From Fred Itua, Abuja, Chinelo Obogo, Omoniyi Salaudeen, Lukman Olabiyi and Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
The battle for control of the reins of power assumed a new twist yesterday, as political leaders drawn from the northern and southern parts announced a new coalition, ‘Rescue Nigeria Project’ (RNP), with a mission to recruit a competent leader for the country in 2023.
Those who attended the meeting at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, included former national secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Ambassador Usman Bugaje, former minister of education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, former Kwara governor, Abdul Fatah Ahmed and Prof. Pat Utomi. Conspicuously absent were former deputy governor of Kogi State, Yomi Awoniyi and former Cross Rivers State governor, Donald Duke.
In his welcome address, Bugaje identified poor leadership recruitment process at the heart of the problems confronting the country. He said the RNP was determined to push for new standards with competence, discipline and character to make a difference.
“The Rescue Nigeria Project is founded on the premise that the problems of this country, many and varied as they are, all emanate from poor leadership. In other words when you reduce the problems of this country to what they are, ultimately, it all comes to leadership.
“We have been unable to exit the leadership conundrum precisely because the leadership recruitment mechanism in our political parties is so flawed that, except for accidents, they are incapable of producing competent leaders with the requisite knowledge, discipline and commitment to make a difference.
“We are living with or better still, groaning under the consequences of this folly. What this means is that any attempt to rescue this country from its troubles must first rescue it from the current leadership recruitment mechanism that seems to leverage on money and connection or ethnic sentiments and no premium on knowledge or competence.
“The challenge is how to introduce a set of criteria or better still re-calibrate the recruitment mechanism in our political parties to prioritize knowledge, competence and character. The deepening crises in the political parties is all the more reason why this re-calibration is necessary.
“Our core values, rightly start with ethical leadership which speaks to the character of leaders, the key features of competence, capacity and the courage to do the right thing, motivated by patriotism, selflessness and service, conscious of inclusiveness, fairness, equity, mutual respect and accommodation.
“We intend to renew the spirit of leadership and create new standards to speak to the role this great country is expected to play in the great continent of Africa..
On calls for zoning of elective offices, particularly the presidency, Bugaje said priority should be given to competence.
“We must seek to change the conversation about leadership. The first thing we should want to know about our president is not which part of country he or she comes from, rather how competent is he or she? What is the content of his policy document? What is his team made up of, etc. We also seek to ensure a seismic shift from the politics of big men to the politics of big ideas. The empty politics of big men has not taken us anywhere but down the drain. We simply can’t continue this way.
“We also have to prioritise Knowledge, because as we all know, in the 21st century, knowledge is the greatest capital. That is the only thing that give countries the competitive edge. Governance must be driven by ideas, it has to be creative and must create solutions, especially job creation, economic growth and prosperity.”
Former Kwara governor, Ahmed, said performance of the present administration in the last six years fell short of expectations of most Nigerians.
“In 2015, Nigerians embraced change. Today, that change appears to be what we didn’t expect. There is insecurity. There is widespread poverty and incompetence in government. Today, we have high level of nepotism and lack of exclusiveness. These have given rise to agitations by different ethnic groups.”
Professor Adeniran alerted the nation to what he described as the growing loss of direction and hopelessness amongst Nigerian youths.
Meanwhile, Elder-statesman and frontline Yoruba leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and the Aare Onakankanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, have tackled the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on its plot to retain power beyond 2023.
Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the group, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, had insisted that North has the votes and would not play second fiddle to any other part of Nigeria.
The Arewa group said it had no apologies for rejecting the demands of the Southern Governors Forum that the 2023 presidency be zoned to the South.
Speaking on Arise TV Morning Show, Ahmed, who was responding to the backlash by prominent southerners and groups said no one has the constitutional right to compel any part of the country on how to vote and that if northerners chose to elect a northern president in a free and fair election, people should have to live with it.
“The approach of the southern governors and some organised groups in the south in speaking from both sides of the mouth is wrong. Even as we speak, certain southern governors who are saying we must do this or that are secretly negotiating and jostling for positions for themselves for 2023. They know all the options that are available and are actively involved in this. They know the politicians from the northern part of the country including their colleagues but they come out and create a bipartisan fallacy and start making demands that they know are inconsistent with the democratic process. This should stop because it is not helping. What we are saying is to allow a democratic process to determine who will become our president and we should ensure that we pick someone better than President Buhari,” he said.
Reacting to Chief Edwin Clark who faulted the claim that the population of the north is an advantage, Hakeem said: “For people like Chief Adebanjo and sometimes, Chief Clark to say things like, ‘if you don’t do this, there would be no elections in 2023’, (they) have no control over what happens in 2023. These kind of statements are what cause tension in the country.
“With due respect, there are many elderly people like Chief Clark and Chief Adebanjo who speak in a language which elders should not be speaking. They have no business leading groups. These are people who create more problems for politicians and politicians become hostages of rhetorics that people have.”
However, Adebanjo, in his reaction said: “I agree with him that we are not patriots because we don’t agree to the subjugation of the South to the Fulani in the North. If that is why we are not patriots, we agree. On the issue of power shift, what he said about retaining power in the North is part of the arrogance of their leaders, who want Nigeria to remain one, but on the condition that they have the rulers. It will not work. We had discussed that with his forefathers; so, we are not going to argue that with him again. If that is why we are not patriots, we are not going to agree on that. We knew we wouldn’t need their agreement before we said that we are not going to have presidency in the North in 2023. That is why we are insisting on changing of the constitution, which they gave to us through the military in 1966. And until that one is done, there can be no peace in this country. We are not going to stay in Nigeria where they will be the rider and we will be the horse. I don’t want to go into any argument with him. When did he come into existence? We’ve had these arguments with his forefathers. We don’t need to argue that again.”
In his reaction, Adams said other regions of the country were fully aware of the antic of the North to continue to dominate them and were ready to turn the table around.
The Yoruba generalissimo who spoke at Ibeju, Lagos during the maiden edition of Egbe Festival organized by the Olokun Festival Foundation (OFF), lambasted said NEF’s statement only exposed the domineering agenda of the north and was capable of setting the nation on fire.
He held that Nigeria was not property of any region and any attempt by the North to force it domineering agenda on others would be resisted.
This is Igbo youths under the aegis of the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, (COSEYL) warned that the South East would produce its own president if that happens.
Ahmed, while speaking at the maiden Maitama Sule Leadership Lecture Series organized by the students wing of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, said anyone who did not want a northerner as president in 2023 can leave the country.
However, in a statement by it president general, Goodluck Ibem, the group described the utterance by the northern statesman as unfortunate and disapointing.
“It was the support of the south that made President Buhari to win his elections in 2015 and 2019. We are very surprised that Hakeem has suddenly forgotten so soon how President Buhari emerged as president. History doesn’t lie, he should go back to history to refresh his memory. We, as the youth leaders of South East geopolitical zone, stand by the decision of the southern governors that the office of the Nigerian president be zoned to the South for equity and justice. Enough said,” Ibem stated.