It was Governor Aminu Tambuwal who gave the first inkling that the 2023 elections will put a wedge between ethnic groups in Nigeria. When he chased the candidature of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he flashed the ethnic card in a mild yet clear manner. The governor said the vital thing about power was to get it first, and split it with your allies. Supporters of the presidency shift to the South held that he ought not seek the ticket because equity demanded that the South should produce the next President. Tambuwal stopped short of telling them that the numbers favoured him, given that he could go to sleep the night before the polls and wake up with his people’s votes in the kitty. He trudged on with his ambition, against the power rotation mantra of his party, which has held that the political balloon from exploding consequent upon being pierced with the needle of ethnic agitation. Tambuwal and former Vice-President Atiku Abubaker continued in their presidential bid, given that power rotation and balancing were antithetical to their kind of politics. Tambuwal seemed to have banked on the votes of his side of the country, and, given that politics, as they say, is a game of numbers, he was set to set sail. When push came to shove, he stepped down for Atiku, who seemed to share the same political view. Now he is director-general of Atiku’s campaign.
What seemed to be simmering in the background has come to the fore. The other day, northern elders invited the major presidential candidates for interaction, wherein they wanted to know their plans for the nation and, by extension, the region. In that meeting, Atiku, who holds the flag of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), against all odds, threw the bombshell, which he now says was a joke. He said the average northern voter needs a northern candidate who has built bridges across the nation. They need neither Igbo nor Yoruba to canvass their votes. Atiku only realized it was a joke when Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State told him it was disastrous for a perceived statemen of his caliber to make such a statement. It was no joke because, from the outset, the likes of Tambuwal, Sule Lamido and others have always insisted that the likes of Wike can and should be ignored in their fight for political equity since the North has the numbers, and can muscle enough votes from the South to win the presidential election. In a television interview recently, Atiku said the majority of the northerners were not on social media, which was why he was not bothered about candidates making waves in that medium.
Rabiu Kwankwaso was blunt when asked why the proposed alliance between him and Peter Obi collapsed, and specifically why he would not be running mate to Peter Obi of the Labour Party. He said his people from the North would not vote for the alliance if he, Kwankwaso, was not the presidential candidate. Evidently, these candidates have slanted the elections to an ethnic agenda.
Also, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, even in his increasing incoherent speeches, was clear enough when he told the Yoruba ethnic nationality that they must give him no less than 95 per cent of their votes. Politicians would do whatever it takes to get power, but they must be mindful of the consequences. Only the LP candidate, Obi, has emphatically told Nigerians to vote for him on the premise of his pedigree and competence, not on account of ethnicity. But his other contenders have played the ethnic card, and that is rather dangerous in a nation that is still struggling to remain united. Politics, no doubt, is a game of numbers but for a multiethnic country like ours, politicians must take cognisance of the country’s delicate nature.
In the politics of yore, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was forced to retreat to his enclave in the East from the South-West, where he was already a household name, had to rely on an alliance with the North to form a government in 1979 when solders relinquished power. His Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) had to align with the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to form a government at the centre, with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President. Unfortunately, when the pendulum was to swing to the East, and Dr. Alex Ekwueme was standing by to take the mantle, soldiers struck on the eve of 1983 and thus truncated a move that seemed to be all-inclusive except for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who wanted to go it alone. It is not for nothing that the Constitution says a politician must muster no less than, at least a quarter of the votes in specified number of states, not only to accommodate all citizens but to also show that the candidate had wide acceptability. The haughty attitude of any zone to want to hold on to power in seeming perpetuity has a tendency to elicit reactions that may go beyond agitation. We have gone through that dangerous route, and it came at tremendous cost. There may be need to form a coalition at some point in the coming election, given that no clear winner is on the horizon. Tinubu did it in 2015 when he aligned with other parties to form an alliance that truncated PDP’s President Goodluck Jonathan’s bid to remain in office. The man from Otueke, in Bayelsa State, bowed out to let peace reign. Those who have resorted to ethnicity in the coming polls are threading a dangerous path.