By Olakunle Olafioye
Nigerians have vowed to take their fate in their own hands as the nation prepares for this year’s elections, saying that leading socio-cultural organizations in country will not decide for them.
The major ethnic organisations in the country, particularly ACF, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, and PANDEF have made statements that showed where their support will go to with those in the South hinging it on the party and candidate that will support restructuring, but some respondents who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the era when the electorate sentimentally queued behind some groups during elections was gone for good.
But surprisingly in the Southwest, the restructuring demand appears to have been threatened as the leadership of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, is divided between the two leading presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The two candidates have different views on restructuring.
Similarly, the Southeast appears to be in dilemma over the candidate of the party to support between the ruling APC and that of the leading opposition party, PDP.
In the North, a similar scenario is believed to be playing out although with suppressed emotions as many analysts have expressed the opinion that leaders in the zone are being circumspect since the leading candidates for the presidential poll are from the zone.
Reacting to this development, Alhaji Ado Dansudu, National President, Arewa United Forum, said Nigerians are now wise enough to decide for themselves.
According to Dansudu, socio-cultural organizations in the country must respect the rights of the citizens to vote whoever they wish to support during elections.
“I don’t see Nigerians listening or taking instructions from any of the socio-cultural groups as far as this year’s election is concerned because these groups are not political groups. Rather they are seen as leaders in their respective regions.
“So, they should be less concerned about the people or parties Nigerians should vote for in the coming elections. My advice to them is that they should respect themselves and desist from being partisan.
“The coming election is not the issue of the North or the South; it is the issue of the entire nation. Individually, they have the rights to support whoever or whichever political party they want, but a situation where they attempt to decide for Nigerians, will be vehemently opposed.
“This is democracy, so everybody should be free to make the choice that suits him. In our forum, Arewa United Forum, everybody is at liberty to support any party or candidate he or she desires. But telling Nigerians to vote for a particular political party will only spell doom for these groups because they will end up losing the respect they enjoy,” Dansudu said.
He noted further that the relevance which the groups enjoy was borne out of challenges the country is contending with and concluded that their influence would fizzle out as soon the country overcame its challenges.
“These groups are still relevant in the country because of the challenges confronting us as a nation now. I foresee that very soon they will lose their relevance when things begin to take proper shape, especially when the country begins to enjoy the much needed unity, when the country begins to enjoy peace, progress and development, nobody will talk about these groups again,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Dr Jude Asenime of Department of History, Delta State University, said although the socio-cultural organizations remain major influence groups in the country, he predicted a diminished influence from the groups in this year’s elections.
According to him, “Arewa, Afenifere, PANDEF and Ohanaeze will still be serious pressure groups in the coming elections. But right now in the East, Ohanaeze and Nnamdi Kanu’s group are no longer on the same page. So, the situation in the Southeast will be quite different from what is likely to play out in other regions because the youths in the Southeast are most likely to follow Nnamdi Kanu.
“Similarly, in the Yorubaland, Afenifere might not be as strong as it used to be. The election itself, I see it going three ways. That’s Southwest, Southeast and the North. It could also take religious dimension, but why it might not be too religious is because the two leading contenders are Muslims and they have overshadowed other contestants.”
In his opinion, a retired military officer, Lt Col Michael Adebayo (rtd) dismissed the posturing of the socio-cultural organizations, saying such belonged to the old political era.
“No, I don’t see Nigerians listening to these groups because that will amount to taking the nation back to the old era of ethnic politics. Nigerians are wiser now to choose whoever they deem qualified to represent them. We have gone past that era where somebody from your tribe will continue to influence your decisions.
“I believe we have outgrown the idea of voting based on such sentiments. Why should Afenifere, Arewa or Ohanaeze determine who the people should vote for? That is politics of the past. In developed countries, you don’t see such practice play out during electioneering. We have reached a stage where husband and wife living under the same roof will toe different paths during election periods. I think the people spearheading this idea should just vacate the stage for the youths and allow them to govern the country in modern way not to continue in the old way when we had AG in the West, NPC in the North and NCNC in the East. That is politics of the olden days which should not be part of our current system,” the retired military officer said.
In his contribution, Prof Abiodun Michael Oni, Head of Political Science Department, Babcock University, Ogun State maintained that Nigerians will not take directive from leaders of the socio-cultural organizations, whom he said have lost their relevance at the grassroots.
He said: “Can anybody tell me as a Yoruba man where my vote should go? Some of these people have lost relevance at the grassroots. Perhaps they are not aware, but I am sure they will be aware after the election. I am sure just as nobody can tell me where my vote should go, there are several millions of other Nigerians who will not listen to these people.
“What these people don’t understand is that most Nigerians don’t listen to radio, they don’t watch the television. They have made up their minds using certain yardsticks. Go to the North and try to persuade them, they already have their candidate. In the Southwest, Afenifere is already divided so how would they influence their people when their house is not in order?”
The don, however, reasoned that poverty, as highlighted by the incident of vote buying in recent elections, might be a major factor during the elections.
“If any factor will come into play during the elections, it will be poverty. It is so unfortunate that things have degenerated to this level. Some of the electorate will be ready to sell their votes to the highest bidder instead of listening to any group,” he submitted.
A northern youth leader and National Youth Secretary, Arewa United, Comrade Ibrahim AbubakarJagaban also dismissed the influence of the socio-cultural groups on the electorate in 2019 election.
He reasoned that although the northerners easily align with Arewa on major issues, he expressed pessimism that ACF would be able to muster its usual influence in the North in next month’s election.
“I don’t think Nigerians will queue behind these people because our people are very much conscious now. A lot of Nigerians will like to read through the lines either formally or informally, especially considering what they have gone through in the past years. They will want to look at things from their own perspective.
“Although, I am quite sure that these groups have some level of influence on some of people’s decisions. In Arewa which I belong to, I know we listen to counsels from our leaders. But I am sure a lot of our people will decide for themselves as far as this year’s election is concerned”, he stated.