North double-speak over 2011 presidency

VANGUARD Newspaper- Emeka Mamah

For many political observers in the North, the recent statement by the northern socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), to the effect that the North may not support President Goodluck Jonathan’s perceived ambition to contest the 2011 presidential election amounts to a volte face.

This is because, prior to the statement, ACF had been labeled as working for the ambition of the President. During the last meeting of the forum in Kaduna last April, the leaders stated that the ACF would scout for credible Nigerians to support in 2011, if an acceptable northerner is not found. According to ACF then, the north would shop for a candidate from any part of the country who can deliver electoral dividends to the people, instead of concerning itself with tribal or religious jingoists who have no credible plans for the Nigerian people.

“If we cannot find a candidate with the right qualities in the North, we will support anybody from any part of the country whom we discover to have these qualities,” the forum stated.

Gen. Babangida (in black) and other Northern leaders

Addressing a press conference as part of the group’s 10th anniversary celebration, Chairman of the Anniversary Planning Committee, Brig. Gen. Mohammed A. Umar, said that the ACF has documented the qualities the president of Nigeria should have.

According to him, “the ACF was established to achieve certain objectives in a united and strong Nigeria and it is the belief of members of the forum that every part of Nigeria must be strong for the nation to move forward. That is what our founding fathers in the North like the late Sir Ahmadu Bello wanted. That is why he said let the independence of the country be delayed so that all parts of Nigeria will catch up. That was the aim of establishing the ACF. At that time, there were lots of social conflicts and those of you who were Kaduna know about this. Probably, it was because of what was happening in Kaduna that the leaders then said let ACF be established.

“Generally speaking, you will agree with me that even though we have social conflicts here and there, there is more peace in the North now than there was 10 years ago. Politically, you all know the situation we were faced in 2000. Today, we know more challenging issues have come up politically that require the total northern approach to it for the nation to get out of the wood.

If you look back, you will agree with me that not long ago when we have some political situations that needed attention, northerners were among the national leaders who provided the solution to the problem. So, we will say without any fear of contradiction that a lot has been achieved regarding the reasons for the establishment of the ACF in the overall interest of the nation. I want to say that ACF is a non partisan body. Of course when you participate in the governance of a nation, politics comes into it. What ACF says is that it is non partisan. ACF is not PDP, it is not AC

and it is not any other political party.But what the Northern Union (its splinter group) is probably doing is participating actively in the partisan politics of the country and nobody is saying anything against that from the ACF.

“What we are saying is that if you participate in active partisan politics, when the time comes, you cannot be a true arbiter. We have no quarrel with Northern Union and they have the right to do whatever they are doing.We are convinced that the ACF has succeeded. The first thing we handled was the Tiv/Jukun crisis when we moved into the area with our Emirs and Chiefs, literally living in tents until they saw that the problem was solved to some extent.

In other areas too, we had our Emirs, Chiefs, former service chiefs, former Inspector General of Police crisscrossing the northern parts of the country to solve some social problems. During the Oputa panel, the ACF mobilized northerners to make the position of the North known against the backdrop of certain misunderstanding and I think that the nation came out better informed about the North and that earned some respect for the North rather than the beggar impression that some parts of the country have about the ACF.”

However, shortly after this statement, coupled with the announcement by the former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, that he will contest the 2011 presidential elections, a cacophony of protests started from the North against the alleged political ambition of Jonathan. Among those who have publicly spoken against Jonathan’s perceived ambition are Senator Kanti Bello, the former adviser to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, a chieftain of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), Alhaji Hassan Mohammed Jallo, Senator JKN Waku, a civil rights activist, Comrade Shehu Sani, a foundation member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim and another chieftain of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) from Kano State, Alhaji Abdurrahaman Dan-Mallam (Danmadami Daura).

Amid these discordant voices, the ACF made a U-turn and gave reasons why the North will not support President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 elections, even as it said that it is solidly behind the present administration of Jonathan because “it is a product of fate and constitutionality”.

The National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Mr. Anthony Sani, made the organization’s position on the raging controversy of whether the North will support President Jonathan to run or not known in his reaction to Vanguard enquiries in Kaduna Monday.

