By Omoniyi Salaudeen
It is about time Nigeria redefined its political objective to sustain its corporate existence as one united and indivisible entity. At present, it appears that most state actors are merely paying lip-service to national unity without genuine commitment to the principles of fairness, equity and justice.
In particular, the recent exchange of brickbats between the Southern Governors and their counterpart in the North over the issue of power shift has made it clear that that rabid nationalism cannot continue forever. Whatever is the merit of the argument, the inflammatory altercation has confirmed the fear that the country might have reached a tipping point with a steady progression into the abyss.
Already, there is a clear pointer that the 2023 presidential race is going to be a straight contest between the North and South. If that happens, the election will surely be a litmus test for the over exaggerated notion of ‘One North’ with its numerical strength.
Over the years, the myth about the North being one big happy family with a common identity and single collective future has been promoted for political reasons.
This is even more so with the loyalty of the Middle Belt to the political interest of the Core North. So, rightly or wrongly, the belief that the North could use its numerical strength to exclusively decide everything still subsists in the consciousness of some players in the region. That, presumably, must have informed the declaration by the Northern governors that the idea of power rotation was against the provision of the constitution.
But it appears they got it all wrong. If the so-called ‘One North’ ever existed at all, it is no longer a reality in the present circumstance Nigeria has found itself. It died a long time ago. The marriage of convenience that makes the Middle Belt subservience to the political interest of the Core North has irretrievably collapsed.
Though still at a trial level, if the Southern leaders, PANDEF and Middle Belt Forum could sustain their new found relationship to forge a genuine alliance in support of a single candidate, then 2023 may be a defining moment for Nigeria.
According to the voter register used for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, the number of eligible voters stands at 84,004,084. Out of this figure, the Northwest recorded 20,158,100, representing 24 per cent of the total registered voters. The Southwest region comes second with 16,292,212 registered voters, accounting for 19.39 per cent registered voters, while the North-central has 13,366,070 registered voters (15.91 per cent), and the South-south has 12,841,279 registered voters (15.29% per cent). The Northeast region and the Southeast come last with the total number of registered voters standing at 11,289,293 (13.44 per cent) and 10,057,130 voters (11.97 per cent) respectively.
Under the current permutation, the North can no longer rely on a bloc vote from the entire North-central. And by implication, the arrogance of the Northern governors will fall flat in the face of the new emerging alliance between the Southern leaders and Middle Belt Forum, if it is faithfully implemented.
A former presidential aide, Dr Doyin Okupe, speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, described the pronouncement of the Northern governors as astonishing and regrettable.
He argued: “If a Northern president has just concluded his Northern presidency, it is unjustifiable under any guise whatsoever for us to have another president from the North back-to- back for another eight years. The pronouncement of the Northern Governors’ Forum is astonishing. The language that was used to describe the pronouncement of the Southern governors is also highly unexpected. You don’t talk about your colleagues like that. In this country, we must learn to respect one another. There is no part of the country that is subservient to the other. There is nobody in the North; no matter the position the person occupies, that is superior to any counterpart in the South or anywhere else. To say that the Southern governors are confused is very unfortunate. What we must recognise is that the country has changed a lot, but some people are still living in the past. It will be a matter of regret later.”
According to him, based on numerical strength, the North could go for the presidential race without the support of the South, if they can put their acts together. But in that event, he added, the person will be the president of the North and not the president of Nigeria.
“I am the first person to admit that the North can become president on their own without any support from the South. The constitution says that if at the first ballot, nobody meets the criteria of securing a clear majority or 25 per cent of vote cast in 2/3 of the state, there will be a rerun. For the rerun, the constitution says the winner shall emerge by a simple majority. This implies that if a Northern candidate is presented and nobody voted for him in the South, he can win with simply majority votes from the North. But he will be a Northern president and not a president of Nigeria, mark my words,” Okupe declared.
However, President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr Pogu Bitrus, clarified that the so-called numerical strength which the Northern leaders had always boasted of was based on the support of the Middle Belt, declaring that they were no longer part of the region.
His words: “The declaration of Northern governors on power shift is an unfortunate one. The Southern governors met and said that North has had its eight years and so power must go down to the South. But the Northern governors just picked the word ‘must’ and capitalized on it. Why did we zone the presidency to the Southwest in 1999? Was it not to keep Nigeria one? That time, the problem facing Nigeria was not even as much as it is now. We are more divided now than then. And having had eight years of a rulership which majority of Nigerians feel is inadequate and sectional, then they are saying they want to retain power. I think there is an atrocity they have committed which they want to hide. Maybe they feel that if a Southern president comes, he will expose those atrocities. Whether it is economy, insecurity, or any other indices you want to use, this current Northern government has failed Nigeria.
“For Nigeria to remain one, power must shift to another section of the country. Nepotism has never been the way it has been in this government. We want a Nigerian president to come from another zone. We the Middle Belt also have our own interest. We are not Northerners, we are Middle Belters. And our population together with our landmass is equal to the task. They are claiming a majority, it was because of us. Middle Belters want power shift so that Nigeria will remain one single entity. Anyone who wants power to remain in the North is saying ‘bushit, let Nigeria divide.’ But we are saying we believe in one Nigeria, and so power should shift by 2023.
“Those who are still capitalizing on the strength of ‘One North’ are living in the past. We have come out clearly to say that we are not part of the North. When they want to seek power, they will use our number. But when it comes to the dividends of that power, they will corner everything to themselves. Look at the appointment in this government; everything is tilted towards the Fulani North. All federal appointments are occupied by the Fulani. Where is the Middle Belt in the equation? We also have to be in the equation because we have the population to contest for the president. We will lobby with our Southern brothers. We want a Southerner or Middle Belt to be the president so that we can have one united Nigeria.”
Similarly, a respected leader of thought in the Southeast and former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, while reacting to the development, said that the statement made by the Northern governors was condemnable.
He said: “It sounds irresponsible to say that Southern governors are confused about power shift. It appears they are not really caring for Nigeria. And who are the Northern governors? Does it include the Middle Belt? It does not include the Middle Belt. So, it is a few people acting as if they own Nigeria. We must all condemn that commendable action. I used to respect many Northern governors, but what they are doing now shows that the respect was not earned.
“If the PDP brings a candidate from the North, then the APC will have the chance of becoming a Nigerian party. If they bring a Southeast candidate, the East, South-south and even Middle Belt will vote for them. But if they callously also bring a Northerner, then, we will give Nigeria a trial to see whether we can have a coalition for a new Nigeria, which will not be based on party, but on group of people. I think certain things should not be joked about.”
He also punctured the arrogance of the governors, noting that Middle Belt’s loyalty to the North had died a long time ago. “After the civil war between Nigeria and Biafra, the idea of ‘One North’ continued until former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power and appointed people from the Middle Belt to key positions and the real North said they were not in government. Then, the Middle Belt started knowing that they are not actually Northerners.
“Today, it is a total different thing. In one of the conferences we had, one Northern person came out and boosted about what they could do under the present circumstance and the Chairman of the Middle Belt Forum came out and said, ‘you are on your own.’ We are not part of your North. So, things are changing very fast,” Ezeife pointed out.
Also, an erstwhile Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, on his part, traced the genesis of North’s lust for power to the era of military.
He recounted: “During the military days, they had an arrangement that power would be rotated among themselves. But when it came to the turn of General Aliu Muhammed Gusau (rtd), they reneged, they didn’t do anything. That is there, it is fundamental, but nobody has approached it.”
“All I want to say is that it is better for Nigeria to have the president zoned to an area that will guarantee security and harmony among Nigerians. We should ensure that the best is given to Nigeria.”