensuring all the stakeholders in the Nigerian project have a piece of the action.
Ipso facto, such political coinage as fabrication as zoning entered into the nation’s political lexicon. Political analysts have argued that even the zoning is a fragile political balancing act, which technically sees the nation from the standpoint of North and southern divide, which left out minorities from all the zones. In this arrangement, therefore, southern minorities otherwise dubbed South-South geo-political zone as well as Christian dominated northern minority, also known as Middle Belt, is left within the periphery of the nation’s power calculation.
Those in this school of thought insist that the Obasanjo presidency, was a southern slot, which rationalise the emergence of the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua as taking the turn of the North. However, the death of Yar’Adua, though with constitutional provisions to address such situation, created a vacuum that apparently was not envisaged by the politicians.

The crisis of succession, therefore, made bare the imbalance in the polity and threw up fresh challenges of nationhood. Northern apologists insist that since Yar’Adua did not complete his tenure incumbent President Jonathan should serve out the remaining period of their joint ticket and give way to a northerner for the remaining one term. This position is fiercely opposed by anti-zoning elements, both within and outside the North, who now find it convenient to argue that zoning is unconstitutional. The death of Yar’Adua, it was learnt, did incalculable damage to political permutations in the North. The entire plan was to keep him in office till the expiration of the first term in his two-term tenure and it will be apparent that he cannot contest the 2011 elections. With this state of mind, the northerners were driven by individual ambition and did not pull resources together, politically.

By the time Jonathan took over as president and it is apparent that he wants to contest the election, in spite of the zoning arrangement and the controversy surrounding it, the northerners have also entered the race.
Obviously realising the inherent dangers of going into next year’s election a divided house, northern politicians within the ruling PDP have agreed to come up with a consensus candidate for the presidential primaries. Those in the race are Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and former military ruler, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

Even though all the aspirants have, at different times, declared they will step down for a consensus candidate, observers believe there is nothing in their body language to suggest they will keep faith. The aspirants are going about their campaigns as if they are the only ones contesting the election.
Besides, recent history of PDP primaries does not give credence to the establishment of fact that the North can produce a consensus candidate, especially within the same party.

Apart from the 1999 primaries, where northern politicians stayed away from contesting, the 2003 elections saw the late Abubakar Rimi running against then incumbent President Obasanjo: this negates the zoning arrangement at the time.

Then in 2007, there was a flurry of northern politicians, who were going to give the late Yar’Adua a good fight until the PDP magic made all of them to step down for a consensus candidate, willingly or otherwise.
Those in the race at that time were former governors Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State, Mohammed Makarfi of Kaduna State, Mohammed Buba Marwa (former military administrator of Lagos State) as well as Professor Jerry Gana. Indeed, even Babangida was in the race and was said to have sponsored two political parties – National Democratic Party (NDP) and United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) – to help his presidential ambition. He later chickened out, saying the late Yar’Adua was his kid brother.

Now since the Governor Sule Lamido-led committee to produce a consensus candidate to contest in the PDP primaries, the question on many lips is, will the North, for the first time, produce a consensus candidate? What criteria will the committee use to pick a consensus candidate? Will they agree to submit themselves and work for any one that emerges? What happens with the money spent so far in the build-up to the primaries? Will the Christian-dominated North Central accept a Muslim candidate from the North?
Interestingly, all the members of the Lamido team have their prejudices even against the aspirants, so will they be able to keep these aside and work for the general interest of the region?

With a campaign team that bears a close resemblance to that of the late President Yar’Adua, IBB appears to have a higher leverage. His Campaign Director, Senator Kanti Bello served in the same capacity for the late president. In fact, Bello and Yar’Adua made the first trip to Bayelsa on campaign.
In the South East politicians, like former ministers of Health and Education, ABC Nwosu and Chinwe Obaji, former governors Sam Egwu and Achike Udenwa, all were late Yar’Adua’s men who now rally round the former military dictator.