Sani stated, “When you ask whether ACF and thus the North will go against Jonathan should he decide to run in 2011, you at once personalize the whole thing. To be sure, ACF is yet to receive any reports on this matter from its committee on political affairs. However, it is necessary to point out that ACF is in full support of Goodluck’s government because, it is a product of both fate and constitutionality. We pray the government succeeds in delivering on the promise of democracy.

But, when it comes to the politics of rotation, ACF must consider the fact of history that the South has had eight years and overriding need to preserve gentleman agreements in our mechanism of community living often manifested in social contracts among individuals and groups. The point being made is that a person who takes advantage of his vantage position to vitiate an agreement by his own party is most unlikely going to deliver on the promises of his own campaigns. What is more, it is morally preposterous for ACF to go against zoning at a time it is the turn of the North, especially when regard is paid to the fact that there are qualified candidates in the North, who can provide national leadership by way of order and direction”.

Those opposing Jonathan have been working on strategies to scuttle his ambition in case they fail to get the PDP ticket. Such strategies include, moving out of the party and supporting a consensus candidate in any other party even as they realize that the easiest way for them would be through the ruling party; thus the increased hype on the party’s gentleman agreement.

But, there are other northerners who have openly supported Jonathan and have asked him to contest the 2011 elections but based on his performance between now and then. Those in this category include the former National Chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Comrade Adamu Song and the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa. These people are of the opinion that zoning is not constitutional and cannot be supported as it encourages mediocrity in governance. One noticeable feature is that most of the northerners opposed to zoning are not from the “core” North which is believed to have appropriated most of the top positions usually allocated to the area, including the presidency.

Apart from Niger State which has produced two military heads of state in the persons of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, the other presidents of northern extraction are from Kano, Sokoto and Katsina. They include late Generals Murtala Mohammed and Sani Abacha Kano), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and late President Umaru Yar’Adua (Katsina) while Shehu Shagari and the country’s only Prime Minister came from Sokoto and Bauchi states respectively.

For those who support Jonathan, some people in the North see them as traitors as they are allegedly working with the enemies of the North to deny them of their right. According to this class of northerners, although zoning is not democratic, it has brought stability in the polity as most sections of the country believe that even if not now, their own people will one day occupy the number one political position in the country and preside over the sharing of the national cake.

For Comrade Adamu Song, the so-called northern unity is false because some sections are not regarded as real northerners. He also believes that some members of the ACF are mere paper tigers who have no political relevance in their local communities.

One of the problems which some northern leaders believe that the north will face while fighting to regain the presidency between now and 2015 is lack of unity. There is serious threat to northern unity and this threat may have manifested in the various ethno-religious crises in Bauchi, Plateau, Borno, Kaduna and Benue-Taraba (Tiv/Jukun) states among others.

Apart from the issue of those who are regarded as “core” northerners and states in the periphery, like Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger, and Kwara, the introduction of Sharia law in some states with majority Moslem population is another problem which has made the north not to speak with one voice.

The intensity of the hatred between Christians and Muslims can be felt from the way some non-Christians wanted to scuttle the swearing in of Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, former Deputy Governor of Kaduna state, who became governor following the nomination of his former boss as Vice-President, Another aspect of the deep hatred also manifested at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria where the northern establishment refused to allow Professor Jonathan Nok, a minority Christian from Southern Kaduna to become the Vice Chancellor even after he emerged first in an interview that was said to have been transparently conducted by the authorities in November last year.

In the north, it is easier for a Muslim non-indigene to get a “juicy” political appointment than for a native who is an indigene. That accounts for a situation whereby some “northerners” who allegedly came to the country from Niger, Cameroun among other neighbouring countries enjoy more political patronages than northern Christians.

Certainly, all other things being equal, the scheduled 2011 presidential election will hold but what is not certain is between President Jonathan and his supporters on one hand and the north on the other, who will blink first. But, as a former member of the National Electoral Reform Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye said, “zoning is a creative, internal and inclusive arrangement of the political parties. The constitutional and legal requirements for vying for presidency do not include zoning. Zoning is an issue because other parties are weak”.


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