The stake is incredibly high this time around. It must not be toyed with. That is understandable. An ugly repeat performance of the sordid mistake of 2015 is not it.
We need to get our acts right. And in good time too. That era does not merit a re-visit. It’s no longer tolerable; not bearable either. Never again!
We do not deserve a greater affliction. Not even now. All we desire and cherish is a clean slate. We need a complete break. We just have to break this yoke. This hopelessness must end somehow.
And the babel of voices is resonating across the land. It is all over; from the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) to Ohanaeze; to Afenifere; to the Middle Belt Forum (MBF); to Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).
The country is agog and awash at the same time. The voices are loud and clear. They are not mincing or mixing words. Nobody is taking chances. Things shouldn’t be taken for granted. The uncertainty is on the high side. And is not worth it.
Ohanaeze, Afenifere, MBF and PANDEF opened the floodgate. They did it with deep passion. And there’s no stopping them. They assembled under the umbrella of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF).
That is where they are coming from. It was the best assemblage the organisations could gather. And it was in one fell swoop. The attendance and attendees were impressive.
Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, chaired the Abuja convocation on Thursday, January 13, 2023. He led the PANDEF to the gathering. Prof George Obiozor did the same for Ohanaeze Ndigbo. So also Dr Pogu Bitrus for MBF and Chief Ayo Adebanjo for Afenifere.
They did not come alone. They were accompanied with the brightest and best. It was a quality assembly. This adequately reflected in their discussions.
They dwelled richly on three of our most vexed issues: Insecurity, restructuring and 2023 general elections. They are the pillars. They could mar or make us in the earliest years to come.
SMBLF’s pronouncements after deliberations sent shivers down the spines of many. They were frightened to the marrows. Some others felt threatened. And they did not fail to showcase their ugly feelings.
SMBLF vowed not to vote a presidential candidate without southern descent: “The northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the Office of the Presidency for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023, hence the presidency should rotate to the South.”
Does this actually make sense? SMBLF insists it makes a lot of good sense: “Therefore, unequivocally and in full resolve, (SMBLF) calls on all political parties to zone their presidential tickets to the South.”
What a tall order! The organisation is unperturbed: “Any political party that does not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions.”
Its feasible argument: “The basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, is fair and even sharing of power.”
A convocation like never before. The calibre of the personalities present was intimidating. The reason SMBLF resolutions aroused instant uproar. A wake-up call of some sort.
This did not sit well with certain northern political elite and groups. Of course, it wouldn’t have. They needed to urgently respond before the dust settled.
The message was not lost on the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF). It promptly took the bull by the horns. It put together its own Northern Leaders of Thought (NLT). They headed straight to Arewa House, Kaduna. That was on Saturday, January 15, 2022.
Its communiqué countered SMBLF in every department. It couldn’t have been otherwise: “The fundamental rights of all political parties to field candidates of their choices and the rights of voters to freely exercise choices over who leads them cannot be compromised.”
It contended: “Northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices. But they must raise competence, evidence of personal integrity and commitments to the rule of law above all considerations.”
NEF, the convener, would not stop at that. It went more than an extra mile. It knew what it wanted from the meeting. It articulated just that.
Its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made a lifetime vow. He swore the North would not repeat its 2015 blunder. And he meant every word of it.
His conviction, his regrets: The North was deceived into voting for General Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Who deceived them, who did them in? He never named names.
All the same, he confessed, they believed they would be better off with Buhari. It was big goof. The exact opposite was the case. It was a reverse like no any other.
He was emphatic: “The situation in the North and the country has been worse than when Buhari took over in 2015.
“That’s how we ended up with President Buhari. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake.” We too abhor that. We are scared of a bigger plague. That would never happen.
His response on southern presidential candidate was revealing: “A southerner and a northerner have equal rights to contest. It’s not enough to be a northerner you have to be the best.
“You have to be the best for the North and you have to be the best for the rest of the country. No northerner should take us for granted.” Agreed!
NEF’s damning verdict: “This is not the Nigeria that voted President Buhari. So, he is a disappointment. And that’s why we are saying to Nigerians and particularly to northerners to be very careful and not repeat the same mistake.”
But, the MBF remained unrepentant. It is adamant, insisting on southern president. National president, Bitrus: “The MBF wishes to restate that any threat against power shift to the South in 2023 is akin to courting frightening dangers to the unity and progress of Nigeria.
“We stand for justice and freedom for all. The MBF is completely against the NLT’s opposition to power shift. The Middle Belt has always insisted that power must shift to the South in 2023.”
Just then, another dissenting voice still from the North. The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), was so arrogant in its approach. What a crude mind set:
“The North certainly has the sagacity to use its population and repeat what it did in 2015 with its permanent voter’s cards. It is pedestrian for those who call themselves regional leaders to continue to think along having a regional and not a Nigerian president.”
CNG’s spokesperson, Abdl-Azeez Suleiman was highly uncouth. And he displayed that with reckless abundant: “Our position is that the north will never let itself be blackmailed or intimidated into ceding power.”
You can see deep haughtiness in every word he struggles to vomit: “We made the same mistake in 1999 by giving in to pressure from South West and paid for it.” Paid for it? Who did? How?
His rude and unpolished response: “Obasanjo was brought to power by the northern political might. Yet, he failed to justifiably deal with the nation’s diversities as was expected.”
This is the stark reality on our laps. We are at a crossroads. And we have to find our bearings fast. We are earnestly yearning for a new beginning. The time is now.
We can still make something reasonable out of the babel of voices. It can be a positive turnaround. The earlier we come together, sit together and reason together, the better for us.