He also has support of the Adedibu political dynasty in the South West and people like Arisekola Alao, Rasheed Ladoja, Elder Wole Oyelese, Dr. Kunle Olajide as well as Chief Alex Akinyele are all queuing behind him.
Former governors Peter Odili, James Ibori are some of his supporters. In fact, unconfirmed reports said even Governor Adams Oshiomhole is tacitly supporting the IBB candidacy.
Whether these can see him through is left to the committee but the question on many lips is that even though it can be established that IBB has support base that cuts across the nation, his age is certainly a setback.

The former Vice President and AC presidential candidate in 2007, Atiku is, no doubt, a formidable politician. Those who are close to him give to him that he is fantastic when it comes to party politics and subverting any existing political structure irrespective of the owner. But he decamped from PDP, moved into AC and was defeated at the polls in 2003, he may have lost some of his core supporters who are now found in different political camps.

He also has one of the most formidable media/propaganda teams compared to the rest of the aspirants. This team is led by Mallam Garba Shehu, arguably, one of the best journalists in the country. He was a former president of the Guild of Editors.
For instance, his presidential running mate, Ben Obi, is now with Aliyu Gusau. And left to manage his campaign is a very experienced journalist, Chris Mamah. Mamah was his staff and not a consummate politician, which they say is a setback.

The current National Chairman of the PDP, Nwodo was his man. Some Atiku supporters will easily say it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. What is clear, however, is that Nwodo is not only the chairman of the party, he is equally believed to have the support of President Jonathan before coming to office.
Atiku’s movement in and out of the PDP may count against him because it could be interpreted to mean political desperation aimed at clinching the presidency at all costs. But even his opponents admit he is not a push-over. His tenacity in fighting for a cause is a plus.

By the time he quit office as vice president, he earned for himself the admiration of Nigerians, as one man who had the courage to stand up to former President Obasanjo and challenge him over his third term ambition. And since he prosecuted all the ‘war’ through the law courts, Atiku also comes off as a politician, who believes in the rule of law.

Aliyu Gusau
A professional soldier and almost a serial NSA, Gusua is not known to have any major political base. But the mention of the name, given his security background and having served as National Security Adviser right from the days of IBB, easily makes people shudder: It is not clear for what reason.
He contested the presidential primaries in 2007 against Yar’Adua and came last. Right now, he is in inheritance of straying politicians. Age is also not friendly to him and those close to him say he has begun to manifest natural signs of old age.
An experienced NSA, he was able to achieve the delicate balancing of serving both a military regime and a civilian administration.

Indeed, unconfirmed report said the former NSA had always wanted to rule this country ever since his military days. It is believed that he did not completely find his retirement from the army by IBB very pleasant as he was said to be in the saddle after Abacha to take over power.
For whatever it is worth, there are those who believe in him and he still has one nominee in the Lamido committee who will make a case for him.

Governor Bukola Saraki
Like his father, Olusola Saraki, his name instantly confuses one of his zone. He bears a common South West name but a northerner by region of origin. Currently, the governor of Kwara State, Saraki carries the toga of one of the heirs of the Saraki political ambience, especially in Kwara State.
During the imbroglio of the late Yar’Adua illness, Saraki was among those who stood by him. He was able to use his headship of the Governors’ Forum to rally support for the continued stay of the sick president until it was clear he (Yar’Adua) was not going to make it. Though he participated in the realignment as soon as Jonathan took over power, close political watchers knew he will vie for the nation’s top seat. Quite naturally, this position pitted him against some of his fellow governors who felt that Governor Saraki was using the position to feather his political nest.

Now he is in the race. He is going to be judged “by the content of his character” and not his family name. As two-term governor of Kwara, what are his achievements? How tolerant is he of opposition? Does he even have support of his colleagues?

But of all those to be x-rayed by the Lamido committee, only Saraki has age going for him. Whether this will help him or not will be seen in the days ahead when the committee is expected to make its recommendations public.
Should the North muster the courage to come up with a consensus candidate to contest against incumbent President Jonathan, it will do the region an incalculable good especially given the issues that are likely to affect the 2011 elections, a microcosm of which will only rear its head at the PDP primaries.


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